An easy weekend escape from Toronto’s concrete jungle for nature-deficient urbanites requires little advance planning or preparation.

By Robert Sarner, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 4, 2013

Though I enjoy big-city life, I also relish the chance to escape it. Nothing like being in nature to nourish a metropolitan soul, especially if it involves physical activity.

But what to do if you live in Toronto and recoil at the thought of driving hours to a cottage or resort? (Count your blessings, Vancouverites, Montrealers, Calgarians, etc.) If you don’t have the time or inclination for a canoe trip; If you hate the hassle and humiliation of modern air travel, consider driving 75 minutes west to ride the little-known Elora Cataract Trailway, now part of the Trans Canada Trail system. It’s the perfect antidote for the nature-deficient urbanite seeking solace from the concrete jungle.

A former railway line, the 47-kilometre Trailway is perfect for nature-deficient urbanites seeking solace from the concrete jungle. Ideal for cycling (or in the winter, cross-country skiing), it’s flat as an ironing board, well maintained and runs through or alongside farms, forests, lakes, cottages and villages from Elora to Cataract.

Depending on your fitness level, eagerness, riding prowess, and when you leave in the morning, you can do the roundtrip in either one day, or stay overnight in a B&B and do it in two days. Casual cyclists shouldn’t be deterred at the prospect of riding 94 kilometres. What might seem daunting in the city is far less arduous when riding in nature, free of the obstacles of urban cycling.

I’m a big fan of cycling on trails created from former railway lines. Every day, I ride to work on Toronto’s Beltline, and two years ago, I spent four days with my wife Galya riding the magnificent 200-km P’tit Train du Nord in Quebec’s Laurentians region, that I wrote about in these pages last year.

This summer, on a golden morning, Galya and I arrived in Elora, a small town near Guelph known for its 19th century limestone architecture, galleries, shops and arts community. We parked our car on a residential street, mounted our bikes and headed to the nearby trailhead on Elora’s eastern edge. From there, it was a short ride to Fergus, where a lack of signage made it challenging to find the resumption of the trail a half-dozen blocks away.

But after that brief diversion, it was smooth sailing. Although unpaved, the trail’s hard-packed earth is bike-friendly. Distance markers every kilometer keep you on course, and occasional signs explain notable aspects of nature, vegetation or history.

About 10 kilometres in, we reached the Shand Dam, erected in 1942 and the first in Canada built solely for water control. On one side, it offers a wonderful view of the Grand River below, and on the other side lies Lake Belwood, a nice spot for a swim.

As we continued, like in previous such journeys, the continuous pedaling in a rural setting proved mentally soothing and vaguely therapeutic. The aroma and tranquility of nature further enhanced the experience.

For lunch, we stopped at one of the few eateries near the trail. Situated at the 18-kilometre mark in Belwood, Super Snax is a family restaurant serving good basic fare from morning until evening.

By mid-afternoon, we reached the end of the trail at Cataract. The final two kilometres were temporarily closed for maintenance, but we took a detour to get to the gorge and waterfalls in the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park on the Bruce Trail. Part of the Niagara Escarpment, the park’s network of trails, some quite steep, are better negotiated by foot than on wheels. After hours of pedaling, we sat on a small bridge, savouring the view and sound of the Credit River narrowing through the park and plunging into a deep gorge below us.

The next morning, after spending the night in the nearby town of Erin, we retraced the itinerary in reverse. It was no less satisfying. By late afternoon, after having taken a more leisurely pace than the previous day, we arrived back in Elora and regained our car for the drive back to Toronto. My only complaint? That the Trailway isn’t longer.

The Trailway is open all year along, and assuming you dress appropriately, the fall and spring also lend themselves to doing the trip.

Since riding the Elora Cataract Trailway, I’ve since discovered that there are several other such former railway lines in Ontario that have been converted into cycling trails. You can be sure we’ll be riding them too. The pleasure is too much not to.

∙ For more information on the Elora Cataract Trailway, visit The Trans Canada Trail project ( aims to create nearly 24,000 kilometres of connected trail, stretching across the country, by 2017.

< Back