Cycling the Greater Golden Horseshoe

IMG_4179You never know who you might meet when you ride through Toronto’s ravines

Spring is here!

One of my favourite things to do is go for a ride, either within town, or on a day trip or an overnight excursion. Toronto’s ravines are a treat; and the further away from Lake Ontario you get, the quieter the trails are.

Two years ago, I was riding up the Humber River Trail north of Highway 401 when I saw a deer wandering down the path. I stopped, and the deer passed by, within metres of where I was standing. Not much further north, I saw two deer — a fawn and its mother — fording the Humber. Tommy Thompson Park, better known as the Leslie Street Spit, is another favourite place to go. The Spit was created from clean landfill to create a new outer harbour in anticipation for St. Lawrence Seaway shipping that never came. Instead, it has become an important migratory bird sanctuary. The views of Downtown Toronto are great, and there are no ferry lines to wait in.

For longer distances, GO Transit is especially helpful. All of their buses are equipped with bike racks and their train (outside of rush hour, of course) can handle over 25 bicycles each. (The seasonal Niagara trains have dedicated bike coaches as well.) GO Transit can get you out of the city for more rural rides, or for longer one-way rides to or from Toronto.

At least twice a year, I ride out to Hamilton on the Waterfront Trail, opting to enter that city by going around Burlington Bay and taking Cannon Street in from the east. It’s an 85 kilometre trip that takes the better part of the day. I’ll have dinner and drinks at one of the many Downtown Hamilton establishments before loading my bike on the bus at the Hamilton GO Centre. Other times, I have used GO Transit to get out to rail trails in Peterborough, Uxbridge, Guelph, or Barrie.

I prefer rail trails as they’re more relaxed than rural roads or highways; I’m not able to keep up with roadies, and I’m okay with that. Rail trails are flat, but they’re also usually unpaved, and some sections are very quiet. (I have gone 20 or 30 minutes without meeting another trail user in some rural areas.)

Here is a summary of some of my favourite long-distance rides.


Toronto Circle Tour – 73 kilometres

Unfortunately, the Lower Don Trail has been closed since June 2016 for reconstruction; delayed several times, it will remain closed through July 2017. As well, the Humber River Trail under Highway 401 was closed for a bridge replacement. When I rode this route in 2015, though, it was a delight. The only downside was the lack of a safe connection between the East Humber path and the hydro corridor that crosses North York; riding along Finch Avenue under Highway 400 was not fun.

Once the Don River trail is fully re-opened, I will likely repeat this trip.

Georgetown to Newmarket – 86 kilometres

IMG_4866-001The Caledon Trailway crosses the Credit River near Inglewood

This was another trip that I did in 2015. I rode the GO bus from Union Station to Georgetown. From there, I followed the Caledon Trailway from Terra Cotta to Tottenham, then headed east to the Holland Marsh and along the Nokiida Trail, following an incomplete canal into Newmarket. There, I took a weekend GO train home after enjoying a well-earned visit to a local pub. At the time, the Nokiida Trail was closed in East Gwillimbury for road work, but it will be re-opening soon. Highlights included the ruins of brickworks, railway bridges and canal locks, as well as spotting the South Simcoe Railway steam train.

Uxbridge to Peterborough (or vice versa) – 85-95 kilometres (depending on route) 

IMG_4092-001
The rail trail between Peterborough and Lindsay features this spectacular bridge

The route between Uxbridge and Peterborough is one of my favourite rides. GO Transit serves both Uxbridge and Peterborough, and rail trails connect both communities via Lindsay, which is a convenient place to stop for lunch. Unfortunately, the rail trail disappears within Lindsay, though it’s a quiet enough town that it doesn’t matter that much. This was my first long-distance rail trail ride, in 2012. I returned in 2014, noting the improvement of the trail within Durham Region (spotting a black bear along the way!), and again in 2016, but in the other direction.

Last year, I stayed in Peterborough overnight to check out another rail trail from Peterborough to Hastings to check out another rail trail from Peterborough to Hastings. Peterborough is a nice, underrated small city that’s very cycling-friendly. Trent University is worth a visit, even in the summer when most students are gone.

Be aware: the trail between Omemee and Lindsay is not in the best condition; the crushed stone surface needs grooming. At times, the stone was too thick, and it can be slippery.

Guelph to Kitchener via Elmira (53 kilometres)
Kitchener to Hamilton via Brantford (102 kilometres)

IMG_5911-001Ride through the historic covered bridge in West Montrose

On another trip I took in 2015, I rode from Downtown Guelph to Downtown Kitchener, staying overnight. The next day, I continued south along the Grand River as far as Brantford before heading east to Hamilton.

The first day, a relatively short, 53 kilometre ride, followed the Kissing Bridge Trailway from a point north of Guelph to Elmira, with a detour through Ontario’s only vehicular covered bridge at West Montrose. From Elmira, paved shoulders shared with horse-drawn carriages can take you safely through St. Jacobs and Waterloo; Waterloo Region has a good network of cycling routes. Highlights included a stop at Block 3 brewery in St. Jacobs.

