Addington Highlands Bikepacking Loop (257km)
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Location: Cloyne, Lennox & Addington County, Ontario
Estimated Gravel Time: 85%
Full Route Distance: 257.1km (159.7 miles)
Suggested Tire Width: Two / three inches
Amenities: The route includes four potential resupply options. The first three in the hamlets of McArthurs Mills, Palmer Rapids and Quadeville, have small general stores with a limited food selection. However, Quadeville is also home to a chip stand. The fourth option is the village of Griffith, which includes a larger general store, as well as a country pub and a breakfast/lunch restaurant.
Parking: The route map lists several potential parking options. This includes a couple along the southern shores of Skootamatta Lake, which in several cases also double as boat launches. So be considerate and leave plenty of room for others to park and access the lake. Otherwise, if room is required for more than one vehicle, a large dirt lot can be found approximately 25km further west on Skootamata Access Rd. Parking can also be found south of Quadeville off of Aumonds Bay in Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park.
The history of the Addington Highlands is a rich and colourful one. Starting with its first peoples, the Ojibwe, whose sacred pictographs featuring the creator (and trickster) Nanabozho adorn the 100m high Mazinaw Rock. Next to leave their mark were the Irish, who arrived in great numbers in the early 19th century to supply the manpower necessary to support the booming logging and milling industries that fed the international appetite for Canadian timber. Then, as was often the case, farmers were lured to the area with promises of free and freshly deforested land, only to find the rock hard Canadian Shield ill-suited for anything but the most hardscrabble sustenance agriculture. Similarly, prospectors arrived but soon found little more than low-grade ore.
By the early 20th century the area, anchored by Bon Echo, became a summertime tourist destination for those looking to escape the cities and commune with nature. Today, not much has changed with hundreds of lakes, rivers, streams, dirt roads and ATV trails providing unlimited opportunities to hunt, fish, or simply explore.
This 257km bikepacking route samples some of the best and most challenging scenery the Addington Highlands has to offer. While the route itself is not particularly long, don't take it lightly. It includes a number of steep climbs and many kilometres of muddy/sandy dirt roads and ATV trails. So it is recommended that anyone attempting this loop[ budget three to four days to complete (and enjoy) it.
Starting from the first parking lot/boat launch on the south-eastern shores of Skootamatta Lake, head west on Hughes Landing Rd. and follow this quiet section of pavement for 3km to the second parking lot at the entrance of Sheldrake Lake. Here, the route transitions from pavement to gravel, and continues on this forest access road for just over 20km, passing several potential Crown Land campsites before the road intersects with a major ATV trail. While the trail heads north to an abandoned Natural Resources Canada airstrip, continue west on the Skootamata Access Rd. to another ATV trail approximately 8km further on.
Here, riders have the option of continuing on the main route by following this rough ATV trail north for 5km to Egan Creek Rd. The other option is to continue west on Skootamata Access Rd. to Weslemkoon Lake Rd., following this section of pavement north for 4km back to the main route.
Upon reaching Egan Creek Rd. continue north for just over 15km on a mixture of gravel and sandy unmaintained to Birch Lake trail. Here, make a right and follow this well-used ATV trail for approximately 5km to Little Birch Lake, an ideal spot to spend the night. Otherwise continue east for half a kilometre to Mayo Lake Rd. Make a left here and head north, following this section of unmaintained for just over 18km, crossing the Dry Narrows separating Gin Lake from Mayo Lake, before eventually transitioning to pavement and descending to the hamlet of MacArthurs Mills.
Depart McArthurs Mills by briefly following Highway 28 to Boulter Rd. (as Highway 28 can see some high speed traffic, riding on the firm gravel shoulder is recommended). After another kilometre of pavement, make a right and continue on the ATV trail for just over 5km to Lalande Rd. This section of the loop is one of the toughest, and features ample mud and several minor sections of submerged trail. Those wishing to avoid this section (especially during hunting season) have the option of continuing on Highway 27 to Little Ireland Rd., which rejoins the main route after 1.4km.
