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Escape the Usual in Ontario’s Near North

You’ve toured Ontario’s ‘wine country’ and ‘cottage country’ by bike, but now you’re in the mood for something different – the Near North.

Cycling across the continent’s ancient volcanic core on the Canadian Shield where North Bay and the Almaguin Highlands sit – is surprisingly different.

With some of the oldest rocks on the planet, the land pulses in time to the Earth’s ancient heartbeat and for thousands of years, it’s been a sacred home to Indigenous stewards. With a long colonial history of French and English fur traders and settlers, the area is deeply rooted in Canadian history.

Cycling in the Near North wilderness is never far away, services and bicycle friendly businesses and amenities are plenty. Discovery Routes, a local trail and cycling advocacy organization has developed a series of rides with just the right amount of rustic and urban for cyclists of all abilities, from roadie day-trippers to bikepackers to gravel grinders.

Spirit of the Bay (35 – 84km)

If you’re in the mood for an easy day with a dash of wilderness, this loop from North Bay to the village of Callander offers a mix of urban, forested and lake views along paved on and off-road multi-use trails.

Relax into your saddle and breathe in the marshland air on the La Vase River watershed while keeping an eye out for deer, herons, turtles and beavers on the Kate Pace Way.

Beaver lodge in the marshlands of the La Vase River watershed along the Kate Pace Way. Photo Credit: Discovery Routes. 

Your destination is Callander, a small fishing resort village with bicycle friendly options for lunch and a small marina with a view across Callander Bay on Lake Nipissing.

Turn it up a notch and take the South Shore extension along wide-shouldered paved roads skirting Lake Nipissing. Bask in the spacious blue skies, rocky outcrops and wind-swept pines. Take a dip at a public beach before you return for a night on the town in North Bay.

North Bay has everything a big city has, just on a smaller scale and without the long lines – art, music, theatre, fine dining, craft breweries and cultural events.

Try the ‘pièce de résistance’, a dinner cruise around Lake Nipissing on the Chief Commanda II, and you can call yourself a multi-adventurer having explored the region by foot, bike and boat.

For trip maps, itineraries and links to local businesses see Spirit of the Bay Experience.

Almaguin Spin (40 – 118km)

The Almaguin Highlands is a hotbed of all-season cycling, outdoor adventures and a true taste of the unusual.

North of Muskoka and spanning west-east from Parry Sound to Algonquin Park, it’s the official start of Northern Ontario and home to surprisingly eclectic rural villages. Bicycle friendly South River and Burk’s Falls are known for their unique artists and unusual sites that transport you to different times and imaginary places, like the Crystal Cave artisan village and the Screaming Heads medieval outdoor sculptures.

A favourite local road ride is the 65km AIM Triangle on low-traffic well-paved roads connecting three villages along rolling hills through picturesque farmlands, waterways and rocky wilderness. Fill your water bottle at the antique hand pump in Magnetawan while you admire the locks and dams, or at the artesian well in Sundridge.

Almaguin in Motion riders on the AIM Triangle, Hwy.124 near Sundridge in the Almaguin Highlands. Photo Credit: Almaguin Highlands Economic Development.

For more climbing and rougher backcountry roads with a glimpse of history, try the 40 km Ahmic Lake Loop to gain 415m along the Trans Canada Trail and parts of Old Nipissing Road with its forgotten ghost towns.

For a taste of the unusual, add the 53km Eagle Lake Loop through South River with its incredible Crystal Cave artisan village and hardwood-laden hills around Eagle Lake that are perfect for a fall colour ride. Riders can cool down with a swim in Eagle Lake at the public beach at the Narrows or Mikisew Provincial Park.

For trip maps, itineraries and links to local businesses see Almaguin Spin Experience.

Red Toque Tour (84km one-way)

This themed ride along the Voyageur Cycling Route from North Bay to Mattawa follows the well-worn pathways of First Nations and French traders. The Voyageurs, in their iconic red toques, embodied the freedom of the endless spaces of the Near North’s rugged wilderness.

The road conditions are a lot better now though, and the first 17km of this ride follows the nicely paved on and off-road trails of the Spirit of the Bay bike route.

Red Toque Tour self-guided cycling experience near Bonfield on the Voyageur Cycling Route. Photo Credit: Discovery Routes. 

On your way out of Callander, you’ll head towards Astorville on newly paved roads and shoulders. Expect some hills around Lake Nosbonsing but these quiet rural roads get even quieter, if not grittier as you near Bonfield.

From Bonfield, the landscape features expansive farmlands with large pockets of forest, wild lands and a gorgeous undulating gravel road. Make a stop at the 12m waterfall at the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area – you won’t regret it.

Rural Development Road near Bonfield on the Voyageur Cycling Route ‘s Red Toque Tour. Photo Credit: Discovery Routes. 

Chenier Road, leading into Mattawa, is lined with majestic pines along the river. This is the historical pinnacle of the ride where the Ottawa River meets the Mattawa River, and Indigenous, Francophone and English history merge in the oldest settlement in the region.

For trip maps, itineraries and links to local businesses see Red Toque Tour Experience.

Gravel Cycling

The Near North is road and gravel cycling’s best-kept secret, but don’t just take our word for it. For the 2nd year in a row, North Bay is host to the Ontario Provincial Road Cycling Championships, Aug 4-6. Gravel events are heating up too with The Voyageur 200 on September 9, the Greystone Gravel Grinder on May 5 and the Scary Fast 200 on Aug 6, 7.

Rural Development Road near Bonfield on the Voyageur Cycling Route ‘s Red Toque Tour. Photo Credit: Discovery Routes. 

More Adventures

When in the North’, as they say, ‘do as the Northerners do’. After your ride, consider heading out for a paddle on legendary waterways, or for a hike on any of the hundreds of kilometres of Discovery Routes to make this your ultimate Canadian multi-adventure.

Visit Discovery Routes or purchase our Adventure Trails Map for cycling, paddling, hiking and winter trail activities in the Near North.

For tourism support visit Tourism North Bay and Almaguin Highlands Community and Economic Development.

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Sponsored Content Partner: Discovery Routes Trails Organization

Published On: April 28, 2023Categories: News

About the Author: Guest