A Peterborough Cycling Tour

Karen at the Otonabee River
Karen at the Otonabee River at Lakefield
Reading Time: 8 minutes

We don’t pass through Peterborough, Ontario every day, month, week, year, decade, so when we had some surplus furniture to deliver in Scarborough, we thought it would be a wise idea to make a pit stop at the City of Peterborough (population 81,000), “gateway to the Kawarthas”. Peterborough is about 300 km west from Ottawa and 125 km northeast from Toronto, hence our infrequent visits.

Peterborough cycling infrastructure

Discount van
The oversized van we really didn’t need; we had asked for a smaller van but you know how it goes at rental companies. Gas consumption: 8 km on a liter, 18.5 mpg!
the interior of our van
The interior of our van on the way back

But having a delivery van with us, we decided we might as well bring our bikes and do a bike tour in Peterborough. I pored over Mapillary, Google Maps and Open Street Maps and read several websites to figure out a place to park the van and do a 40-45 km bike ride. Surprisingly, Peterborough has some really nice cycling infrastructure and I was able to put a loop together that was mostly away from motorised traffic. Frequent readers know I like loops that are in the 40-50 km range.

Get a paper cycling map of Peterborough

Way finding was generally not a problem, but sometimes it was.
Wayfinding was generally not a problem, but sometimes it was. Peterborough has some great wayfinding. Modest, yet clear

The City of Peterborough has a nice paper map, available at the Parks Canada visitors centre at Lift Lock 21 (worth a quick stop for the photos of the construction of the Lift Lock). Unfortunately it doesn’t show the route north of Trent U, but you really can’t go wrong much. I had actually mapped our entire route in Komoot in advance, with spoken route directions.

Peterborough Rotary Greenway Trail

Park in Peterborough
Beavermead Park: a lovely park with a small beach

We parked the van at Beavermead Park on Little Lake and cycled via Lock #20 to Rogers Cove, through a calm residential neighbourhood to the Rotary Greenway Trail along the east shore of the Otonabee River. It is a nice paved path through green space. Just south of Trent University, you’ll cross the Trent canal and you keep going further north towards the university.

Tricycle on the path in Peterborough
There was a ride for mental health on the pathways when we were there. It was nice to see several types of bikes, including two hand cycles and these two trikes

Missing 300 meter stretch

The separate pathway stops at the bridge over the river at Trent U and you have to merge into traffic in a bend in the road, which is rather odd: there is a 300 meter stretch missing right underneath the bridge (I am sure it is one of “minimum width requirements for roads” issues and the bridge footing is in the way). You can cycle around the university on the east side if you are nervous.

After the bridge, the pathway continues to Lakefield, our destination. The pathway eventually runs closer to the river and you can veer off the path to check out some of the locks. (A few were being renovated, but others are accessible – 2019).

One of the Locks in Peterborough
One of the locks in Peterborough. They are slightly different from the locks in Ottawa

The pathway (paved until Trent U, north of Trent U it becomes crushed stone) continues along Water Street in Lakefield until it veers east into town, becoming the Lakefield Trail.  The trail connects to the Lakefield Trail just after Savage Arms, a rifle maker owned by Vista Outdoor, that also owns the company that makes your Bell helmet btw.  The path then follows Rabbit St. Note that Google Maps doesn’t show the Lakefield Trail in the Google ‘bicycling’ settings.

The locks are opened a bit easier, using leverage, rather than the winches at the locks in Ottawa, Here, you can actually use body weight rather than arm muscles only..
The Trent locks are opened a bit easier, using bodyweight, rather than the winches at the locks in Ottawa. I am glad we don’t have fences around the locks in Ottawa. It really takes away from the experience of times past

Nutty Bean Café

Patio at Nutty Bean Cafe
Patio at Nutty Bean Café

Cycling Magazine recommended a stop at the Nutty Bean Café and so we had an early lunch sandwich wrap on the patio on Queen street. There are bike racks at the cafe (a bit crummy, the ones that look like a fence), but it feels like the kind of place where you can leave your bike unlocked anywhere anyway.

Trent University

Trent U buildings
Trent U buildings along the river as seen from the bridge

We followed part of the trail back and than merged into the quiet road for several kilometers to get a better view of the water.  It is hard to find the access ramp to the bridge across the river at Trent U, but just cycle a bit around and follow your instincts. Where are the wayfinding signs when you need them? There are outside ramps going to a higher level of the university where you actually cross. Stop on the bridge and take in the views of both the university (architect: Ron Thom) and the river.

