The Vive le Nord cycling route celebrates the region’s Francophone history and culture with a smooth road ride alongside the West arm of Lake Nipissing following parts of the Voyageur Cycling Route. Riding along quiet country roads, surrounded by corn fields, horses and sunflowers, and through rugged Northern forests with the water never far from view, it is a route to find solitude and recharge.
Type: Road Ride (with some short, hard-packed, gravel sections)
Distance: 178 km loop
- Minnehaha Bay Marina, 300 King Street, Sturgeon Falls
- Municipality of French River Municipal Office, 44 St Christophe St, Noëlville
- Behind Bars Bikes and Boards offers sales and service but no storefront at this time. See their FB to contact @behindbars2020
- Outdoor Bike Fix Stations in Sturgeon Falls, Noëlville and Lavigne (check google map for locations)
- Use extreme caution when crossing Highway 17 at Cache Bay and Warren.
- Some sections are remote – be bear aware.
- Cell service may be limited in some areas.
- Many rural amenities have hours that vary. Call ahead; phone numbers on Google Maps.
Sturgeon Falls to Lavigne
Minnehaha Bay in Sturgeon Falls is a great staging area for the ride, made even better by a fuel-up at Twiggs Café. Keep your eye out for the colourful art murals around the downtown that embody the community’s Joie de Vivre theme. As evidence of the area’s Francophone roots, many of the roadside signs are in both French and English.
The ride through the small community of Cache Bay follows relatively flat municipal roads full of thriving farmsteads lush with corn, canola and wheat fields. Many of the barns are adorned with the symbol of a Quilt—part of the West Nipissing Barn Quilt Trail.
Don’t be dissuaded by the ride on Highway 64 – with wide shoulders and few cars on this cycling route, this secondary highway is usually quiet and is popular with local road cyclists. Highway 64 is designated as part of the Voyageur Cycling Route and meanders alongside the West arm of Lake Nipissing. Around some elegant, swoopy bends in the road appears the bustling little hamlet of Lavigne. Stop for lunch at the iconic Lavigne Tavern, pick up some local honey or dip your feet in the fresh soothing waters of Lake Nipissing.
Lavigne to Noëlville
Leaving behind the agricultural lands, the cycling route transforms into the rugged wilds of Northern Ontario. The road traverses beautiful bridges with expansive views of the lake, deciduous forests and vast wetlands, hinting at a healthy outdoor lifestyle. Mashkinonje Provincial Park south of Lavigne is a gorgeous non-operating park, with 30km of hiking trails. If you’ve got the time, a short hike along the Loudon Peatland Trail on the East side of the highway is well worth the break. Alternatively, a stop at the rest area on Hwy 64 just South of the park is another quintessential Northern stop.
From a cycling perspective, the elevation along this part of the cycling route isn’t steep, but there are many false flats—which means, while it doesn’t look like it’s getting steeper, it is! Deceiving! Get a strong tailwind, and you can cycle the first 75 km stretch from Sturgeon Falls to Noëlville in a morning. Many of the farms and homes use wood stoves so expect fresh earthy wafts of wood smoke on an autumn ride.
Noëlville to Warren
Noëlville offers all the charm and comforts of a small, Northern town with chip stands, roadside cafés and even a share shed to explore. From Noëlville the ride North on Hwy 535 becomes a little more challenging with long, sweeping hills. Riders can choose to take the hard-packed, less-travelled cottage roads north of West Arm or continue on Hwy 535 to St. Charles.
To avoid travelling on Hwy 17 with its truck traffic and high speeds, an alternative, gravel road connection is identified on the map. Use caution on these roads as cyclists may not be expected and roads are not maintained with cyclists in mind. Heading to the Hwy 17 crossing at Warren, be aware it is an uncontrolled intersection and cross with caution. Warren offers another chance to fuel up at the Country Style or call ahead to CJ’s Pies to be sure they are open.
Warren to Sturgeon Falls
Warren to River Valley and Field along Hwy 539 is a less-travelled section of the cycling route. The road is rough in parts and may have jagged edges with no shoulders so bring a spare tire or patch kit and be bear aware along this stretch! This area was once a thriving lumber camp with lumbermen mostly from Quebec but has now transformed into a community with a lively music scene hosting the River & Sky Music/Camping Festival along the shores of the Sturgeon and Temagami rivers.
The ride back to Sturgeon Falls along the Sturgeon River is beautiful giving time to contemplate one last major decision for post-ride caloric intake; will it be poutine at The Riv or Larry’s?
With almost 70% of the community fluent in both English and French, the communities of West Nipissing and French River are the most bilingual communities in Ontario. Many businesses proudly display the Franco-Ontarian flag as a visual reminder of the community’s Francophone roots. The green and white flag is recognized by its Fleur de Lys symbolizing the French-speaking community and white trillium representing Ontario.
A small scale organic produce farm. Stop for a rest, fill your water bottle and meet Isabelle and Ryan.
A small scale ecological and regenerative family farm. Stop for a rest and see if farmstead is open with goodies.
French River Cultural Industries hosts an art gallery and gift shop promoting and celebrating the arts and cultures of the First Nations, Francophone, Anglophone, and Métis populations of the area.
West Nipissing Mural and Sign Tour
Learn about the history of West Nipissing through murals and unique community portraits using the Balado Découverte app that gives a description of each mural and community sign with conceptual drawings and artist’s commentary.
Private campground and home to the River & Sky Music Festival. The Fisher Family welcomes visitors to their small piece of paradise on the shores of the Sturgeon River. Hiking trails, washrooms and water filling available.
West Nipissing Barn Quilt Trail
Watch for the colourful, folk art quilt blocks that adorn barns across West Nipissing’s rural landscape. The idea of the trail started when West Nipissing hosted the 2019 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo and now over 20 barn quilts tell unique local stories of farming in northern Ontario, century old barns and country living. With many along the cycling route, see how many you can spot as you ride.
Mashkinonje (pronounced mas-kin-onj) is native for muskellunge, one of the largest fish inhabiting the surrounding waters of Lake Nipissing. This non-operating provincial park stretches over 2,000 hectares from the West Bay to the West Arm of Lake Nipissing. Loudon Peatland Trail on the east side of Hwy 64 is a serene rest stop for the ride that is an easy hike to the boardwalks crossing the expansive wetland.
GRAB AND GO - Fuel for the Ride
A Northern gem that features a one-stop shop of fresh market fare, convenience store offerings and local arts and crafts, in the village of Field.
In the community of Lavigne, this roadside General Store is a convenient stop to pick up a quick snack or fill up your water bottle.
In Noëlville, get strong coffee, baked goods and homemade soup. What more can you ask?!
Known as the “Little Dutch” Bakery in Warren, tons of sweet and savoury pastries and delicious treats are available made fresh daily by this European trained chef. Call ahead (705) 967-3663.
SIP AND SAVOUR - At Bicycle-Friendly Businesses
Iconic eatery and entertainment venue in Lavigne. A must stop to rest, refuel, and discover local Northern life.
Located at the Minnehaha Bay Marina in Sturgeon Falls, this locally-owned Northern franchise is a socially responsible business serving freshly roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee and tons of delicious (and some healthy) treats. Caffeinate your ride!
Canada’s coldest climate winery and the only certified organic fruit and vegetable processing facility in Ontario. Winery tours available and on-site boutique to take home a taste of the North.
Sturgeon Falls Famous Chip Stands
No trip to the area is complete without a stop at one of Sturgeon Falls’ famous chip stands. Try The Riv or Monique’s.
A range of uniquely northern accommodations from quiet campsites to lodges and simple B&Bs as well as a host of familiar hotels.