Bike Trail: Barrie-Penetanguishene-Midland-Coldwater-Orillia-Barrie
This monograph describes a route that enables a bicyclist (riding a road bike, hybrid or mountain bike) to travel in a circular route from Barrie to Penetanguishene, Midland, Coldwater, Orillia and back to Barrie, utilizing the rail trails and waterfront trails of Simcoe County.
The trail passes through some very pleasant countryside and waterfront in an historic part of Southern Ontario. The entire area is great for biking and exploring. There is easy access off the trail to paved and secondary roads that are not heavily traveled, to beaches, historic sites and marsh areas for birding or wildlife observation – the route is a hidden gem.
The foundation for the route is a set of rail trails described in the booklet – Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net. The combined length is about 150 km.
Topographical maps NTS 31D/5 (Barrie), 31D/11 (Orillia), 31D/12 (Elmvale) and 31D/13.(Penetanguishene) provide valuable information and are highly recommended. Also, we have a map here that you can print and use (click on thumbnail).
The booklet, however, does not describe the necessary connections from the rural rail trails to the urban waterfront trails to enable the rider to get into the cities and towns. Because cities and towns can be a challenge for bicyclists, I have described these connections in considerable detail in this monograph.
The rail trail surfaces very considerably from section to section. Several are compacted limestone and two sections in Tiny Township are paved asphalt. The remainder are hard-packed sand. The waterfront trails are excellent and paved. Only one section requires attention: the 7 km coarse gravel trail between Waubaushene and Coldwater.
Recommended Direction of Travel
I recommend that a clockwise direction be used to circumnavigate the route. The topography of the City of Barrie is the reason for this preference. The north slopes of the hills around Barrie are steeper than the south slopes, and it is advantageous to ride north/northwest out of Barrie. With the exception of Barrie, most of the biking on the overall route is a relatively flat profile.
I recommend starting from Barrie on the Waterfront Trail on Kempenfelt Bay. All four larger communities on the route have developed fine waterfronts and trails, and the Barrie waterfront is no exception, stretching from Heritage Park to Centennial Park and around to Minet’s Point Park. Barrie has several Roadway Bicycle Routes, which are well signed. The Tourist Information Centre in Barrie is located in the Southshore Community Centre, half-way between Centennial Park and Minet’s Point Park.
The Bicycle Routes are described in a pdf file labeled “Barrie Recreational Map”, available from the Centre, or on-line:
I spent considerable time finding what I consider the best (a blend of low traffic volume, easy access, reduced hill incline and attractiveness) route out of Barrie to connect to the North Simcoe Rail Trail:
Starting at Centennial Park, ride west on Victoria, north on Innisfil, west on Perry, north on Frances and west on Donald. Donald ends at Anne Street (a major thoroughfare). Turn north on Anne Street and ride on the sidewalk over the bridge, which goes over Highway 400. Continue on the sidewalk to the first junction on the left, which is Edgehill Drive. Ride west on Edgehill Drive, a very pleasant street, for several intersections until you reach Ferndale Drive. Ferndale Drive has a paved bike path, separate from the road, on both east and west sides. Turn north on the bike path and ride up the hill until the path runs out. This is where you leave the City of Barrie. Continue north. Ferndale Drive turns into Wilson Drive, starting at Highway 26. Continue along Wilson Drive for about 2 miles and turn left (west) onto Seadon Road, a nice rural road. Continue on Seadon for about 3 miles. Seadon ends at the George Johnson Highway. Turn right (north) on George Johnson on a paved bike path, which descends quite steeply in two sections over about 1.5 miles. At the base of the hill you will come across the North Simcoe Rail Trail. Turn right (north) on the Trail.
This is the most difficult section of the entire route, in terms of traffic. However, where traffic is bad, bike paths separate from the roadway are provided.
I refuse to ride on major thoroughfares – they are dangerous and unpleasant – a combination which I abhor. The routing in this monograph is planned to avoid major thoroughfares.
The North Simcoe Rail Trail (Map 21) is described in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net.
