ATV World Riders Search Out Gems Along the Southern Route of the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance
Story and Photos by Matt Clark
One of the most frequently asked questions we get at ATV World is: “Have you ever done any overnight-saddle bag rides, and if so where do you go?” Well as a matter of fact, yes we have. Most of the time such rides occur in the southern or midwest region of the United States. The rules there are much more lenient when it comes to off-road vehicles and the roads you can travel to access designated trails. By design, this allows adventure riders like us to utilize access roads and reach more trails to go further. With ATV World being based in Ontario Canada, and with the new legislation recently passed allowing more access to road travel and thereby opening up long distance type tours, we made a conscious decision to focus our attention on the travel segment of the ATV/UTV market in Ontario. With this in mind, we set out to wander Ontario’s Highlands for three days and two nights, leaving the truck and trailer behind, and see what cool and interesting things we could find on the trails. In the few days we were there, we came across some amazing scenery, the smallest jail in Ontario, a completely renovated train station, a collection of historical artifacts, and of all things – a junk yard.
One of the regions we were really interested in wandering through was Ontario’s Highlands, as it encompasses the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance (EOTA) which is one of Ontario’s premiere and extensive ATV trail systems. To get the adventure started, we reached out to our friends Julie Mulligan and Kasia Wind of Ontario’s Highlands regional tourism office, who explained to us that the EOTA has over 2500km of organized ATV trails, and it would be that trail system that became the focus of our overnight destination trip. Basically, whatever we could strap to the buggies is all we would have for the trip. To make the trip happen, we also reached out to Cindy Cassidy, General Manager of the EOTA who was instrumental in helping is put this trip together. After a few discussions with Cindy, we decided then and there, that the theme of this trip was to “take our time” and really focus on what makes the trails in this region so great. As we all know, sometimes when you’re planning these trips, you try to pack too many miles into the few days you have, and you end up focusing too much on the ride, and not enough on the people and places you are visiting. For this tour we would to leave the truck and trailer in Corbyville, make our way to Tweed for the first night, head out to Sharbot Lake for the second night, and back to truck and trailer on the third day. That was all we knew.
The crew that would embark on this adventure would be Logan, Jeff, Vince and me, Matt. Split between the Greater Toronto Area and the Ottawa Area, we decided that Corbyville (just north of Belleville off the 401) would be the perfect rendezvous starting point, as it was two hours for both parties. The buggies we would choose were a Yamaha Grizzly 700, a CFMoto CForce 800, and a Honda Pioneer UTV. When you get to Belleville at the 401, Corbyville is less than 4km off the highway, and the EOTA has a large fenced parking lot dedicated to truck and trailer parking that is at the beginning of the southern portion of the trail system. To find the parking lot, take the exit for Hwy 37 off the 401, head north and follow the sign to Corbyville which is a left off Hwy 37. When you reach the stop sign, look for the large sign marked “The Gateway to The Trails” and that is where you will find a perfect spot to leave the rig, as the trail head starts directly from this parking lot.
The first day had us leave our office in the Willow Beach area of Ontario, and make tracks to Belleville. The drive is one of the easiest we have done in a long time, clocking in at just less than 2 hours, and of course, utilizing the new 407/412 extensions really helps the drive from the GTA. After arriving at the starting point and loading all our gear on the buggies, we started out towards our first overnight destination in the town of Tweed. As mentioned before, the trail head starts directly in the parking lot, and within 10 minutes on the trail, you know you are going to have a good time. The trails in this region are well-maintained gravel trails, and almost immediately after starting the journey the trail takes you over a very well constructed steel bridge, which is always a good sign that the infrastructure of the system is top notch. At the first junction in Madoc Station, we headed west on the E108 trail towards Anson because we wanted to check out the fully renovated old trail station in Stirling. The Stirling Grand Trunk Train Station is a historic building, which was recently restored by the local Rotary Club and includes a tourist information center and collectable shop. If you are into the history of the railway, and how it was an integral part of developing the region of Ontario, then you will get a kick out this stop. After the stop in Stirling, you quickly come to another junction with the option of heading North up the E106 towards Bonarlaw or East towards Campbellford. For our journey we headed north because we wanted to stop at the Cooney Family Apple Farm, which is located at the forth road crossing up the trail, off of Wellmans Road. There usually are signs, but if not, you can easily plug it into your phone and you will find the correct road to take to get to the farm.
This is perfect time to discuss a major benefit to riding in this region: Cell service. The southern part of the EOTA we were riding on had cell service for almost the entire trip. Not that you need digital maps, because the EOTA paper map is very extensive and accurate, but if you are in doubt of your navigational skills, you can simply pull out your phone, and you will always know where you are with a quick check of your map app. The Apple Store at Cooney Farms is a short 4min ride across Wellmans Rd., and is at the bottom of the hill at the first major road intersection you come to. Trust us, you cannot miss it. One of the reasons we were pumped to get to the Apple Store was A) we heard it had Kawartha Ice Cream, and more importantly, B) we had a meeting to chat with Rodney Cooney, the Mayor of Stirling-Rawdon, who is not only the owner of the farm, but also an avid proponent of ATV and UTV riding in the region.
