Ontario’s Niagara Region brings cycling, waterfalls and wineries

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Saddle sores, roadside repairs and slipstream coasting — the simple pleasures and pitfalls of bike-riding are back in vogue from Vancouver to Vilnius as travel restrictions choke off holiday plans and pandemic-emptied streets are temporarily turned over to two-wheeled transport.

Not only is cycling a nostalgic whirl to our childhoods, it is an unparalleled opportunity to embrace Canada’s countryside while staying healthy and socially distant.

And if your pedalling prowess ranks more tremulous than Tour de France, the Niagara Region of Ontario presents the ideal touring circuit, with 300 kilometres of largely flat and traffic-free bicycle trails that are suitable for both lapsed rider and Lycra-clad speedster.

Slicing through lush greenery, vineyards, shipping lanes, bustling cities and in-your-face Niagara Falls, the hard part is choosing the best route.

Tourism planners have made it easier with the Greater Niagara Circle Route. This 140-km system links four trails and takes in the best of the region, from the wineries in the north to the honey pot charms of Niagara-on-the-Lake to the wonders of the Welland Canal, connecting the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario in the St. Lawrence Seaway system.


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For experienced riders, it can be knocked off in two days thanks to a network of bike-friendly B&Bs, motels and guest houses, yet it is equally enjoyed in leisurely chunks. Oenophiles, for instance, can focus on the top end, while fun-seekers can zero in on the central section and the Falls.

History buffs are in luck, too, as the region is rich in attractions significant to a young nation struggling to find its place amid the competing ambitions of the United States and Britain.

Starting clockwise from Niagara-on-the-Lake — regularly voted Canada’s prettiest village — the circle route follows the Niagara River Recreational Trail for 56 km to Fort Erie, passing Fort George national historic site, which defended Upper Canada from American attacks during the War of 1812, and Queenston Heights, where Major General Sir Isaac Brock died in battle. His monument rises 56 metres above a park and snack bar ideal for pit stops.

A cyclist rides past the historic Charles Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
A cyclist rides past the historic Charles Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Photo by Peter J. Thompson

Pressing on, the MacKenzie Printery & Newspaper Museum, a handsome Georgian home nestled on a leafy knoll, entices font freaks and typographical nerds with displays including Canada’s oldest printing press, one of only seven wooden presses left in the world, and a hands-on working Linotype. William Lyon MacKenzie, the firebrand 19th century politician and rebel, published Ontario’s first newspaper from here.

A few blocks away is the Laura Secord Homestead. Her act of bravery during the war of 1812 alerted the British to an imminent attack by the Americans. Costumed guides recount her perilous 32-km trek during tours of the house. Ice cream, souvenirs and Laura Secord chocolates, natch, are available afterwards. Both attractions are in the tranquil village of Queenston.


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The trail continues south past the walking trails of the Niagara Gorge to the honeymoon-and-holiday mecca of Niagara Falls, which can be something of a letdown for first-time visitors. Once you’ve stood in awe at the curtains of water spilling furiously over the American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe waterfalls, the surrounding carnival atmosphere, trinket sellers and soaring casino-hotel towers tend to be dispiriting.

For those wanting to experience the rush of nature but not linger among the tourist traps, consider the new “Bridge-it Route,” which breaks the circle route in two by connecting the Falls with Thorold via the charming Port Robinson ferry across the Welland Canal, a free service for pedestrians and cyclists that is increasingly popular. On the Thorold side, riders can continue north to the starting point at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

For those wanting to experience the rush of nature but not linger among the tourist traps, consider the new “Bridge-it Route,”

If you’re going full circle, congratulations. Once you’ve navigated the traffic and left the skyscrapers of Niagara Falls behind, the rest of the river trail becomes rather sedate until you reach Fort Erie, an affordable place for a stopover if somewhat lacking in attractions.

From here the circle route picks up the Friendship Trail heading east along a straight and smooth 24-km path to Port Colborne. This is an easy ride, with Buffalo skyline views, beach diversions and bucolic farmland to maintain interest.

Workaday Port Colborne has a vibrant wharf-side shopping and dining quarter worth a linger. This is where the Welland Canal begins its journey northward from Lake Erie, and it’s the only spot one can view the original workings. The fourth and final version, finished in 1932, has largely bypassed its original course. The Talwood Manor B&B (303 Fielden Ave.) is a haven for cyclists, with a hearty breakfast and plush rooms.


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Heading north again, riders follow the 42-km Welland Canals Parkway Trail to St. Catharines. Catching one of the 3,000-plus ships — some up to 226 metres in length — that each year navigate the canal to climb or descend the Niagara Escarpment through a system of locks is the highlight of this section. The “lakers,” ocean-going “salties,” tugs and barges that use the 11-km canal are raised or lowered 100 metres as they traverse the seven locks in the system.

In Thorold, visitors to the Lock 7 Viewing Complex and Museum can watch as mighty vessels “climb the mountain” and hear the roar of 23 million gallons of water pouring into the lock.

The Inn at Lock 7 (24 Chapel St. S.) has 24 rooms overlooking the canal, and there’s nothing like falling asleep to the sight of a freighter gliding past your window after a hard day’s ride.

Pushing north to St. Catharines, riders join the Waterfront Trail for the final 18-km leg eastward back to Niagara-on-the-Lake to complete the loop. Back in NOTL, treat yourself to a pint at the Olde Angel Inn, circa 1789, billed as Ontario’s oldest operating tavern. The bar staff might even peddle you a ghost story or two.

— Andre Ramshaw


For bike-friendly B&Bs, local tips, luggage transfer advice and cycle repair shops, click on: cycleandstayniagara.com

Downloadable maps of the Greater Niagara Circle Route and tips/advice are at: niagaracyclingtourism.com

For info on the Mackenzie Printery and other historic sites: niagaraparks.com

Details on the Port Robinson ferry and Lock 7: thoroldtourism.com

Maps, guides and history on the Welland Canal: niagarawellandcanal.com

For info on renting bikes or guided cycling tours, visit: niagarafallstourism.com/cycling

Seasonal “bike train” services operate from Toronto to Niagara Falls. Check gobiking.ca for links and bike route travelogues.

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