Lalande Rd. marks the start of a short stretch of hardback gravel that eventually changes to single lane unmaintained after reaching Moccasin Lake Rd. Upon arriving at the road’s namesake lake and several pretty Crown Land campsites, head north-west on a series of rugged ATV trails for just over 5km to Wasmund Meadow Rd., a short stretch of unmaintained that eventually transitions to firm and well managed gravel upon reaching Burnt Bridge Rd.
Continue on Burnt Bridge Rd. to the hamlet of Palmer Rapids. Here, the route ascends steeply up Oscar Boehme Rd. and remains on pavement for the next 4km, before eventually crossing the Madawaska River for the first time. After the bridge, make a right onto River Rd. as the route sticks to well maintained gravel for just over 10km to Palmer Rd. Here, riders can remain on the route by making a left and staying on asphalt for approximately 5km to the hamlet of Quadeville. As an alternative, riders may also decide to simply cross Palmer Rd. to Homestead Rd. which follows the Madawaska River before rejoining the main route 6km later at Aumonds Bay.
Upon reaching Quadeville, make a right onto Cameron Lake Rd., leaving the asphalt behind in favour of a short stretch of gravel. Soon after, a series of ATV trails take riders past a campsite on the northern shores of Kennellys Lake and finally back to the Madawaska River. Here, the loop returns to gravel and follows Hyland Creek Rd. for the next 22km to the village of Griffith. As this section of the route parallels Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park, there will be various opportunities to take one of several spur trails to the river, which ought to provide multiple riverside camping opportunities.
Griffith makes for an ideal rest stop and is home to a restaurant, country pub, and a general store, as well as a small picnic area with restroom facilities. Depart Griffith via Flying Club Rd and follow a series of logging roads south, then east, for 18km to Morrow Lake Rd. Make a right here and head south, remaining on dirt for just over 7km to Centennial Lake Rd. At this point, the route transitions to asphalt and continues on pavement for the next 10km, crossing the Madawaska River one final time before reaching Frontenac Rd., a pretty stretch of well maintained gravel.
Upon crossing Matawachan Rd., the loop continues on series of relatively well-maintained ATV trails, past a lovely campsite on the eastern shores of Quackenbush Lake (several other campsites can also be found on the western shores of Trappers Lake, slightly off route). However, once the route passes Quackenbush Lake, the trails do become a bit more difficult, as riders have to contend with several muddy and flooded sections before reaching Buckshot Lake Rd. In particular, a small section of the ATV trail north of Buckshot Lake Rd. can see some heavy flooding (calf deep in August 2021, though can get waist deep depending on the season). Part of the adventure!
Following the previous stretch of rugged trail, the next 7.5km of pavement to Tower Rd. comes perhaps as a welcome respite. Upon reaching Tower Rd., make a left, returning to gravel as the route heads south towards another stretch of well-maintained ATV trail. After several kilometres, make a left and follow the more rugged ATV trail as the route descends towards Upper Mazinaw Lake. Riders ought to take note that shortly before reaching Mallory Lake, “No Trespassing” signs are posted. However, the landowner allows access to trail users so long as they remain on trail (the main concern is ATV riders ripping up the trail near Mallory Lake). However, during hunting season, it is recommended that riders avoid this trail altogether and continue north instead to Irvine Lake Rd., which will bring riders to Highway 41.
Exit the trail via Browns Tent and Trailer Park and continue south on Highway 41. This is the least pleasant stretch of the loop, especially during the peak of summer, due to the large amount of high-speed traffic. As such, it is highly recommended that riders remain on the gravel shoulder for the next 7.5km to Bon Echo Provincial Park. Enter the park and stop at the gate to inform park staff your intention to cut through the park to South Mazinaw Height Rd., at which point they ought to wave you through. Continue through the park to the shores of Lower Mazinaw Lake and a spectacular view of Mazinaw Rock.
From the water follow the trail south for 1.5km, being mindful of beachgoers and children, before exiting the park via South Mazinaw Height Rd. After returning briefly to Highway 41, leave the busy road behind make a right onto Skootamatta Lake Rd. Remain on this twisty section of quiet pavement for just over 7km back to the start on Hughes Landing Rd.