Cycling Grey & Bruce
By Sue Lebrecht
The country roads of Grey and Bruce counties spill over the land in a way that feels just right for cycling.
Roads flow with curves and undulations, tracing shorelines and fast track through fields. They twist and climb up the rocky Niagara Escarpment and roller coaster back down. The atmosphere is tranquil with little traffic.
Distinct setting, beaches, lighthouses, and islands highlight the shore while century-old stone buildings, ruins, apple orchards, elk farms and bison paddocks punctuate the land. The escarpment steals the scene of course, for those who rise to the challenge of its climb.
Alluring destinations are plentiful – including artist studios, rural gardens and antique shops. The locations of myriad points of interest can be found on the “Grey-Bruce Visitor Map”, available free from the tourism offices (see below).
Two great cycling brochures to Bruce and Grey counties, also free, pave the way. Featuring 24 different suggestions with maps, the brochures outline the most scenic roads while connecting the dots of attractions, linking lighthouses, old mills and waterfalls. One route cruises the banks of the Saugeen River, another from Lake Huron to Georgian Bay.
Consider, for example, the challenging 85 km “Island View Drive” route in Grey County. A combination of escarpment and coast, this dramatic loop beelines from Owen Sound to Oxenden (near Wiarton) climbing up and over the escarpment, then returns along the shore of Georgian Bay in giant horseshoe shape.
Rewards for your efforts are plentiful. There are spectacular lookouts, grand descents, and idyllic rest stops including the General Store at Big Bay where homemade ice cream awaits. Bruce’s Caves is also along the way where you can hike to fascinating caverns.
An easy pedaling route in Bruce County is “Beach 2 Beach” which runs between Southampton and Port Elgin. This 17 km loop follows the North Shore Road along Lake Huron one way and the Saugeen Rail Trail on the return.
Perfect for families, the route is short and sweet with eateries at either end. The rail trail is flat and hard packed while the shore roads have curves and gentle rollers. Also, the traffic between the two summer hot spots is minimal now, in autumn.
Be sure to bring a bike lock and stop for a bite and a tour of shops. In Southampton you may also want to visit the impressive Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre. Access to the rail trail in Southampton can be found at the intersection of Grosvenor St. and Peel St., in Port Elgin off Gustavus, just east of Highway 21.
The most well developed rail trail is the 32 km Georgian Trail, between Collingwood and Meaford. Smooth enough for a road bike; it has kilometer points on posts, and boulders and stop signs at road intersections.
Running parallel to the Niagara Escarpment and the shore of Georgian Bay, it offers a lovely cruise through patches of field, forest and wetland. You’ll catch glimpses of blue water to one side, and forested ridge to the other. Old trestles span streams and a river, and the distinctive Craigleith Depot – one of the last wooden CNR stations (now a community interpretation centre) – provides an historic reminder.
You can access the trail in Collingwood at Harbourview Park at the foot of Birch Street (west of Hurontario), and in Meaford at Meaford Harbour at the base of Bridge Street.
A noteworthy cycling event to mark in your calendar is the Centurion (http://centurioncycling.com/) taking place September 14 to 16 in 2012 at Blue Mountain Resort. It features 25-, 50- and 100-mile courses, along with rides for ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. This year’s 3rd annual event attracted 3,500 riders, and organizers are expecting an even bigger crowd next year.