The Hasty Highlander is a multi-day jaunt that traverses wildly variable countryside in Central Ontario including the greatest hits of Haliburton Highlands and Hastings County. Mainly using unsurfaced terrain, the route traces up to 800 kilometres of rolling hills, hidden lakes, gritty rail trail and enticing backcountry gravel largely free of car traffic in favour of wildlife. It all feels unspoiled and in many instances rugged. Not to be overlooked is that the Hasty Highlander is within easy striking distance of major hubs like Toronto and Ottawa.
A key feature of the Hasty Highlander is the use of an extensive network of trails including the Haliburton Country Rail Trail and the Great Trail that have been converted over from a once thriving railway that was used to support industries of years gone by. A surfeit of wilderness and local hospitality awaits any participant. Come and find out why this place was naturally made for bikepacking. Full of thrills and challenges for cyclists of all abilities. It is not designed to be the most gentle, direct or fastest route, but one that inspires a sense of two-wheel adventure, whilst providing eyesome scenery, rewarding riding, and plenty of memories.
- Great Trail: The Great Trail, also known as the Trans Canada Trail is the longest trail in the world stretching 24,000km in total from coast to coast to coast in Canada.
- Canadian Shield: Punctuated by classic Ontario dense forest, idyllic backcountry lakes, meandering rivers and rugged Canadian Shield.
- Trent Severn Waterway: Known for being one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world, the Trent Severn Waterway is a canal that will take you through some of the oldest towns in the region. Some locks even allow for camping on their location.
- Algonquin Park: Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is Ontario’s first provincial park and one of the oldest in the country. The Hasty Highlander passes through some of the less pedalled parts of the park
- Rail trail: Ride on rail trails that once carried consumer goods and natural resources throughout the region.
- Trestle Bridges: Enjoy the moment as you pass over the 200-metre long Doubes bridge.
- Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge: A gorgeous bridge in Ferris Provincial Park.
- Haliburton Forest: A chance to ride in the trail and gravel nirvana that is the Haliburton Forest – a 100,000 acre lake-studded outdoor amphitheater.
- Wildlife: Don’t be surprised if you spot beaver, deer, moose and maybe even bear. And fall asleep to the sound of howling coyotes (or the buzz of mosquitos).
- When to ride: The recommended time of year for this ride is after the spring thaw and before the snow fly’s later in the season. Therefore, mid-May through October or so. Expect to be pestered by bugs, particularly between May and July, and the hottest riding conditions typically occur in July and August. Perhaps the best time to tackle the Hasty Highlander are the months of August and September. Bugs will less likely to be out in full force and as a rule of thumb some sections of the trail will be less swampy. Mid-September to mid-October can offer a superlative burst of autumn colour. However, riders do report enjoying the route earlier in the season as well, but maybe with a bigger supply of bug spray.
- Services: For the most part there are sufficient resupply opportunities available along the route in the form of larger supermarkets, general stores, gas station, cafes and bakeries. However, in a few cases riders will need to be more self-sufficient in terms of food and water including the northern terminus through the Haliburton Forest, the ride into Algonquin and the lake loop east of Bancroft. There are also likely sections where mobile service will be spotty.
- Haliburton Forest: When riding through the Haliburton Forest riders should purchase a $16 pass to ride on this vast private property. You can do so at the main office upon arrival or online here: https://www.haliburtonforest.com/book-online/book-property-day-pass/
Riders may also want to spend a day here exploring the large network of backcountry roads and forest trails. Here is a map of the Haliburton Forest with roads and trails. The campsites in this forest reserve do tend to book up fast, particularly the ones on MacDonald Lake and Wolf Lake, so riders should consider reserving sites before arrival. However, there are other sites including Minna Lake that are less popular.
- Algonquin Park: Riders should also purchase a park permit for Algonquin Provincial Park. This can be obtained at the Visitor Centre at the 460km mark of the route or at Kingscote Lake Access Point/campground if taking the alternative route through the south end of the park.
This is of course based on the type of riding your are doing, what type of daily distance you are trying to cover and what kind of comfort you are looking for.
- Mountain Bike: Tires in the range of 1.9 to 2.25 will work well on 650b or 29-inch wheels. A rigid or hardtail MTB would be also be perfectly suitable for the route and a good option on some of the rougher stuff.
- Gravel Bike: The Hasty Highlander can be tackled on a drop bar bike with 700c, 650b or 29-inch wheels. If using 700 wheels, it’s advised to use 40mm tires or larger for improved comfort in sandy, rocky or flooded sections.
- Other Bikes: There have been riders who have also completed large portions of the route on big plus size tire set-ups, but in many cases this is overkill.
- Gearing and setup: It’s recommended to use a bike with gear ratios that allow for riding testy inclines while loaded down with gear. Run tubeless if possible. You can use bikepacking style bags or old-fashioned panniers. A lighter set-up allows of easier riding, especially in the hillier sections.
- Ride Start: The Hasty Highlander begins in the town of Lindsay, however there is no set start and finish point for the route. So riders can enter and exit the loop at any location that serves them best. Though it was designed purposefully to run in a counterclockwise direction, it is also possible to ride the route clockwise. However, many navigation devices will track the route better if following in the direction plotted.
- Parking: It’s possible to obtain a multi-day parking permit for some Kawartha Lakes municipal lots including one in Lindsay using this form: https://kawartha.gtechna.net/permit-portal//index.xhtml Riders report it costing $14 for a 1 week permit. It is best to submit your request for parking at least 3 days in advance as it could take that long to get a permit. There are a few other possible parking options listed on the route file including a landowner by Haliburton, but riders are responsible for securing their own parking and take responsibility for cars left anywhere overnight.
- Terrain: The nature of the route varies in different areas – from more rugged Highland terrain to less testy riding among open pastureland to sections of smooth or bumpy paths using disused railway line. Overall, the Hasty Highlander should not be considered an exceptionally hilly route but there is enough elevation here to get the heart pumping especially the section of the loop in the Haliburton Highlands and Haliburton Forest which kicks things up a notch with some heart-pumping inclines. Expect the terrain to be hard going at times and you’ll want your climbing legs.
- Flooding: The section of trail between Marmora and Bancroft tends to flood most easily and at anytime of year there can be standing water on some of the backcountry gravel/dirt roads. During dry periods, there can be sections of the route that are particularly sandy that may make for some slow going. ATV use on some sections of the route can rough things up. With that said, none of the roads or trails require expert off-road riding skills.
- Difficulty: The Hasty Highlander can be considered an intermediate adventure route, but also a good introduction to multi-day bikepacking. Remember, the degree of difficulty can also come down to how fast you are riding the route. A more casual touring pace is likely not as arduous as a go-fast-as-I-can pace. Cycling Tips put together this excellent grading system based on riding surfaces and it can be said that the Hasty Highlander wanders predominantly between Grade 2 and Grade 4.
- Hotels: Hotels can be found in all the bigger towns along the way, such as: Lindsay, Peterborough, Campbellford, Marmora, Bancroft, Whitney, Kennisis Lake, Haliburton, and Kinmount. In many of the smaller locales in between, you can also find some places.
- Wild Camping: The Hasty Highlander route is littered with Crown land which can be camped upon by Canadian residents without needing and permissions.
- Camping: There are many campgrounds and glamping sites throughout Algonquin Park. Once you leave the park, campgrounds are more spreadout.
- Trail Angels: Along the route there are several Warmshowers hosts and other trail angels that may be able to help by providing space to tent or in the event of an emergency.
- Fresh water: Central Ontario is covered wth lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. It’s never too hard to find a water when necessary. Just be sure to always use a water filter or purification tablets. It’s also best policy to make sure you use flowing water, as it is less likely to grown bacteria that will make you sick. You can also access fresh water at campsites, police stations, fire stations and most cemeteries.
- Food: Most of this route provides easy access to food resupply opportunities, from restaurants, to chip wagons, convenience stories and gas stations. The part of the route with the least amount of re-supply will be while cycling through Algonquin Park.
Average Physical Difficulty – 4
At just over 700km in length, the Hasty Highlander has a lot to offer you. While not as difficult as the BT 700, the Hasty Highlander has an impressive amount of gritty rail trail, gravel roads and pastureland trails. The fact that it is not as hilly as some other routes, means it will be a little bit less physically demanding.
Average Technical Difficulty – 4
The Hasty Highlander is not the most technical of routes, but with it’s over 700km of gravel, it is still bound to provide enough technical moments to require a bit of skill. Rideable by newer riders just getting into bikepacking, the Hasty Highlander is the perfect route to learn on.
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