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Riding the Algoma Loop

It’s a summer staycation for two riders with time and a Suzuki M109 on their hands. Their destination: one of Ontario’s truly great circuits – the Algoma Loop.

My husband and I are always searching for the next great bike ride and in August, we decided to cruise Ontario’s Algoma Loop which consists of 682 kilometres of spectacular scenery and roads that are meant to be ridden on a motorcycle.

Ours is a 2013 Suzuki Boulevard M109, on which I am a happy passenger, who wants to just sit back and enjoy the ride. For the past four years, we have selected vacation destinations that enable us to enjoy cruising and get away from behind a desk for a couple of weeks. Past trips include the Ottawa Valley, Adirondacks in New York State, the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and of course this past summer’s destination, Agawa County and the Lake Superior Algoma Loop.

The ride began in Hanover, Ontario. We decided to take the fast route, having only one week for vacation, so the Chi Cheeman Ferry located in Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula was the solution. And it rained. No—it poured rain—on the day we left. There is nothing I hate more than riding in the rain, but it is what it is and you have to keep going no matter what the weather, so off we went. 

It pays to have two good tires and the 250/35/18 radial tire on the back made the ride feel like there was no rain on the road at all. I happily report that it was the only rain we had the entire week. There are plenty of motels to choose from on the route but I strongly recommend you call ahead to make reservations. When I tried a month before our departure date, there were only two rooms left for the night. And make sure you reserve a spot on the ferry. It was full as well. Motorcycles go to the front of the line—first on and first off. Take tie down straps with you.

Typically, when cruising, you meet the most interesting people and Tobermory did not disappoint. We met a young lady from Washington State who decided to take a year off and travel the world on her motorcycle, a Honda 600 CBR. To her surprise, she met a young man in Alberta who decided to travel along with her. He rode a cross-country adventure bike so there was diversity in their choice of motorcycles. Her intent was they would ride to South America, where she would trade her bike for one similar to his and they would continue to travel until time or money ran out.

An “experienced” gentleman from Waterloo struck up a conversation with us while waiting in the ferry line. It was pouring rain and we were already soaked through, but he was so interesting to talk to and his past adventures made us want to keep riding forever. He gave us his own bike riding analogy. When you’re riding, you have $10 of concentration. If you use up $8 of that by looking around and talking to others or through other distractions, you only have $2 worth of concentration left. Is your life not worth more than $2? Words to live by.

We thought August would be slower than July and traffic-wise it definitely was. But motel rooms seemed to fill up fast. Good news is the bugs were gone and only three of them managed to hit our windshield the entire trip. Some of the towns we visited only had one, maybe two, motel options to choose from. This is really not five-star territory so keep your expectations mindful of that.

On the other side of the ferry cruise, we landed at South Baymouth where we filled up with gas and continued up Highway Six, through Manitoulin Island to Espanola. This is a pretty drive, not very curvy, but the roads seemed in decent shape and traffic was not heavy which made for easier riding. Fill up in Espanola right where Highway Six meets Highway 17 if you find yourself running low.

We headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway 17 toward our first stop for the night. The gentleman in Tobermory told us that if you liked smoked fish, Clarence’s was the very best and it is located on the south side of Highway 17 west so keep an eye out for it. Thessalon, Ontario was our stop for the night. Hot food, hot shower, warm bed were our only thoughts when we arrived. It was unfortunate that the motel’s water pump was having issues so no hot water but we managed to get two out of the three. 

If you are craving the best homemade burger ever, check out Stinson’s Bar down in the town centre. It does not disappoint. There is no gas station in Thessalon but there is one about 20 minutes west on Highway 17 in Bruce Mines. 

Heading west on the Trans-Canada Highway 17, we set our sights for Sault Ste Marie, which would only take us a few hours travel time. The highway seemed desolate. We kept wondering where all the bikes were. The roads are in excellent shape and while not very challenging, the scenery made up for it with rock walls and picturesque lakes. We would come back this way on our return journey to spend a night on St. Joseph’s Island before heading east.

Sault Ste Marie (“The Soo”) was a two-day stopping point for us, as we wanted to experience
the Agawa Canyon Train ride, which runs daily from 8 am to 6 pm. It steams into a canyon where you have options of hikes to waterfalls and lookouts or to just sit and enjoy the scenery and have a picnic. It was a very enjoyable tour and I can see why people choose to ride it in the fall when the leaves change colour. In August, there were a lot of green trees, but it’s a great side trip to make if you are looking for a rest day. We also visited the Bushplane Museum and the Canals and found them both to be very interesting. It’s a nice walk along the waterfront. The hotel was accommodating to motorcycles and when we came out in the morning, there were a few other bikes sharing the space under the canopy.

The next day found us riding north on the Trans-Canada Highway 17 to Wawa. This section of the ride was a cruise alongside Lake Superior with spectacular views and scenery. The road was in excellent condition for bikes—curvy and winding with pull-offs to enjoy the vista. Once again though, there were very few bikes on the road, which left us wondering where they all were.

The Agawa Trading Post is located half way between The Soo and Wawa so it’s a good place to stop for gas. I spent a few minutes chatting with three ladies on bikes heading to White River, which is approximately an hour north of Wawa. White River is famously the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh and there’s a statue of Pooh right at the side of the Trans-Canada with parking close by. We had decided to ride up to White River as an added side trip but the three women riders weren’t sure where they were going to end up for the day and questioned me as to motel availability in the area. 

