↑ Preparing for a 4 day cycling trip in the Niagara region
The Niagara peninsula of Canada has a large network of cycling trails that will keep you busy for days. In this post I have described three of my favourite trails which we have biked as part of a day-trips or in multi-day cycling itineraries.
For folks living in Buffalo (USA), Toronto or nearby cities in southern Ontario, the Niagara region is ideally suited for a cycling getaway. With a number of dedicated bicycling trails and an infinite number of design-it-yourself on-road cycling loops through sparsely populated areas as low traffic roads, this region can keep you busy cycling for days. On more occasions than I can remember, my partner and I have travelled in this region on single day trips and trips that have spanned over many days.
For simplicity, I have focused this article on three of the best dedicated cycling corridors in the region.
1. NIAGARA RIVER RECREATIONAL TRAIL
Start: Niagara-on-the-lake | Finish: Fort Erie | 55km/34mi | Through Niagara Falls
This trail runs along the edge of the Niagara river and gorge and connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (more or less). The trail starts from the shores of Lake Ontario – from where you can see Toronto’s CN tower clearly – in the cute town of Niagara-on-the-lake. This region is one of Canada’s largest wine growing micro-climates and you’ll invariably notice a number of vineyards on the route. Numerous vineyards organize free tours, so be sure to check one out.
Making sure you haven’t had too much to drink, continue on the trail which will then climb the Niagara escarpment, an elevation gain of 100m roughly. The escarpment is a long steep cliff that was formed due to millions of years of erosion and it separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations. This escarpment runs between USA and Canada from New York State, through Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. The Niagara river elegantly cascades over this escarpment, thereby forming the spectacular Niagara Falls.
Once we climb the escarpment in one long sweaty ride it passes through some magnificent hydro electric project sites, visible across from each other on the USA and Canada side, with the river running deep inside the gorge. My geek radar beeps loudly as the scale of these engineering marvels always overwhelm me.
From this point until the city of Niagara Falls, the trail winds through numerous sites of tourist importance, such as parks, botanical gardens, a floral clock, river crossing and other water-sports. I never paid much attention to these places of tourist interest but I imagine they are great for family trips.
↑ This trail hugs the Niagara river and gorge, passing right next to the falls.
The next segment of this trail goes on-road through Niagara Falls which is perennially crowded with tourists from all over the world. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls offers excellent views of all falls and American-style tourist infrastructure is at its full glory here. Great to time a couple of times, but now I just avoid this busy place.
Whether cyclist, jogger or pedestrian, anyone fortunate enough to travel on the Niagara River Recreation Trail moves in some very special company, for in yesteryears, British regulars and local militiamen thundered along this historic highway, racing to stem the flow of invaders from across the river. Their lively stories and many stirring episodes are described on over 100 monuments and plaques that mark waypoints along the Trail.
– Official website.
The final segment of the trail runs parallel to the Niagara parkway which is a road that swirls around the edge of the river. Houses along this stretch are beautiful and the whole area is quite peaceful with little vehicular traffic. The cycling route ends in the town of Fort Erie from where you can jump off to Buffalo via the Peace Bridge, or continue westwards along the northern shores of lake Erie to trail #2.
2. FORT ERIE FRIENDSHIP TRAIL
Start: Fort Erie | Finish: Port Colborne | 30km/19mi
↑ Taking a break on the tracks
Much of the cycling trail between Fort Erie and Port Colborne is located upon abandoned railway tracks, so it’s a straight and flat corridor, making it fun and less distracting to ride. This trail will take you through farmland, villages, watersheds, and quiet residential areas. There are a couple of villages off the trail on lake Erie for fish-n-chips type lunches or a pint of beer by the waterfront. The trail eventually ends in the town of Port Colborne and connects to trail #3.
3. WELLAND CANALS PARKWAY TRAIL
Start: Port Colborne | Finish: St. Catharines | 42km/23mi
The Niagara riverfront trail may have immense natural beauty, but the Welland canal trail is all about human genius. This trail allows cyclists to witness the wonders of the canal-and-locks system closer than any other trail.
Lake Erie is located on top of the Niagara escarpment, about 100 meters (328 ft) above lake Ontario. A large number of ships pass from Lake Erie through Lake Ontario eventually making their way the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Laurence seaway. Large cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago can thus ship cargo using waterways which are not only cheaper but also better for the environment (compared to road traffic).
Lifting or lowering large ships by an elevation of 100 meters (328 ft) is no mean feat, and each time I witness such activity, a demonstration of an engineering marvel, our technological advancements and ingenuity, I’m taken over by emotion.
↑ I love bridges and there are numerous draw bridges on this route.
Continuing on the trail, we descend down the escarpment into the city of St. Cathrines and onward to the shores of Lake Ontario. From here, there is always the option to bike to Niagara on the lake and complete what’s called the Greater Niagara Circle.
It’s just the beginning
↑ Wind turbines and colourful meadows
I’ve only scratched the surface; there are lots of cycling adventures to be experienced in the Niagara region. Check the Niagara region website for a comprehensive listing of over 250 cycling routes, but note that most of these routes are on-street with motor vehicle traffic. You can spice up your itineraries further by crossing over to USA and checking out the villages and towns on that side.
Boy! This sure sounds like an advertisement, but I assure you it’s not. I just happen to be really passionate about cycling in the Niagara region. 🙂