Make your way to Lake Huron via the 82 km Bruce County and 8 km Saugeen Rail Trails for your holidays. Cruise the wide open spaces, spend time in old farm towns, walk endless beaches, and take in the laid-back vibe of this quiet part of SW Ontario.
I have combined two rail trails (RT) for this review as they do connect to give many options in planning your travels.
The Saugeen RT segment connects the two summer resort towns of Port Elgin and Southampton. This long-established path has all the extras and amenities RT riders like and expect.
It’s a pleasure to cycle along, though it’s a short outing: well marked and maintained, and, as with most RT, no hills and no ATVs.
A favourite loopback is to cycle the North Shore trail along the water. Visiting these two towns and the shoreline is an enjoyable way to spend the day.
The other, much longer route is almost finished getting resurfaced and 90% ready for you to consider venturing on. This adds the possibility of long day trips or doing a multiday Bikepacking trip. I think this RT has potential and with time will evolve into a popular destination.
What was five years ago once a hellish minefield of stones and washboarding that only an ATV or MTB could manage has been tamed. Only one small 8 km segment from the Port Elgin junction to Hwy 40 is still rough and due to be resurfaced by mid-summer 2023. Hurray!
The Bruce County RT starts on Huron Bruce Rd., in the middle of Ontario farmlands, on the county boundary. Even though the tracks did at one time go much farther, the trail does not. (I think this is a classic case where one county kept the rail lands when the tracks were lifted and the neighbouring county let it be sold off (in the ’80s). So much for forethought.)
Starting northwest of the village of Clifford, this RT heads that direction towards Lake Huron, passing through Mildmay, Walkerton, and Paisley to Port Elgin. Here the RT splits at the junction; the Bruce RT goes left 18 km farther SW, almost to Inverhuron Provincial Park. Going right is the Saugeen RT.
Your ride will have farms and fields with that big-sky feel (which means not much shade), interrupted by sleepy towns that once depended on the rails to bring goods to market. ATVs use the route, so expect a few and let them pass. I have never had a problem.
After an old rail bridge in Paisley was set on fire by vandals in 2021, repairs are underway, so expect a detour here. It should be reopened by the end of October 2022.
I have spent time in this area over the years. Back when I organized bike club weekend trips, we camped at MacGregor Point P.P. or the Saugeen Bluffs Conservation Area. We even spent a day paddling down the mellow Saugeen River from Paisley. Look up outfitters in this town if you are keen to rent a canoe or kayak.
May I also suggest visiting the warm waters of Sauble Beach further up the shoreline. And just off the Bruce RT is an easy mountain bike ride at Brant Tract.
One of the best things about coming out this way is the lack of unbearable holiday traffic. It is a three-hour drive from the GTA, so make it a weekend or longer. There is plenty here to see and do.
This new ride review is not yet published in my book, but 65 other great destinations are, with better maps, parking suggestions & train history. Available as an eBook or paperback.