The Trail follows the route of the North Simcoe Railway - built in the 1870’s to serve the lumber business on Georgian Bay. It offers good views of Minesing Swamp and Mayer’s Marsh, both excellent birding sites – bring bug spray or ride fast past these sites.
Historic Fort Willow, at the end of the Nine-Mile Portage connecting Lake Simcoe (at Barrie) through the Nottawasaga River to Georgian Bay (at Wasaga Beach) is very close and worth a detour. It was constructed and used by Canadian troops during the War of 1812 between Canada and the USA.
The Trail is composed of crushed stone or dirt and easy to navigate. It gradually increases in elevation as it approaches Anten Mills. From there on toward Elmvale the route is quite flat.
At Flos Road Seven the trail has been usurped for a concession. Turn left at the junction and ride west on Flos Road Seven to the next concession (Usher’s Road) and turn right, going north.
There is a riding option here. For the first time rider, I recommend remaining on Usher’s Road for four concessions until it hits a T-junction at the Flos/Tiny Township Line Road and Tiny Marsh Provincial Park. Turn right, ride east for one Concession and cross over Tiny County Road 6 (a very busy road). About 30 meters after crossing County Road 6 you will come across the Tiny Trail. Turn left on this trail going north toward Penetanguishene.
The above option is the easiest, but it does mean that that one misses Elmvale, which is a pretty community. The town has not maintained the Rail Trail within its confines and the roads going north (to Midland) and west (to Wasaga Beach) from Elmvale are busy.
One can follow the abandoned CNR rail tracks through the town, but there is a bridge just north of the town that has not been maintained and a gate has been erected to protect the public. Personally I pick up my bike, climb the fence, and ride over the bridge. It’s fine, just not weight-bearing for a vehicle. Some people would not be comfortable with this option.
The Tiny Trail is illustrated in Map 27 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net .
The Tiny Trail links the North Simcoe Rail Trail to the Penetanguishene Waterfront Trail. It is 23 km long, crushed stone, and is a multi-use trail for snowmobiles and ATVs, but not dirt bikes. For a considerable distance it parallels County Road 6 and then veers north starting at Concession 8 and swings further north starting at Concession 12.
It is a very attractive trail, especially close to Penetanguishene, where there are 11 newly constructed bridges over Copeland Creek. This section of the Trail is paved and snowmobiles and ATVs are not permitted.
The Trail follows the abandoned Rail Line through a residential area and connects with the Penetanguishene Waterfront Trail at the intersection of Robert Street and Centre Street.
The Penetanguishene Waterfront Trail is illustrated on Map 23B in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net. Also included in the booklet is Map 23A, which illustrates several more biking trails in the town.
Penetang is a charming old town, steeped in history, as is its neighbour Midland. It is worth a stay in the area to see where the explorers Samuel de Champlain and Etienne Brule visited in the 1610’s, and where the Huron and the Iroquois fought after the arrival of the white man. A Royal Navy Base was constructed in Penetanguishene, after the War of 1812. The main building of the base now houses a theatrical company – the King’s Wharf Theatre.
It is an extremely interesting biking area…hilly, but not extreme. There are some lovely vistas overlooking the southern section of Georgian Bay.
Other interesting sites in the area include Awenda Provincial Park, Christian Islands Indian Reserve and Thunder Bay - a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay.
The connection from the Tiny Trail to the Pentanguishene Waterfront Trial is easy, as described. The connection between Penetanguishene and Midland is slightly more complex, keeping in mind that the main criterion is Avoid Major Roads.
Penetanguishene – Midland Connection
A map of the Town of Penetanguishene is available through Google map, as are all the town and cities.
There are two optional routes connecting Penetanguishene and Midland. Both routes start the same way:
Starting at the Tourist Information Centre at the Town Dock in Penetanguishene ride up Main Street to Robert Street, near the top of the hill. Turn left on Robert Street and ride east for one block to Maria Street. Turn right onto Maria Street and ride south for 3 blocks to Thompsons Road (where the local arena is situated).
