It takes a village, the saying goes. And that's never been more true than in the case of Sault Ste. Marie's community efforts to turn a local mountain biking trail network into a destination. Judging by the quality of the trails, the buzz at the trail head before the ride, and the smiles after, it didn’t take me long to realize that when it comes to mountain biking, Sault Ste. Marie is that kind of village.
The Hiawatha Highlands trail network is the Sault Ste. Marie go-to destination if rocks, roots, and waterfalls are on your mountain bike good-time menu. Located on the outskirts of town, the trail network combines three colour-coded loops that make up the 35-km trail network, offering an exciting supply of tech and flow. Mapped and well marked, there is something here for every skill level.
Mountain bikes have been rolling at Hiawatha Highlands since the late 1980s, and have become the area’s largest user group during the riding season. With three bike shops and a very active cycling club, you can tap into any social media platform, or better yet visit Vélorution Bike & Ski, Algoma Bicycle, or Duke of Windsor Sport Shop, and you will quickly find out what the buzz is about, or find a group ride to join if you are looking for company. Kids’ rides, women-only rides, club rides: something’s always rolling out of the parking lot and into the forest.
The Thursday Night ride has been a weekly event since the very beginning. It’s a casual, “everybody is welcome, nobody gets left behind” group ride, a local favourite, and an easy way to check out the trails if visiting.
Some would say getting lost is part of the adventure, and there is plenty of space to get lost around Sault Ste. Marie. With mountain bike trails around Stokely Creek, Bellevue Valley, and Pancake Bay Provincial Park, and an endless array of gravel roads and ATV trails, the adventure opportunities can be as epic as you wish. If competition is your thing, the annual three-day Crank the Shield mountain bike event will expose you to a few hundred kilometres of Algoma back country. If you prefer to explore in the company of some local knowledge, the crew at Red Pine Tours can show you the secrets for a few hours or a few days.
With a cash infusion for trail development, Sault Ste. Marie is on its way to becoming the best mountain biking destination along the north shore of Lake Superior, Ontario and beyond. With work already under way on 15 km of new trail at the Hiawatha Highlands, increasing the trail network to 50 km by the start of the 2020 season, and a long-term plan to expand the network to 100 km, extending into the surrounding Algoma District, Sault Ste. Marie’s mountain biking future is bright and exciting.
Build it and they will come. Yes, there big plans for the future, but no need to wait—Sault Ste. Marie’s mountain bike trails and the village that shaped them are ready to make your visit the first of many.