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Grand Tour of Muskoka. 300 miles. 16,000 feet of climbing.
THE Ontario endurance ride to do this fall.
If you’re looking to do one epic Ontario ride this year, this is the pivotal one to do. 300 miles, hitting all the best cottage-country has to offer. It’s a who’s who of Muskoka towns; Parry Sound, Port Carling, Bracebridge, Haliburton, Bancroft, Algonquin Park, Huntsville, and Sprucedale, and you’ll find 16,000+ feet of climbing. Smooth low-traffic roads, 24hr services, remote sections, all highlighted by the Frank McDougal Parkway across Algonquin; some of, if not the best, 60km of riding in the province. With many loop options, everyone can find a chunk of this ride to get in on.
My advice, tackle the whole thing and complete the GTM. Whether you do it as one epic non-stop ride, or make it a two-three day tour, the options are there. There’s plenty of services, and Bancroft provides a great mid-way stopover with plenty of hotels, restaurants, and a 24hr grocery store.
For me, time wasn’t on my side. I drove to Parry Sound with only time for a couple hours of shut-eye before waking up for a 2am start. The plan was to ride slow and steady, and be done within 20hrs and by dusk—gotta remember riding unsupported always eats up lots of resupply time along the way.
From Parry Sound it’s a slow imperceptible up-hill trend to Bracebridge, that traces the old highway 69 and then routes down Hwy’s 141, 169, and 118, all fast pavement through rolling lakes and a half km long rock cut. I arrived in the early dawn and made a familiar stop at the 24hr Mac’s…chocolate milk, Kickstarter, Gatorade, bars, the standard.
From Bracebridge, the route follows Hwy 118 due east along one of the nicest patches of tarmac in Muskoka. Smooth, nice shoulder, low traffic, and growing hills that with some effort you can maintain a nice flow throughout. Once you’re through Canarvon—which does have a small shop with limited hours—don’t count on this one, you cross Hwy 35 and into the Haliburton Highlands, which are good to their name! Now rollers is a bit of a loose term that depends on your definition…
From here you’ll head into some barren land, fairly devoid of any supplies, until you hit Haliburton. There’s a decent grocery store here, pharmacy, etc, but is a daylight hours town, so plan accordingly. Also plan for a nice cat 4 climb to warm the legs back up on the way out. On to Bancroft!
After touring through some more lakes and hills, Hwy 118 ends at Hwy 28, turn left to follow the signs for Bancroft. Stay on the main drag as you come into town (which will require a left turn onto Hastings St/Hwy 62) and you’ll find everything you need, Mac’s, McDonalds, Subway, Dairy Queen, and if that doesn’t tickle your fancy head for my preferred resupply at the 24hr Foodland as you continue out of town.
Self-supported riding can make it tricky to get enough calories, and to do it with a sense of urgency, so for me yogurt drinks are a quick way to guzzle in 600 calories, watermelon and cucumbers are a natural cooling food in the heat, and just about any average cookie will pack about 50 calories.
Regardless of your chosen watering hole, ensure you’re stocked up for a long haul leaving Bancroft, as the next reliable town is some 170km to Huntsville. You’ll find a fantastic steady long climb as you leave town, and then soon after hang a “larry” in Maynooth to head north on Hwy 127, and begin the “remote stage” of the ride. You’re now in a long stretch of fairly flat going road with trees for company. Very little traffic, or anything else out here, and can either be incredibly enjoyable or be downright desolation depending on how your ride is going!
Once you hit Hwy 60 and head towards Algonquin, you’ll find a small store or two in Whitney, again with limited hours, but if you miss these you can at least stock up on fluids at the Algonquin East Gate pop machines and bathroom sinks if needed—this is also a decent route to think about bringing along some aquatabs water tablets just in case!
From the East Gate of Algonquin, you’ll now get the gemof the ride; what I think are the finest 60km of road riding in Ontario. You’ve got a fat shoulder, endless big rollers, nothing but fresh air, lakes, and forest, and if you time it right, you’ll need multiple hands to count the morning moose, or a really good light and several pairs of shorts playing dodge the moose if you’re screaming down the descents in the night. If you’re hurting there’s a store at the Two Rivers campground, as well as a full store at Canoe Lake—recommended if you have the time for a rest.
Respect this Park section however, as the slight elevation change does affect the weather and sudden rain and storms can blow up on occasion. Once you finish the climb just past Two Rivers, it’s a downhill trend back to Georgian Bay, and if you pay attention you’ll definitely notice the drop off of the Algonquin Dome.
Huntsville has everything you’ll need to refresh and prepare to finish it off. If you hit this at night, turn left off of Hwy 60 and head into town to find a 24hr Mac’s at the Shell, Main St and Centre St. Then take Centre St north to West Rd/Muskoka Rd 2. From Huntsville, it’s time to go back-roads a little bit, following Muskoka Rd 2 through some relatively flat swamplands through Ilfracombe as it turns into Stisted Rd, and continues up to Sprucedale. Don’t expect to find anything out here, and then don’t count on the general store in Sprucedale helping you out after it closes at 6pm.
Here you hit Hwy 518, a quiet road, that will take you back to Parry Sound along a meandering route through the continuing wetlands—stop and help those turtles cross the road people! If you stuck with it, that’s a full 300 miles, and in my books is a ride that samples just about everything road riding in Muskoka has to offer. If you want to shorten it up, using Huntsville as a set-off point gives an exact loop of 200 miles, and also allows you to go clockwise and plan that coveted early morning Algonquin crossing. If time is less on your side, drive right up to the West Gate of Algonquin, and ride across the Park and back for about 120km if you stop in Whitney; it’s the must-do section, and Ontario’s answer to Quebec’s Gatineau.
Jason “The Hammer” Lane is a Canadian endurance cyclist – he is the current Canadian RAAM (Race Across America) record holder at 9 days, 16 hours, 3 minutes. He is the feature character in The Hammer, a documentary chronicling the RAAM experience by Hornsby Films and appears in Inspired To Ride an ultra-cycling film by Mike Dion.