Solo-Cycling Manitoulin Island

Are you a cyclist commuter or “weekend rider” looking for a bit of adventure? Perhaps you’’ve considered bicycle touring but have been unable to find the right group of people to coordinate a trip. Why not ride solo?

by Chris Davenport.

Beautiful scenery and quiet roads made Ontario’s Manitoulin Island an easy choice for my first solo bicycle tour in over thirty years. Ninety minutes southwest from Sudbury and fifty kilometres south of Espanola on the TransCanada highway, Manitoulin acts as a gateway between northern and southern Ontario from May-October, while the Chi-Cheemaun ferry is running.

Click for larger image.

Manitoulin has four main highways: 540 and 542 run east-west along the north and south shores; Highway 6 runs north-south from South Baymouth to Little Current along the east side of the island; and 551 runs north-south from Providence Bay to M’Chigeeng via Mindemoya.

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Most cyclists stick to the east side of the island, using Mindemoya as a central hub to ride loops northwest to Gore Bay and Kagawong and northeast to Little Current and Sheguiandah. If you have only a couple of days, these routes have lots to offer (including plenty of restaurants and accommodations) and leave you plenty of time to stop and enjoy them. However, if you have several days to spare, I recommend riding all the way west to Meldrum Bay (be sure to enjoy a meal at the inn) and the historic Mississagi Lighthouse, visiting the incredible alvars of the Misery Bay Provincial Nature Preserve along the way.

Mississagi Lighthouse. Photo by Chris Davenport.
Mississagi lighthouse. Photo by Chris Davenport.
Mississagi Lighthouse interior. Photo by Chris Davenport.
Mississagi lighthouse keeper’s quarters. Photo by Chris Davenport.

Following the shoreline of Georgian Bay to Tobermory, my 700-km tour from Owen Sound to Meldrum Bay and back would take 8 days. Given that I would be riding self-supported and without access to a car, I had to carry everything I would need for my trip: water, food, clothing, shelter, spare parts, and tools.

Riding a brand new Tiger mountain bike by Paul Brodie, I wasn’t too concerned about mechanical failures, but given that I would be riding in a remote rural area (the island has only one bike shop: Lightfoot in Manitowaning), I made sure to have a bare minimum in my service kit: lube; air pump; spare tube; extra cables; brake pads; extra chain link; fastening bolts (for racks and bottle cages); needle-nose pliers and a multi-tool for repairs and adjustments. Everything but the air pump fit in a small zippered bag that I kept in my backpack, along with sunscreen, a raincoat, snacks, and plenty of water.

But having tools and spare parts is not enough. You will need advance experience in the use of tools and knowing the required steps for a repair. Practice at home so that you will be ready on the road, should the time come. Here are some quick videos on repairing a flat and replacing brake and derailleur cables.

I was lucky that I experienced no mechanical troubles whatsoever. — I just had to lube my bike a couple of times.

Photo by Chris Davenport.
Manitoulin farmscape. Photo by Chris Davenport.

Riding in early August meant that I could count on hot days and warm nights, but I wanted to be prepared for the unexpected, so along with a change of riding clothes I carried a Merino wool base layer and a toque for cool nights. I also packed some casual clothes for an evening outing, should the opportunity arise.

My camping gear consisted of a tiny 2-lb backpacking tent, a summer sleeping bag, and a portable inflatable bed roll.

All of this was stored in a set of Ortlieb’s Back-Roller Plus panniers (German-made waterproof cordura) and mounted on a Filzer PR-4 rack. Maps, directions, reservation info and a journal were all kept handy in a large clear ziplock freezer bag, strapped to the top of the rack (an area I also used for drying my clothes after a swim).

Although campsites are generally easy to find as a solo cyclist, I booked most of my four nights on the island in advance to avoid hassles.

Except in the most remote areas, meals are the easiest part of bicycle touring. Most of mine came from restaurants or items from grocery stores that were ready-to-eat or easy to prepare. Compact, high energy food (nuts, seeds, dried fruit) complemented by electrolyte-balancing drinks will keep your muscles fired up and ready to go. Fresh fruit like oranges and bananas come highly recommended.

