A 32 km cycling loop in rural Ontario near Almonte

The end of May is a beautiful time to go to places like Almonte (now part of Mississippi Mills) and Carleton Place. Spring is out in full force, everything is greener than green, the rivers run wild and the cows are out in their pastures. Time to discover a bit of rural Ontario by bike.

Quick update here: I received some feedback which I always appreciate. Based on the comments, I added some updates to clarify, hope that helps. I just want to assure everyone that I really love Almonte. I guess I took too much for granted that that was clear in the blog. Some of my well intended thoughts did not translate well in the text though. Being from the Netherlands originally, I love rural Ontario as it is something so different from what I grew up in in terms of space, vegetation, rock formations, gravel roads, log cabins.

But first: Crazy Horse Trail on March Rd

On a Saturday morning, we decided to load the bikes in the car and go for a hike and a ride just west of Ottawa. We were early at the Crazy Horse Trail on March Road for our first stop. This trail is only a few kilometers long with a loop at the end around a beaver pond. It is a bit of a gem here, with exposed rock, the iconic Precambrian Shield landscape, that makes you feel you are on the escarpment in Gatineau Park (without the views).

Pants in the socks to avoid ticks on Crazy Horse Trail

It is not very big and squeezed between private properties. Don’t let the warnings about ticks, hunters, ATVs, dog poop and property owners deter you, it is quite a unique landscape. I even discovered an orchid along the trail, hopefully it won’t be run over by an off leash dog. You can read more about this unique place here: Friends of Carp Hills. Stay on the trails though as it is a very fragile landscape. You can probably spend two hours here. After I wrote this blog, I learned the next day someone stole a kayak off the roof of a health care worker’s car when she was hiking on this trail. She was devastated. Fortunately, a kayak company stepped in and donated a new kayak.)

Crazy Horse Trail: stay on the paths

Almonte, ON

A bit further west is Almonte, now part of Mississippi Mills, a small town that once had several woollen mills. Its main street appears to be struggling (Update: I owe an apology here: this was a poor choice of words. I have been reading a lot about North American main streets losing businesses to box stores but I should not have assumed that that is the case in Almonte without doing more research first) but the several independent shops do survive. There is a seasonal ice cream shop on the main street and a short board walk along the river. There are several restaurants, save them for dinner when you return to Almonte after your bike ride.

Mill St. Almonte (Mississippi Mills) (Google Screen Grab)

The Barley Mow right on the river is a great spot to enjoy a late afternoon drink. I heard good things about the Greene Mill Food Truck too. Almonte has been the location for a quite a number of Hallmark Christmas movies. (Admit it, you have watched them too.)

Drop by at Equator Coffee’s roastery on your way in and try to plan your visit around the farmers market. Equator coffee is unfortunately in the business section near the Dollarama, RBC and the Subway, so expect lots of asphalt. By the way, you can also find Equator Coffee at the National Art Centre on Elgin and in Westboro in Ottawa.

Parking in Almonte

We parked our car ‘downtown’ on a large dilapidated square (update, I got some flak for this description, it wasn’t my intention to put it down of course, I was just wondering out loud how such a prime location next to Mill St could enhance the visitor experienceI appreciate everyone’s feedback, it was unintentionally poorly chosen and I want to make it clear I thoroughly enjoy Almonte), where you can leave your vehicle for four hours without paying. In Europe such a square would be packed with patios and lovely old plantain trees, but not in Almonte, which is probably part of rural Ontario’s charm. (Update: I was thinking here how it would look with some patios on the right side of this image with a few maple trees here and there to enjoy our summer evenings. I visualised some green space, some lights strung across a patio and people enjoying a wood fired oven pizza).

Ample space to park your car in downtown Almonte. Almonte’s main street, Mill St, is around the corner with several food and antique places

Where to ride from Almonte

We definitely wanted to ride part of the rail to trail between Carleton, but not in and out the same way. I found it suprisingly hard to find a cycling route that appealed to us. (Update: we like routes that start and stop in a town so we can also enjoy some of the local foods and have dinner, we like a stop halfway at a bakery, ice cream shop or a small cafe for examples. We are very modest cyclists, cycling at 16-17 km an hour and love to watch bird life, pastures and farms – suggestions for routes are always welcome, we are less comfortable riding on paved shoulders). There are some awesome and expensive looking maps, but they are designed to fold out and not for the Internet. I found it hard to visualise what to expect but after riding a few roads, it turns out to be much easier than I thought. We now have a better understanding of the lay of the land.

