What is a Rail Trail in Ontario?
What once were railway lines are now public recreational trails. As railroads abandoned many of their extra routes, local governments and outdoor groups took on the redevelopment of these transportation corridors.
With the tracks removed, railway beds are often re-paved with crushed stone and marked with signage along the way.
The more popular Rail Trails are well maintained, drain well, with an even grade. Others are a little wild and overgrown with larger gravel, tall grasses and maybe a missing bridge or fallen tree.
Rail Trails are free to use, easy to cycle, long in length and far removed from the city chaos.
As multi-use paths, you will be sharing the route with hikers, joggers, horse riders and cross-country skiers. Some Rail Trails ban motorized vehicles, while others may allow ATV and snowmobile traffic.
What is it Like to Cycle a Rail Trail?
Cycling a Rail Trail is unique and different than other forms of trail riding. Because trains needed a gradual slope to climb hills and it was always cheaper to lay straight track, your path will be similar.
This makes for an easy cycle along flat, wide, straight paths. The turns along the route will be an even, wide arc as trains would need broad curves to stay on the tracks at higher speeds.
So if the riding is level there is little shifting to do. Find your groove and start cruising.
What you will find are quiet, uncrowded, car free routes that take you through woodlots, across farm fields and behind homes and cottages. Nature is right by as you cross wetlands and pass through rock cuts. You may even see a deer or hawk.
Some rail trails have opportunities to find some good fishing or even pitch a tent.
Most rail trails have been grown over with trees for shade but there will still be times the hot sun and blowing wind will be there along the stretches of open field.
Often old train bridges and underpasses are still in place which is pretty cool. Some sections of old rail line may have been sold to farmers or land developers before the Rail Trail was created. This, unfortunately, will create a detour on side roads. Other times a bridge could be missing or replaced with a smaller version.
Rail Trails are not crowded. There is plenty of privacy and elbow room for your bicycle. You might see one rider every 15 minutes coming the other way. Some are barely used, undiscovered relics that are more known to the ATV and snowmobile crowd
Who is Suited For a Bicycle Rail Trail Ride?
There are Two Types of Bicycle Riders that would Typically Enjoy Rail Trails :
#1 – The casual cyclist who rides easy park paths with a hybrid bicycle. They want no hills and nothing tricky to navigate. These bike riders just want to cruise with friends or family on a car free route, maybe do 10 – 15 km then turn around and head back.
#2 – The long distance mountain bike rider who wishes to cover 40 – 80 km in a day at a faster pace looking for some adventure, car free. This could be a multi-day outing Bikepacking connecting with other trails or dirt roads to do a loop. One would carry supplies, similar to Bike Touring on the road.
As an easy ride, I find Rail Trails good for a relaxing, effortless pedal to ponder and reflect on things or think of nothing at all. To some, this can be boring as it is nothing like a MTB trail that needs your full attention.
But it is a great way to just cruise and get away from your troubles and all those tasks back home. One’s focus can wander to thoughts and plans of future projects, trips…( or even what my next site post could be)
What do I Need to Bring on a Rail Trail Bike Ride?
Since most Rail Trails pass few towns that have amenities or bike shops, you need to be somewhat self-sufficient. As always have your repair kit with you for flats or mechanical bike fixes.
Now you could ride well maintained routes with a crushed stone base on a road bike, but you will likely get a flat with those skinny tires beyond this. A better choice is a hybrid bike or MTB that has fatter tires to manage the larger pointy rocks and sandy spots, a must on trails like the Seguin.
Pack lots of water and snacks. Some routes have towns with diners and variety stores. Do check on this because Ontario is a large place and these spots are far between.
Bring layered clothing, as the weather could change and a rain shelter may be an hour away. Bugs are sometimes a problem in the spring or in wet summers when travelling through marshlands.
Since rail trails are pretty wide, picking up an itch from poison ivy or a tick is reduced if you stick to the center of the path and avoid tall grasses.
A smartphone with GPS can help tell you how far you have gone and how far to go. And some of those rail track beds go straight on forever… so getting lost is not easy to do.
Rail Trail Bicycle Routes in Ontario
Having been here first, railway lines cut across Ontario, Canada in all directions. Many go straight into town along waterfronts and through now populated neighbourhoods. Trains carried people from town to town and goods to ports and local enterprises.
At times the terrain made track switchbacks, and bridges had to span valleys and rivers to get through. If a farm got there first, surveyors had to find cheaper routes and put track along wetlands and ravines.
Upon the Canadian Shield, the railways had to contend with getting around many small lakes and blasting through rock to make an even grade.
Track also passed by farms that could ship their produce, or mines with their ore and sawmills with loads of timber. Though much of this is history you can ride a trail and often figure out what transpired and why they laid the track as they did.
enjoy your ride and give yourself LOTS of time – Dan