Be prepared for an adventurous gravel ride along remote roads and the Trans Canada Trail that echo with the ghostly whispers of early settlers of forgotten ghost towns. From small hamlets to remote backcountry, this rugged bike-packing route offers a mix of terrain that allows serious gravel bikers to encounter ever-changing and challenging conditions.
Experiences MINI-GUIDE - Sign up for free download. Ride With GPS - Old Nipissing Ghost Road Ride With GPS - Old Nipissing Ghost Road - North/ Algonquin Loop Ride With GPS - Old Nipissing Ghost Road - Middle Loop Ride With GPS - Old Nipissing Ghost Road - South Loop Printed Map - Discovery Routes Adventure Trails Map
Type: Gravel Ride / Bike Packing
- Old Nipissing Ghost Road – End-to-End – 77.1 km
- Old Nipissing – North/ Algonquin Loop – 113.3 km
- Old Nipissing – Middle Loop – 64.5 km
- Old Nipissing – South Loop – 79.8 km
- Old Nipissing Ghost Road – End-to-End – Commanda General Store Museum at Hwy 522, Commanda
- Old Nipissing North Algonquin Loop – South River Brewing at 309B HWY 124, South River
- Old Nipissing Middle Loop – Magnetawan Municipal Office/Library at 4304 Highway 520, Magnetawan
- Old Nipissing South Loop – Sprucedale Community Centre at 31 William Street, Sprucedale.
The adage “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail ” has never been truer than with this gravel ride adventure on the Old Nipissing Road. The appeal for many cyclists of the route between Magnetawan and Commanda is the remote and rugged nature of the old ghost road.
The deep ruts of wagon wheels from a bygone era have been replaced by ATV tracks and nature’s unyielding power to reclaim the Northern Ontario wilds. With limited cell service and trails in every direction, it is easy to get off course. Matched with seasonal businesses with limited hours, wildlife encounters (big and small), and challenging terrain, makes the experience a true Northern wilderness adventure.
Old Nipissing Ghost Road – End-to-End (77.1 km)
Seguin Falls – Spence
This gravel ride adventure begins at the Ghost Town of Seguin Falls at the South end of the Nipissing Road where some buildings are still visible in the old ghost town. This is the intersection with the Park to Park Trail and where the Trans Canada Trail continues its path East to Newfoundland. The gravel party begins right off the top as you ride North on the Nipissing Road. The climbs are a little punchy for the first 20 km to Spence and the locally-famous Cornball Store.
The route along Nipissing Road is clear and well-maintained gravel. Take note that several of the offshoot roads along this section may appear as connecting to others when this isn’t the case. As is typical along the original wagon routes, you will pass numerous small cemeteries for different denominations. Dates around 1886 start to appear on headstones, telling the story of young and old who would have cut this path back in much harder times.
Spence – Magnetawan
Onto the tarmac North of Spence and a trio of steep grinds to get the juices pumping through Magnetawan. Ontario’s shortest highway (510) at just 3 km is the last of the smooth riding. The route transforms and facilities drop off from here, as does reliable road maintenance.
Although the road is gravel (or once was), it is entering an unorganized township where no one authority is responsible for maintenance and its condition varies. Some sections are wide and well-kept; others are little more than two ruts plunging into dark woods, much as the pioneers would have experienced a century ago.
The North end approaching Commanda is also prone to washouts and floods making for a thrilling terrain with a few surprising (and muddy) technical challenges. No promises that you won’t be involved in a hike-a-bike situation! There are intermittent Trans Canada Trail signs and road markers are not always present. Be sure to stop to read the series of historic markers located along the route and make a stop at the Commanda General Store Museum.
Old Nipissing Ghost Road – North/ Algonquin Loop (113.3 km)
South River – Algonquin Park
Touch the Northern edge of Algonquin Park with this loop where it veers away from the Old Nipissing Road. Eagle Lake Road into the Village of South River is a freshly paved cottage road that can get busy in the summer with vehicle traffic on its way to Mikisew Provincial Park, and the many cottages lining the multiple lakes and rivers.
It’s the same situation traffic-wise for Chemical Road East of South River as a popular access road to Algonquin Park’s access point #1 at Kawawaymog Lake. Stay at one of the remote lodges or outpost cabins, or rent a canoe from one of the park’s lakeside outfitters to experience this wild place.
Trout Creek – Alsace – Commanda
Chemical, Forestry, Hemlock and Alsace Road on the loop are a mix of packed gravel of varying conditions with rolling hills, punchy climbs and sharp bends with poor sightlines. Alsace Road follows the original colonial road to Nipissing Village.
