Sault Ste. Marie offers everything from flow trails for beginners to the biggest jumps and steepest lines this side of the Rockies. Words & photos :: Colin Field.
House Rock is a massive glacial erratic deposited atop one of the funnest downhill trails in Ontario. And in 2017 a couple of local crazies built a ramp to launch you on top of it, then off it again, over a gap and onto the landing. Watching Luke Watson (one of the trail builders) hit it over and over is freaking awesome.
Even with ten local riders of incredible skill level standing around, he’s the only one hitting it. And I don’t blame anyone for skipping it. It’s a gnarly thing to see.
Then we drop into the jump line. During the first 100 metres, it quickly occurs to me: Holy chromoly this is steep. Rolling over a rock I question how steep my bike will go before catapulting me. But I remain faithful and it’s all good. My suspension sucks up the terrain and I plummet downwards. It worked. This trail is awesome.
I skid to the side of the next jump, a Survivor-looking bridge contraption. Then I watch the local trail builders hit it again and again. They’re so stoked to be riding. It’s seriously infectious.
But this seems to be how it goes in Sault Ste. Marie: The people into riding are really into riding.
The landscape is rugged and wild, creating tough riders ready for tough adventures. While Watson rarely rides uphill, other masochists from the Soo tend to ride way farther than is normal. Jan Roubal, owner of the local bike shop Velorution, is an absolute animal. While I was there, he hosted a bike ride across the road from his house. One lap was 30 kilometres of singletrack; many people rode four laps. This summer, Jan also rode his gravel bike to Sudbury and back in one day. Well, kinda; it took him 30 hours to do the ride, so technically it took just over one day. “I get these kinds of ideas in my head and I just can’t let them go,” he says.
While some choose to regularly do century rides, others build the biggest jumps and steepest lines this side of the Rockies. And many people fall somewhere between the two. Which means the calibre of rider in the Soo is high.
• • •
What I’m shown next is the Farmer Lake Area and the Darkside Trail on the north end of Hiawatha: a heinous, rocky, rooty downhill track complete with steeps, drops, jumps and rollers. It’s a terrifying roll through the rugged bush of the Canadian Shield. There are five-foot drops, machine-built berms and an over/under jump that defies reason. But you know what the crazy part about this trail is? The city built it.
So far the city has received $667,000 in funding from the federal government and the municipality. They hired the Quebec trail-building company Sentiers Boréals and they’ve been building (during the summer months) since 2020. Sentiers Boréals have built trails all over Quebec including at Mont-Saint-Joseph and Le Massif.
The Soo’s master plan involves one large loop that will connect all the trails in the area, connecting the mountain bike trail networks and making them accessible from downtown. There are more enduro-style trails in the planning stages and they’ll be building a dirt pump track in 2022.
And while the first track of theirs I see is terrifying (the Darkside Trail) they also built a jump/flow trail for kids and beginners that is an absolute hoot. We do laps over and over with a bunch of kids and parents and it’s obvious it will help the next generation of young riders to flourish. I watch artist-photographer Paula Trus, who would not really consider herself a mountain biker, ride through here on an ancient 26-inch bike and laugh out loud the entire way down. It’s a thing of beauty.
• • •
When the guys from Red Pine Tours pick me up for an overnight mountain bike trip, I know we’ll get along; they’re wearing flannel shirts and jean shorts. And that’s their riding gear. While they tend to do ridiculously lengthy, self-punishing tours, they’re taking it easy on me. We head to Stokely Creek for the pièce de résistance of their packages: their bike glamping tour. We ride out to Norm’s Cabin where we’ll spend the night. And all our gear is delivered to the cabin so we don’t need to carry any of it.
Stokely’s layout is similar to what you find at Hardwood Hills or Georgian Nordic: It began as a cross-country ski destination, but singletrack has slowly taken hold between the double track to create an endless network of trails. There are lots of painful, lung-punishing climbs but also a bunch of seriously fun descents and some amazing viewpoints like the one on top of King Mountain where you can see all the way to Lake Superior.
After 12 kilometres of mixed single and double track we get to Norm’s Cabin. Situated on Bone Lake, the two-storey cabin is a perfect place to spend the night. One of the Red Pine guides is a brewmaster at the Soo’s OutSpoken Brewery and the other guide is the brewery owner. So we’ve soon cracked a couple cold Deadfall lagered ales and are cheersing the day’s accomplishments.
The guys get to making dinner. It’s totally local: freshly caught “specks” (speckled trout), backyard-grown zucchini, locally raised ribs. The wood fire keeps us warm all night and the silence is absolute; we don’t see another person for about 16 hours.
In the morning we do an adventure ride through a bog and back down to our vehicles at the Stokely parking lot. It’s another major lesson in what the region offers: really fun, challenging terrain, endless trail networks and a friendly crew of locals more than willing to share. It’s a perfect destination for a two-wheeled getaway.