The Unexpected Ride Delights of Niagara South
It had been awhile since I had gotten off the well beaten path and more popular cycling routes in Niagara that stretch between the Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. I was keen to head south to the quieter stretches I last had the chance to ride when we were still operating the Toronto Niagara Bike Train service with VIA Rail (now run with more summer frequency by GO Transit).
On a bright and sunny June Saturday we set off from Thorold, just south of St Catherines, 35 riders strong. Empowered by a warm and sweet send off from local Mayor and town Councillor (we have our connections!) we hit the paved Welland Canal Trail in front of the Lock 7 info centre. We began our 2 day tour of Niagara Circle Route South, following a canal tributary south past an interesting mix of wildflower fields and monolithic industrial structures of uncertain age and stages of abandonment.
Crossing the canal at Port Robinson is always a treat. The small pontoon boat that shuttles cyclists and pedestrians across the canal for free had been busy already that morning despite the early hour. (The friendly operators reckoned we were their 60th customers of the day!) After following the Chippewa Creek east we had to do a few zig zags to reconnect through more built up areas. Missing a turn we rewarded ourselves with freezies, (the midday heat was on) and rode a ways on a far too busy road, finally popping out from Dufferin Islands Park and connecting to the Niagara River Recreation Trail. We were greeted by a delightful spray coming off nearby Niagara Falls, enough of a cool down to get us to our picnic lunch spot at Kingsbridge Park.
Happy to rejoin the off-road trail that we couldn’t get lost on, and loaded up with cold H2O, we pedaled south towards Fort Erie. With lots to look at and an easy flat paved surface to follow the 25km went by fast. Green parkland, historic battlefields, views across the river to the US and an astounding variety of riverside mansions, kept our heads turning and wheels spinning.
A sighting of the Peace Bridge connecting Fort Erie to Buffalo signaled the end of our day’s ride. A stop for cold refreshments at a biker bar and patio (motor and pedal welcomed alike) named Southsides, was just the place to take in all the river action and a little local ambiance before checking in to our hotel.
With several accommodation choices in town, we opted for the Clarion Hotel, which had enough rooms for our larger group and certainly welcomed cyclists, with overnight bike storage and a cool pool for a refreshing dip. With a hunger setting in, and an assumption that taxis were in abundance, city style, we had to wait an extraordinary long time before a local car picked us up to deliver us to what we had heard was the best meal in town, The Old Bank Bistro. We were not disappointed however! The food was delicious and the generous portions were eagerly gobbled up after a 67km day. Wondering how we would get back to the hotel, our host and refreshingly friendly restaurant owner Sammy set us up with return rides in his and his chef’s personal vehicles, a favour and astonishingly friendly service level that will not be forgotten.
We got off to a great group start day 2, after a hearty cooked breakfast, and hit the Friendship Trail for what promised to be another perfect day. With no obligation to ride in a pack, we soon broke off into smaller groups, some electing to top off their caffeine fill at Flying Squirrel cafe in Crystal Beach, and have a gander at the popular beachside cottage area. Flying along the trail we pulled in just past Sherkston Shores, taking a 1km side route on Wyldewood Road, popping out onto a white sand stretch to enjoy a swim in the warm, yet refreshing Lake Erie waters. Lunch was not far away in Port Colborne, rounding out a 25km morning with tasty soup, sandwiches and sweet treats at Eataly Foods.
The Welland Canal was busy, living up to its alt name, H2O Highway, with a parade of large cargo ships traveling towards Lake Ontario. We happily watched the spectacle and waited for lift bridges to allow them to pass, and then raced the speeding boats north, beating them to next locks. With similar scenery along the stretch south of Thorold, we were pleased to have a small wind on our backs as we whizzed through the heat of the day. After enjoying a brief ice cream stop in the town of Welland, we rode onwards to the end of the trip and back into Thorold, late Sunday afternoon.
Interested in riding this route and exploring Niagara South on your own or with your own group?
- Download and follow our weekend-length itinerary to enjoy a self-supported ride: ridejune2016
- Or plan your own ride: niagara
- View additional ride photos HERE
Consider joining us on an Ontario By Bike Ride and one of our small group tours. For annual ride dates and routes visit:
ontario by bike tours