Bikepacking the Simcoe County Loop Trail and More!

Without getting into too much detail, in June of 2019, I joined a work colleague Kelly and headed to Barrie to meet a larger group of cyclists from the GTA to ride the Simcoe County Loop Trail (SCLT). This 160 km loop includes rail trail, city trails and some paved roads and has been growing in popularity recently. At about the 120 km mark of that ride, I decided to call it quits because I was having concussion symptoms. The resulting map of my incomplete ride left me feeling that I had unfinished cycling in this area. I knew I’d complete the loop, it was just a question of when.

2020 has been an odd year for reasons we’re all familiar with. Most of my rides in 2020 have been alone, which has both pros and cons. In the middle of summer, my sister Sue mentioned that she and her husband Thom were planning to do a bikepacking trip in August that included the SCLT and asked if I’d like to join. With my unfinished business, I eagerly joined.

They’d planned a three-day trip that started and finished near Barrie. Day 1 was the first half of the SCLT (clockwise) to a campground. Day 2 started and finished at the campground and the route would include Awenda Provincial Park. And Day 3 would be completing the SCLT to Barrie. Here’s my summary:

Day 1 – Barrie to Bell Falls: 81 km

Loaded and ready!

We met in the parking lot of the Simcoe County Museum, where we were able to park our cars for the weekend. The SCLT passes within one or two kilometres of this parking lot. We were able to start our journey at around 11am on what was becoming a hot day! We weren’t in too much of a hurry as we headed east on Snow Valley Road. We picked up the North Simcoe Rail Trail off of Vespra Valley Road, just north of the Snow Valley Ski Resort. The rail trail in this area was peaceful, flat and stress-free. We stopped for a short snack break in Elmvale at the Elmvale Heritage Park, where the trail passes. A little further north on Highway 27 (Yonge Street), just south of Flos Road 10 West, there’s a Pure Spring Water stop. Although we were only 30 km into our ride, I filled up the bottle and a half that I’d emptied to that point. North of Elmvale, there’s a stretch of the loop that includes Highway 27, which can be very busy. Fortunately, it’s not very long (less than 1 km) before we picked up the Tiny Trail (which wasn’t as tiny as its name might imply!), that continues north. As the Tiny Trail starts to turn towards the east, there’s a paved portion of trail that crosses through a valley and crosses Copeland Creek about a half-dozen times. This part of the trail is loads of fun as it flows up and down along the valley towards Penetanguishene. Once there, there’s a paved trail along the waterfront, followed by a steep climb through town. The trail between Penetang and Midland is another fun, paved trail. Heading to Midland, it’s downhill as it winds its way through the woods, dropping about 50 metres in elevation!

Through Midland, the paved trail follows the waterfront and connects with the Tay Shore Trail, which continues to wind its way along the coast. We turned off the trail near Sturgeon Bay to a campground called Bell Falls, where Thom had booked two nights. Our hostess, Roberta, greeted us warmly and led us to our glamping pod site right next to Bell Falls. The pod had a double bed where Sue and Thom stayed, while I set up my tent in an open area nearby. Thom had also ordered a charcuterie board, which Roberta delivered to our site! I think this is referred to as “glamping”, or “glamourous camping”, and I wasn’t going to complain. The adjacent Sturgeon River was refreshingly cold after a sweaty day of cycling.

Day 1: Barrie to Bell Falls Campground
Glamping at Bell Falls campground.

Day 2 – Bell Falls to Awenda and back: 95 km

The next morning, we woke to a rising sun and after coffee and breakfast, we took our bikes (which were a lot lighter than the previous day!) and headed back towards Midland-Penetang, on our way to Awenda Provincial Park. I had last car camped at Awenda in 2017 and was looking forward to the ride back there. In Penetang, we jumped off the trail and headed on the road, north towards Awenda. We took a side road (Peek-a-Boo Trail) where Thom had found a beach, where we stopped to cool off and have lunch. After a wee bit of adventuring through the woods, we continued on Champlain Road, which followed the shoreline past countless cottages. The road meets up with Awenda Park at the northwest corner of the park. The dirt road into the park is a long hill in the beautiful forest of Awenda. I’ve previously blogged about cycling in Awenda here, so I won’t repeat, but the trails are loads of fun on my Salsa Fargo! After riding on many of the trails, we headed out of the park on some roads back towards Penetanguishene. We stopped in Midland at a place called The Boathouse Eatery for a beverage and early dinner/snack before heading back to our campsite a Bell Falls.

Day 2 Route: Bell Falls to Awenda Provincial Park and back
What do you mean “NO EXIT”???

Day 3 – Bell Falls to Barrie: 86 km

Our final day started by breaking camp and loading up our bikes for the ride back to Barrie. I should mention that a couple of other cyclists arrived at the campground and camped near us. They were completing the SCLT in two days and Bell Falls was a good half-way point for cyclists who start and finish in Barrie. They left camp a little before us, but we met up with one of them (Adam) in Orillia and completed our ride to Barrie with him.

Our plan to stop in Coldwater at Em’s Cafe for a mid morning coffee didn’t workout because they’re closed until 11am and we arrived around 9:30. So we continued to Orillia where we found bakeries and cafes which we enjoyed at the harbour.

The ride from Orillia is along the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail and this trail is very straight and flat for long stretches. At times, the trail continued straight for as far as my eye could see (right down to the last pixel). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, rail trails can get tedious after a while. Still, it was another good day to be on the bike. We arrived in Barrie mid-afternoon and stopped to fill our water bottles before a somewhat harrowing ride through town to our parking spot. The route took us through some Simcoe trails that made up for the long, tedious rail trail earlier in the day.

Day 3 Route: Bell Falls campground to Barrie
The long and not-so-winding road.

Total distance: 262 km

The SCLT has been increasing in popularity in the last couple of years. Many people are completing the loop in a day. A couple others have completed the loop TWICE in one day. Our three-day ride (two days for the loop itself) was very enjoyable and relaxing and we were able to enjoy local sights and stops along the way. I highly recommend Bell Falls Campground for an overnight bikepacking stop. And take the time in Midland, Penetang, Orillia to enjoy local fare and sights. You can get a free t-shirt if you show your route to Cycle Simcoe!

Show Cycle Simcoe that you rode the whole loop and you’ll get a cool t-shirt!

7 thoughts on “Bikepacking the Simcoe County Loop Trail and More!

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