- Trail is 180 Kilometres in length (not including detours)
- Flat rail trail
- Trail conditions range from stone dust near Kingston to ATV and logging road type conditions further north, lots of water in the spring/rain
- Crossbike/Gravel bike/Mountain bike recommended
Cycling the K&P rail trail was a long-time dream of mine. And sometimes, these dreams, casually mentioned in conversation, turn into reality.
Between the whole bottle of Baileys stuffed in a duffle bag and plastic containers of beans and fresh gazpacho soup, I should have organized a pre-ride meeting with my friends who I talked into this adventure. Still, volunteer and work commitments prevented that from happening. A Tuesday morning in mid-June dawned bright and early, and a friend picked us up in Ottawa to drive the three of us to Kingston, Ontario. After a quick pre-ride stop at Starbucks, Lynne dropped us off at the waterfront of the St. Lawrence River, near John Flueher Park, the start of the K&P trail.
While I pumped up my tires, I heard laughter and looked up to discover that Robyn had strapped her duffel bag to her bike rack and it started to spread out and hang like tentacles over the wheels. Turns out a bottle of Bailey’s for her coffee and a few other items were confiscated by the team so that her bag would not collapse the rack. “Didn’t you just hike to Everest Base camp?” we joked – implying that she would be an expert in camping minimally.
I enjoy cycling rail trails and managed to convince friends to ride with me or maybe they just liked the idea too…. There is something about cycling along old abandoned rail lines… maybe it’s history, romanticism, being able to step back into time when the world seemed more straightforward. Sometimes riding along the trail, particularly at remote points, I wonder what the men, women and families sitting on a train were thinking as they ventured north when all they saw out the windows was the never-ending wilderness. I guess it’s my way of time travelling.
After a ½ hour of fussing around with the packs and bicycles, I dipped my foot in the St. Lawrence to christen the ride, and we cycled off heading north. A newly paved sidewalk meandering away from the St. Lawrence marked the start of the trail in Kingston.
And then the sound of metal bouncing off pavement pierced the chatter of three women excited about cycling the K&P.
Less than 2 kilometres into the ride, the strapped duffel bag collapsed on Robyn’s bike, and the metal rack fell apart into several pieces. We laughed – what else could we do? So, being a robust outdoorsy kind of gal, she strapped the duffel bag to her back and off we rode singing John Denver’s “On the road again”. Finally, the kilometres started to roll by as we cycled through a sizeable tunnel under Highway 401 and left Kingston rolling north. The path narrowed and lined with lush green weeds, plants and trees blowing in the breeze kept our attention from the sky that threatened rain, but we knew, according to the weather forecast, sunshine and blue sky were on the menu for that afternoon.
The trail as we headed north required little work – it was generally hard-packed stone dust, well signed and included several interpretive panels at various stops explaining local history and geography. A bounty of reedy wetlands dotted the landscape, and we saw ducks, geese and evidence of beaver activity with plenty of hardwoods, maples and in certain sections, poplar trees.
At times we felt the canopy overhead created by the young maple saplings and overhanging trees darkened the trail and cut off all sunlight. High rock cuts through the limestone and grey shale made us realize how much work building this railway line must have been.
The K&P is a 112-mile former railroad that ran from Kingston, Ontario to Renfrew, Ontario that was built in the late 1800s. There were dreams of it being finished to Pembroke (hence the K&P acronym), but that never happened due to funding. Planning this adventure, we had hoped to ride from Kingston to Sharbot Lake the first day, camp overnight in Sharbot Lake Provincial Park and finish the next day.
We stopped at the wood bridge in Verona and snacked on sushi. Yes, sushi. One friend had packed it… and I must say, despite the space it took up in her pack, we inhaled it!
As the kilometres rolled by, we cycled on the gravel K&P corridor until the trail ended near the Tichborne skating rink and at this point, we pedalled out onto Highway 38 that would take us into Sharbot Lake where we would rejoin the trail.
Many years ago, several parcels of the railway corridor in this area were sold, and sheds and buildings popped up after the railway ceased operation. Now there is a connecting pathway between the trail in Tichborne and Sharbot Lake, so that trail users no longer have to navigate the Highway.
We rode for close to 10 kilometres on the Highway and then turned onto Brewers Road where we connected with the trail again. Back on the K&P, and arriving in the town of Sharbot Lake, we saw one of the original trains with the letters K&P blazed on the side – a permanent monument to a bygone era.
Cycling along this section, with the Lake to our left and the rocky trail under our tires, we were happy to pedal through a narrow tunnel under Highway 7 and cycle our way up onto the Highway for the last few kilometres to the Sharbot Lake Provincial Park campground.
A well-deserved swim after almost 90 kilometres of cycling invigorated us and felt well-earned. We devoured pasta and tomato sauce with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top along with a cold adult beverage, or two, and a campfire to rest our tired bodies.
Around midnight, several racoons scampered into camp and found our breakfast bag that had not been stashed with the other food. Ooooopps. We couldn’t have been their first victims judging by the unconcerned look in their beady eyes when we bolted out of the tent trying to scare them away. They sauntered off, and in our sleepiness, we didn’t realize the breakfast bag had gone with them.
The next morning, we made do with beans wrapped in tortilla shells. It tasted delicious.
We cycled along Highway 7 up to Highway 509 and retraced our steps back to the K&P rail trail. Smooth riding is the best description of the next section– shade from the trees with varied scenery of lakes and ponds and a few large stones on the gravel path to keep us on our toes. A few potholes to avoid, but we made good time until Clarendon Station. The old train station is a private home but has the distinctive train station look and has been meticulously restored.
After the train station, it got interesting… this is definitely the rock and roll section of the K&P. Plenty of deep puddles, long pools of water and coarse river stone made balancing a challenge and required careful and slow navigation with our loaded bikes. And mud, logs and barely-there-bridges over stagnant swamps.
Near Mississippi Station, the rail trail ends abruptly. You can see where the raised railbed sits, but it is overgrown with grass and is now private property that is only accessible by snowmobilers. So, we cycled out onto Highway 509 and enjoyed a few kilometres of pavement. At Snow Road Station, a sign indicated that the K&P was 3 kilometres up the Highway.
At precisely the 3 kilometre mark on my sports watch, a faded Conservation Authority sign, and another sign that had grey duct tape covering it in front of a small parking area turned out to be the start of the K&P. Riding along the hard-packed gravel made for quick time through this section and it felt isolated and quiet and rarely did we see anything other than a few deer.
The next section to Calabogie is well travelled by ATVs and dirt bikes and felt like cycling on a well-travelled rutty logging road. Unfortunately, Susanne’s seat became jammed in an unrideable position, and despite our McGyver efforts, we could not fix it. At the golf course in Calabogie, we checked the time and realized that between the busted saddle and Robyn’s husband birthday that evening, we should stop, and I committed to cycling the remaining 25 kilometres between Calabogie and Renfrew on the weekend to finish our route.
Things to Consider:
- Fun if you are a confident gravel rider
- ATVers and dirt bikes are courteous and share the trail