Planning a cycling adventure in Ontario is challenging in the best possible way. There are so many options to choose from – touring routes, bike packing adventures, mountain bike trails, gravel loops – so much to explore, so little time. The impressive Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is one route worthy of any cyclist’s bucket list. The good folks at the Waterfront Regeneration Trust have been connecting communities along the Canadian shores of the Great Lakes for two decades now. From the border of the province of Quebec, the St. Lawrence River to Sault Ste. Marie and the shore of Lake Superior. An impressive 3,600km of adventure awaits, and the Trust is not done yet; the north shore of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay and another 1,000km is now on the drawing table.
As much as I wish I could ride it all, at 3,600km this requires a time commitment that has to be put on the shelf for someday. I’m by no means giving up on the Waterfront Trail, just switching to plan B and chipping away at it a couple of days at a time. The rides below are a taste of the great experiences you will have with just a weekend of riding along the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail.
Taste of Windsor Essex
Welcome to Ontario’s tropics. Ok, the tropics might be a bit much, but did you know that the Windsor Essex peninsula, the most southern corner of the province, is the same latitude as northern California and southern Italy? This might explain, at least in part, the sweat dripping from my forehead.
Starting in Kingsville, we follow the Waterfront Trail along flat, paved-shouldered roads to our destination Windsor, approximately 80km away. Beaches, wineries and historic sites get in the way of cycling progress as they should on a no-rush day like today. We enjoy a delicious lunch at Garfield’s that refuels the body for the afternoon push. We spend the night at the Holiday Inn along Windsor’s waterfront, and the day is capped off with views of the Detroit skyline at night. What a fantastic day.
Day two, we bid farewell to the Windsor waterfront and follow quiet city streets, the Herb Gray Parkway Trail and the final stretch along the firm limestone of the Chrysler Greenway, both part of the Trans Canada Trail, back to Kingsville. A shorter day at 60km and dominated by farm field views stretching to the horizon. What I found most enjoyable about this loop is the endless visual interests, from water to city and farmlands.
A route with many options, try what we did and spend the night in the city or start in Windsor and make it a bike packing trip with a night of camping at Pleasant Valley Campground in Kingsville, located right on the Chrysler Greenway trail.
Kingston and Frontenac
Visit Kingston once, and you will yearn for a return – the history, the waterfront, the patios, there are so many reasons to visit.
We set up base camp at the Marriott Hotel within walking distance of the best of Kingston downtown. On the bikes, we cruise the waterfront and beyond. Gord Downie Pier is a must-stop, as is a visit to Canada’s oldest and most notorious prison; enjoy funky public art and views of Lake Ontario. We hop on the ferry in time for lunch on Wolfe Island, then explore the paved and gravel roads on the island. In the evening, we take in the hustle and bustle of Kingston’s patio scene with good food, good drink and good times.
Day two, we head out on the Frontenac K & P Trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail). Starting from the Invista Center, downtown Kingston, the mostly off-road route travels from city to farmland, forests and the Canadian Shield beyond. The ride is about 70km one-way, but you can make it any distance that suits you.
Gananoque to Brockville along the Thousand Islands
Bookended by the towns of Brockville and Gananoque is 50km of cycling joy, with 39 of those kilometres along the paved bike path that runs parallel to the 1000 Islands Parkway and the St. Lawrence River. At 100km return, it is doable in one day but with so many stopping opportunities, two days slow and leisurely is the best approach. In Brockville, be sure to check out the Brockville Tunnel, a former railway tunnel located beneath the downtown, now a spectacular light show experience. The beach in view of the 1000 Islands at Brown’s Bay Park is perfect on a hot summer day riding along the Waterfront Trail. Lunch in Rockport is a must, as is a side trip by boat or kayak to explore the islands. In Gananoque, dinner at Stonewater Pub and breakfast at Laverne’s Eatery are so good, as is the cold beer at Gan Brewing Company.
Sarnia and Lambton
The blue waters of the St. Clair River are an image that will forever last in my memory of cycling in Sarnia, Ontario. Well-kept homes and manicured lawns line one side of the road, and on the riverside are docks with cabanas and water sports equipment reflecting the benefits of living along the river. We make our way south along the St. Clair River Trail, stretching 35 km from Corunna, south along the scenic St. Clair River to Port Lambton. Along the way, we enjoy small towns, waterfront parks and sights of massive tankers floating by. The ride back is fueled like every ride should be with ice cream, of course, courtesy of Crystal’s Ice Cream Shack in Sombra. We spend the evening enjoying a meal on a patio and a sunset along Sarnia’s Waterfront Trail.
Day two, we make the short drive from Sarnia to Kettle Point. To avoid a stretch of busy Highway 21, we break up the day into two rides. Loop one includes Ipperwash Beach, Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and Kettle Point Park, where you’ll find rock concretions called kettles. Formed 370 million years ago, they are unique to only a handful of locations.
Ride two includes the cottage community of Port Franks; coastal dunes, wetlands, and woodlands are the attraction here. We met some local artists and visited an art exhibit at the Port Franks Community Centre with art pieces created by Jeffrey (Red) George of Red Dog Art Studio, a local artist from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Lunch between rides was at Ipperwash Beach Club – so good.
The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail which includes the Tom Thomson Trail, and the Georgian Trail are all accessible from the front door of our hotel. We ride along the Owen Sound harbourfront, Harrison Park, through the downtown and up to Inglis Falls, mainly on trails and quiet streets. Wine tasting at Coffin Ridge Vineyard & Winery inspires a fifty or so kilometre loop. A few hills, a bit of gravel and some fantastic views, and at the end the patio at Mudtown Station Brewery and Restaurant offers a chance to celebrate and relive the day’s adventure.
Day two, we follow the Great Lakes Waterfront trail north as part of the Island Drive Cycling Loop, a route also popular with local cyclists. The 85km ride takes in some spectacular Georgian Bay coastline views and passes by Bruce’s Caves as well as Big Bay, where the General Store serves up some amazing homemade ice cream.
Two Days or More
At 3,600 km, touring the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail in one go requires a time commitment that few, including me, can afford. But no problem, I’m happy to chip away at it two days at a time. If you find yourself with more time on your hands, be sure to visit the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail website for more ride worthy itineraries, two days or more.
To plan your weekend Great Lakes Waterfront Trail (GLWT) adventure, visit the links below:
Sponsored Content Partner: Great Lakes Waterfront Trail / Waterfront Regeneration Trust
Photo Credits: Martin Lortz / Great Lakes Waterfront Trail