The overhanging canopy of trees protected us from the early morning sun as gravel crunched under our tires. It was still early on our first day on the Simcoe County Loop Trail and we were already charmed. We’d seen a couple of locals out for walks with their dogs or for a leisurely ride, but it was still all peace and quiet. We stopped at a road crossing to have a look at the map as we familiarized ourselves with the route ahead. Our destination for the night was Midland, but before that we’d have a chance to dip our toes in Georgian Bay.

Industrial arteries give way to leisure escapes

Simcoe County was home to the earliest European settlement in Ontario, Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons was a French Jesuit missionary settlement established in 1639 on Georgian Bay. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Barrie and the surrounding towns were the base of a vibrant shipping, lumber and grain trade. Today, the region is a little quieter with many of the old railways turned to multi-use trails.

As a cyclist, we dream of uninterrupted riding experiences that can take us to beautiful places. Just an hour north of Toronto, Simcoe County offers the kind of adventure we all look forward to, especially those searching for a bikepacking destination. The railpath is 160 km of nearly uninterrupted crushed gravel trail through the forests and countryside that connect Lake Simcoe with Georgian Bay and the communities of Barrie, Midland and Orillia along with smaller towns in between. Two days is enough to cover the distance and take in the region’s sights and flavours before returning back to where you started.

Two of us rode the loop clockwise. Our trip began just outside of Barrie but yours doesn’t have to. There are trail access points all along the route. Once you find a place to park, pack up your bike and head out. With a change of clothes, a pair of shoes, others essentials and a credit card, a two-day trip in Simcoe County doesn’t have to be a complicated logistical undertaking.

The open trail is calling

Midway to Midland, after passing the town of Elmvale, we had to get off the rail trail and onto pavement for a short distance. Here we stopped to fill our bottles from the Elmvale spring. Its structure is hard to miss and the freshwater flows freely from three taps. Locals come here to fill jugs of water. For us it was a good photo op. We stayed hydrated, too.

Filling water bottles at the Elmvale spring. Photo: Matt Stetson

Farther north, by the town of Perkinsfield, we visited Balm Beach. A couple of kilometres off the rail trail, the quiet sandy beach has a nice view onto Georgian Bay. Had the day been hotter, we would have definitely gone for a dip. But we were nearing Midland, where coffee and food awaited.

At the northern point of the loop, close to Midland, the trail becomes paved. Rolling into the lakeside town, we had to make a stop at Grounded Coffee Company, a lovely space right near the waterfront in a converted garage. After checking into the Quality Inn and with a relatively light 60 km in our legs, we wanted to head to Little Lake Park, the site of the 2019 and 2020 Pan American cyclocross championships. With the crab apple trees in full bloom and the sun beginning to get lower in the sky, it was lovely to unwind and do a few loops of the park to build up our appetite for supper. After showering and changing into our casual clothes, headed to the Boathouse Eatery.

Treats and endless crushed gravel trails

Our second day on the Simcoe County Loop Trail began at Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, a Jesuit missionary on Wendat land. The modern reconstruction of the settlement has period re-enactors, smoke-filled longhouses and is a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past.

Sainte Marie among the Hurons from the Simcoe County Loop Trail

Then we followed the paved trail to Waubaushene, before turning south. In Coldwater, we stopped for lunch at the Em’s Cafe, where we enjoyed sandwiches and desserts. The gooey butter tarts were excellent fuel on our second, and longer, day in the saddle. You might also be tempted to stop at Orillia’s Mariposa Market. There’s a mind-boggling assortment of decadent baked goods, coffee and lunch options.

The trail from Orillia to Barrie is wide and a little more exposed to the sun with gentle false flats and slight downhills. Once you hit Barrie, the trail meanders along the waterfront. With our day done, we checked out the eclectic Unity Market Cafe & Studios, where we had delicious smoothies and paninis so we wouldn’t be hungry on the drive home.

What to pack

I rode a Rondo Ruut with knobby 700c tires while my riding partner, Dan, was on a Rondo Hvrt with 650b. Attached to our frames were saddle, handlebar and frame bags from Pro packed with our belongings. The rail trail is all rideable on a road bike but the rough surface is easier and more comfortably navigated on a bike with thicker rubber, especially when loaded up.

Where to eat

Unite Market in Barrie. Photo: Matt Stetson

The Boathouse Eatery: Lively spot with cocktails, pub food and a large patio that overlooks Georgian Bay.

Grounded Coffee Company: Local coffee roaster in a cool space close to the waterfront with outdoor and indoor seating and a wide selection of caffeinated beverages.


Em’s Cafe: A great lunch spot with bike racks. The café received an award for Best Bicycle Friendly Business in the Bruce Grey Simcoe tourism region.


Mariposa Market: Old town-style market with a huge selection of baked goods. ou can grab a coffee and pick from an assortment of lunch options.

Enjoying a smoothie at Unity Market in Barrie. Photo: Matt Stetson

Unity Market Cafe & Studios: An eclectic space with a lot of character and an interesting menu of lunch options, baked goods, espresso-based drinks and delightful smoothies.

Where to stay

Quality Inn: Convenient location not far from the central part of Midland. It is a bike friendly hotel with breakfast included.

What to do

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons: A modern reconstruction of the 1650s French Jesuit missionary settlement with period re-enactors. You get a vivid sense of what it was like living in the first European settlement in what became the province of Ontario.

Go for a swim: Throughout the trip, the lakes are never too far away, especially on the northern part of the loop along Georgian Bay. There are plenty of opportunities to go for a dip. Balm Beach and Couchiching Beach Park are just two of many spots that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day.

S.S. Keewatin: A passenger-liner steamboat launched in 1907 that operated on Georgian Bay, which is a museum today. The boat was part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Great Lakes steamship service connecting what is now Thunder Bay on Lake Superior with Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay.