If you’re looking for a sample itinerary to explore some rail trail, some gravel and some paved roads in the deepest southwestern part of Ontario, look no further. This day-and-a half (or longer) ride leads you from Kingsville to Amherstburg, through Harrow and Colchester, and back to Kingsville. Yes, at 104 km, some people can ride it in a day. But if you take a day and a half or even two days, you’ll have time to enjoy some of the food and beverage options along the way, as well as take in some of the history of the area. There are a few suggestions for accommodations along the way. There are several other options in the area, should these properties be completely booked. Camping is a possibility at one of the B&Bs, but this route is designed for those who would rather not carry a tent with them.
Arriving in Kingsville in the afternoon, you can park your vehicle in the municipal parking lot between Beech and Main Streets, northeast of the main intersection in town. If you need any last-minute bike supplies, Kingsville Cycle Works is just north of the main intersection. This cycling route starts heading west on the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) Greenway. The limestone chip rail trail leads you out of town, passing farm fields and some wooded areas.
After crossing the Arner Townline Road, the trail goes over Cedar Creek. Of course you wouldn’t know it from up on the trail, but the creek flows through some pretty impressive concrete arches (but don’t try to see it for yourself unless you have a canoe or kayak).
At the McCormick Road, the route leaves the rail trail and heads north. I’m not sure what happened with the survey in this area, but McCormick Road has a “jog” at every crossroad! A right and a left at the Third Concession, then another right and a left at the Fourth Concession. The bicycle-friendly Walnut Grove Bed and Breakfast is located on the northeast corner of the Fourth and McCormick (near kilometer 15). Depending on the season, a dip in their swimming pool might be first on your to-do list.
Arrangements can be made at the time of your advance reservation to have dinner served at this delightful bed and breakfast. Alternatively, some local restaurants will deliver to the Walnut Grove B&B. If you are riding with a group, this historic farmhouse can sleep up to 9 guests, with room for more in their guesthouse in the woods. For something different, if tenting is more your style, ask about that option when making your reservations (BYO tent and sleeping gear).
The next day, after a great breakfast (maybe Leslie and Bob will serve some of the syrup made from the many walnut trees on the property!), your journey continues with a bit of gravel in your travels. There aren’t any services for the next two or three hours, so make sure you fill your water bottles before leaving the Walnut Grove B&B. You wouldn’t know it today, but there was an active lumber camp in this area many years ago. There’s a plaque outlining some of the history on Coulter Road, just north of County Road 18.
Heading west on the Sixth Concession and in the area of County Road 15, these flat fields were once home to Hiram Walker’s experimental cranberry bogs. Apparently growing soybeans and wheat are better ideas, based on what is grown there today.
Heading north on the ERCA Greenway rail trail, you will pass through some wooded areas which offer some welcome shade on a hot summer day. Near the town of McGregor, the ERCA Greenway intersects the Cypher Systems Group Greenway trail that runs from Amherstburg to the town of Essex. Turn left (towards the west) on the Cypher Systems rail trail and head towards McGregor and Amherstburg.
Should you need any basic refreshments, there is a gas station north of the trail in the town of McGregor.
The Cypher Systems rail trail ends at Thomas Road on the outskirts of Amherstburg. A two-way multiuse lane is on the east (left) side of the road as you head south. At the T-intersection with Alma Street, turn right to ride into town. Fort Malden National Historic Site is on the route as you ride parallel to the Detroit River. A visit to the grounds and displays gives you a very local perspective on the War of 1812. Along the historic waterfront area in Amherstburg, there are several choices for food or drink. Caffeine & Co., Artisan Grill and Lot 10 Brewery are favourites, depending on whether you are looking for coffee (and pastries), lunch, or craft beer.
Heading back east, the route follows country tar&chip then gravel roads until you reach the ERCA Greenway rail trail again. Taking the trail into Harrow, then connecting with Erie Road, and finally Dunn Road, your route south leads you to the hamlet of Colchester on Lake Erie. On Dunn Road, you’ll cross the 42nd parallel. This line of latitude also crosses through northern California!
If spending the rest of the afternoon/evening taking part in tastings or pairings at one or two wineries is in your plans, staying a second night along the route is recommended so you can fully enjoy the offerings at the award-winning Lake Erie North Shore wineries. The Magnolia Ranch Bed and Breakfast is just east of the hamlet of Colchester (near kilometer 86), nestled between three wineries, and within 5-10 km of a few more. Bridgewood Farms Cottage is another option a bit further east (near kilometer 91).
If you are just looking for a late lunch or early supper before rolling back into Kingsville, Garfield’s at the bend in the road on the east side of Colchester (near kilometer 85) has a diverse menu and also serves local wines and craft beers (outside seating available). Oxley Estate Winery has a wonderful patio and menu (near kilometer 88).
From the settlement of Oxley, it is about 15 km back into Kingsville along County Road 50. If you need one more rest stop, the historic John R Park Homestead on the shore of Lake Erie will give you a glimpse of what life was like for the Park family in the 1850’s.
Whether you spend one or two nights along this route, this loop in the deepest southwestern part of Ontario provides some great opportunities to sample some great food and beverages, learn a little bit of the local history, and enjoy some warm hospitality. Exploring some new country roads and rail trails by bike is just part of the adventure!