Ron Thom

Ron Thom is the architect of the initial phase of the university. Here is a quote on its style.

The architecture of Ron Thom is a marker on a continuum running from the Bauhaus of Walter Gropius dating from 1919, through the International Style most evident in the 1930s, to the visual residue of fractured narratives expressed in postmodern architectural pastiche at the end of the century. The four Thom buildings at the heart of the Trent University campus represent the very best and most successful examples of a commitment to the connection of material to building; of building to landscape. Thom adapted the best features of the International Style (more Le Corbusier than Mies van der Rohe), melding and softening Brutalism with Prairie influences reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Thom definition of spaces for living and working allowed functionalism, but not at the expense of austere anti-humanism; it allowed simplicity, but not at the expense of texture and nuance. Digital Collections TrentU

Parkway Trail

The Parkway Trail
The Parkway Trail

Meandering across the parking lots on the west side of the Trent University we eventually found our way via a somewhat unpleasant side walk ride along busy Water St to the parking lot of the Riverview Park and Zoo. At the south end of the parking lots, we crossed Water St and continued on a pathway along Cumberland Ave. The Parkway Trail starts about 100 meters after you have entered Cumberland. The trail runs all the way through a green space to Jackson Park.

Silver Bean Café

Silver Bean cafe
Ice cream at the Silver Bean café in Millennium Park

In Jackson Park, we turned east again towards downtown finding our way to the beautiful Millennium Park. Stop for an ice cream and enjoy the views and some beautiful landscaping. The single bike rack couldn’t handle the large number of bicycles of people who came after us but the fence provides extra places to lock your bike.

Bad plan, Batman

Trying to stay away from Highway 7
Trying to stay away from Highway 7

I had sloppily planned to cycle along Lansdowne Steet west (= Highway 7) but that turned out to be a really bad idea: it is a four way highway with neither shoulders nor a sidewalk. We tried to cut through the Peterborough Naval Association property instead but ended up on an overgrown former railway track; we returned to try another route.

In hindsight, we should have continued on that overgrown path eastbound and we would have ended up connecting to the Trans Canada Trail along Ashburnham Drive which would have led us back to the parking lot (provided the former train bridge is accessible). Neither OpenStreetMap nor Google’s bike option is clear on that.

Despite the fencing, some folks had to run ahead of the train as they were hanging out on the track (A Canadian thing apparently). the train was not going fast, but still....
A very nice ped and bike bridge parallel to the train bridge. Despite the fences, some folks had to run ahead of the train as they were hanging out on the track (A Canadian thing apparently). The train was not going fast (about 15-20 kph), but still….

Alternative routes in Peterborough

The red line in the image below was more or less my intended route (I could have done a better planning job there). The blue stretch at the bottom was the stretch we haphazardly attempted but didn’t want to try further. The path is considerably overgrown unfortunately. The yellow one is doable I think, now I have taken a closer look and having been there. The green one at the top is the Trans Canada Trail we eventually took.

Several route options we tried
Several route options. The green one is the best, the yellow one I think is doable too

Peterborough Cycling for Everyone

All in all it was a great day of exploring and eating, with the perfect low humidity weather and blue skies. The trails we took are in good condition. As is so often the case, the connections between the paths are not ideal yet but it is clear that Peterborough is working on it. It is encouraging to see that Peterborough and the Rotary build for everyone.

The new bidirectional path along Ashburnham looks great and connects to the Trans Canada Trail. What I also really liked was that there were several places to eat and drink along the route and I am not talking about a water fountain that you share with the local dogs. I also liked the way finding. Signs for cyclists don’t have to be big, because cyclists go much slower than cars and can get much closer to signs.

There is a bit more to discover in Peterborough, such as the Art Gallery, so perhaps the next visit won’t be a decade from now.  I took the Garmin Camera from Bike Ottawa with me, and (nearly) the whole route will soon be on Mapillary for you to check out: 4500 photos for your perusal. I am also adding the Komoot data here, without the detour we made to find our way back:

More reading on Peterborough Cycling



Lakefield stars in a National Film Board 28 minute documentary: Unheralded, about the local newspaper


  1. Thanks for sharing your cycling journey with us. I’ve always wanted to find new places to cycle, and it looks like Peterborough has some interesting stop-off points. If I decide to go cycling next summer, I’ll try your “yellow” route, which seems manageable.

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