by Diana Ballon
Posted on vacay.ca on June 14, 2021
Should we do 142 kilometres in one day or two? This was my preoccupation when deciding how to tackle the G2G Rail Trail, a cycling route that covers 132 kilometres (82 miles) and runs westward from Guelph to Goderich — a municipality on Lake Huron that Queen Elizabeth II once dubbed “the prettiest town in Canada”. The trail traces the route formerly used by the CPR railway to transport people and goods across southwestern Ontario.
As a non-driver who loves to travel, being able to explore independently has had its challenges. I started long-distance running, but could only get so far. Then I took up cycling, and the whole world opened up to me: I could explore, get exercise, be self-reliant, and enjoy being part of the landscape.
Which brings me back to the question, one day or two? My 16-year-old son, Felix, and I finally decided to opt for the latter, so we would have more time to take breaks and explore places en route. I booked a couple of rooms in an AirBnb in Millbank for our first night, which would be 50 kilometres (31 miles) in. And then I chose a hotel in Blyth near the end as a reward.
An Ontario Cycling Trail That Feels Exotic
The cyclist-friendly Cottonwood Manor in Millbank provides a comfortable respite for travellers on the G2G Rail Trail.
The G2G trail had a particular allure for me. It begins close to Toronto, where I live, and ends at a beach on the Great Lakes. After a long period at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the journey out of the city and eventually into the water felt absolutely exotic.
The stone dust path was resurfaced in 2020, making it easy to navigate on a touring bike (as my son had), but also manageable on a road bike (which I had), although I would have preferred slightly wider tires for areas where the gravel was a bit turned up.
As you can imagine with a rail trail, the G2G path is very flat, straight, and completely separate from roads, except for some detours, which were primarily on lovely, quiet country roads. Much of the trail traverses through farm country, with horses grazing in pastures, while about half is tree-lined and thus shadier and more protected from the sun.
The official trailhead starts at the Guelph GO Train Station, but — if you have someone who can drop you off, as we did — you can bypass the detour (which takes you through a cemetery and along some busy roads) and start at kilometre-7 at the intersection of Silvercreek Parkway and Marden Tract.
Some of my favourite parts of this first section, called the Kissing Bridge Trailway (KBT), were the detours: I loved the West Montrose Covered Bridge — also known as the “Kissing Bridge,” which was designed in 1880, and is the only remaining covered bridge in Ontario. After passing through West Montrose, we soon arrived in Elmira, which has the largest population of Old Order Mennonites in Canada. Admittedly, the deep-fried ravioli at EJ’s Fry-Tastic just off the trail were tempting, but we opted instead for a Mennonite lunch from Kitchen Kuttings, a great café with homemade everything, including the popular caramel-iced cinnamon buns.
After another short detour we arrived in Millbank, home of Anna Mae’s Restaurant, which is also well known for its comforting Mennonite cuisine (and a mean roasted chicken dinner), but lacks the charm of the smaller Kitchen Kuttings where we had had lunch.
Several hours later, we pulled up at our AirBnb, which had a back lawn that comes right up to the trail and includes a rest area for cyclists. A lovely century home, the owners have an outdoor pool, three guest bedrooms, and an area in back with a firepit where we had s’mores in the evening. One of the owners is also an active cyclist, and readily shares what he knows about the area and its cycling trails.
STAGE 2: Millbank to Blyth
Our next section of the G2G was mostly straight, with wide open fields and farms on either side, and was less tree-lined, so — amidst a heat wave — the sun really beat down on us, and the headwinds meant we had to push a little harder.
As we left Millbank, the area transitioned from Mennonite to predominantly Amish. But with more than 30 groups of Mennonites and Amish in Ontario, it’s sometimes difficult to know who we were encountering. We passed men and boys in long pants and straw hats, and women and girls in modest full-length dresses and bonnets — some in covered horse-drawn buggies, others in open wagons pulled by one or two horses, or on bicycle or scooter.
Accommodations were sparse, as were places to stop for a rest or a snack, so make sure to be well-fortified with water and food before you take on this stretch. We did end up briefly in the small town of Monkton, where we stopped at a diner for take-out eggs and hash browns, which we ate in a nearby park, giving us needed strength for the rest of our ride.
Although we had planned to stop for the night at the lovely Hotel Lux in Blyth, we still had lots of energy by the time we got there, so we left most of our things in our hotel room, and continued the last 27 kilometres (17 miles) into Goderich. The stretch was lovely, with terrain that was slightly more rolling and more varied, with mature trees and many horses in pastures on farms bordering either side of the trail.
Although there is a pretty 9-kilometre (5.6-mile) detour at Auburn — on mostly rolling gravel roads, and along the historic Balls Bridge — we chose to shorten the trip by fording the Maitland River, which involved wading with our bikes — in a slight current — to get to the other side. While I dreaded the detour as we approached, it actually ended up being a trip highlight: The water felt cool, and we encountered another parent and child who guided us to the easiest and shortest crossing point to the shore. From there, it was about 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) to the Menesetung Bridge, and then a few kilometres to Rotary Cove Beach in Goderich.
We immediately jumped into Lake Huron for a swim. What an ending to our trek.
MORE ABOUT THE G2G TRAIL
Where to Stay: Cottonwood Manor is a century home in Millbank with a large yard, outdoor pool, and three private rooms available through AirBnb for a mere $75 per night (plus service and cleaning fees).
The Hotel Lux in Blythe has three luxury boutique-style rooms. The lovely Industry Hall, where we stayed, has a cool vintage feel with wooden headboard, faux exposed brick wallpaper, hanging lights over the queen bed, and a comfy sitting area. Vintage also meets modern, with a big walk-in shower in the bathroom, and a Nespresso machine and mini-fridge in the room. Nightly rates start at about $200 per room.
What to Bring: You will need a hand pump and spare inner tube (and the know-how to change the tube if needed), bike gloves, padded cycling shorts, sunscreen, sunglasses, spare change (to buy cold drinks and granola bars along the trail — pay is by honour system). You will, of course, also need a bike. You can bring your own, or rent a bike in Blyth or Goderich. Although we didn’t see anyone on e-bikes, many people also travel this way.