The Iron Mine Meander (125 km)
Updated: Oct 7
Location: Balsam Lake Provincial Park, Kawartha Lakes County, Ontario
Distance: 124.5km (77.4 miles)
Suggested Tire Width: 38-40mm (though most of the route can be ridden on less, are a number of stretches of unmaintained that call for something a bit beefier). In addition, your tire selection ought to be dictated by the season, with early Spring or recent heavy rains requiring something wider.
Amenities: Balsam Lake Provincial Park offers a large assortment of campsites, as well as a park store. Coboconk hosts a couple of convenience stores, a fairly large grocery store and various restaurant options. Several convenience stores, a grocery store, a couple of restaurants and a frozen yogurt stand can be found in the village of Kinmount. Meanwhile, the hamlet of Norland includes a couple of convenience stores and a pub. Finally, a food truck can be found in Head Lake.
Estimated Gravel Time: 70%
Parking: This route includes multiple parking options. Anyone looking to spend the weekend in the Kawarthas ought to consider camping at Balsam Lake Provincial Park. However, if you are going to park here for the day, a day pass must be purchased. Looking to turn this route into a light two-day dirt tour? Your best bet is to park at Ward Memorial Park just outside of Norland. Riding the route clockwise from here provides access to Balsam Lake Provincial Park at the approximate halfway mark, while also ensuring a convenient resupply/dinner spot in Coboconk. Other parking options include the Cobodon Lions Park, the rest area/ATV parking lot in Kinmount. The boat launch off of the shores of Head Lake, and the baseball diamond parking lot in Victoria Road.
This stunning loop through the Kawarthas north of Balsam Lake features a heady mix of flowy car-free pavement, scenic gravel, many kilometres of unmaintained (highlighted by the route’s namesake Iron Mine Road), as well as ample rest stops and resupply options. Without a doubt, this route was one of RideGravel’s highlights for 2021.
Starting from Balsam Lake Provincial, exit the park via Balsam Lake Drive and head north to County Road 48. The initial 2.8km portion of this road has a speed limit of 80kph, but includes a nice wide paved shoulder. However, while the speed limit for final 1.2km into the town of Coboconk is 60kph, the paved shoulder disappears while traffic itself continues at a relatively high rate of speed. So it is recommended that riders make use of the firm gravel shoulder.
Upon reaching Coboconk, make a right and continue through town to Base Line Rd. Here, riders will have the option of continuing on the main route, or making a left and heading north to Hulgill Rd. The latter option will mean transitioning from pavement to gravel much sooner, but will require a trip on Weldon Drive. While this municipal road includes a rowdy section of unmaintained, the entrance is marred by a “No Trespassing - Private Property” sign. According to the locals, the sign was put up by an “ornery” landowner (to use one of the more milder terms employed by his neighbours) and carries no legal weight. It is in fact a municipal road, accessible to the public. This road eventually leads riders back to the main route via Northline Rd.
Those remaining on the main route, continue on pavement for another 6km to the Victoria Rail Trail. From here head north on this smooth section trail as it parallels the Burnt River for 16km to Kinmount. Exiting the village, the trail gets noticeably rougher for the next 1.5km, before leaving the trail behind and making a left onto Boundary Rd.
This 17km mix of rollercoaster dirt and smooth sublime pavement is the route’s unquestioned highlight, featuring the loop’s namesake, Iron Mine Rd. This 6.4km section of unmaintained consists of butter-smooth dirt for the first 4.5km before reaching a waist-deep flooded section (part of the adventure!) After wading through the water, the trail takes on a noticeably different character, becoming much sandier for the next 2km (this section of the road is technically closed to motor traffic, accounting for the lack of basic maintenance).
Exit Iron Mine Rd. and make a right on Davis Lake Rd., continuing on a pretty section of pavement for 3.8km to Highway 38. Ignore the “Local Traffic Only” signs and cross the highway, eventually reaching the bridge over Miner’s Creek. As of September 2021, the bridge is under construction, so follow the recommended detour along a dirt path to the Miner’s Bay Lodge Access Rd.
Cross Highway 35 to Clear Lake Rd., following this dreamy section of pavement for 8.4km, past a lovely rest stop on the shores of Clear Lake to Spar Lake Rd. Here, the loop transitions to firm gravel for the next 3km to County Road 45. Proceed right to the hamlet of Norland.
Upon reaching Norland, continue north-west on Highway 35 for 2km to Hiltons Point Rd. Here, the route returns to gravel for 6.5km to County Road 45. Head right, avoiding the pavement by following the navigable ATV trail/gravel roads that parallel the main road for almost 6km to Digby Laxton Boundary Rd. From here, remain primarily on dirt for the next 7km to Alvar Rd.
What follows is a 13km stretch of delicious unmaintained as riders continue south past the outer boundary of Carden Alvar Provincial Park along Wylie Rd. to McNamee Rd. Be aware the this unmaintained section can see some standing water (and perhaps some early Spring flooding). However, it is all perfectly rideable.
Follow McNamee Rd. east and remain on dirt for the next 12km to County Road 41. From here, head south on quiet country pavement to County Road 48, which brings riders back to the start at Balsam Lake Provincial Park