After spending some time with Rodney Cooney, you get a sense of how welcoming this region is to our sport. When we asked Rodney to give us a sense of how the locals view ATVs, he replied “As for the entrepreneurs and business owners, they are very open to the sport. Over the years, they have seen it grow, and now they [ATVs and UTVs] are parallel parked on Front Street. Gas stations restaurants and business all agree that it’s all good!” It really was a great feeling, knowing that as you chatted with the Mayor of the region that you’re riding in, that you’re welcomed and they realize the benefits that our sport brings to the region.
After we finished our ice cream and butter tarts, we said our good buys to our new friend and headed back to the trail to make tracks up north to the next intersection that would take us east towards Tweed for the night. Right before you get to the Bonerlaw junction, there is gas well marked in the town of Spring Brook, and we decided it would be a good idea to fill up, because as the saying goes, when out on the trails; never-pass-up-gas.
The rest of afternoon had us heading east on the E108 towards Tweed. The trail system so far was really easy to navigate, and you realize that it is all part of the rail line that built up the region. This part of the trail system truly is a great way to get out on your buggy and take your time to put down some kilometers. There are no major mud bogs, tight wooded trails, rock climbs or twisty forest stuff that you find in other regions. This is just good trail riding, with no pressure on breaking something or getting stuck. Along this portion of the trail, you also pass a few really scenic lakes portions that incorporates picnic areas with tables and benches that make a perfect stopping point to rehydrate and splash some water on the face from the lake. We even stumbled across an off-the–beaten-path area that featured a really cool set up rapids under the bridge and a fully functioning camp site and fire pit. We all agreed that in this region, this would be a perfect spot for a trailside lunch. If we were not taking our time and stopping to see everything this trail system has to offer, we would have totally missed this spot.
After that, the ride to Tweed is a quick one down the trail, and you can easily make town by dinnertime. The first thing that catches your eye when you get into the town limits is the large sign directly on the trail that “Welcomes You to Tweed” and lets you know immediately that you are among like-minded friends. The town of Tweed allows all forms of ATVs and UTVs directly on town roads, and you can literally take your buggy down Main Street to reach all the amenities. Our place to stay tonight was the Park Place Motel, and this place is completely set up for ATVs. The rooms are all main floor and adjacent to the parking lot, so you can park directly in front of your room, and the view across the parking lot is the lake. You would not expect such an amazing set up from a motel. Upon check-in, we met the owner of the Park Place Motel, Neil Patel who is the friendliest innkeeper you can meet. He immediately welcomes you, and the fact that you are on ATVs gives you the feeling that Neil even appreciates you more. Neil explained to us that in the past few years, his ATV business has grown, and he knows the positive impact that the buggies bring into the region. You also notice that the parking lot is filled with motorcycles, which by default means you know you have found a good place to stay, because as we all know that motorcycle guys have been at it a bit longer than ATVers, and they know the best places to stay. The rooms at the Park Place are spacious and clean, and you have the option of just a standard room and bathroom for short stays, or they even have rooms with living rooms and kitchenettes, should you plan to stay a few days. After a long day out on the trails, you will inevitably find your throat dusty for beverages, so you can either take your buggy to town to grab some libations at the beer store, or do what we did and park them for the night and walk 7 minutes up the road to the Tweedsmuir Tavern. The local watering hole has a great patio, cold beverages, and really good, well-priced food. The Tweedsmuir is for sure the local place in Tweed to quench that thirst you got from spending a day out on the trails on the EOTA.
The next day had us up early, as we were pumped to get back out on the trails, but before that we also needed to find us a good breakfast spot to fill the stomachs. To stress again, Tweed allows both ATV and UTVs on the road, so we jumped on the buggies and rode into town to the Gateway Restaurant for our bacon and eggs. Service was great, as was the food. Then, after breakfast you head back to the rooms to get suited up for trail riding, and reload the buggies with the gear. Before we left Tweed, and because we had spent some time on Main Street the night before, we spied some points of interest that we needed to see. First off, we had no idea that the smallest jail in North America was located in Tweed. Designed by R.F Houston in 1898, the jail was built for a mere $350.00, and boasts a whopping footprint of 4.8 meters wide by 6 meters deep. The jail operated for 50 years, and was eventually closed due to lack of crime in town. If you have time, stop in, sign the guess book and get some photos of your buddies behind the bars. After the jail, we wandered across what we thought was a lawn sale, which turned out to be the Tweed Area Heritage Centre. Being in no rush to get rolling, we headed inside and met the curator of the Centre, Evan Morton, who was more than willing to show us around and take us through the facility. If you are into history, then you need to check out this collection. The heritage museum not only supports local artisans with original pieces of art work on display, but you also get to see a collection of historical military memorabilia, kids toys, and a huge collection of turn of the century tools that will make you wonder how our founding fathers ever built anything. There is a small charge to take the tour, but it is certainly worth it as the Tweed Heritage Centre really captures what it took to live in the early 1900’s in Ontario.
