Since March 14, 2014, six-time Canadian Olympic medallist and Bell Let’s Talk spokesperson Clara Hughes has been biking across Canada to raise awareness about mental health issues. By the time her 110-day journey ends on July 1st, she’ll have pedalled every province and territory in Canada! You might not have the stamina of an Olympian but if you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of this country’s best and most beautiful bike routes, from coast-to-coast:
1. Ontario’s Waterfront Trail
For a ridiculously pretty ride, take an easy pedal along Ontario’s southeastern Waterfront Trail. Extending from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, to Quebec, this on- and off-road trail is perfect for rides short and long. (Clara kickstarted her ride here!) Depending on your mood (and stamina), you can cycle as much or as little of the more than 780-kilometre route along the ocean-like shores of Lake Ontario. If you’ve got 33 km in ya, start your ride with a Chez Piggy breakfast in historic Kingston, Ont., then wind your way east towards the Thousand Islands.
Tip: Just do it! Getting started on a bike trip requires a little prep (but not a lot). Take some spins in your hometown to test your meddle, then research your destination of choice. Most provinces have cycle organizations that will be happy to suggest routes or even cycle buddies.
2. Quebec’s Route Verte
Suck it, Holland! Quebec is Canada’s most bike-friendly province with over 5,000 km of connected trails. National Geographic has named the newly completed and very well marked Route Verte (Green Road) the best in the world. One of the most stunning strips is the Véloroute des Baleines (the Whale Trail) from Tadoussac, Quebec, to Baie-Trinité, Que. It’s here that the St. Lawrence River takes on a lovely blue hue, and (if you’re lucky) you’ll see humpbacks frolicking as you fly by. Mais oui!
Tip: Want to go that extra mile? A backpack filled with stuff is going to wear you down fast. Instead, pack what you need in a bar bag (on the handlebars) or old-school saddle bags (strapped to your seat). Your back will thank you.
3. Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail
If you want the most cycle bang for your buck, Nova Scotia’s glorious Cabot Trail delivers big time. Vistas, forest and ocean, this 298-km paved loop on Cape Breton Island will make you feel like you’re touring the Scottish Highlands (without the passport). Not for the cycle newbie, the route is hilly, so you’ll definitely need glutes of steel. Tackle it all in three to five days or do bits at a time. We won’t judge.
Tip: Anyone can conquer steep climbs, it’s all about pacing. Start steady! Go too fast and you’ll lose steam. Then, shift through your gears until you reach a decent speed. If it all goes downhill, you’ll be just fine.
4. PEI’s Confederation Trail
Who says bigger is better? Canada’s smallest province is perfect for beginners: It’s not very hilly, and you can cover a lot of the island in a few days. The Confederation Trail was built on abandoned railway beds and takes you past rolling hills, woodlands and postcard coastlines that we guarantee will have you mulling Maritime real estate. Bonus: Malpeque oysters freshly harvested from the bay.
Tip: A helmet is de rigueur on any trip. Make sure yours fits right! It should sit level on your head and cover most of your forehead. The strap must be snug at all times. Tighten if you can move your helmet more than an inch in any direction. Safety first, bikers!
5. Newfoundland’s Viking Trail
Rugged and striking, Newfoundland could literally kick your butt. The province’s Viking Trail is a challenging 450-km route from Deer Lake, Newfoundland, along the rugged coast, through spectacular Gros Morne National Park and onto the northern tip of the island. Of course, there’s no shame in basing yourself in colorful St. John’s and taking short spins in search of icebergs.
Tip: Even if you’re only cycling for a couple of hours, practice changing your bike tires at home before you leave and be sure to carry a small pump and patch kit! No one wants their two-wheel efforts to be defeated by a flat.
The absolute best time to get out on your wheels in this northern province is around the summer solstice. At this time of year, daylight extends most of the night and the boost to energy and morale is bar none. Since most biking is off-road, treat yourself to a city bike tour of Whitehorse or the scenic trails that surround it. If you don’t see something with an antler, ask for your money back.
Tip: Biking burns calories, but if you overeat, you’ll feel like crap. Carb-load the day before then keep your body fueled by eating light. Energy gels along the way will fuel muscles and replace electrolytes. Most important of all, drink water before you feel thirsty.
7. British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies
If meandering along well marked paths sounds like a yawn then heli-mountain biking might be your perfect cup of adrenaline. Grab some ambitious pals and charter a chopper in Nelson, British Columbia, to take you and your mountain bikes to the trail of your choice in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. Bring plenty of bug spray, a very light picnic then get ready for an epic descent and some envy-inducing selfies.
Tip: For downhill mountain biking, it’s always good to stay in a standing position on the pedals, knees slightly bent. Keep your weight on the pedals, not the handlebars, and try to brake as little as possible. Speed helps you take obstacles, while braking will wear you out. Oh, and wear clothes you don’t care about.
8. Alberta’s Icefields Parkway
“Mind” and “blowing” are words that will come to mind along the 230-km stretch between Jasper and Banff, Alberta. Pedal the Parkway and you’ll pass massive glaciers, wild flowers, turquoise lakes and some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. This trip will take about three days, but there are a few hostels where you can stop for some winks. You’ll be so blown away you’ll hardly notice the 2,000-metre climbs and creeping burn in your thighs. Oh, Canada…
Tip: Most cycling accidents happen between 6 and 9 p.m., so best to avoid riding at night. But do be prepared for low-light conditions! Wear brightly coloured clothing, put reflective tape on your bike and helmet and install a strong, blinking headlight on the front and rear of your bike.
9. Saskatchewan’s Battleford Trails
Rolling hills, rising buttes and sloping river valleys will make your ride through this prairie province oh-so-Canadian. This section of the Trans Canada Trail winds its way through the town of Battleford, Saskatchewan, and crosses the North Saskatchewan River before traveling on to the city of North Battleford, Sask. If you dig flora and fauna, a ride across Finlayson Island is a must. Enter via arched footbridges and you’ll find a paradise of wild marshes, great horned owls and chokecherry trees.
Tip: What the heck do I wear? You don’t need to spend a fortune on new gear but if you dislike pain, padded bike shorts and gloves are a must. Look for moisture-wicking fabrics and layer in case of weather. As for shoes: any hard-soled athletic ones are fine.
10. Manitoba’s Duck Mountain
In the prairie highlands, along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, Duck Mountain Provincial Park offers a variety of trail rides along trickling streams, prairie grasslands and dense forest. The best part is that trails are marked according to level of difficulty. Start your ride at the campgrounds near Mossberry Lake then meander your way around keeping a lookout for elk, moose, bobcats and black bears.
Tip: Beware saddle sore. Aside from a flat, this is a cyclist’s worst enemy. Keep it at bay by making sure your seat is in the right position, taking regular breaks (every 15 minutes or so) and never ever reuse a pair of bike shorts without a thorough washing.