cycling · family

Cycling holidays, Part 1: Rail trails

Some of my favorite holidays have involved bicycles. No surprise really. Riding a bike makes me happy. I feel like a kid again. Zoom! Whee!

As summer starts to seem like a possibility again–days are getting longer, sun is getting stronger–I’m starting to think about some of my favourite vacations. Rail trail cycling holidays are fun, affordable, family and beginner friendly. I highly recommend them.

We’ve done four rail trail holidays, unsupported, where we carried our own stuff. Two of them were in Quebec on the Petit Train de Nord, a 200 km rail trail through Quebec ski country. Families used to take the train from Montreal up north to the ski hills but no more. Now people drive and the railway was abandoned. It’s been remade into a terrific cycling/cross country ski trail through some lovely little towns and beautiful countryside. The third was in New Zealand on the Otago Central Rail Trail. And when the kids were younger we mucked about for a few days–no big distances–on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail in North East Victoria region of Australia. Each trip took three-four days.

These were perfect holidays. Easily affordable, just a very minimal fee to register on the trail, and in Quebec the camping option was easy. These aren’t bike trips you do for speed or big distances.  Riding on the trails away from cars is very safe and relaxing. There were lots of families doing the trail both in Quebec and in NZ.  And in Quebec there’s no shortage of ice cream, coffee, and beer (if that’s your thing) along the way. They’ve remade the train stations into little depots that offer services to cyclists and cross country skiers. Some even have bike shops. In NZ the trail was tough enough that you really needed a fat tire bike but I happily did the Quebec trail on my cyclocross bike and the sections closer to the city are paved.

Also, note to others, rail trails are pretty flat. The steepest grade is the grade a train can manage which, after all that coffee and ice cream, thankfully isn’t much. So there are some long slow climbs (you know the sort where, if you’re not thinking about it you wonder why you’re going so slow) but no real hills. Also, there are tour companies both in NZ and in Quebec that provide bike transport to the end of the trail so you can ride in one direction only. Again, that makes the distances more manageable if you’re doing it with kids and/or beginners and you want to see the whole trail.

I’ve also done some longer bike trips, organized by tour companies, without children along, with different degrees of luxury and comfort and I’ll post about those another time.

I’d love to do more of these short trips but there aren’t any converted rail trails here in Ontario and the camping options are often too far apart. I’ve heard Manitoulin Island is an easy place to do a self supported bike tour. That might be next for my daughter and me.

I’m happy camping or staying in bed and breakfasts. Have you had any short bike holidays you’ve organized yourself? Let me know how they went…