After staying in Downtown Kitchener, it was another 102 kilometre trip along the Grand River and down the Niagara Escarpment via the former Lake Erie and Northern Railway and the Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway routes. Paris and Brantford are both useful places to stop, eat, and rest; the scenery can be quite good, especially near Paris. I rode from Kitchener to Hamilton previously in August 2012, and again in July 2014, mentioned below.

Niagara Circle Route – 140-160 kilometres, route dependent

IMG_0074-001

The Niagara Circle route follows the Niagara River, Welland Canal, and the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shorelines and is entirely paved, making it suitable for all types of bicycles. It passes by historic sites, vineyards, ocean-going vessels, Niagara Falls itself, and lovely smaller towns. Niagara-on-the-Lake is famous for the Shaw Festival and fancy hotels; Port Colborne, where I stayed overnight, is more laid back and a good place to rest and eat. If inclined, this route could be done over three days as well to take more time to explore the region.

GO Transit operates special weekend trains during the summer (as well as on Victoria Day and Thanksgiving weekends) with dedicated bike coaches, stopping at St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, where it’s easy to begin or end your ride.

Hamilton to Port Dover – 74 kilometres
Port Dover to Hamilton via Brantford – 92 kilometres

14738907592_2461b2096c_oWaterford Black Bridge once carried electric trains of the Lake Erie & Northern Railway

In 2014, I biked from Downtown Hamilton to Port Dover, climbing the Niagara Escarpment via an old Canadian National rail line to Caledonia and Jarvis. At Caledonia, where the rail trail ends, I followed several quiet and pleasant rural roads to Jarvis, and Highway 6 into Port Dover itself, travelling along one of the only cyclist-friendly paved shoulders on the provincial highway network.

Port Dover, on Lake Erie, is a pleasant resort community and commercial fishing port. I stayed at a local bed and breakfast and enjoyed the beach and a dinner of local perch. The next day, I followed another rail trail through Simcoe and Waterford to Brantford, continuing to Hamilton via the former TH&B route mentioned above. The scenic highlight was the high level bridge in Waterford that once carried electric interurban trains between Port Dover and Waterloo Region; the trail north of Simcoe also passes through some of Ontario’s last tobacco farms.

14519182677_6592c2ff97_k.jpgHighway 6 south of Jarvis; one of the only bicycle-friendly paved shoulders on an Ontario provincial highway

Barrie to Midland – 95 kilometres one way

9377374793_45e2d9a458_o.jpg
Tay Shores Trail – aformer CN railway line crosses the remains of the Canadian Pacific Hogg Bay Trestle near Port McNicoll, east of Midland

In 2013, I rode to Barrie on a weekend GO Train, then biked along Barrie’s lovely waterfront and on the Oro-Medonte Rail trail (a former CN mainline between Toronto and Northern Ontario) to Orillia. From there, I continued to Midland via the Uhthoff Trail to Midland on Georgian Bay, returning the next day via the same route. The Uhthoff Trail was a bit rough in sections, especially just north of Orillia, but doable with most bicycles.

The ride on the somewhat-boring Oro-Medonte Trail was improved by my sighting of a beaver swimming in a pond next to the path. When you go riding on quiet rail trails, away from busy traffic, you don’t know what you might see.

9430377507_6dcd680fa3_o.jpgBeaver swimming in pond next to Oro-Medonte Trail

I will likely be riding from Barrie to Midland again this summer, but trying out a different route via the shorter North Simcoe Rail Trail route one way, passing through Elmdale and Penetanguishene.


All of these routes are accessible without a car, and in my opinion, are relaxed and easy to accomplish. However, the gaps between off-road trails and paths require caution, and it always helps to plan ahead: if travelling overnight, ensure that you have a place to stay (Midland and Port Dover can be difficult to find accommodations, especially on summer weekends), that you have basic repair tools and supplies (such as a pump and a spare tube), and plenty of water. Some trails, like between Lindsay and Uxbridge, have no nearby shops en route to buy snacks and drinks.

Riding within Toronto, or along the Waterfront Trail between Clarington and Hamilton requires much less planning, because of available transit options to get back home in case of any problems.

Enjoy the ride!

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2 Responses to Cycling the Greater Golden Horseshoe

  1. Dewan Karim says:

    I love your list. I was in Peterborough to take advantage of warmer weather.

  2. Thanks for the insightful ride ideas, Sean. Will have to give this some thought for the summer. I’ve done the Toronto to Hamiltion and Niagara Circle Route rides which were great.

    If you’re looking to do a ride east of the city, I recommend Ajax, while Whitby and Oshawa are OK. You can read up about Ajax here.

    http://twowheelpoli.blogspot.com/2016/09/get-ajax-moving-part-1.html

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