Photo by Chris Davenport.
Shoreline near Mississagi lighthouse. Photo by Chris Davenport.

When you are riding 8-10 hours per day, you are going to consume copious amounts of water—a major weight burden. I carried 3 litres of water at all times, timing my stops for re-fills, which were easy to come by from various businesses on the island. I also carried an MSR filtration system and a Nalgene 1400 ml bottle. Along with shorelines on Lake Huron, the North Channel, and Georgian Bay, Manitoulin also contains dozens of lakes, most of which are accessible by bicycle. Many are excellent places to cool off with a swim while you filter water for drinking.

With a dependable bike, and camping gear ready for the road, most of my trip preparation considered of planning an itinerary which considered eating, accommodations, and points of interest. Along with,, and, I used Google maps to find accommodations, restaurants, and to plot/print directions from one destination to the next. I also carried the Manitoulin Cycling Routes Map (published by Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates and also available on the ferry) as a guide to back roads and alternate routes.

Kagawong’s Bridal Veil Falls and the Cup & Saucer Trail are the two most popular natural attractions. Along with various lighthouses and bayside towns/villages, I also recommend checking out the view from Ten Mile Point Trading Post, where you can see as far away as Killarney Provincial Park. Gore Bay has plenty of restaurants and the Split Rail Brewing Company. (Be sure to try the copper lager.) M’Chigeeng First Nation offers up teepee “glamping” at the Great Spirit Circle Trail. Kagawong has the Manitoulin Chocolate Works.

View from the Cup & Saucer Trail. Photo courtesy Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation.
View from the Cup & Saucer Trail. Photo courtesy Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation.

Relying on cellphones is not advisable on Manitoulin, particularly on the west side of the island, where signals may be weak or non-existent. Although they are getting harder to find, at least one payphone can be found in each major town on the island, but be sure to use your calling card or else get rate information in advance of your call, or be prepared for outrageous user fees.

Although touring a road bike with 700C wheels will move you farther, faster, with considerably less effort, riding a mountain bike with a solid rack meant I could carry myself and my gear over all kinds of road and terrain with confidence. I took every opportunity to leave the highway, exploring ridges, shorelines, and countless farms. My WTB Wolverine tires handled smoothly both on and off road, even at speeds over 60 km/h (Manitoulin has some monster hills).

I kept most of my daily rides below 100km to allow for unplanned activities/circumstances. While it is possible to travel much faster (depending on your bike, goals, and physical fitness), I planned my trip with the expectation of an average speed of 20 km/h, adding time for exploring, rest stops, and conversations. With so many friendly locals everywhere I went, I made the time to stop and chat and learn about this charming island.

 With lots more to explore, I will be coming back again and again.

 Grocery Stores:

Foodland, 9 Bay St S, Tobermory, ON, N0H 2R0, 519-596-2380
Foodland, 11 Yonge St, Mindemoya, ON, P0P 1S0, 705-377-6200
Dean’s Valu-Mart, 40 Meredith St, Gore Bay, ON, P0P 1H0 (8am-8pm), 705-282-2500
Island Pantry, 6 Dawson St, Gore Bay, ON, P0P 1H0 (9am-5pm), 705-282-8883
H & M Mini Mart, ON-540B, Gore Bay, ON, P0P 1H0, 705-282-3151
West Bay General Store, 6154 540 Hwy, M’Chigeeng, ON, P0P 1G0, 705-377-4535
Valu Mart, corner of Water St. W. and Campbell St. E., Little Current, (8am-8pm), 705-368-0617
Foodland, 37 Meredith St, Little Current, ON, P0P 1K0, 705-368-2651
Manitowaning Freshmart, 146 Arthur St, Manitowaning, ON, P0P 1N0, 705-859-3132
Carol & Earl’s Restaurant and Farmer’s Market, P.O. Box 59, 21306 Hwy 6, South Baymouth, 705-859-3000 (7am-9pm every day)

Accommodations and Restaurants:

