By Paul Galipeau
Ontario is ripe with bikepacking options – all within an hour (or three) from Ottawa and some right from your front door.
A group of likeminded gravel riders started the Ottawa Valley Bikepacking Collective in 2015 to find more people with similar interests in sharing ideas and information for overnight adventures by bike both near and far, long and short. The Facebook group is pretty active and is the hub where members swap gear ideas, make weight-weenie suggestions, and organize rides.
Plus sized and fat bikes sort of dominate the scene out here but some members also ride CX and old 26″ MTBs. 1x set ups, internal gear hubs, straight bars, drop bars, frame bags, panniers, etc… There’s a bit of everything. And a lot of whisky. Bears, mice, raccoons and other hungry mammals are prevalent in most of these areas so knowing how to hang a bear bag is an essential skill.
Here are a few resources to help anyone interested in bikepacking around here get started!
The Government of Ontario provides detailed satellite imagery (much better than Google Maps!) and topographical maps for free. The satellite imagery is a good way to find trails that might not be marked on topographical maps or map books. If you want topographical maps from the federal government, JeffsTopos.com has them for the entire country as downloadable TIF files. Great resource!
By the way, we’re looking for similar free map resources for Québec and New York State. Anyone?
Ontario also has a fair amount of Crown Land, most of which is available for overnight camping (for up to 21 days in one location). To identify Crown Land, definitely check out the Government of Ontario’s Crown Land Use Policy Atlas. You can camp pretty much in any yellow area. It’s a good practice to print a copy of the specific area and policy you plan to camp on.
There are a few established Crown Land campsites in the Lanark & North Frontenac area that are quite popular and as a result, can be kind of dirty (broken glass and used toilet paper). Please do your part and leave the place cleaner than you found it. Also, don’t pack glass and be sure to use privies or dig cat holes if a privy isn’t available.
The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs maintains a useful map of snowmobile trails. Just keep in mind that these often cross swamps, lakes and private property (farm fields) where cyclists aren’t welcome. It helps to look at this map in satellite view to get a better sense of where you might water or cross private/developed land.
The Association motoneigistes de l’Outaouais also has a detailed map for Québec north of Ottawa.
The Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance helps maintain hundreds of kilometres of trails between Kingston and Pembroke and their map is useful to help plan a variety of different routes. An annual permit costs $50 for cyclists and goes a long way towards keeping the trails in good shape. This whole zone (which includes the K&P Trail) is littered with ATV trails begging to be ridden. The Trans-Canada Adventure Trail also runs through some pretty interesting sections of this area. Camping is available in the North Frontenac Park Lands for about $25/night. There’s are also free Crown Land camp sites on some roads like Ranger Camp Road and on an ATV trail at Lavant Long Lake. These are popular though and might be full and/or dirty. Please practice leave no trace principles.
Google Earth, Google Maps and Open Street Maps are still great resources. Strava’s Heat Map is also helpful to see if your intended route is popular (could be a good or bad thing!).
From Ottawa, Gatineau Park (a popular MTB & fatbike spot) is an easy option for a overnighter that you can start from your doorstep and take the Trans-Canada Trail pretty much all the way to Wakefield where you might stop at the Black Sheep Inn for a show, stop for a pint at the Chelsea Pub or take a dip in the Gatineau River across the Wakefield covered bridge. Front country camping is available inside the park. Besides that, no one really bothers you if you pitch a tent inside a cemetery. Just sayin’.
Once only a rumour and at most, a concept, Miles at Screaming Beaver bags is looking to officialize the Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) which is a ~436km amalgamation of various rail trails and other paths between Lake Ontario, Algonquin Park, Lindsay and Marmora. Camping is available at Trent-Severn Waterway lockstations, on Crown Land and at a few provincial parks.
This rail trail is managed by the various municipalities it runs through and therefore, you can expect different qualities in terrain. From Kingston riding on firm crushed gravel and under Highway 401, you’ll reach Harrowsmith where it links up with the Cataraqui Trail. Further north, particularly past Highway 7, where it crosses the Trans-Canada Trail at Sharbot Lake, the route changes in quality and travels through a lot of unmaintained Crown Land all the way to Renfrew. It also connects with different logging roads, hydro cuts and ATV trails which offer good loop options. Camping options south of Highway 7 are limited but from there, there’s Sharbot Lake Provincial Park and some Crown Land campsites off some side trails (Joe’s Lake & Lavant Long Lake). There are even four day-use shelters between Clyde Forks and Calabogie.