Option 1: Continue on Maria Street across Thompsons Road. Continue until you come to a T-junction. Turn right and ride until you come to another T-junction at Murray Road. Continue on Murray Road to the end where a dirt bike/ATV trail starts. The trail bears southeast and connects with Sunnyside Drive. Turn right on Sunnyside and descend a step hill. At the bottom of the hill there is a swamp on your right and a short spur road going to a marina on your left. Turn left. The connection to the Midland Rotary Waterfront Trail is at the end of this spur.
This route is illustrated in the pdf Trail Map from the Town of Midland: www.town.midland.on.ca/ws_par/groups/public/@pub/@midland/documents/web_content/wspar_018346.pdf
Option 2: Turn left on Thompsons Road and ride east for several small blocks.
At the last house on the south side of Thompsons Road, just after Jennings Drive there is a dirt bike/ATV trail. Turn right on this trail. The trail continues from Thompsons Road, across Brunelle Road and bears southeast until it comes out at Huron Street in the City of Midland. Ride up Huron Street for half a block and turn left (east) onto Everton Street. Continue on Everton Street for three blocks until you reach Sunnyside Drive. Turn right, as described in Option 1, and turn left onto the spur road going to the marina. The connection to the Midland Rotary Waterfront Trail is at the end of this spur.
The Midland Rotary Waterfront Trail is illustrated on Map 20 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net.
The Midland Waterfront Trail is paved and winds its way around the Midland waterfront for about 8 km, after which it connects with the Tay Shore Trail. The Tourist Information Centre for Midland is located at the Town Dock, at a well-designed parkette on the Waterfront Trail, at the bottom of King Street.
Midland is an attractive small town. Little Lake Park in the center of town is worth a visit, as is Huronia Museum, which is in the park. There has been considerable residential and condominium development along the waterfront in recent years, and the area is quite accessible to the public, especially after development of the waterfront trail.
Tay Shore Trail
The Tay Shore Trail is illustrated on Map 25 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net. You can also download a map and comprehensive 60-page guide from the Tay Township website.
The Trail is fully paved and winds along the southern shore of Georgian Bay for 16 km from the Midland Waterfront Trail to Waubaushene, with a spur trail to Port McNicoll. The trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail System.
There are many points of interest on the trail.
· Martyrs Shrine – Honours the eight Jesuit missionaries who died here in 1649.
· Sainte Marie Among the Hurons – Formerly a French Jesuit settlement, it has been reconstructed and is now a living museum.
· Wye Marsh – Home to an amazing diversity of bird species. The Wye River flows into Georgian Bay where the Trail begins and where Sainte Marie Among the Hurons is situated.
The paved Trail ends at the Coldwater Road Park in Waubaushene, just below the Highway 400 overpass. However the trail does not stop there.
Waubaushene – Coldwater Connection
The Trail section between Waubaushene and Coldwater is the most difficult section of the overall route…a mountain bike is recommended. I use a road bike, however, because it is easier to ride on the rest of the trail – less friction.
The trail is constructed of fairly coarse crushed stone. It starts in Waubaushene, where the Tay Trail stops (at the Highway 400 overpass), and continues along the abandoned CNR rail tracks to Coldwater. It is situated between Matchedash Bay and Highway 12. It is a snowmobile/ATV/dirt bike track but only 7 kilometers in length.
My experience with riding on coarse gravel is that one is more stable if one maintains speed, rather than trying to negotiate the stones.
There are several campgrounds beside the trail and a couple of service roads near Fesserton (about half-way). I recommend using these paths and roads where possible.
This section of the Trail ends just south of the corner where County Road 17 turns into Big Chute Road and just north of Brick Pond Road in Coldwater. An alternative, as you approach Coldwater, is to take a spur trail south. This trail emerges on Sturgeon Bay Road at the Beer Store.
Coldwater is a small community with an interesting museum, formerly a grist mill on the Coldwater River. The mill also houses a good Bistro on the east side.
The Uhthoff Trail is illustrated on Map 28 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net.
