Logging High Mileage on the Highland’s Loop
Wide open roads and a couple capable BMWs made for less lounging and more miles
Story by Dustin A. Woods
Dustin Woods is a professional writer and avid traveller who has been a lifelong motorcycle fanatic. Imagine his surprise and delight upon discovering that these passions could all be combined through his pursuit of motorcycle travel writing.
I’m sure that most motorcyclists would agree that in a perfect world we’d all have a different mount for every day of the week, at least. In reality the majority of riders have to choose a bike that best suits the kind of riding we do most often. In a rare and fortunate set of circumstances, my buddy Julian and myself had a couple of BMW K1600GTLs at our disposal for the week care of BMW Canada, so we chose our excursion based on the bikes rather than the other way around.
Photo Credit: Dustin Woods
The K1600GTL was designed to voraciously gobble up tarmac with ease so we decided to explore areas that would let us stretch their legs and really put them to the test. We settled on a destination-worthy route that has become known as the ‘Highlands Loop,’ a circuit that provides a full scope of Ontario’s Highlands, an area that boasts over 23,840 square kilometres of unspoiled awesomeness to explore.
Conveniently intersected ever so occasionally by small towns where you’ll find food, fuel and accommodation, as well as scenic lookouts and the odd roadside attraction, the 1,000 kilometre route was custom crafted for motorcyclists by motorcyclists. The powers that be recommend taking three nights to complete the route. We decided to tackle it in two because we enjoy a challenge and the big Ks allow for far more miles to be ridden in a day in comfort. We basically chose our destinations to eat and sleep then planned our rides based on the routes with the most curves.
The Highlands Loop
After escaping the confines of the city, traffic and civilization dispersed. Getting out of the Toronto city centre proved to be the most challenging part of the trip but streetlights were gradually replaced with scenery and the roads began to curve as we cruised through the countryside. Our first stop was the Minden River Cone to grab an ice cream, check messages and to review the map. You won’t be able to miss the giant cone as you pass through Minden on Bobcaygeon Rd.
Further up the road is the Dorset Lookout Tower, another popular local attraction. The view is impressive any time of year, but particularly spectacular come autumn when the leaves change colour to vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Silky smooth, predominantly traffic-free roads meander and snake through wide expanses of scenic landscapes. From there we headed east on Highway 60 towards the Spectacle Lake Lodge where we would spend the first night. The lovely owner Sharon Mahussier does her best to source local ingredients for the kitchen. “I like to help support local farmers but the added benefit is that we are also able to get the freshest milk, meat and produce because it came from our neighbour.” Supporting local businesses as well, her restaurant also offers Muskoka craft beer and coffee from a local aficionado who delivers the beans the same day he roasts them. You can’t get much fresher.
View from Dorset Lookout Tower
Arriving after dark, it wasn’t until we awoke the next morning after a restful slumber that we recognized the true beauty of its surroundings. Not surprisingly located on Spectacle Lake, the Lodge has long been a favourite spot for snowmobilers to stop in the winter, but has more recently been discovered by motorcyclists. Sticking to our plan of only spending one night there, next time I’ll be sure to take more time to kick back, relax and enjoy.
Spending a couple days of riding on diverse roads at different speeds in varying weather and temperature conditions, the engineering of the K1600 never ceased to amaze us. Weighing in at 321 kg (708 lbs), its proportions never felt bloated since the weight is distributed low and evenly. The 160hp DOHC 24 valve liquid cooled 1,649cc powerplant is the lightest and most compact in-line six cylinder motorcycle engine in mass production and 70 percent of the torque is available at 1,500 rpm. Colour matched saddlebags and cavernous top case are all quickly removable, lockable and weatherproof. All of the above came in handy over the course of our ride. The hand grip and seat heaters were also used and much appreciated as temperatures dipped close to zero in the evening this early in the season. Featuring various drive modes, satellite radio, traction control and ABS, our luxurious mounts seemed to boast every amenity under the sun – the perfect travel companions.
Photo Credit: Dustin Woods
Travelling between quaint little townships, each one has its own unique flavour, identity and a surprising amount of cultural diversity retained from the settlement days. Who would have expected to see a scaled-down replica of the Avro Arrow in Barry’s Bay as part of the monument dedicated to local son Avro test pilot Janusz Zurakowski or enjoy authentic Polish cuisine at the Wilno Tavern just outside of town.
Deviating off the Highlands loop somewhat to visit the Bonnechere Caves at the eastern part of the region in Eganville, we took part of the Highway 60 through Algonquin Park which is listed as one of the Top 10 Roads in an area packed to the brim with great routes. Our tour guide owner Chris Hinsburger (aka Caveman Chris) enthusiastically explained the unique geographic formations and recounted tales of local folklore as he lead visitors through the meandering network of caves. Chris loves motorcyclists and even has a designated parking area for them.
Speaking with locals to discover their favourite places to eat, stay and visit is usually part of the fun when on a road trip and the Highlands offered no shortage of friendly folks willing to offer their two cents.
Local riders directed us to Old Barry’s Bay Road, a route featuring 78 turns in 11 kilometres. Elephant Lake Road is another ‘Top 10’ ride route if you happen to be anywhere near the area. We followed Loop Rd to Wilberforce and turned right on County Rd 4 (Essonville Line) and made a left on Highway 118 towards Haliburton to check in to the Pinestone Resort where we spent the second evening and enjoyed dinner in their excellent restaurant.
After taking in a scenic loop through the Haliburton region the next morning, we pointed the bikes south down Glamorgan Road to Gooderham and then continued south on legendary 507 to Flynn’s Corner’s where the gas station has become a popular staging area for riders coming and going from the renowned stretch of road which some refer to as The Tail of the Dragon North. Admittedly a bit of an exaggeration, the road does offer a long stretch of entertaining twists and turns ideally suited to two wheels.
A mere half-hour drive from downtown Ottawa or three hours from Toronto, a precious few visitors come to The Highlands region. The wide stretches of beautiful roads allowed us to log over 1,000 kms in a weekend without breaking a sweat.
For more information, visit: www.ridethehighlands.ca