This one we'd been trying to organize all through spring, summer and fall of 2020: a nice leisurely bike ride through some of Eastern Ontario's prettiest lake and cottage country. We finally did it on a beautiful early October day.
The route for our fall ride was a rails-to-trail route known as The Cataraqui Trail. It is a multi-use pathway that stretches for 105 kilometres through Eastern Ontario. It runs along the bed of a former CN railway line that was decommisioned in the 1980s and eventually turned into a recreational path. On its western end, the trail starts in Strathcona, Ontario (near Napanee) and ends in Smiths Falls, Ontario (not far west of Ottawa). The total distance is 105 kilometres. You can read more about the Cataraqui trail here
Now, while we originally wanted to do a run of the whole trail in a long day, we instead decided to take it easy and sample the middle third of the trail, from the town of Harrowsmith eastward to highway 15 - a distance of about 45 kilometres.
It was a warm and slightly hazy fall day over Eastern Ontario. Since we were only doing 45 kilometres, we weren't in any rush to get started early, and we only had ourselves set up with cars at both ends by 11:30 a.m.
Pu, Brian and I soon afterwards headed off eastwards on the Cataraqui Trail. Here the trailbed was primarily a fine crushed gravel, and, as you would expect from an old railbed, quite smooth and level, with only a very slight initial rise. All around us, the deciduous trees (Eastern Ontario is mostly mixed woodland) still had their leaves, but overall, the colors were past their peak.
We soon arrived at the junction with another rails-to-trail trail, known as the K & P (which stands for Kingston and Pembroke, the name of the former railway that used to use it). At this junction, one can head south and make it all the way to Kingston. An idea for a future outing!
About half an hour after heading out, we arrived at the little town of Sydenham. We took a tiny detour off of the trail here to visit Trousdale's - the oldest operating general store in Canada. Immediately beyond Sydenham, the Cataraqui trail runs along a beautiful stretch adjacent to Sydenham Lake.
Canada's Oldest General Store
Beautiful Marshy Shoreline
There are a few spots along the Cataraqui where the trail authority has set up a small waystop with a bench. We came up to one of these next to a small body of water known as Hogan Lake, and stopped here for our lunch break. We noted how the trail was nicely un-busy and quiet as we munched on our apples and pita and cookies.
Twin Tracks through the fall
Continuing on eastward, the Cataraqui trail becomes a little more rustic. The wide crushed gravel bed is replaced by two car-width strips of dirt with a lane of grass in between. The foliage crowds in a bit closer on either side, and the trailside indications of civilization become fewer. There were a few beautiful stretches through open marsh and wetland, which gave us the ability to look out over larger expanses of the pretty countryside.
Farmland Hillside in Fall Colors
After passing through a small pass in the terrain, with rocky walls on each side (a spot apparently known as Frank's Culvert), we came to another of the little trailside benches, and stopped for an afternoon snack break. I scrambled up to the top of a nearby outcropping of rock to take a panoramic view of the trail and the adjacent lake. It was by this time mid-afternoon and we had only made it a little over half-way on our journey - about 25 kilometres. Our slowness was mainly due to my frequent photo and video stops, which thankfully Pu and Brian didn't seem to mind too much.
Frank's Culvert and Stonehouse Lake
Stonehouse Lake rest stop
Cycling above Garter Lake
Highlights of the final third of our cycle included an elevated ledge above the waters of long and skinny Garter Lake, and the crossing of the Rideau Canal waterway at Chaffey's Locks. Here a very substantial and high railway bridge crosses the canal, and offers some very nice views of the waterway and the recreational cottages and docks along it. Also of note is the very cool troll-supplied bike tire repair station on the bridge.
Approaching, Pu and Brian
After Chaffey's Locks, it was a straightforward fifteen or so kilometres to the crossing of Highway 15, and with it, the end of today's cycle. By now we had sampled most of the different types of terrain and scenery along the trail, and the novelty had slightly worn off - but it was still a very pleasant and easy cycle. We arrived at Highway 15 (and its associated Cataraqui Trail parking lot) shortly after 4:15pm. The Cataraqui Trail continued off to the northeast, headed to Smith Falls; that stretch would have to wait for another day.
And finally, let's present a two-minute video montage of our great fall bike ride along the middle stretch of the Cataraqui Trail:
A Video Montage of the Cataraqui Trail
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Cataraqui Trail middle section - click map to view
Cataraqui Trail Harrowsmith to Hwy15 - Cycle Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet