October 10, 2019

Biking Barrie to Orillia

Since moving to the Greater Toronto Area in 2008, the only GO train line that was easily accessible outside of rush hour was the Lakeshore line from Oshawa to Aldershot (just outside of Hamilton). However, GO Transit has expanded service on its Barrie, Kitchener, and Stouffville lines in recent years as part of their Regional Express Rail program. This includes year round weekend service to Barrie in December 2016 and to Niagara Falls since August 2019. Having gotten curious to check out the Oro Medonte Rail Trail, Helen and I brought our bikes on the GO train to Barrie last weekend to try it out.
Barrie's old Allandale train station

Right now, GO Transit’s Barrie weekend service is focused more on those visiting Toronto than the other way around. The earliest GO train leaves Union Station at 11:40 and arrives at Barrie’s Allandale Waterfront station at 13:20, while the last train leaves Barrie at 20:40 and returns to Union at 22:20. If there could be an earlier train leaving Union at 8:00 or 9:00, that would make a day trip to Barrie more ideal. Having said that, the Barrie line has some vintage style stations along the way at Maple and Aurora, while the old style Allandale station can be seen from the new one.
The multi-use path is on the other side of this public washroom
Fortunately, a simple crossing of Lakeshore Drive brings you to Barrie’s lakefront trail. Barrie’s downtown is within walking distance from Heritage Park by crossing the rainbow crosswalk and heading to the Cenotaph. Outside of the waterfront, Google Maps shows few disconnected bike routes and Barrie – a city of 140,000 people – doesn’t have an active transportation map; something smaller communities such as Ajax and Moncton offer. An updated transportation master plan was released in April 2019 as a blueprint to build their bikeway network.
Admiring the fall colours just east of Barrie
Once past Heritage Park, most of the trail to James Street in Orillia – including the entire Oro Medonte Trail – is good quality gravel surface. While this may inconvenience asphalt loving road racers, it was more than adequate for our hybrid and commuter bikes.
The wayfinding signage was good while the trail from Colborne Street to 1 Line was a bit narrow. A short ride on 1 Line with minimal traffic brought us to the Oro Medonte Trail parking area.
Some narrow trail sections between Heritage Park and the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail
The 28-kilometre Oro Medonte Rail Trail runs along an abandoned CN rail line and serves as a cross country ski and snowmobile route during the winter. Visiting this trail during the fall was a real treat with the changing leaves and a trumpeter swan sighting by a pond. A bike repair stand is available at Line 2, while information panels can be found along the trail. Washrooms and porta-potties are also available every few kilometres.
Trumpeter swans along the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail
The trail becomes paved again at James Street with some oddly placed ring and post parking and stops at West Street. For those uncomfortable crossing mid-block, signalized intersections can be found within a 1 – 2 minute walk. An off-road path was found on Queen Street, which dumped us into a construction zone at Front Street and wayfinding to Orillia’s waterfront wasn’t clear. Getting there required going a short distance north to Elgin Street. While it would have been nice to spend some more time in Orillia, the shorter daylight hours meant having to turn back almost immediately to avoid riding the unlit trail in the dark and get on the train home.
Made it to Orillia's Waterfront but had to turn back shortly after
A redo of this trail is definitely in order for several reasons; especially if an earlier GO train run could be added. Not only would it be nice to spend more time in Orillia (or even just Barrie), the Oro Medonte Rail Trail is part of the 160-kilometre Simcoe County Loop Trail which could lead to another multi-day bike trip accessible from Toronto car-free. Lots of work is needed for Barrie and Simcoe County to catch up to Niagara Region for cycle tourism, but giving Ontarians more cycle tourism options is never a bad thing. 😊
Keep on touring!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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