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October 20, 2017

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Trail blazers

Ontario’s cottage country offers plenty of great riding for cycling enthusiasts

Whether you’re a mountain biker or a road warrior, cycling in Ontario’s cottage country offers plenty of scenic options. From Simcoe County to Muskoka, a myriad of trails and picturesque rural roads are waiting to be explored.

As president of the Barrie Cycling Club, Robb Meier does plenty of recreational riding in Simcoe County, located about one hour north of Toronto. “Year-round, I bike everywhere,” admits the 34-year-old cycling enthusiast. “My car just sits in the garage collecting dust.”

“Simcoe County is perfect for both trail and road riding,” explains Meier. “The picturesque lakes and geographical beauty of the area, along with easy access to rural roads with minimal traffic make it ideal for cycling.”

Peace and pedals

In Simcoe County, there are over 110 kilometres of Trans Canada Trail open for use, plus trails that meander through provincial parks, city waterfront parks, conservation areas, along abandoned rail lines and in county forests. Both loop (meaning you finish and start in the same place) and linear trails are available.

Road riding in Simcoe County isn’t too shabby either, according to the local cycling guru. “Oro-Medonte has recently done lots of road paving, and have created, not necessarily intentionally, some great road riding routes,” he explains. Popular road riding trips, include cycling from Barrie to Collingwood with a lunch break in Creemore, or cycling around Lake Simcoe with a bite to eat in Beaverton.

Glenn Lucas is another rider who enjoys the Simcoe County trails. Last summer, the 50-year-old urban planner clocked around 3000 kilometres on area bike paths.

His favourite routes? “The Oro-Medonte Rail Trail and the North Simcoe Rail Trail are the ones I enjoy the most,” says Lucas, who dropped 13.5 kilograms last summer courtesy of riding. “I had a heart attack in August 2007 and needed to get back into shape. Because cycling is low impact, it seemed like a natural fit. I also like the mental break from work.”

Lucas particularly enjoys the rail trails for safety reasons. “Not having to compete with cars, and being able to listen to my iPod is a huge bonus,” explains the local rider who also frequents the Collingwood trail system. For safety's sake, he never rides without a cellphone, portable pump, a spare tube and some basic tools to change a tire.

Riding the rail trails also offers great scenery and wildlife sightings. “I’ve spotted everything from deer and wild turkeys to raccoons and foxes,” he offers.

Park it here

Mountain bikers might also want to check out Hardwood Ski and Bike (tel: 705-487-3775; hardwoodskiandbike.ca, adults $12.50), which serves up challenges for both experts and novices on its 80-kilometre trail system between Barrie and Orillia.

Bikers can opt for a 40-minute trail, or spend up to eight hours riding its seven looped paths. Kids also get kicks from the obstacle and ramp park.

Hardwood attracts riders from around the world and has been chosen to host the mountain biking portion of the 2015 PanAm Games.

While free places to bike are plentiful, there are certain advantages to paying an admission fee, such as well-maintained and marked trails that are regularly monitored by safety patrols. “People don’t have to worry about getting lost, or being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire,” explains Hardwood Ski and Bike marketing manager John Sustersic, age 50. “We even keep the poison ivy off the trails.”

But the best part about Hardwood biking. “All of our trails end on the downhill slope, so the ride back is always easy,” he says.

Other park options include the area's two ski resorts. Horseshoe Resort (tel: 705-835-2790; horseshoeresort.com; adults $30) outside of Barrie features 70 kilometres of mountain biking trails. Whether you are looking for a scenic ride around the area’s more gentle terrain, or a heart-pumping adrenaline rush as you tackle the escarpment’s downhill trails, Blue Mountain Resort (tel: 877-445-0231; bluemountain.ca) in Collingwood resort caters to every rider.

Lakeside spin

Heading further north to Muskoka, countless scenic trails await, everything from family friendly rolling hills, to hardcore mountain bike trails for the adrenaline junkie. The region, about a two-hour drive north of Toronto, is world famous for its lakeside cottage country. The area has plenty to offer, according to Muskoka Cycling Club president Jim Brendish. “The scenery is breathtaking. Bikers get to enjoy unspoiled wilderness, picturesque lakes and rock cuts,” says the avid 44-year-old cyclist.

And the riding is exciting, thanks to plenty of slopes, diverse terrain and the bonus of numerous winding roads. “You never really travel in one straight line for very long, so the rides are always interesting and challenging,” explains Brendish. “The hills are also fun because they generally aren’t too steep.” Another perk: the roads are also in pretty good condition.

Wildlife sighting are also quite common, including snakes, deer, hawks, moose, porcupines, herons and raccoons, to name just a few.

Brendish says that one of his favourites trails is the Rosseau section of the “Spin the Lakes Tour.” And when it’s time to rest, Muskoka is home to plenty of great watering holes and restaurants.

Mountain bikers also love the area for its outstanding mountain biking trails. Most notable are the abandoned rail trails in Algonquin Park.

For those who want a park closer to town, Buckwallow (tel: 705-687-8858; ecclestonecycle.com; adults $10) outside of Bracebridge is a beautifully maintained mountain biking park, perfect for both families and hardcore riders.

While nearby Porcupine Ridge (tel: 705-645-1166; ecclestonecycle.com/ride_muskoka_porcupine.htm; adults $2) is best suited for skilled riders only. The latter is built and maintained by employees of Ecclestone Cycle, and highlights include steep drops, log rides, and technical terrain.

You can also check out Muskoka biking via the Bike Train (biketrain.ca) or bus in Toronto. Since 2007, the award-winning Bike Train Initiative has introduced bike racks onboard select passenger rail trains to destinations across Ontario, making cycling holidays easy and accessible.

After a successful Bike Train pilot project to Muskoka in 2010, Justin Lafontaine, the project's 35-year-old founder, is hopeful that bike transport service will be offered on Ontario Northland rail or motor coaches this summer. “The beautiful landscape, along with a diversity of terrain gives riders a near-north cycling experience," says Lafontaine. "It’s a great weekend cycling getaway.”

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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