After our sightseeing in Tweed, we were ready to get rolling and make our way to Sharbot Lake for the second night of our three-day trip. Navigating out of Tweed was as easy as getting in, with the trail cutting right through downtown and ending up on the other side of town. Arrows and signs will guide you out with no question. The trail starts off hugging Lake Stoco, which makes for great views to get the day rolling, and then back to the Rail Line and then a straight shot to Sharbot Lake. The entire trip to Sharbot Lake is easily done without rushing, in 4-5 hours. The trail is straight and flat so you can set your pace to what you’re comfortable with. Along the route you will find some nice forested areas, a few lakes, several rural farming communities and raised rail lines that offer up some pretty cool views. After a few hours on trail, you get to Kaladar for gas, food and a full outfitter-type store, should you need to restock the amenities that you’ve used up, out on the trails. This is a perfect spot in the trail to grab some water and trail snacks before you head out towards Sharbot Lake. Take this opportunity as well, to fuel up the buggies.
Being the riders that we are, we made good time on the trails and hit Sharbot Lake in the late afternoon and easily found the Sharbot Lake County Inn, which was our home for the second night. After checking in, we checked the EOTA map and realized there were more trails we could wander through on the north side of Sharbot Lake, so we dropped off our gear and headed out for a quick ride to see what we could find. Typical on any trip is that when you are not looking for it, is just the time that you find the hidden gems. On the north trail out of Sharbot Lake, you come across several off-shoot trails from the main trail that takes you through some really great wooded trails with some twisty trail and elevation changes. All we did was just ride, and we found some really cool trails that made for the perfect end to a great day. After that, we headed back to the Sharbot Lake County Inn, which conveniently has the Crossing Pub attached directly to the hotel, and to our luck, we discovered it was wing night! Yes, that’s right, we were going to get cold beverages and hot wings, and be able to walk back to our rooms. Check, check and check for all things needed when you spend a day on the trails. The rooms at the Sharbot Lake Inn have all been renovated in modern décor, and the view out the balcony onto the lake is a finishing point to why you need to stay here, if you are staying in Sharbot Lake. Travelers Note: If you are in need of cold, late-night beverages for the room, you can take your buggies up the main road out of Sharbot Lake towards Highway 7 where there is an LCBO and Beer Store. However, because ATVs are not allowed on “Kings Highways”, you will need to park at the corner and walk 30 yards to get to the beverages. You’re Welcome!
After a great night in Sharbot Lake, enjoying the views of the lake and talking about our adventures, we woke early again and headed down the road to the Maples Restaurant for breakfast. Again, the trick here is to jump on your buggy, have breakfast, and then head back to the room to get suited up and pack your gear. It is the civilized way to travel.
The final day had us heading back to truck and trailer in Corbyville, and there was one point of interest we noticed on the way to Sharbot Lake that we needed to stop at on the way back. Directly along the trail, halfway between Kalardar and Sharbot Lake, we wandered across Kinney Auto Wreckers, who owns the property directly adjacent to the trail, with some pretty rare old trucks directly in view when you ride by. There are several “No Trespassing” signs along the trail head so we don’t suggest stopping there. However, if you take a bit of time and head into the main gates off the trail, it is a full functioning auto wrecker, with some really amazing gems that, if you are into old trucks, it’s a really cool thing to see. Ask for permission and the owner is very welcoming for you to have a look. Being the gear heads we are, we were there for almost an hour…
The last day, if you are at a good pace, the route will have you back to truck and trailer by late afternoon. On the way back to Corbyville, there is a trail junction at Crookstone that is a straight shot south to the parking lot, and is a really great “photo-op”, as the East and West trail passes over the North and South Trails, so you can see buggies coming and going in all directions.
After spending three days and two nights in Ontario’s Highlands on the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance, the biggest thing you feel is just how accommodating the towns and local people are to our sport of ATVing. Every place we visited, we were welcomed, and the fact that you can get through the town to the amenities while riding your machine, makes a huge difference when all you have is an ATV. The ride we did is accessible to all levels of riders. If you are a beginner to the sport, this trail system gives you the confidence to ride longer distances, without ever having the feeling of being too remote or out of your comfort zone. We all agreed that this would be a perfect trip for both families that are looking a few great days out on the trails, as well as perfect for the group of guys that only ride around their local areas, and want to set up a multi-day trip on their buggies. If you forget something, or need something, you are always near civilization. We at ATV World tip our helmets to the work that the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance has done to create this network of trails, and we all agree that the EOTA is a seriously great set of trials that offer everything for every level of rider.
Trail Reference Guide:
For the entire tour all you will need is the Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance paper map.
Park Place Motel Sharbot Lake Country Inn
43 Victoria St. S 14152 Road 38
Tweed ON Sharbot Lake ON
613-478-3134 p. 613-279-2198
Tweedsmuir Tavern The Crossing Pub
211 Victoria St. S 14152 Road 38
Tweed ON Sharbot Lake ON
Gateway Restaurant Maples Restaurant
327 Victoria St N 1004 Medical Center Rd
Tweed ON Sharbot Lake ON