FIRST IMPRESSIONS: SAULT STE. MARIE
Words: Tory Powers // Video: Geoff Gulevich // Photo: Tory Powers
Riders: Geoff Gulevich, Jan Roubal, Joel Wenham, Lucas Watson, Kyle Slater, Thomas Leindecker
With overwhelmingly popular riding destinations on the west coast of Canada, it certainly does leave you wondering about the rest of this massive country. When the opportunity came about of traveling to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, for mountain biking with Geoff Gulevich, I was definitely intrigued. “We aren’t going to the west coast?” I thought. However, I’ve spent my fair share of time in the midwest of the states and I can tell you that there are definitely some gems for cycling. A lot of people assume that you need massive elevation for unbeatable days on the bike, however, I’d say they just haven’t been to the right places.
Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced like Sue, not Salt) is a small town that’s nestled right between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, a must-see for the area. An old mill town, Sault Ste. Marie is quickly establishing itself as a destination for cyclists, especially mountain bikers.
Our short trip consisted of checking out two riding zones, Hiawatha Highlands/Kinsmen Park, Bellevue Valley, the local shuttle spot, plus one cold plunge at Bathtub Island in Lake Superior, and more than one world famous apple fritter from The Voyageur’s Lodge.
C'mon, look at the smile on this man's face.
First, we went to Hiawatha to get the proper warmup needed for Bellevue. Hiawatha is a 22 mile (35km) network with 40 different trails.
Perfect for a short travel bike or even e-bike, Hiawatha is whatever you want to make it. They’ve done an amazing job at building a diverse trail system, with everything from flow trails to technical descents, and everything in between.
You can definitely find the elevation here between the short, punchy ascents and traversing nature of the terrain. I could absolutely see riding here every day and finding some new loop to check out. Some of my favorite trails were definitely Farmer Lake, which is due for expansion soon, Happy Hour, which was a fast flow trail with some decent sized jumps, and Berm Baby Berm, a nice chill flow trail with-you guessed it, berms.
Views of Lake Huron await your arrival to the top point of Hiawatha, right before dropping into the Altar, a rooty, quick and technical descent that leads right into Happy Hour for a few pre-built trail-side hits like the one above.
Something that’s an added bonus of this area is that during the winter a lot of it is groomed for fat biking and skiing, so you can enjoy year-round shredding!
Up next, we had a few local builders show us their spot that has been getting a lot of attention as of late- Bellevue Valley. After our first day, we really had no idea what to expect. Hiawatha is full of relatively approachable trails for most riders that are heavily machine built, but this is where we really saw the more advanced riding come into play. The crew here has been hard at work hand building for over five years in this zone, one of the biggest descents in all of Ontario, upwards of 750ft (228m) that is fully shuttleable.
I’m not kidding when I saw Geoff look like a kid in a candy store checking out these trails. While being a small area, they had some really unique riding. We checked out Bee Sting and Hammerstone primarily, with a bit of time on Ron Burgundy and Jump Line. Bee Sting and Hammerstone were the most approachable trails by far, being a more cruising, mildly technical type of riding.
Hammerstone was probably my favorite section- it’s a trail utilizing the surprising massive rock slab on top of this hill. Purely natural, this zone was a lot of fun.
Up next we checked out Ron Burgundy as well, home of “House Rock,” an amazing house-sized boulder sitting all by itself. It would be rude not to build an on-off here, right?
Lastly, in Geoff’s POV video you can see them checking out Jump Line, a North Shore inspired trail with genuinely large doubles and terrifying skinnies. Definitely know what you’re getting into and check this one out before you ride it.
We had the pleasure of working alongside tourism director, Travis Anderson, who supplied some additional information on the area and its upcoming growth:
I honestly could not believe this level of mountain biking could be found in Ontario. Like a lot of us, my vacations tend to revolve around cycling and I can tell you Ontario was never even considered. With the introduction of Sault Ste. Marie, I love to be proven wrong on my take on where cycling “should” be good. I’ve been learning that so long as there is a strong community that’s invested in improving the cycling in the area, combined with today’s trail knowledge and technology, you can make some truly world class cycling in places like Sault Ste. Marie. It’s definitely worth a trip.