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Riding the Ontario Highlands

Finding adventure close to home

Published August 20, 2014

A twisting motorcycle trip through Ontario’s Highlands, just hours outside the GTA

My wish list for my yearly motorcycle trip includes twisty roads, reasonable accommodations and as little traffic as possible.

As a result, we usually head for Pennsylvania, southeastern Ohio, New England or even Cape Breton Island.

We’ve completely overlooked our home province, primarily because of the “grass is always greener” syndrome, but that all changed recently when I was invited to explore Ontario’s Highlands.

Covering more than 23,000 square kilometres, the Highlands encompass the area between Marmora, Tweed and Perth to the south, the Ottawa Valley to the east, Dorset to the west and Pembroke to the north.

Map of route through the Ontario Highlands

The Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization’s new interactive website (ridethehighlands.ca) shows a selection of interesting pre-planned routes, lists more than 2,500 kilometres of awesome roads, along with over 100 motorcycle-friendly businesses including accommodations, restaurants and things to see and do.

Everything is approved by riders for riders — not what some pencil pusher who wouldn’t know a sportbike from a sports bra thinks motorcyclists want or need.

Larry Tate, my usual touring partner, was available; BMW came through with an R1200GS Adventurer, while Yamaha provided their 1200cc Super Tenere. Both bikes were equipped with factory hard bags and BMW even included a topbox.

Adventure touring bikes are hugely popular and I can see why. The torquey twins are all-day comfortable with excellent sit-up riding positions, good fuel range and their long-travel, well-damped suspension shreds back roads like a bear going through a box of hamburger patties.

For the most part, the roads were in decent shape and ranged from new blacktop smooth as a baby’s bottom, to pockmarked asphalt with heaves, patches and scattered sand. The usual summer construction also means scattered stretches of gravel and loose stones, which is another area where the GS and Tenere showcased their versatility.

The Arden Road was a great starting point — a twisting ribbon of asphalt wending its way through cottage country, farms and sections of typical Canadian bush. A right on Highway 7 took us to the 509 north through Ompah and Plevna, then more curves and turns until we picked up the wonderful Centennial Lake Rd. that leads to Calabogie.

Like Centennial Lake Road (pictured here), there are an astounding number of great roads in the Ontario Highlands

We stayed at the Fans of Calabogie bed and breakfast, where owner Byron Hermann does everything possible to be motorcycle-friendly with preferred parking, a wash station and kickstand pads. Dinner was arranged at Canthooks, the on-site restaurant at the Calabogie Peaks Ski Resort, and Byron was nice enough to drive us, as there was a cold beer or two in our future. Dinner was excellent and the resort also has motorcycle parking only signs right up front.

Back at the rooms, the “fans” don’t refer to racetrack enthusiasts but the Asian-themed decor, something Byron appreciated teaching in Taiwan for a number of years. The rooms were clean, spacious and quiet, the large hot tub was nice after a long day and breakfast the next morning was almost enough to last us the entire day.

After exploring some of the fabulous twisties around Calabogie, we stopped in at the Bonnechere Caves where owner Chris Hinsperger directed us to the motorcycle only parking area, complete with custom-made kickstand pads. I was really starting to like this area.

The Bonnechere Caves in the Ontario Highlands near Eganville

The impressive caves are nine kilometres from Eganville and offer hourly tours in the summer. A new feature is dinner in the caves — a twice-monthly, candlelit, full-course dinner with live musical accompaniment.

We picked up Opeongo Rd., which weaved its magic westward to our lunch stop at the Wilno Tavern, one of our favourite spots, although you may have to jack up the rear preload after eating here — the traditional Polish fare is delicious and ample.

The Wilno Tavern Restaurant is a favourite stop for locals and tourists alike, serving up traditional Polish fare.

There are an astounding number of great roads between Wilno and Haliburton (our destination that night), including Elephant Lake Rd., Peterson Rd., the “Loop,” Essondale Rd., Hwy. 118 and others that you might just have to find for yourself.

That night’s destination was Sir Sam’s Inn, in the municipality of Dysart et al, which is 16 km from the village of Haliburton. After riding through Algonquin Park (where we experienced a five-minute shower, the only rain of the trip), we turned south on Hwy. 35 and made our timely arrival at Sir Sam’s right at happy hour.

The Logging Museum in Algonquin Park is another attraction in the area of the Ontario Highlands.

The inn was originally the estate of Sir Samuel Hughes, who led Canada’s military in the First World War. The original mansion has been refurbished, with lakeside cottages added. It’s a bit more upscale than the regular places we stay, but the table d’hôte dinners and breakfasts are wonderful and there’s a spa and masseuse on premises to relax tired muscles at the end of a long day’s ride. Hey, why not treat yourself once in a while?

Good riding in the Highlands is just a couple of hours from the GTA, so you can do a day trip but it’ll be a long day. To fully appreciate the experience, you’ll have to stay overnight at one of the motorcycle-friendly establishments. And any type of motorcycle is suitable — no matter what you ride, the wind is the same.

Instead of heading south or east for your next tour, why not check out Ontario’s Highlands? Great roads, motorcycle-friendly businesses and it’s close to home.

Seems like the grass is pretty green right around here.

Travel for freelance writer Steve Bond was provided by Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

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