South Bay Resort, 21214 ON-6, South Baymouth, ON P0P 1Z0,, 705-859-3106
Gordon’s Park, 18777 ON-6, Tehkummah, ON P0P 2C0,, 705-859-2470
Lake Wolsey Cabins, 14605 Gordon Township, Gore Bay, ON P0P 1H0,, 705-282-2701The Dunes Bed & Breakfast, ON-551, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0, 705-377-6134
Red Rooster Inn, 5382 551 Hwy, Providence bay, ON P0P 1T0, 705-377-7114
Auberge Inn International Hostel, 71 McNevin Street, Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, ON P0P 1T0,, 705-377-4392
School House Restaurant, 46 McNevin St, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0,, 705-377-4055
Lake Huron Fish & Chips, 20 McNevin St, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0, 705-377-4500
On The Bay Bed & Breakfast, 12 Mutchmor St, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0,, 705-377-7800
Hawberry Farms, 20 Eliza Jane St, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0,, 705-377-4616
Cedarwood Lodge, 40 Cranston Rd, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0, 705-377-5845
Huron Sands Motel & Dining Room, 24 River Rd, CARNARVON, ON,
Providence Bay Tent & Trailer Park, 5466 551 Highway, Providence Bay, ON P0P 1T0, 705-377-4650
Mindemoya Court Cottages and Campground, 604 Ketchankookem Trail, Mindemoya, ON P0P 1S0,, 705-377-5778, [email protected]
Meldrum Bay Inn, 25959 Hwy 540, Meldrum Bay, ON P0P 1R0,, 705-283-3190, [email protected]
White Sea Resort & Cottages, ON-540, Meldrum Bay, ON P0P 1R0,, 705-283-1483, [email protected]
Mississagi Lighthouse Heritage Park & Campground and the Foghorn Station Restaurant, 1-705-282-7258
Meldrum Bay Marina and Campground,, [email protected], 705-283-3252
Campbell’s Drive-In Restaurant (open until 10 pm), Ontario 540, Gore Bay, ON P0P 1H0, 705-282-2185
Norm’s Tent & Trailer Campground, 1125 Lakeshore Rd, Kagawong, ON P0P 1J0, [email protected], 705-282-2827
LCBO, General Store, and Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong
Manitoulin Chocolate Works, 160 Main St, Kagawong, ON P0P 1J0,, 705-282-0961
Queens Inn, 19 WATER, Gore Bay, ON,, [email protected], 705-282-0665
Evergreen Resort, 11059 Hwy 540, Gore Bay, ON P0P 1H0,, 705-282-2616
Gordon’s Lodge, 1 Water St, Gore Bay, ON P0P 1H0,, 705-282-2342
Buoy’s Eatery & Take Out, 1 Purvis Dr, Gore Bay, ON P0P 1H0,, 705-282-2869
Batman’s Cottages and Campground, 11408 HWY #6, Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, P0P 1W0, 705-368-2180, 1-877-368-2180, [email protected],
Green Acres Tent & Trailer, Sheguiandah, ON P0P 1W0, 705-368-2428
Anchor Inn Hotel, 1 Water St W, Little Current, ON P0P 1K0,, [email protected], 705-368-2023
Shaftesbury Inn, 19 ROBINSON, Little Current, ON,, 705-368-1945
Sunset Motel & Cottages, 7 RED MILL, Little Current, ON,[email protected], 705-368-2186
Bridgeway Motel, 44 Meredith St W, Little Current, ON P0P 1K0, 705-368-2230
Hawberry Motel, 36 Meredith St E, Little Current, ON P0P 1K0,, 705-368-3388
One Stop Island Pizza, 41 Walcot St, Little Current, ON P0P 1K0, 705-368-3424
Manitoulin Resort, 152 Holiday Haven Rd, Manitowaning, ON P0P 1N0,, 705-859-3550
My Friends Inn, 151 Queen St, Manitowaning, ON P0P 1N0,, 705-859-3115
Manitowaning Freshmart, 146 Arthur St, Manitowaning, ON P0P 1N0, 705-859-3132
Bayside Resort, 2 O’Clock Rd, Wikwemikong, ON P0P 2J0,, 705-859-1070
South Bay Resort, 21214 ON-6, South Baymouth, ON P0P 1Z0,, 705-859-3106
Gordon’s Park, 18777 ON-6, Tehkummah, ON P0P 2C0,, 705-859-2470

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