Riding the Old Railway Trail
Our annual Fall trip to Algonquin is a bit of a celebration for us. It’s always our last trip of the year before we clean our gear and store it away until it’s time to play again next year. Every September for the last three years, we’ve paddled the lakes and hiked the trails. But the one thing we haven’t taken advantage of are the park’s bike trails. That’s mostly because taking three bikes, along with all our other gear for a week-long trip is a bit of a logistics pain, and this year’s trip was no different. But I have to admit, more than once while we were getting ready for the trip, and on the four hour drive to the park I couldn’t help wishing we had brought our bikes. It’s even possible that I muttered something about it out loud…. more than once.
So when my friends at Algonquin Outfitters offered us the chance to try out their bike rental service in the park, we jumped at it. The last time we rode at Algonquin, Emma was sporting a tiny two-wheeler with training wheels. We had to bribe her with the promise of ice cream to ride a small portion of the Old Railway Trail from our campsite at Mew Lake to the Lake of Two Rivers Store. She was about six years old and did a great job pedalling the hard packed trail, even if we did stop frequently to fix the training wheels that were never meant for off-road riding. This year she’s 10 years old and a lot taller, a lot braver and definitely ready to take-on a few kilometres – without training wheels. (We still bribed her with the promise of ice cream at the end of the ride. It seems that has become a bit of a tradition.)
The weather was perfect for a biking when we pulled up to the Bike Rental shed at the Lake of Two Rivers Store and we were excited to get our wheels, even though we had no idea what kind of bikes they had to offer before we got there. I was kind of expecting low-end work horses that would get us over the trails safely. But when Jordan the AO Bike Guy (not his official title) walked to the racks and picked a couple of sweet Specialized mountain bikes for Emma and I, we were surprised and very happy. The bike I left hanging in my garage is a Specialized and I love that bike. In fact, I love it so much I’ve had it for about 20 years and have been refusing to replace it. Alex decided to give fat biking a try. His ride was a Salsa, sporting awesome fat tires.
Jordan sized the bikes perfectly for all of us. Bright red for the kid and lime green for me, white for Alex. As we checked them over, we discovered the bikes were like new. In fact, I found out from Algonquin Outfitters that they are committed to providing high-quality bikes for their rentals and that they only use them for one or two seasons before they are replaced. Our bikes were new at the start of the season this year and had clearly been maintained well. I didn’t see any sign of wear or abuse. So on the one hand, I was right. The bikes are work horses. But they are top-pedigree, shiny, fresh horses.
With our helmets on (also provided by AO) and our bikes ready to go, Jordan handed us a map of the Old Railway Bike Trail. He gave us some good pointers about the trail including where some of the best places to see wildlife are along the route, and gave us a heads-up that bears had been seen on the trail recently. He also pointed out that the Algonquin Outfitters phone number was on the map in case we needed any assistance while we were out there. Happily, we didn’t need to call for help. But we made sure we kept the map in a safe spot “just in case”.
I think we must have looked like frequent riders to him. Or maybe we looked smarter than we actually were. Because he didn’t tell us how many hours the full trail takes to ride, both ways. Guess what? The full trail from the Algonquin Outfitters Bike Rental Shed to the end of the trail at Rock Lake Campground is long. As in 10 km long, one way. Twenty kilometres is a long ride when you haven’t been on a bike in months (or years). With a lot of stops to admire our bikes from the ground, refuel with drinks and snacks, time to soak up the scenery and rest our sore bums and burning legs, the entire ride took us about four hours, which was the full rental period for our bikes that day.
The terrain for this ride is really easy going as it is an old railway line. The inclines are gentle and there aren’t really any technical sections. A beginner rider can handle the Old Railway trail, making it awesome for families. My comments about sore bums and burning legs are more due to the fact that we hadn’t been on bikes in far too long, than the difficulty of the trail. This is a fun ride, not a technical ride. Just know your physical ability and remember that the trail isn’t a loop. If you are starting to get tired, you have the same distance to ride back to your starting point. Anybody who can ride a bike can enjoy the Old Railway Trail and love it for it’s amazing scenery and landmarks of the park’s human history. In particular, look for the train trestle to nowhere and the remains of the Whitefish Lake Sawmill.
The only real hiccup to using rental bikes was at the beginning of our ride, when Emma and I struggled a bit to figure out how to change gears on our bikes. Our personal bikes have a different system than the rentals, and we weren’t given a basic “how-to” orientation before we left the shed. This was not a huge deal as we figured out how to change gears on our own fairly fast, but it did make the start of our ride a bit awkward.
Paddling Algonquin is a great tradition with so many of us who love the park. But I really recommend that you add peddling Algonquin to your next fair-weather visit. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon in the park, and taking advantage of Algonquin Outfitters’ Bike Rental at the Lake of Two Rivers Store makes it even easier when you don’t have your own bike with you.
PS – A note about that lime green bike Jordan hooked me up with….. I really, really liked that bike. So much in fact, that I have decided to retire my beloved, 20 year-old Specialized Hard Rock for a ride just like the one I had at Algonquin. Thanks, Algonquin Outfitters, for introducing me to the world of biking in the 21st century!
Old Railway Trail Map
Other Useful Links
- Algonquin Outfitters Lake of Two Rivers Store
- Algonquin Outfitters Bike Rentals
- Algonquin Park Old Railway Bike Trail
- Old Railway Bike Trail Map
“Get Outside. Go Explore. Do Stuff!” Gayle is an outdoor/lifestyle blogger who wants to inspire people to get outside, go explore and do stuff. She’s a hiker, camper, paddler, snowshoer and geocacher who loves to get outside with her daughter and husband. Gayle’s blog, Sometimes Eventful is all about her adventures with her family in Ontario’s outdoors. Gayle is also the host of the #WeGetOutside Twitter chat, which runs every Tuesday from September to May.