Cedar fences is a zig zag pattern to hold up the fence as the rock is right underneath it

Finding an alternative route to create a loop wasn’t easy: routes were either too long (as in 80 km, 100 km) or the maps didn’t show the details I wanted to know, or the map was too detailed to print out. I don’t really like databases such as Ride with GPS as a lot of lycrosi just dump their speedy rides on it: it becomes too quickly too unwieldy and really doesn’t tell you much about what to expect.

Leaving Almonte via Old Perth Road west bound.

Old Perth Road

We settled on Old Perth Road to leave town. I saw on Mapillary that Heather Shearer had been riding there and hardly any of her images showed a car, so I figured that was a safe bet. (Update: someone mentioned it is not his favourite route. I was surprised to read that as we encountered only one car and liked the winding road and watching the many attractive properties along the road). It is not a smooth surface by any means (gravel), but we did just fine on our 32C and 35C tires on our city bikes. (I just want to mention that, so that you are prepared with the right tires). Cautious as I am, I brought a repair set and a pump though.

Log building on Quarry Rd

We turned south on somewhat hilly (but very doable) Concession Rd 4A for a few kilometers and then turned east into Quarry Road. Quarry Rd is yet another lovely road that eventually turns into Bridge St once you approach Carleton Place.

Carleton Place

Carleton Place feels somewhere between a rural town, a retirement community and a bedroom town for Ottawa. Situated on the Mississippi River, it has a nice olde towne charme, but its Main Street definitely has seen better days. As in so many North American cities, the business districts on the edge of town suck all the life out the cores. My main impression of Carleton Place has always been the malls at the intersection where Highway 7 meets Highway 15 but there is a gem when you go beyond that. You might want to consider the historic walk (see bottom of this post).

Along Quarry Rd towards Carleton Place
Creative set up for curbside pick up
Old city hall on Carleton Place’s main street

Carleton Place has a farmers market too but we were already too late (it closes at noon) so we decided to have our lunch at the waterfront and head back via the rail to trail, recently built on the former tracks of the Brockville & Ottawa Railway Company.

The rail to trail just north of Carleton Place north bound to Almonte. I like the small signs.

I personally find rail to trails somewhat boring to ride on, but sometimes it is the only viable option if you don’t want to share the road. Not every community is blessed with a network of multi use trails like large cities such as Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau, simply because of the different size of municipalities. The trail from Carleton to Almonte goes through farmers fields and has some variety and it a pleasant place to bike and a great addition. Someone who wants to do the route emailed asking if the entire route are only roads. The answer is no. About ten km of the 32 km route is trail as shown above. The other roughly 22 km are super quiet gravel roads and some paved kilometers.

Back in Almonte

10 kilometers later, we were back in Almonte. I have always had a weak spot for Almonte as Jeff Mills, a long time Mississippi Mills cycling advocate and community developer, was one of the first ones who approached me for a cycling presentation in Almonte about cycling in the Netherlands after I spoke at the Perth Chamber of Commerce the year before (with Laura Mueller in the audience as a reporter).

The rail-to-trail runs past the Old Town Hall, where I gave a talk about cycling in June 2010. Great memories.

I spoke at the Almonte Old Town Hall in June 2011, exactly 10 years ago, down to the day basically. At that time, cycling advocates such as Jeff Mills and Kerry Hamilton worked really hard to turn the abandoned rail into a trail between Carleton Place and Almonte and beyond. I have a lot of respect for Jeff, humble as always but gently pushing his ideas forward.

In non covid times, you may want to stop at Il Postino in the old post office for food and drinks. The former post office was built in the late 1800’s (a national historic site now) and was designed by Architect Thomas Fuller, who also designed the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Our bikes

This is a really nice route, we hardly encountered any traffic and the traffic that passes gives you lots of space and isn’t going very fast. It is mostly gravel and stone dust you will be cycling on. We used our city bikes with 700 x 32C and 700 x 35C and it was very doable, definitely on the rail to trail part but also on the gravel roads: it is so quiet you can bike on the smoothest part of the road, which is usually in the middle. If you are a CAA member, you can actually call them for help if needed. Yes, for your bike.