Something I read recently came to mind during this conversation. Always know where you are going when out on your motorcycle. That way, when you are on the highway there is no indecision. You know where your corner is and you know which direction you are heading. It’s when you are uncertain, and hesitate, that accidents happen. I filled them in with all I knew and they were off. They were the first people on motorcycles we had seen all day on this portion of the Algoma Loop. 

Wawa is famous for its giant Canada goose statue, so it was our first stop on the way into town for a photo. You need to turn off Trans-Canada Highway 17 onto 101 East. I paid a visit to the information centre and learned there is a waterfall located south of Wawa on Highway 17 that we had missed on the way up. It’s located just before the OPP station on the west side—look for signs to Magpie High Falls. I was informed that it was a packed gravel road and worth the visit. Brian did not like the gravel part so we passed up the opportunity. 

Another well-known Wawa landmark is Young’s General Store. The rustic inside is like stepping back in time with everything from ice cream to fishing lures to bait available for purchase. We bought fudge to enjoy later. 

The next morning we met two adventurous gentlemen from Colorado who were riding identical Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Limited Editions. They had travelled up through North Dakota and Sturgis and were now on their way back home heading to The Soo. They told us they had put more than 1,000 miles on their bikes and were having a great trip.

The best part of the Algoma Loop was our next day’s ride: Wawa to Chapleau to Thessalon. Make sure you gas up in Wawa as fuel stations are scarce on this leg though there is a fishing/hunting camp at Aubrey Falls, about halfway between Chapleau and Thessalon, that sells gas but they are only open Thursday to Saturday. We rode here on Wednesday so out of luck for us. However, as we got further down Highway 129, we came upon a trading post at Tunnel Lake that sold gas, so keep this in mind if you find yourself in need of extra fuel on this route.

Part of the Algoma Loop, Highway 129 is often described as the “Canadian Tail of the Dragon.” It’s a good highway and scenic but we were wondering what the big deal is. And then we came upon a 15-km stretch in the middle that was curvy and hilly with banks and bends. It was a truly amazing ride. 

This twisty section runs parallel to the Mississagi River and offers a perfect view while hugging the highway. There are some rough spots bracketing the twisties so it pays to slow down and just cruise through. I suggest you be mindful of the “bump” warning signs because they are truthful—one almost lifted me out of my seat. This was a truly enjoyable end to the official Algoma Loop ride and we almost wish we would have gone back and ridden it again.

We decided to be adventurous and head back on Highway 17 West to St. Joseph Island for the night and visited an interpretive site on the island to learn more of its history—located in Lake Huron, St. Joseph Island was important to First Nations and Europeans in the early fur trade and played a role in the War of 1812. 

There’s a multitude of curvy winding roads on the island and GPS is not very helpful. A lot of dead end roads, turnarounds and mean dogs that thought I needed a warning. Good thing we had 1800cc for a quick getaway. 

This was also the only place we saw a deer, considering there were signs warning us of deer and moose about every 10 km or so. It must have liked the sound of the bike as it stood quietly at the side of the road until we were past. We spent the night in Hilton Beach and found it to be a peaceful place on the water.

With some time to spare, we headed east, travelling back through Thessalon, Espanola, Sudbury and Sturgeon Falls. Just east of Sturgeon Falls was where we saw the bear. I really wanted to see a moose on this trip but I think a bear tops it. Moving quite fast it ran out in front of the two cars ahead of us. No need to lock things up, we had some time as we saw it coming, but it is important to note that there are animals out here in all those trees that can cause major damage to your bike and to you. 

Back on the Algoma Loop, we continued on to North Bay, Mattawa, Deep River, Petawawa, Highway 41 through Pembroke to Highway 60, Golden Lake and through Algonquin Park. It is best to cruise a little slower through these areas, especially those sections dense with forest. We found that trees and bushes really weren’t trimmed back from the road very well so there’s less time to react if something decides to run out of the bush and onto the road.

As expected, there was some maintenance work along the Trans-Canada and roads were at times very rough and graveled. One section was all mud, which didn’t sit well with Brian. As we noticed on previous days, there were very few bikes. There was very little traffic period. I would have to say August is a really good time to travel this area. The route is still very picturesque with lovely views of farmer’s fields, tall stone cuts, and crystal clear lakes that were so calm they looked like glass.

We headed for home through our favourite area, the Ottawa Valley and Algonquin Park. We have enjoyed this ride many times and look forward to it every time. Traffic picked up and we saw a lot more bikes out enjoying the beautiful day. 

In total, we rode 2,574 km in eight days on the Algoma Loop. We like to be off the highway by four or five in the afternoon at the latest to avoid risk of heavy traffic, and dusk always brings out the wildlife. The best advice I have is that you make sure you know where the next fuel stop is located. We average approximately 240 km per tank so we stopped whenever we saw a station, just to make sure we wouldn’t run out somewhere remote. 

And remember to pre-book your motels. Every place I called had only a few rooms left. And I started calling four weeks early. Plan your trip and know what is available in the area you are stopping in for the night. Some of these small towns are very interesting to explore and offer much more than you expect. You just need to take time to discover.   

By Paula Domm Canadian Biker Issue #327


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