Biking Holiday on Manitoulin Island

Apologies to friends on Facebook, as you’ll have seen a lot these pictures and heard our travel plans on a day by day basis, but I thought it would be fun to share them with the larger blog community and nice too to have them all in one place.

My partner and I had a great time cycling on Manitoulin Island (the largest island in a freshwater body of water in the world) and we’re already thinking of going back, next time with a larger group of friends and family. The country roads were just about perfect. No traffic, rolling hills, and lots of great views. There’s a lot of wildlife. On the road it was deer and turtles mostly though we did have one very free range hen run across the road in front of us. The island also has a rich history that you’ll learn about as you travel around, including lots of First Nations history and culture. The island is actively trying to promote bike tourism and there’s a great website here.

I love cycling holidays. I find riding a bike the perfect speed to see a new place and I love the combination of riding and sightseeing. We’ve done a bunch of bike holidays before, some unsupported and others in varying degrees of luxury.

The challenge with riding independently is that our nice road bikes are not great for carrying stuff. Yet on a multi-day outing, they’re the bikes we want. After looking around and reading online we decided to buy a trailer, big enough to hold our gear for a week long cycling adventure. You can see it the pictures below.

We planned to stay in B & B’s and motels, no camping, so we packed a few changes of clothes each, planning to do laundry en route, snacks, sun screen, bike tools, spare tubes and tires,
We drove to Tobermory and stayed in the Blue Bay Motel before catching the mid morning ferry to Manitoulin. The MS Chi-Cheemaun doesn’t require reservations for bikes and you get board the ferry first. Bikes, motorbikes, cars, then motor homes, trucks etc. You can find out about rates and times here.

Here’s our daily details:

Day 1
Ferry to the island
Bike 35 km to Providence Bay
Where we stayed: Auberge Inn
Where we ate: School House Restaurant

The Auberge Inn is an international hostel with one private room which is where we stayed. There’s a shared bathroom but since were the only people there that night not much actual sharing was required. The Auberge Inn is the project of a lovely Franco Ontarion couple who are passionate about their new Manitoulin home and cycling. About half of their guests are from Europe. They also run the ice cream shop on Providence Bay’s beautiful beach.

Day 2
Biked 90 km to Meldrum Bay
Where we stayed: Meldrum Bay Inn
Where we ate: Lunch at the 540 Stop, dinner at the Inn

The ride out to Meldrum Bay was lovely. We saw more deer than cars. There were pretty long stretches though with no stores, restaurants, toilets, or water. We ended up asking a local out watering her garden to fill up our water bottles. She was happy to help and told us lots about Manitoulin.

The Meldrum Bay Inn was a great place to stay. It’s a B & B with a restaurant where we had dinner. Beautiful rooms. We met another cycling couple there, triathletes, who sound like they’ve done a few Ironmans each. We rode with them for part of the next day and made plans to get together again.

Two little complaints though: First, the dining room had a no electronic devices policy. After a full day with no cell service, we were ready for a fix. And that’s how we look at maps and plan the next day’s activities, try to figure out what kinds of birds we saw that day, etc. No big deal but everyone left the dining room after the main course and used phones during dessert and coffee. Notably, in the morning, all the cyclists and the one motorcyclist took breakfast on the deck so we could check weather, winds, etc. Second, breakfast was at a fixed time, 9 am. “You’re on holidays!” But people holiday in different ways. I woke up early and we might have been on the road sooner had an earlier breakfast been an option. Again, just quibbles, otherwise a lovely place to stay.

Day 3
Biked 70 km to Gore Bay
Where we stayed: Queens Inn
Where we ate: Buoys

The Queen’s Inn is a beautifully restored old house. Best breakfast on our trip! The owner asked if we had dietary constraints when we booked so she knew we were vegetarians. We got delicious home baked almond scones and omelettes,

We ate at Buoys for lunch when we first got there and while it was good we weren’t that hungry at dinner time. Instead we bought salads and snacks at the grocery store and ate on the lovely second floor deck overlooking the harbour.

Day 4
Biked 75 km to Little Current
Stops en route: Manitoulin Chocolate Works in Kagawong, Bridal Veil Falls. and Maggie’s Cafe in M’cheegan
Where we stayed: Anchor Inn
What we ate: Take out vegan sushi and snacks from Just Eat Local Food

It was a great day of riding until the last few kilometers going into Little Current. We had found great back road routes but needed to take the main road into the town of Little Current. There we found the first traffic we’d seen on the island.

We were staying at the Anchor Inn in what is really a small apartment on the third floor above the bar. The owners warned us when we booked and again when arrived about the noise but we stayed in the back bedroom, closed the windows, and that was fine.  Breakfast at the Anchor Inn the next day was a lively affair. It’s obviously a very popular spot with locals and with all the boaters docked or anchored in the harbour.

Day 5
Biked 50 km to Manitowaning
Where we stayed: My Friend’s Inn
Where we ate: Take out from Rainbow Ridge Golf Course

Another beautiful back road ride with amazing rolling hills and twists and turns. We actually met other cyclists en route and they invited us back to their cottage for lunch. They had a pizza oven fired up on their deck and we made pizzas and talked about bikes, travel, and island. Fun!

By the time we left it was raining, lightly, and we were happy to get to the inn. It’s not so much an inn as a very nicely renovated motel, a row of eight rooms.  The Inn comes complete with a charming cat who loves belly rubs. The rooms are well equipped and we were happy to shower, get take out food from the local golf course and watch Tour de France racing highlights on the television.

Day 6
We ended the trip with the earliest start to our day. Being on the 9 o’clock ferry seemed like a great idea. We hit the road at 630 am and planned to ride the 35 km to the ferry, and have breakfast there, ferry across, and then drive to London. In theory it was a fast blast down the roadside bike lane of highway 6 to the ferry. In practice? Well, every trip needs a few obstacles. Wet pavement plus crap in the bike lanes made for several flats. Add to the mix biting black flies, a lost pump part (frazzly changing flats and swatting flies, we dropped it beside the road and couldn’t find it) and a dreaded short stem tube. But we made it, just in time for the ferry and we ate on the boat.

We weren’t the only cyclists there. We met a Scottish couple on a tandem, recumbent riding across Canada, Victoria to Newfoundland. Hardy souls.

Then off the ferry, some emergency car repairs, help from friends, and then HOME!

But Manitoulin, we’ll be back. Next time with friends and family!

Notes to us (for next time): Bring less stuff. The trailer isn’t easy to tow uphill. And this might seem contradictory but also come prepared for long stretches of road with no water or food. We were okay on the food front but we ran out of water twice but luckily the locals proved friendly and obliging.

Notes to you (if you’re thinking of doing this ride or a version of it): Wildlife! Turtles and deer. Long stretches of road with no traffic. Day 1, maybe eight cars in 90 kilometers. No cell service over much of the island. Load maps into your phone or Garmin when you can.

Notes to Manitoulin Tourism: All the places we stayed knew lots about bike tourism. We weren’t the first cyclists they encountered. Everyone had secure, covered bike storage for our bikes. We’re surprised that there aren’t tour operators doing cycling tours of Manitoulin. Beautiful scenery, friendly locals, and lots of paved roads through the country side make it a near perfect bike tourism destination. We loved it. We’ll be back. Maybe next time with friends. Suggestions for improvement? More frequent route signs and mileage signs. Cyclists aren’t moving as fast as cars and the “20 km to Gore Bay” signs mean more us. Quite a few times we joined up with route 540 after coming off a side road but there were no signs telling us it was 540. Also, there seems to be no good route into Little Current for bikes. The main highway, 6, was incredibly busy and cars passed us too close, too fast. Later on 6, closer to Manitowaning and the ferry there was a bike lane/paved shoulder and “share the road” signs but the bike lane was full of debris. That’s where we got flats and ended up riding out of the bike lane and listening for cars behind us. You need to run a street cleaning truck through the bike lanes if you actually want cyclists to use them.


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