This rail trail is maintained by the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority and goes from Strathcona (near Napanee) all the way to Smiths Falls. It’s a nice route that crosses a few old trail bridges, a cheese factory and some swimming spots. It’s a good option for a Kingston to Ottawa route. Camping is available at Rideau Canal Lockstations (Chaffeys Lock and Smiths Falls). Watch out for poison ivy.
This forest is within Ottawa’s city limits and contains a vast network of fire roads and ATV trails. It’s flat, wet and is popular for ATVs and snowmobiles from fall to spring but in the summer, motorized vehicles are actually forbidden. Don’t be surprised if you see a shotgun shell or 50. Firing guns in there is popular. Do your part and pack some trash out. It gets really buggy so we don’t suggest sleeping there but you can camp at Burritts Rapids Lockstation on the Rideau Canal. Inside the forest, there are a few private properties. Please respect those signs. Trivia note: Nick Cage shot a movie at Burritts Rapids in the 80s (of course he did!).
This is another one that Miles from Screaming Beaver is developing in cooperation with some outfitters and Ontario Parks. There are already two mountain bike trails in the park but we hear that some railbeds that have also been poached by intrepid fatbikers. Camping is for sure available near the Minnesing Trail along portage routes at Polly Lake and Linda Lake. We occasionally talk/brainstorm/dream up other options in Algonquin on the Facebook Group. If you’re doing a linear route, most canoe outfitters will gladly shuttle you and your gear one way or another for a fee.
On occasion, the OVBC has traveled south of the border to explore the nearby ADK region of New York State. We are still exploring some “bike friendly” trails in the Adirondacks’ Black River Wild Forest, located well away from the crowded High Peaks region. In our experience so far, the campsites are absolutely pristine and beautiful but challenging to get to. Expect muddy, steep and rugged terrain. Despite the difficulty,, the lean tos built and maintained by the Adirondack Mountain Club can’t be passed up. We’d advise a late summer/early fall trip to avoid flooded areas in the spring. There are certain sections of the trail, however, that we hear are flooded year round (although the otherwise great NatGeo maps don’t indicate this). Protip: Accept that your feet will get wet so for camp, bring two grocery bags to use as shoe liners and an extra pair of dry socks.
This multi use rail trail between Kilbear Provincial Park on Georgian Bay and the western extremity of Algonquin Park is popular with ATVs, dirtbikes and snowmobiles but is open to cyclists too. The terrain is a mix of Canadian Shield, fine sand and flooded areas. Fatbikes are suggested but the route is also used by adventure race events where racers run CX bikes. A good linear route is the Séguin Trail section from Oastler Lake Provincial Park and head to Huntsville where you can stop at the pub for a pint. The trail is lined with a fair amount of Crown Land where camping is permitted. The trail crosses Swords, a remote Ontario ghost town. Protip: Accept that your feet will get wet so for camp, bring two grocery bags to use as shoe liners and an extra pair of dry socks.
Located north of Ottawa in Québec’s Pontiac region, this rail trail that follows the former Pontiac Pacific Junction line is an easy linear route between Bristol and L’Isle-aux-Allumettes. Camping is available at the Pine Lodge Golf Course in Bristol, Domaine de l’O in Fort-Coulonge and Macrocarpa on lac Coulonge. Expect cute small towns along the banks of the Ottawa River, nice waterfalls and farmland.
This route was developed for the overland adventure set riding dual sport motorcycles, Jeeps and Land Rovers but are begging to be bikepacked. Roughly, it starts in Cantley (in Québec, just outside Ottawa) and runs on a bunch of logging roads all the way to Lavérendrye Wildlife Reserve and through a few ZECs (controlled exploitation zones) where you can camp (probably for free?). Things start to get pretty interesting north of Otter Lake.
From Low, Québec to Maniwaki through Kitigan Zibi First Nation, this rail trail north of Ottawa and makes a great extension to an Ottawa to Wakefield trip. Lots of swimming opportunities in small lakes and the Gatineau River where you can expect to see a fair number of dams and waterfalls. There are a number of private campgrounds along the route but you can probably stealth camp in several places too.
Hopefully this helps inspire some folks! A lot of these routes can be connected in a variety of ways. Come visit us and choose your own adventure!