With less regular maintenance along some parts of the roads, be prepared. You’ll witness the northern way of life with possible active logging operations, private hunt camps and stunning wilderness. Amenities are scarce, plan accordingly. Watch out for moose!
Old Nipissing Ghost Road – Middle Loop (64.5 km)
This is a shorter loop that allows riders to return along a different route on the way “home”. Go where the google car won’t go! The roads have variable surface conditions, from hard-packed gravel, broken pavement and loose gravel. Be prepared to be self-supporting as there are no amenities along this loop.
Old Nipissing Ghost Road – South Loop (79.8 km)
Sprucedale – Magnetawan
Departing from Sprucedale and heading North, you will follow Stisted Road, which is paved for 6km until the intersection of Richardson Road, where gravel returns – buckle up for some grindy hills. Stisted Road continues for 2km North, before turning West onto Royston Road for a lumpy and twisty ride toward Starrat Road. At Starrat Road, head North to Midlothian Road.
This section is well-maintained municipal backroads. Note that Midlothian Road can have increased traffic, relative to other roads on this route, as it is a feeder route from Burk’s Falls to the south of Ahmic Lake. Weekends can have increased cottage traffic.
A must-stop at the Cornball Store before the ride south on the Nipissing Road. See the description above (Old Nipissing Road – End-to-End) for road conditions on the Nipissing Road.
Spence – Seguin Falls – Sprucedale
After emerging from your gravel adventure on Nipissing Road, you will arrive at Highway 518. To the West is Orrville, the East the return to Sprucedale. There is an option to pick up the Park 2 Park Trail here and head East or West, but note the trail surface is soft and typically suited to Fat Bike.
The route, as marked here, follows Hwy 518, a favourite of local road cyclists and motorcyclists for its meandering corners and rolling terrain. There are many wetlands and wildlife spotting opportunities along this route. There is a boat launch and public swim option at the North End of Bear Lake Road, just off the 518.
Gravel Route Extension Option
Bear and Axe Lake Road- at approx. km 40, you will reach West Bear Lake Road, which can be taken south to Axe Lake Road and reconnect with Hwy 518 – adding about 20 km of remote gravel riding. The extension would miss the public swim spot described above, but it is only a few hundred meters from the West Bear Lake Road intersection.
This route is generally a very low-traffic option with very rideable and well-maintained gravel roads – with some hills for extra spice. Enjoy grinding your way around this route, and trust your gear weighs less than the colonial settlers who travelled these roads with all their possessions in search of new lives in Canada’s great wilderness.
The Old Nipissing Road is the quintessential ghost trail and perfect for a fascinating gravel ride as it was once home to many settlements of hopeful pioneers, and is now guarded by their abandoned log cabins, cemeteries, homesteads, and weathered barns.
The area was originally home to the Huron, Ojibway and Algonquin people. The vast area was shared as a communal hunting and fishing ground. Joined by language and culture, the indigenous tribes lived in familial groups for thousands of years before the area was first visited by European settlers.
After the signing of the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850, the Nipissing Colonial Road was built to give lumber companies access to the area’s vast tracts of timber-rich forest and to lure pioneers North with the prospect of free land.
For years to come, stagecoaches bumped along the road between Rosseau and the prospering Village of Nipissing. By the turn of the century, however, with the white pine forests exhausted and settlers disillusioned with the farming potential and harsh northern climate, the Old Nipissing Road fell into disrepair.
The final blow was in 1886 when the Northern Extensions Railway originally planned between Gravenhurst and Callander was re-routed away from the Nipissing Road. The condition of the old road today is a humbling reminder of how colonial mindsets failed where indigenous wisdom had persevered for eons.
More information on the history of the road is available in this locally published historical guidebook and website. The old road’s history is commemorated in plaques telling tales of the classic Canadian struggle for survival in a land that could be as cruel as it is beautiful.
Commanda General Store Museum
The Commanda General Store Museum was built in 1885 during the boom years of settlement to serve as a supply center for the pioneer lumbermen and farmers of the region. The building has been lovingly restored by local volunteers and acts as a hub in the community of Commanda.
Check their Facebook page to see what’s happening. Enjoy some snacks and drinks from the internet café, including milkshakes, ice cream, and baked goods. Purchase local artisan products at the gift shop and relax in the reading nook.
Magnetawan Historical Museum
With a riverside park and public beach, walking trails and museum, this is great spot to stop for a break and learn a little. The hand operated dam and locks are located on the Magnetawan River in the Village of Magnetawan.
