If its been a while since you visited Stratford you may want to consider exploring the great outdoors this summer, starting on your bike! Create your own path to experience Stratford, or discover one of the many road cycling routes and trails nearby.
With names that conjure up a visit to olde England, Stratford, the Avon River and nearby Shakespeare are much closer than you think; in Ontario and just a 1.5 hour drive west from the Greater Toronto Area. The small city, surrounded by rural and agricultural landscapes makes a great start and end to a number of looped rides through small town Ontario. With ample parking in the compact downtown area, be sure to do a warm up circuit of the lake and parkland that stretch along the river banks or try the in city 12km Festival Route (or slightly longer 30km loop) that will give one a sample of the close to city countryside.
Bicycle rentals are easily found at the friendly local bike store, Totally Spoke’d, who also have a number of ebikes available if you are looking to power up. Additional bike rentals along with paddle boats and more can be found at the Avon Rentals kiosk alongside the river.
There are 10 routes well mapped, tried and tested by local cyclists and Cycle Stratford. For a shorter range try one of the seven that clock in at around 30km, heading north south east or west, on quiet country back roads. The Airport Loop will take you past the small local municipal airport north of Stratford, and deeper into farmland with stunning views of rolling countryside. A small detour is worth the dip into Shakespeare, a four corners village where a stop at the Shakespeare Brewing Company, British Touch, a gourmet grocery store with all things UK, or roadside café, will provide a perfect half way stop on any ride.
More rural yet, is the 26km Avonton Loop north west of Stratford, that is a pretty circuit that loops back from the tiny village of Avonton, nestled in the valley alongside the Avon River that meanders east and west from Stratford.
Gravel Road Routes & G2G Trail Connection
Stratford’s surrounding countryside and road network has a healthy mix of gravel and paved roads that traverse Perth County. Depending on the route and road type of your preference, it is approximately a 30km roll north east to Millbank where it is easy to hop on the Guelph to Goderich Trail (also known as the G2G) for a 127km linear rail trail experience or portion of. No ride to Millbank would be complete without a stop at Anna Mae’s, the famed Mennonite bakery that has a large selection of fresh baked goods, perfect for hungry cyclists.
MTB Wildwood & Camp
If mountain biking is your preference, be sure to check out the rough and rooty 25km lake loop at Wildwood Conservation Area. Follow the signed and mapped multi-use trail from the parking lot that is well equipped for riders, having both a handy bike tool stand and bike wash area. On-site mountain and fat bike rentals are available, as well as selection of canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. If you want to stay a little longer, pitch a tent in their campground and be sure to visit nearby St Mary’s, with it’s quaint main street, just 5km north.
Stratford Connection – Pre or Post Ride
Stratford is the real hub of all local activities and worthy of some extra time pre or post ride. Restaurants, cafes, patios and unique shops fan out from Market Square, city centre. While your Stratford experience may be a little different this year, due to COVID-19, and the Stratford Festival that usually has a program of 16 productions annually, spread over 4 theatre locations, currently suspended, there is still plenty of arts, culture and heritage to be take in. Stop in to one of the local galleries or visit the Stratford Perth Musuem, where you can learn more about home grown celebrities ranging from Thomas Edison, genius inventor of light bulbs and more, to Justin Bieber, pop sensation who grew up locally.
No visit to Stratford would be complete without some time spent along the shores of the pretty Avon River. Cruise along the shoreline and park roads and pick a spot to enjoy a picnic under the trees in this lush green space. Track a swan as it paddles gently along the river shores or under one of the many picturesque bridges, stop at the arboretum and slow down to smell the flowers in the blooming gardens.
Pick your pace, fast or slow, and a route long or short, as there are rides to fit all styles, making a visit to Stratford a bike outing to be remembered.
Photo Credits: Sean Camp, Cycle Stratford, Terry Manzo