Niagara Escarpment, Ontario, Canada
60 km / 1400
Written by Theo Kelsey-Verdecchia
Being an avid cyclist and living in one of the largest cities in North America don’t exactly go hand in hand. Toronto is a sprawling hydra of highways and suburbs that stretches on forever, or at least it seems this way when you’re trying to escape it by bike. There are a decent number of bike paths, trails and even singletrack scattered throughout the downtown core, which served me well for many years but lately, my appetite for exploration has grown, and the local trails simply don’t satisfy it anymore.
So what’s a pavement-locked cyclist with a passion for adventure to do?
As it turns out, just north of the city lies an area, mainly of farmland, that holds pretty much all the riding an adventure cyclist could ask for. Land rife with deep valleys, unmaintained roads, singletrack, and beautiful dirt roads. If you’re sneaky, you can link them up and ride for hours without seeing a single soul.
Over the past year or so, I have spent a ridiculous number of hours exploring the areas north of Toronto, in search of the best climbs, rowdiest descents, and most beautiful views. All this exploration led to the creation of several routes that I now ride regularly, which I would refer to as my local loops. Sure, it’s an hour on the train or in the car to get to them, but I call them local because, at this point, they feel like home.
One loop, in particular, has captivated me lately, a 60 kilometer loop with about 1400 meters of climbing starting at Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, a beautiful park along the Niagara Escarpment. From the park, the route throws you headfirst into several wonderfully steep gravel climbs as you head north towards the area of Mulmur. A few short sections of hike-a-bike spice things up before you begin a long, sweeping descent that drops you into an unnamed valley near the town of Terra Nova. A brief stretch of pavement along the valley floor provides a moment of respite before you begin the long stretch of climbing to bring you back up.
The climb section is designed to be indirect, long, and difficult. It includes some of the steepest gravel hills in southern Ontario, and the elevation stacks up quickly. In the summer months, it’s all completely rideable, but slow going and rather gruelling. Winter, however, is a different story. Many of these roads are “No Winter Maintenance'' roads, so whether it will all be rideable really depends on snowfall and temperature that day. I have had to push my bike uphill for an hour many days simply because the snow is too deep to ride or too icy to get any traction. Winter or summer, the climbs are extremely beautiful and equally rewarding.
Once out of the valley of Mulmur, the route cruises along some open, rolling farm roads before launching you back up towards the top of mono cliffs provincial park. The descent through the park is one of the highlights of the route. Steep, rocky and technical, while providing you with a gorgeous view of the landscape below through the trees. The trail out of the park spits you out back onto the starting point of the route, in the small town of Mono Center.
While it may not be exactly what some consider to be “local”, this loop feels more local to me than any of the trails within a stone's throw from my home in downtown Toronto. It has provided me with an escape from the city, and allowed me to fall in love with the riding in my home province of Ontario all over again.
You can find the GPX file HERE