1. Sun Valley Trail, Toronto
You won’t quite believe you’re in Toronto when you explore Crothers Woods in East York. It’s a 52-hectare wooded area criss-crossed with 10 km of trails. Many of the maple, beech and oak trees lining the path are more than 100 years old. The 1.3-km Sun Valley trail is rated beginner, with wide gravel surfaces and gentle slopes around a meadow habitat. If your family is working on developing mad mountain biking skills, you can branch out to explore other more rustic, densely wooded, hilly trails.
Starting point: 1115 Bayview Avenue across from Nesbitt Drive
2. Dundas Valley, Hamilton to Brantford Rail-Trail, Hamilton
The railroad used to connect Hamilton and Brantford, and now it’s an entirely off-road trail that connects the two cities. The trail is 32 km (one way), but you can easily downsize by doing the Dundas Valley portion, which starts in Hamilton near McMaster University and is a manageable 5.5 km each way. Ride along the stone-dust multi-use trail and enjoy the lush Carolinian forests, streams and cool rock formations. When you arrive at Dundas Valley Conservation Area, you can check out the Trail Centre, a replica of a Victorian train station, which has washrooms, a snack bar and interpretative displays and crafts, or explore the Conservation Area nature trails.
Starting point: Hamilton trailhead, Main St. West and Ewen Road
3. Welland Canals Parkway Trail, St. Catharines
When you bike along the wide, paved, off-road Welland Canals Parkway Trail that runs 9 km from St. Catharines to Thorold, you get an up-close view of working ships from around the world (called “lakers”) moving through the waterway right beside you. It’s also very exciting for kids to see boats being raised or lowered in the canal’s locks. Stop and check out the observation decks at the Welland Canals Centre (if you start in St. Catharines) or the Lock 7 Viewing Complex (if you start in Thorold). Depending on how far you’d like to go, you can bike partway and turn around, or bike the whole length and get an adult to return to the vehicle to pick you up.
Starting point: St. Catharines Lock 3 Museum, 1932 Welland Canals Pkwy, St. Catharines
4. Savanna Biking Trail, Grand Bend
Pinery Provincial Park is a stunning beach park on Lake Huron, known for its sunsets and diverse bird and plant populations. Biking the 14-km loop Savanna Biking Trail lets you explore it thoroughly. Start at the Park Store (which serves ice cream and meals like burgers, wraps and fish and chips) and pedal northward along a wooded path through the rare oak savanna. Next, you move along the Old Ausable River Channel and through the woods again to a picnic area, where you can stop for an all-important snack break. Then it’s into the forest again to end up back at your starting point. In the summer, you can join a park naturalist for a guided 90-minute bike hike to get kid-friendly info on the trail’s natural history. No bikes? Rent ‘em, along with helmets and bike trailers, at the Park Store. Rentals start at $10 for one hour.
Starting point: Pinery Provincial Park, Grand Bend, 9526 Lakeshore Road (Hwy 21)
Daily vehicle permit $11.25; walk-in rates starting at $1
5. Toronto Islands Trails, Toronto
The “no cars on the islands” policy means that family biking is a dream…plus how totally fun is it to start your bike ride with a ferry ride? Bikes are permitted on the 10-minute ferry ride from the Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point ferries, or you can rent them on the Island. Linked by bridges and criss-crossed by trails, the system of islands is 6 km end-to-end, so you can explore the whole place. And these islands are your playground: pack a picnic, visit the amusement park and petting zoo in Centreville, play on the beaches, splash in the wading pool, explore the maze, check out the Children’s Garden and watch the sailboats.
Starting point: Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at 9 Queens Quay W
Ferry fares: adult $7, kids 2-14 $3.50, kids under 2 free
6. Kate Pace Way, North Bay
Named for the Olympic downhill skier, Kate Pace Way is a paved multi-use pathway along the Lake Nipissing waterfront and inland wooded trails. It’s 12 km but has lots of access points, so you can pick the right route length for you. For a hop-on-and-off-the-bike kind of ride, download a free Hike-and-Go-Seek activity page [http://discoveryroutes.ca/wp-content/uploads/Hike-and-Go-Seek-KPW.pdf] that gets kids counting benches, reading boat names and finding special trees.
Starting point: Memorial Drive trailhead, North Bay
7. Red Loop Trail, St. Marys
For the kid who’s got some mountain biking experience and is craving a little more action, the 4-km Red Loop at Wildwood Conservation Area mixes hilly terrain, sections with exposed roots and rocks and boardwalk in a gorgeous woodsy setting. Remember that odd dates mean you bike the route counter-clockwise, and even dates mean you go clockwise. There are picnic tables at the trailhead for pre- and post-ride refueling, and—nice touch—a bike wash station.
Starting point: Wildwood Conservation Area, 3995 Line 9 St. Marys
Adult $6, child 12 and under $3, or $12 per vehicle.
8. Ottawa River Pathway, Ottawa
Winding 31 km along the Ottawa River, the paved, multi-use Ottawa River pathway is a family favourite in the capital. One 5-km (one way) portion of the trail lets you see a lot of the sights. Start at the Bytown Museum, which documents the city’s early history and has a scavenger hunt program and a children’s play area, and then it’s on to the Ottawa Locks to watch the boats enter the Rideau Canal. Head down to the river and bike west—look up to see the Parliament Buildings on the cliff above you, then the Supreme Court of Canada. Stop for a drink and a bite at the family-friendly Mill St. Brew Pub in an historic grist mill. At the 5-km mark is Remic Rapids Park (where there are washrooms). Explore the shallow shoreline where local artist John Felicè Ceprano builds quirky rock sculptures every summer—kids love seeing the creations and may be inspired to build their own!
Starting point: There are bike racks and accessibility parking at Bytown Museum, accessed off Wellington St. via the Drummond Stairs.
There are also paid-parking garages at the nearby Rideau Centre shopping mall, the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel and the National Arts Centre.
Free (admission fees for museums)