Loved this sign: don’t fool around with rural Ontarians

Help promote cycling in the region

If you like to look more into gravel riding, do read this post about the 800 km Log Driver’s Waltz route around Ottawa and Gatineau (it has several links to other gravel websites too). If you want to help promote cycling in our region, do share this post too.

Resources:

Map

Lanark county cycling map (2017): https://mmbm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/lcta-cycle-map.pdf

Mississippi Mills cycling map (2017): https://mmbm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/mississippi-mills-cycling-map.pdf

Carleton Place walking tour: https://carletonplace.ca/self-guided-walking-tours.php

18 Comments

  1. Hi:

    Thanks for sharing the suggestion. Took the loop early one morning. I quite enjoy the wooded stretches of Old Perth, 4A and the early parts of Quarry Rd.

    Peter

  2. My wife and I duplicated your route this morning and found it a lovely ride.As you say the back roads had little traffic and the few drivers were considerate. In June it would be a good idea to carry some bug repellent in case of a break down or a visit to the woods.

  3. Might want to keep the comments like “struggling” and “delapedated” to yourself nextime, you’ve pissed off a lot of the local residents.

    I also want to note that old Perth road is very narrow and almost entirely blind corners and loose gravel. It’s probably the worst dirt road you could pick to bike on.. take Rae road or Gleeson instead you’re going to get hit by a truck..

    • Thank Mike for the suggestions. Appreciated. I found it dificult to read from Google Maps what is ridable and what is not. Only one car passed us on Old Perth Rd so we experienced Old Perth Rd as a very pleasant road with so many gorgeous homes and settings in the trees. Something I am very unfamiliar with (coming from densily populated country The Netherlands). I didn’t find the gravel the biggest obstacle. We cycle slowly, about 16-17 km per hour and enjoy taking in the scenery and stop regularly to watch birds and other wild life. I try to avoid the busier roads with paved shoulders. I will definitely look into Rae Rd and Gleeson. Thanks for getting back to me. Perhaps I didn’t express myself correctly, I just want to make sure that people know I love Almonte. I received several reactions too from people who asked for more info on riding there.

  4. This blog post is absolutely pathetic. The downtown seems to be struggling? Dude, every shop is closed due to covid. Have you ever seen Almonte while it’s open on a weekend sans shutdown? It’s wild.

    Cant find good gravel routes to cycle? What? Literally WHAT are you talking about. I’m new to gravel riding and could map you out 10 awesome gravel rides under 30km easily.

    Complaining about a parking lot not being a market? Where would you park then brother?

    What an ignorant and short sighted blog post. This guy needs a guide next time.

    • Thanks for your suggestions Steven. I would like to take you up on some 30-40 km gravel ride suggestions. I am new to it too, but I have found it hard to judge from a distance what would work. Ideally for a route, it starts and stops in the same place with a (locally owned) restaurant to stay for dinner. I would like to include a stop (bakery, restaurant, ice cream shop somewhere halfway) and interesting landscapes and ideally something like an old mill, a museum or something that has a story to tell to really allow people to learn about the region while riding the route. I thought Old Perth Rd and Quarry Rd where great places to ride, but I have since learned that not everyone agrees with Old Perth Rd. I got some requests for more info about cycling in the region. Lots of people in Ottawa are looking for day outings, so if you could share some ideas, that would be awesome. I have looked to Pakenham too, but I am not sure if I am ready to do the 50 km route around Mount Pakenham, although it sounds like an appealing ride.

  5. Very arrogant and rude description of my small town (Almonte). Did not appreciate the harsh language used to describe a small town during a pandemic. Feel free to not come back.

      • Not sure what was rude about this. I quite appreciate your take, Sir. Just an fyi, as you mentioned about the ‘little signs’ – I recently discovered that they are for snowmobiles as their trails follow the ditches in some spots outside of town. I also think they’re adorable. Cheers, hope to see you here again.

