The K&P Trail in Kingston, Ontario

Exploring the urban K&P Trail in Kingston

Summary

During a stay in Kingston, I explored the city’s waterfront and the K&P Trail. A lovely 30 km route that touches on many different aspects of Kingston. It needs a few improvements, such as crossing the VIA Rail tracks on Division Rd and access to the trail right after the overpass and the Sydenham Rd crossing. Wayfinding could be improved: despite some prep at home, I still managed to miss part of the trail. You can do it in two hours or take a whole day if you stop for museums, craft beer and lunch in the park. I cycled on the sidewalk in a few places in order to cycle in a loop, as some of the roads are not very inviting for cycling. 

The Kingston and Pembroke Railway

The Kingston & Pembroke Railway (K&P Trail) was built in the 1870’s to transport mining and lumber products from the interior of East Ontario to the harbour of Kingston on Lake Ontario. It also served farmers to bring their products to market. By 1884, after the first 180 km all the way to Renfrew was laid, investors stopped the project. It never made it to Pembroke. By the late 19th century, business wasn’t brisk anymore due to dwindling natural resources. In the 1950’s the line was gradually abandoned and the last stretch was closed in 1986. The tracks are now gradually being converted to a hiking, walking and horse riding trail.

Urban K&P trail

Last week, I visited Kingston and I had to kill a few hours. Discovering the new urban part of the K&P trail appeared to be a good idea. My friends Alex and Heather warned me that finding the trial through town was a nightmare, so I prepared myself well. I compared Google Maps satellite images with OpenStreetmap for the latest updates, I looked on the very limited number of Mapillary photos (many are by Ottawa’s Heather Shearer) and downloaded Komoot, an app I hadn’t used before, for spoken turn-by-turn directions in order not to end up at every corner trying to figure out where to go next. Here is an impression, but bear in mind, I look mostly through an infrastructure lens, not so much as a tourist describing attractions along the road.

The K&P signs are minimal and easily overseen
The K&P signs are minimal and easily overseen. However, it is not necessarily size that matters, but placement. The arrows point to two signs

Map My Ride

I actually designed the route in the Map My Ride app because it is the only desktop app I could find that doesn’t do the sometimes unwanted ‘magnetic’ snapping to existing routes. Both Google and Strava didn’t allow me to use certain connections which I thought were perfectly acceptable (kind of).

Bandstand at the waterfront in Kingston. The photo is a tad blurry as I forgot to clean the lens first.
Bandstand at the waterfront in Kingston. The photo is a tad blurry as I forgot to clean the VIRB lens first.
Confederation Park in front of Kingston City Hall on the waterfront
Confederation Park in front of Kingston City Hall on the waterfront

Komoot

Once I was happy with the route, I exported it to Komoot, a robust hiking and biking app from Germany which focusses more on route experiences than on personal performance, heart rate monitoring and competition. It did a great job telling me where to go, mentions that you’re off route and that you are following a stretch that is not known to Komoot. The app tells you that your plotted route is actually ‘130 meters to the left’ if you veer off track and it will pull some super local info such as the name of a walking trail in a bit of forest in Kingston. Komoot will respect you own route. You can add important sites to the route and share the route with everyone.

Kingston ride

I started in an older leafy neighbourhood near Bath Rd and Portsmouth Ave and biked south to the shore line of Lake Ontario on a quiet neighbourhood road. As Mapillary has very little material from Kingston, I brought the VIRB camera, mounted it on my bars, to take street view images at the same time. The bike ride is not a ride you usually would do, but I just wanted to take my time exploring the shoreline and waterfront in the downtown area and collect photos for Mapillary.

This is odd: the path is closed by a farm gate and cyclists have to cycle on the crushed stone besides it.
This is odd: the path is closed by a farm gate; cyclists have to cycle on the crushed stone besides it.

The plan didn’t go as expected: the Breakwater waterfront park was under construction and fenced off. Workmen were pouring a fresh concrete path. This forced me to stay on King Street West though, 700 meters longer than foreseen but traffic is light in Kingston at 10 am.

An awkward angle
An awkward angle: a side walk connecting to the trail

Tragically Hip Way

After passing the K-Rock Centre on “The Tragically Hip Way” (shown in OpenStreetMap, not in Google) Komoot coached me towards the start of the K&P trail, a few blocks north of K-Rock Centre in a park.

Missing on Google

The K&P trail starts out as a multi-use pathway along an arm of the St Lawrence River and the Great Cataraqui River. The lovely trail runs towards the intersection of Montreal Rd and Rideau St. Just north of that intersection the K&P trail crosses the road. I had not looked in great detail where it crosses and once on the ground, I didn’t see the trail.

