Largely making use of an extensive network of 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.
It should be noted that this version of the COLT would not be possible without Miles Arbour of bikepacking.com laying down the original framework for the route. Inspired by Miles Arbour's original Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) route on BIKEPACKING.com, this version deviates 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/gravel roads
Sections dominated by classic Ontario dense forest, idyllic backcountry lakes, meandering rivers and rugged Canadian Shield
Trent Severn Waterway
Historical trestle bridges including the fetching 200 metre long Doubes bridge
A collection of small town and rural hamlets oozing with hospitable charm
Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge in Ferris Provincial Park
Local breweries to raise a toast to a ride well done.
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. It is also possible to ride the route clockwise or counterclockwise. It will take most riders between 3 to 5 days to complete the loop.
Overall, this is not the most mountainous route owing to its longish sections of rail trail. However, the gravel road options and the section of the loop between Bancroft and Haliburton offer up some heart-pumping elevation. The COLT can be considered an intermediate route, but also a good introduction to multi-day bikepacking.
There are a handful of sections along this version of the COLT 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 and these options are marked on the master route file with a Control Point of Interest symbol. The Hastings Heritage Trail between Marmora and Bancroft is notorious for being rutted and sandy so this route bypasses many of these sections for better gravel/dirt road alternatives.
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. However, riders do report enjoying the route earlier in the season as well, but maybe with a bigger supply of bug spray.
Both a mountain bike and drop-bar gravel bike set-up will work for the COLT. If going with the later that is outfitted with 700 wheels, you’ll want to use tires in the 40mm range for added comfort. Some trail sections can be rougher owing to ATV use. However, there are large stretches of rail trail that are very smooth. Anything greater than 2.5-inch tires is overkill.
Larger towns including Haliburton, Lindsay and Peterborough have a number of lodging options. You can also make use of Warmshowers hosts as well as Airbnb.
Many accommodation options are listed on the master route file.
Resupply points in the form of grocery stores, gas stations and cafes are fairly common along the COLT. The stretch between Marmora and Bancroft and then between Bancroft and Haliburton has a more limited amount of services so you’ll want to make sure you plan ahead and if needed pack enough fuel and water for this part of the ride.
There are a few other possible parking options listed on the route file.
For the purposes of navigating the COLT, there are TWO route files you should have downloaded. 1) This is a smaller file without Points of Interest because devices like Garmins and Wahoos do not handle large files well and will not show POIs. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33894202 Tips: If downloading a .gpx file do not click on Reduce to 500 Points. This will result if poor navigation. Some GPS navigation devices, including the Garmin eTrex, have a track-point limit to the .gpx files they can store. For this reason breaking up the route file into smaller segments might be necessary.
2) This is a larger file that includes numerous Points Of Interest (POIs) and should be used for planning your trip - both before and during your ride: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29716025 This route file can be downloaded using the Ride with GPS mobile app (https://ridewithgps.com/help/mobile/). To download, click on the route link while using your mobile device and it should pop up in the app, then click download. All the Points of Interest including locations for food stores, hotels, camping areas and route detour options will remain visible. Tap on a POI and the additional information will be displayed such as the opening hours for food outlets. Zoom in on a particular area of the route as some POI’s overlap and many of them are not visible when zoomed out.
NOTE: It is possible to download the app on your phone and add the route file with an unpaid Ride with GPS plan but offline navigation on a mobile device is only available to subscribers of Ride with GPS. When downloading the file for Offline navigation, it can take a long time. On the app, under the Offline Tab in your Library, you should see a NAVIGATE symbol.
If interested in tackling the COLT but have additional questions send me a message using the contact form and I will happily supply any added information you may need.
All good bikepacking routes need a fastest known time (FKT). This honor goes to Tiago Varella Cid. at 20 hours 20 minutes. Second place to Justin Minicola, Ryan Brown and Bob Tomsic at 23 hrs.