The Trail is 22 km long and extends from the Coldwater Arena to Wilson Point Road in Orillia. It is quite scenic and one of my favourite sections of the overall Trail. The surface is crushed limestone. As noted in the booklet, there are a variety of barns visible from the Trail. The trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail System.
The Millenium Waterfront Trail in Orillia is one of the best conceived and executed of all the waterfront trails. It is illustrated on Map 22 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net .
Part of the Trail is paved and the rest is fine gravel. It extends from the junction with the Uhthoff Trail at Wilson Point Road to the Narrows, where Lake Simcoe connects to Lake Couchiching. My favourite section is at Tudhope Park, where there is an attractive beach, with change rooms and picnic tables in a wooded setting.
The Tourist Information Centre for Orillia is located in the former CNR station, which was reconstructed in the style of the former 1920’s Grand Trunk Station. It is located at 150 Front Street near King Street. It is slightly back from the waterfront and not visible from the Trail. There are several paths that connect the Info Centre to the Millenium Trail, but they are not marked and there is no signage that I could see.
It is important to locate the Tourist Information Centre because the bike path west out of Orillia, connecting with the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail to Barrie, starts here at Front Street, and goes due west between King and Queen, crosses West Street and veers south of the Barrie Road. It is a well-used path and quite visible. Only between Front and West Streets is there any difficulty picking it up. The trail continues for about 4 km, going under a Highway 12 overpass and continuing to Woodland Drive where it connects with Oro-Medonte Rail Trail.
The Oro-Medonte Rail Trail is illustrated on Map 19 in the booklet - Simcoe County Trails: Ready to Explore – www.simcoecountytrails.net.
The Trail is 28 km long and extends from Woodland Drive outside Orillia to the Penetanguishene Road, outside Barrie. It is a relatively dull ride, with not much interesting scenery. The surface of crushed limestone is well packed and can be ridden quite rapidly.
Near the south end of the trail, there is no visible routing from Line 1 to the Pentanguishene Road. I recommend following Line 1 south to Ridge Road, which becomes Shanty Bay Road. Follow Shanty Bay Road to the Penetanguishene Road. Turn left or south until meeting up with the Barrie North Shore Trail.
The Barrie North Shore Trail travels back into Barrie, along the north shore of Kempenfelt Bay. This is a very well used section of the trail. There are several parks and Johnsons Beach, which are accessible from the trail and which explain its popularity.
The Trail ends at Heritage Park on the Barrie Waterfront Trail
There are a number of restaurants, bistros and bars on the waterfronts in all the communities. Convenience stores are also readily accessible. Elmvale and Coldwater (which are not on large bodies of water) have satisfactory, easy-to-find restaurants. My experience is good service and low prices.
To travellers from overseas I would recommend leaving a minimum of 3 days to explore the area. After flying to Toronto International a GO Train could be taken from Toronto to Barrie. Accommodation in Barrie could be used as a base for the biking trip. There are several bike rental shops in Barrie.
There are many accommodation options, including B&Bs and hotels – on the trail or just off it. Some of these accommodations are signed from the trail. At present the signage is directed to snowmobilers, but as the Trans-Canada Trail system develops more signage will be directed to bikers and hikers. I’m sure that transportation of personal belongings could be arranged at the B&B or hotel so that it would not be necessary to carry all your stuff on a bike. From Barrie, no place is further than an hour’s ride by car.
There is a mélange of cultures in the area, as you have probably deduced from the write-up. There are several Indian Reserves and the Aboriginal/Metis presence has definitely influenced the art. There are many public and private art galleries on the peninsular, and some very talented artists. Every community has at least one museum.
There is a large French-speaking presence, concentrated in the north-west section of the peninsula starting north of Elmvale, extending to Penetanguishene, Lafontaine and stretching to Cedar Point. This provides a certain degree of bon vivance.
The area is predominantly rural, with a number of mixed farm operations.
As said before this peninsula is a bucolic hidden gem – Highly Recommended.
This page contributed by: Rod Williamson, Peterborough, Ontario – firstname.lastname@example.org