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The Colt bikepack

A 400 km loop through the heartland of Ontario
Mapped by Matthew Kadey

SUMMARY

Largely making use of an extensive network of rail trails including the Haliburton Country Rail Trail and the Great Trail that have been converted over from a once thriving railway, the Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) links together a handful of communities that were once major players in Ontario’s mining and forestry industries of years gone by. Long a popular playground for ATVs and snowmobiles, bikepackers are increasingly making their presence known on these trails as the route is within easy striking distance of major hubs like Toronto and Ottawa.

Inspired by Miles Arbour's original Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) route on BIKEPACKING.com, this version deviates slightly by crossing through Peterborough and Campbellford instead of skirting along the shores of Lake Ontario. For more information on how the COLT name came to be, and the history of the route, view another version of the COLT route on BIKEPACKING.com.  

Highlights

Miles and miles or riding on the labyrinth of car-free trails and quite dirt roads

Sections dominated by classic Ontario dense forest and rugged Canadian Shield

Trent Severn Waterway

Historical trestle bridges including the fetching 200 metre long Doubes bridge

Small Ontario towns oozing with hospitable charm

Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge in Ferris Provincial Park

Local brewers including the Bancroft Brewery Co

A bounty of fetching rivers and lakes

The Route

There is no set start and finish point for the COLT. So riders can enter and exit the loop at any location that serves them best. Where someone can park their car for a few days may dictate where this will be. It will take most riders between 3 to 5 days to complete the loop.

Overall, this is a fairly flat route owing to its rail trail dominance. However, the gravel road options and the section of the loop between Bancroft and Haliburton offer up some heart-pumping elevation.

There are a handful of sections along the route that veer off the trail and onto some excellent undulating gravel roads that see very little vehicular traffic. This is done with the purpose of adding variety to the overall terrain – rail trails can be predictable to a fault. However, it is possible to remain on the trail sections if you prefer.

Perhaps the best time to tackle the COLT are the months of August and September. Bugs will less likely to be out in full force and as a rule of thumb some sections of the trail will be less swampy. The section of trail between Marmora and Bancroft tends to flood most easily.

Both a mountain bike and gravel bike set-up will work for the COLT. If going with the later, you’ll want to use tires in the 40mm range. Some trail sections can be rougher owing to ATV use.

Accommodation

There are several paid camping options along the COLT as well as places for discrete “wild” camping. It’s possible to search for Ontario Crown Land where free camping is permitted using this link: https://www.ontario.ca/page/crown-land-use-policy-atlas

There is rumour of possible tent camping available at the Trent Severn Waterway liftlocks for a very reasonable $5 (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/trentsevern). However, this is at the discretion of the lockmaster so you’ll need to ask for permission.

Larger towns including Haliburton, Lindsay and Peterborough have a number of lodging options.

Food

Resupply points in the form of grocery stores, gas stations and cafes are fairly common along the COLT. The stretch between Marmora and Bancroft has very few services so you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed enough fuel and water for this part of the ride.

STATS

Distance: 407km (253 miles)
Days: 3-5
Unpaved: 80%
Total ascent: 2,470m (8104’)
High point: 477m (1,565')