      • Thank you Matthew. I received several comments, all of them with good suggestions. With cyclists going so much slower than motorised vehicles, I always think that smaller signs would work better on cycling routes. They work better at eye level and and less disturbing to the landscape. The NCC in Ottawa-Gatineau often has smaller signs.

      • Probably the part about the main street appearing to be struggling. It’s a pandemic and every business is forcefully shut. As well as the comment about the dilapidated parking lot? That should be filled with plantain trees.

      • I agree and I apologize, Rose, I should have done more research on that. I drew a conclusion too quickly. I have been reading for many years about North American main streets losing a lot of business to the box stores. I am a big supporter of local businesses as well as historic main streets with an interesting mix of retail. I was just wondering if the parking lot could further enhance the wonderful experience of Almonte, perhaps greening it a bit and having perhaps some more activity on the south side with some patios in the afternoon sun. I was just thinking out loud. In hindsight, I should probably not have added this to the blog or check with someone else first. But sometimes you get get carried away in your enthousiasm. Thank you for your feedback, Rose, I always learn from reactions.

      • Perhaps inaccurate would be a better word than rude. For example:

        “We parked our car ‘downtown’ on a large delapidated square, where you can leave your vehicle for four hours without paying. In Europe such a square would be packed with patios and lovely old plantain trees, but not in Almonte, which is probably part of rural Ontario’s charm.”

        Why do you have downtown in quotation marks? For one thing, this is not downtown. We would consider the next street over (i.e. Mill Street) to be downtown. Although, truth be told, the word downtown is usually applied to bigger towns and cities. I think main street would be a better word choice.

        Second, this is not a square. It is a parking lot. That’s why you can park there for free for four hours – lucky you! It’s not meant to be a square, that’s why there are no patios. It’s meant to be a parking lot. The reason it’s mostly empty is because of the COVID-19 lockdown – you are aware that we are under such restrictions in Ontario are you not?

        Yes, you were not in Europe, you were in rural Ontario. Why in the world would you compare the two? Why would you choose to talk about the things you did not like? Why did you not focus on the charm and beauty of Almonte, which is beloved by visitors from far and wide?

        Why in the world would you describe a parking lot as a delapidated? A parking lot is a parking lot. Also, please note that dilapidated is the correct spelling of dilapidated.

        I found your review inaccurate, poorly written and mean spirited, except for the bit about Jeff Mills with which I agree. He certainly is a great guy.

        If you visit our lovely town again, please keep your inaccuracies, misperceptions and misspellings to yourself.

        Thank you.

      • Thanks for your feedback Susan. I very much appreciate your comments. My wording was not chosen wisely, although not with bad intentions. When I was cycling across the parking lot I was thinking that it being so close to Mill St, in such a prime location, there could be more potential for the square. This is why I was comparing it with Europe, not with the idea that it should be copied of course (different climate, different layout), more to wonder what one could do with such a great space in a Canadian context so close to the river and Mill St to further enhance the visitor experience. I should have expressed myself clearer. Absolutely no bad intentions here. I take it for granted that everyone loves Almonte and just wondered if the parking lot has more potential. 
        I love rural Ontario for its abundance of green and its history and this is why I came to visit to see how it is to cycle on gravel roads. I have been reading about gravel cycling over the winter and I am really interested in finding ways to enjoy the region by bike more. We are very modest cyclists, and we wanted to make sure there are places to stop and eat and rest and if our daily bicycles could handle gravel. From what I gather Almonte ticks off all the boxes. This is why I mentioned several restaurants, so that people who visit can enjoy the food and the views over the river and support main streets. I am a strong supporter of everything historic but I have been reading that so many main streets are not doing well in North America. I agree with you I should not have drawn conclusions but check first. Thanks for pointing out the spelling error. I will update that in my blog, English is not my mothertongue, but I try my best. I do run spell checks but I guess I oversaw this one.
        On a last note, I noticed you have an affiliation with the Alzheimers Society. My cousin died of early Alzheimers when he was in his late 50’s. I had never realised that it could hit so early.

  6. We were visiting Almonte area for a picnic last week and found the area as fine as when we lived near there (Middleville) in the mid-70’s to early 80’s. Your article is fantastic! We are eager to try out some routes near there and you have given added inspiration. Back then we found the town community level push to develop projects with good potential the same as you have described.

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