Built by the Ontario Government in 1883, the first lock system with stone-filled timber cribwork and was subsequently replaced in 1911 with the concrete structure seen today. The lock raised or lowered steamships through the early twentieth century opening passage as far as Ahmic Harbour.
Old Orange Hall
At the intersection of Nipissing Road and Ahmic Lake Road, just South of the ghost town of Spence, is the old Orange Hall which opened on Sept. 24, 1872 and remains standing to this day. It is one of the few remaining buildings in Spence that served its early settlers.
Trans Canada Trail
Long faded from its 19th century bustling, glory, the Old Nipissing Road transformed into a playground for adventure-seekers longing for an escape to the wilderness. In the early 1990’s, a local group of trail enthusiasts, the Forgotten Trails Association teamed up with Discovery Routes to have the Old Nipissing Road designated as part of the Trans Canada Trail. It became one of the very first sections in Ontario to become part of what is now the world’s longest recreation trail.
The Forgotten Trails Association creates, maintains and promotes safe and ecologically sustainable trails of natural or historical significance in the South River area. The four-season backcountry trails are managed by volunteers for the purpose of non-motorized recreational trail activities. For a change of pace, stroll along any of these hidden gems: Moose Mountain, Tower Trail, and Old Muskoka Trail.
The Screaming Heads is an outdoor artscape like no other – massive concrete cast sculptures of two-headed dragons, warriors and giant heads, it is one surreal experience not to be missed. Located on the 310-acre private property of sculptor and retired art teacher Peter Camani, it is well worth the visit to Midlothian Road, near Burk’s Falls.
South Loop Public Beach – heading North from Sprucedale, there is a boat launch and public swimming option at the North end of Big Doe Lake. From Stisted Road, 2km after Richardson Road, turn right onto James Camp Road and then Gilmore Lane.
TOURS AND EVENTS
Missing Link Adventure Tours & Santosha Farms
Missing Link Adventure Tours (MLAT) just 6km North of Sprucedale along the Southern Loop is a Farm-stay retreat centre with packages and service tailored for cyclists. Guests at Missing Link Adventure Tours can enjoy a full meal plan with seasonal farm-stand produce from Santosha Farm and custom ride planning and itineraries. With in-depth knowledge of the Old Nipissing Road, a cycle tour with MLAT is an engaging experience.
Ghost Gravel Event
A chance sighting of an Old Nipissing Road historic plaque at the Commanda Museum by an avid Toronto cyclist and history buff began a three year journey of exploratory rides and research and, finally in 2021 the first Ghost Gravel event. Also held in 2022, with 150km and 100km route options, the Ghost Gravel is on hiatus for 2023.
GRAB & GO
Just off the Old Nipissing Road is Eagle Lake Narrows, a food and fuel stop on Eagle Lake with a public beach and washrooms. The locally famous, Cornball Store on Nipissing Road is a must-stop for ice cream, or homemade baked goods (gluten-free options available) with water filling and washrooms available during business hours.
Venturing on the North/ Algonquin Loop takes riders to Algonquin Park and the Broken Paddle Patio at Voyageur Quest. Magnetawan and South River both have quick stops for grab-and-go snacks as well.
On the South loop you can find the DragonFly Collective (Seasonal) – first opening in 2021, the DragonFly Collective provides a weekend schedule for sandwiches, coffee and drinks. Sprucedale has limited options for stopping, however, Kirk’s Gas typically has a decent supply of mid-ride food.
The Sprucedale Hotel – the legendary Sprucedale Hotel and Tavern is under new management and renovation. It is expected to be available as a food service stop in the future (stay tuned!)
For the bikepacking purist, there are a few camping options near the Old Nipissing Road: Mikisew Provincial Park; private, off-grid Cedar Grove Wilderness Campground; new to the Airbnb roster Ironwood Heritage Crafts; farm stay at Santosha Farms and the magical Stargazer’s Geodome, yurts, cabins and more at Deer Lake Wilderness Retreat.
Crown land flanks sections along the upper reaches of the Old Nipissing Road as well as the Eastern section of the North/Algonquin Loop. If Crown land camping is your plan, check the Crown Land Policy Atlas and be absolutely sure you are not on private property.
Otherwise, there is a grand selection of traditional accommodations of the roofed variety including motels, inns, resorts, cottages and B&Bs. Whether you are interested in staying in luxury, enjoying the quaintness of small-town living, or roughing it in the great outdoors, Almaguin Highlands has all options available.