Addington Highlands Bikepacking Loop

The history of the Addington Highlands is a rich and colourful one. Starting with its first peoples, the Ojibwe, whose sacred pictographs featuring the creator (and trickster) Nanabozho adorn the 100m high Mazinaw Rock. Next to leave their mark were the Irish, who arrived in great numbers in the early 19th century to supply the manpower necessary to support the booming logging and milling industries that fed the international appetite for Canadian timber. Then, as was often the case, farmers were lured to the area with promises of free and freshly deforested land, only to find the rock hard Canadian Shield ill-suited for anything but the most hardscrabble sustenance agriculture. Similarly, prospectors arrived but soon found little more than low-grade ore.

By the early 20th century the area, anchored by Bon Echo, became a summertime tourist destination for those looking to escape the cities and commune with nature. Today, not much has changed with hundreds of lakes, rivers, streams, dirt roads and ATV trails providing unlimited opportunities to hunt, fish, or simply explore.

This 257km bikepacking route samples some of the best and most challenging scenery the Addington Highlands has to offer. While the route itself is not particularly long, don’t take it lightly. It includes a number of steep climbs and many kilometres of muddy/sandy dirt roads and ATV trails. So it is recommended that anyone attempting this loop[ budget three to four days to complete (and enjoy) it.

  • Crown land camping
  • ATV trails
  • Con Echo Provincial Park
  • Parking: The route map lists several potential parking options. This includes a couple along the southern shores of Skootamatta Lake, which in several cases also double as boat launches. So be considerate and leave plenty of room for others to park and access the lake. Otherwise, if room is required for more than one vehicle, a large dirt lot can be found approximately 25km further west on Skootamata Access Rd. Parking can also be found south of Quadeville off of Aumonds Bay in Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park.
  • Resupply: Large sections of this route are off the beaten track and you may have trouble if you don’t have food and/or snacks with you.

The Addington Highlands Bikepacking Loop was not designed as an easy gravel ride. It will provide copious amounts of challenge to riders of every calibre.

  • Mountain Bike: For this route, the general recommendation is to use a mountain bike with a tire between 2″ and 3″, with a preference geared towards a 29+ bike. A fat bike or full-suspension bike would be overkill.
  • Gravel Bike: A cyclocross bike is not recommended for this route as the max tire size is relatively small at 38c. If using a gravel bike with 700 wheels, you’ll want to have a newer style gravel bike that can accommodate tires in the 2″ or larger range. Many parts of the route can be ridden on smaller tires such as 45C, but some parts would be overly difficult and risk injury. Only ride a gravel bike if you have a lot of experience riding singletrack on drop bars or you may find yourself walking more than you like.
  • Setup: Run tubeless if possible. You can use bikepacking style bags or a hybrid setup with small panniers. A lighter set-up allows of easier riding, especially in the hillier and more technical sections. You are also going to want to have a wide-range of gear options for climbing the bigger and tougher hills.

For detailed route notes, check out the Ride Gravel website.

This route goes through some of the best parts of the Outaouais region, the Papineau Labelle Nature Reserve, various Provincial and Regional Parks, and ski resorts. Passing through many small towns there are ample opportunities to find a hotel for the night. Campgrounds are located sporadically and there is always the option to wild camp.

  • Hotels: Cloyne, McArthurs Mills, Centennial Lake, Mazinaw Lake
  • Campgrounds: Check the POI’s for camping locations and use your diligence to look over the maps beforehand.
  • Wild camping: There are many Crown Land camping areas along this route. Refer to the POIs marked camping along the way. Please follow leave no trace practices.
  • Fresh water everywhere: Lots of rivers and lakes dot the area. Plenty of places to filter or purify water. You can also pick up water in towns along the way at shops and gas stations.
  • Restaurants/Cafes/Bars: The route includes four potential resupply options. The first three in the hamlets of McArthurs Mills, Palmer Rapids and Quadeville, have small general stores with a limited food selection. However, Quadeville is also home to a chip stand. The fourth option is the village of Griffith, which includes a larger general store, as well as a country pub and a breakfast/lunch restaurant.  

Average Physical Difficulty – 6

Although the Addington Highlands Bikepacking Loop is not the longest route, it provides many challenges. This route is never flat for long, and offers continuous rolling terrain with sustained climbing. Add to the the frequent ATV trails that can get pretty muddy and rough, some really steep climbs and amazing descents and the adventure begins. Top all that off with water crossing that can vary from calf depth to waist depth and it’s just icing on the cake. For all these reasons, I rate this ride as an average difficulty of 6.

Average Technical Difficulty – 5

This route includes many steep climbs and many kilometres of muddy/sandy dirt roads and ATV trails, which will challenge the hardiest of riders. Although much of it is not technically difficult, the riding conditions will challenge your bike handling abilities. In terms of technical difficulty this route merits a rating of 5.

This route was created by:

Adrian Grant of www.ridegravel.ca

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