Women Riders Tour in Northern Ontario [Video]
Take eight experienced women riders from across North America, give them brand new touring motorcycles, set them loose in Northern Ontario for a few days and there are bound to be adventures. Add in the facts that they’re motorcycle journalists and communities are expecting them and you’ve set the stage for what will undoubtedly be many memorable experiences.
This June, Ottawa Valley Tourism Association worked with Go Ride Ontario and Trillium Motorcycle Tours and Events to organize a five-day women’s tour through the Ottawa Valley and Algonquin Park. Motorcycles were generously provided by Deeley Harley-Davidson, BMW Motorrad Canada and Honda Canada.
One doesn’t need to look far to see evidence of the explosive growth in women’s motorcycle touring. The latest stats from the US Motorcycle Industry Council in 2008 reveal that 23.7% of riders are women. Tourism providers, awakening to the fact that there is a large demographic ready to travel, are responding with a growing number of creative options.
While southern Ontario destinations with their close proximity to Toronto are more familiar to riders, the northern portion of the province has been relatively unnoticed…until now. The area is easy to access, has amazing roads, beautiful scenery and very little traffic. Its pioneer heritage is still evident and just riding through it takes you back to much simpler times. Tucked throughout the area are unique attractions that offer an appealing, adventuresome twist to a Girls Getaway trip.
After converging in Ottawa from across North America, renewing acquaintances and matching up bikes with riders, it was a short one-hour ride northwest to Calabogie, our first destination.
The last half of the ride hinted at the amazing roads and scenery we could expect in the Ottawa Valley. Calabogie Peaks Resort, our host for the night, is set in the centre of delightful riding country and would make a great weekend destination. On-site restaurant dining or the seasonal beach-front bar and grill mean you don’t have to saddle up again after a long day of riding. An outdoor hot tub, hiking, golfing and boating offer are all available at the resort.
The surrounding area is a rider’s delight. Known for endless twisties that cut through forests and between lakes, you can ride for long periods with little traffic and few signs of civilization. Nestled in nearby Burnstown and well worth the stop is The Blackbird Café, tastefully decorated with historic artifacts. They served an outstanding lunch with delicious salads and tasty, artistically presented entrees. The portions are very large and two girlfriends could easily be satisfied sharing one meal.
A highlight of the day and a great idea for a Girl’s Weekend is a Track Day at Calabogie Motorsports Park. Hidden from the main road, the 5.05 km track is carved out of the surrounding forest. As a special treat, track manager Jane Blinn led us and our touring bikes around the track. All I can say is I need to go back.
Leaving the track behind, we enjoyed more twists, turns and a few picturesque towns before a meandering scenic ride along the Ottawa River led us to London House Inn and Spa. The tranquil woodland garden setting for the historic buildings is a juxtaposition to the high-adventure white water rafting expeditions offered by professionally managed River Run Rafting on the same property. White-water rafting followed by a spa treatment, capped off by unwinding in the outdoor hot tub or pool is another great idea for a Girl’s Getaway Weekend.
The Inn, converted from a restored historic home is cozy, charming and well appointed. The central common area is a great spot to spend a social evening. All rooms have a dedicated bathroom and all except the loft have a walk-out to the gardens. The country kitchen was well stocked for a hearty breakfast.
While the Registration desk is at the road, the Inn is a few hundred meters further down a gravel driveway. It’s navigable but an alternative is to park your bikes at the main entrance and walk in.
Dinner must be planned in advance, either by bringing it along, or making arrangements with the Inn. The nearest town is several miles away and has limited dining – especially if you’re late. River Run’s tavern is a fun gathering place for rafters and a great place to meet new friends and swap stories but does not serve food.
Given our time limitations, our group had to make a hard choice on how to spend the next morning. Half challenged the world-class river rapids; the others checked out the more restful spa. The river was so high and fast that in spite of a swim in the aptly named Buseater Rapid, the girls arrived back to base early. After a delicious home-made lunch, it was time for more riding.
There are lots of roads to explore in the area and fascinating points of interest. The scenery is beautiful, ranging from small lakes, rushing rivers, rolling farmland, mixed forests and the solid rock formations of the Canadian Shield. Two stops for the afternoon were the Bonnechere Caves and the hamlet of Wilno – Canada’s oldest Polish community, settled in the early 1800’s. Each were fascinating in their own way and well worth the stop.
The Sands on Golden Lake welcomed us that evening. The rooms were wonderful – large, bright, with modern, minimalist décor, each with a walk-out that overlooked the lake. Innkeeper Jeff Raisbeck made sure our stay met his exacting standards. With delicious home-cooked fare superceded only by the local hospitality, the lakeside on-site restaurant is understandably the community hub where locals gather to catch up on all the news. We were even joined at dinner by Craig Kelley, Business Development Officer for the County of Renfrew and his friend Neil Gonzalez, Ontario Provincial Police officer – both avid riders.
Golden Lake became the starting point for the next day’s ride circumnavigating the wilderness of Algonquin Park, affectionately known as the RAP (Round Algonquin Park) route. After several days visiting points of interest, it felt good to have a full day of uninterrupted riding ahead of us.
The park itself is a natural sanctuary, world-famous for its back-country hiking, canoeing and camping. Filled with natural and cultural history, it’s easy to see why famous artists have been drawn to the area for over a century.
The roads are very scenic, with long sweeping curves, changes in elevation and beauty no matter where you look. In spite of it being prime moose-siting season and many signs alerting us to their hazards, we were skunked. I’m pretty sure a lot watched us go by though. Fortunately, our cameraman caught one before she shied away.
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, also an avid rider, warmly welcomed us to his town and hosted our lunch at Average Joe’s Restaurant. Set on the shore of Trout Lake, the outdoor patio overlooking the lake, great food and lovely hospitality made for a restful lunch.
Reluctant to leave but eager to ride, we spent the afternoon following the Trans-Canada highway back to Petawawa. Aside from a small bit of requisite summer road construction, we sailed along this picturesque route which hugs the Ottawa River. Lakes, forests and occasionally the Ottawa river punctuated long stretches of uninterrupted reverie.
Typical of the hospitality of the area was the reception we received by members of the 1st CAV – Canadian Army Veterans motorcycle unit. When they heard we were passing through, they asked if they could greet us in Petawawa. It was an honor to be met by these heroes and a pleasure to share dinner with them at Kelsey’s adjacent to the Inn.
Although chain hotels aren’t usually my first choice, the Quality Inn & Suites in Petawawa was lovely and I highly recommend it. Seemingly small touches meant a lot – like allowing us to park under the canopy and being met by the hotel manager. The pretty gift bags waiting in our rooms with an assortment of candies, lip gloss and drug-store sunglasses were a real treat.
On our final day we were taken by van on a forty-five minute drive down mostly gravel access roads and dropped off for a short hike into the Barron Canyon. Although one of our gals rode in, the riding isn’t favorable for touring bikes. It’s certainly worth the view though and you can arrange transportation through local outfitters.
A visit to this part of the province would not be complete without sampling Poutine, a traditional French-Canadian dish of french-fries topped with cheese curds and beef gravy. Made from fresh ingredients at the local chip-wagon, it was a new culinary treat for our American friends.
Our excursion ended all too soon. Although each day was packed with great and varied riding, adventure opportunities, scenic, historic and cultural points of interest, we knew we had just skimmed the surface of what the area has to offer. Any one of our overnight spots could have served as a focal point for further exploration of the area with time left to savor the on-site amenities. The only solution is to return. Based on our wonderful experiences in the area, we know that the welcome mat is out!
More by Liz Jansen