Something went wrong here. Is the signs across the street a K&P wayfinding sign?
Something went wrong here. Is the sign across the street underneath the stop sign a K&P wayfinding sign?
A stretch of the K&P Trail I missed unfortunately. (image: City of Kingston)
A stretch of the K&P Trail I missed unfortunately. (image: City of Kingston)

Confusion galore

I didn’t notice any indication that I had to cross the road, so I cycled north for a bit, and then assumed I had to turn west but that railway (indicated by Google as the K&P trail) was still a concrete and overgrown mess. Instead, I took a street close to where I found myself stranded. Hickson Ave led me towards another stretch of the K&P trail eventually. Back home, I did some more research and it turns out the Google map had thrown me off. The K&P trail is drawn wrongly on Google. I should have turned south on Montreal Rd. towards the intersection a bit when I approached Montreal Rd and then cross and continue. It looks like I missed a nice stand of trees and found myself in an industrial area instead.

There is no real reason to walk your bike but Kingston advises you to do so at Sir John A Boulevard
There is no real reason to walk your bike but Kingston advises you to do so at Sir John A Boulevard

Because the trail continues across from the east-west railway line that VIA Rail uses, you have to use Division Rd to cross the tracks via an overpass which was built without cycling in mind. I decided to bike on the (narrow) side walk because it is not a pleasant road to bike on. Oddly, the trail starts right after the bridge on your left, and you can’t get there when you are heading north on Division Rd. A very awkward situation.

Smooth sailing

Once on the trail, which I entered halfway the parking lot of the mall through a pile of gravel, it is smooth cycling all the way to the trailhead at Dalton Ave and Binnington Ct. Eventually I missed a sign again (the signs are about 6 by 3 inches) and I ended up at the local waste management company. Retracing my ‘steps’ I discovered I had missed another teeny weeny sign.

There is some great work done in building raised bidirectional pathways.

Some great effort was put into raised bidirectional pathways at the industrial area of the trail.

At Binnington, you’ll find the trailhead of the unpaved, stone dust part of the trail going west first and eventually north. The unpaved part is a pleasant part of the trail but it runs just south of the 401 highway; you can easily hear the traffic.

The northern part of the K&P Trail in Kingston consists of stonedust and leads you out of town

Crossing Sydenham

Sydenham Rd (Highway 9) runs north south and needs to be crossed to continue the trail. This is a dangerous intersection where drivers don’t expect people crossing. It is close to an off and on ramp of the 401. It is very unfortunate that this is not addressed (yet?). Traffic speeds are high and this is once again –like at Division Rd- not an area you’d take inexperienced cyclists (Hence the cars on the right of the road, people take the car to the trail, see below). I took my time crossing the road though, while keeping an eye on approaching traffic. Running with a bike is never a good idea, as you might trip. A centre refuge would be a great addition here.

Mind the gap at Sydenham Rd. This should be a much safer crossing
The trail as seen from a driver's perspective. Red line is the trail.
The trail as seen from a driver’s perspective. Red line is the trail. A few hundred meters north is an off ramp of the 401 (Google)

Bushwacking

Somewhere on the last stretch of my ride I had planned to take a shortcut through the bush on a tiny walking trail. This is where I left the K&P trail to go south again. It was so narrow though, surrounded by high grass, that I passed it without noticing. Good for Komoot!  It warned me I had passed it and I followed my tracks back exactly to the point where I was supposed to go into the bush. The other end of the path ended in an area that is being developed with brand new roads and separated bidirectional pathways.

Leaving the K&P Trail: I knew it was going to be a walking trail, but had not expected it to be so narrow.
Leaving the K&P Trail: I knew it was going to be a walking trail, but had not expected it to be so narrow.

Sidewalk cycling

My route continued through Cataraqui North, a newer Kingston suburb, were people live there quiet lives. Eventually I ended up on Princess Street at the Freshco, an older arterial which is not fun to bike on, so I stayed on the side walk. Because I had to cross railway tracks again, there are not many alternatives for Princess Street.

Quiet neighbourhood cycling in Kingston, ON (photo: Google)
Quiet neighbourhood cycling in Kingston, ON (photo: Google)

I got a little lost in a small greenspace area on the Helen A. Henderson Loop off the Rideau Trail; the (walking) trail was hardly recognizable and overgrown but GPS helped me out. Fortunately, I returned in time to go out for lunch with Karen’s colleagues at Bella’s Bistro on Bath Road.

About the route

The route is about 30 kilometers and takes you through greenspace, along the former Kingston Pen (now a museum) along the Waterfront Trail and the K&P Trail, past some shore line parks and through part of downtown. Other than crossing Division Road and Sydenham Rd, it is a nice and easy route which can be done in two to three hours.

Best map (which I found after I was home again: https://cityofkingston.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=efca572f91d24cddac817af7d2fb5ab0#

Here is the my route on Komoot: https://www.komoot.com/tour/36165227?ref=wtd (modified with the right route)

Railway traces in and around Kingston, ON: http://www.railways.incanada.net/Circle_Articles/Article_Page01.html

I am interested in your experiences about the K&P trail, also about the long stretch going towards Sharbot Lake.

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