There’s something about hopping on a bike and ripping through a forest, bumping over roots and rocks. Even riding down your local street and going incredibly fast on some fresh, smooth pavement. A bike can be a conduit to new and exciting places, or it can be the fun and excitement of itself.
It’s a trait that separates the sport and the object from so many other activities and vehicles. For me, mountain biking is my absolute favourite or more appropriately trail riding as mountains are few and far between in this corner of Ontario. To be honest, a mountain really isn’t necessary as all you need are some significant up and downhill sections to make the experience fun and challenging.
Scorching hot temperatures have left us, leaving behind cooler air and more comfortable living. Our deciduous trees are teetering on basking in that last bit of sunshine or calling it quits until next spring. The colours are changing and so are our habits. We prep wood for the winter and close our pools. It seems they will be frozen solid in no time, used much better as a make-shift skating rink than for a refreshing dip. It seems so many people live in a two-season world; summer and winter, forgetting all about our two shoulder seasons. The latter of which can be one of the most enjoyable times of the year.
Roughly 30 minutes north of Belleville, or only 13 minutes south of Tweed, Vanderwater Conservation Area lies along the jagged eastern edge of the Moira River. Rolling along the river, the conservation area consists of 635 acres of wild forest and more importantly, over 15 KM’s of trails. The trails are multi-use and can harbour hikers, trail runners, dog walkers, horseback riders and most definitely trail riders. With moderate up and downhill sections, the trails twist and turn through the conservation area bringing you from a dark, predominantly Cedar forest to glorious mature mixed forests with Birch, Maple, Oak and Hickory trees. Dead leaves cover the forest trails, adding a crisp crunch to your trail ride.
The trails themselves are mostly open and wide, though a few quick single-track sections do find their place within Vanderwater. These sections add a touch of technicality to your ride and allow for some quick navigation between tall roots and muddy sections. With some low lying areas close to the river, some parts of these terrific trails seem to remain wet all year round, providing a chance to get dirty. I feel as though if you finish your trail ride just as clean as when you started, you’re doing something wrong and Vanderwater doesn’t let that happen. After riding for quite some time, I decided to take a break along the river for a quick snack.
Numerous picnic spots lie along the lazy river, though the rapids near the end of the paved road are the most entertaining pit stop. The mighty Moira river makes its way down a series of limestone ledges, creating what seems like a series of steps along the river. Small waterfalls disperse along the width of the river and mist hangs low over the Moira. It’s not uncommon to find a Great Blue Heron stalking its next meal along the limestone, or a Northern Watersnake basking on an exposed ledge. Blue Jays cross the river, calling noisily while Ospreys survey the river from a dead tree on the eastern shore.
The river is loud, full of life and probably the best spot to have a picnic in Hastings County.
The Moira River leaves the limestone obstacle course and continues its journey through the conservation area on its way to the Bay of Quinte. Slowly creeping past Vanderwater, the shores are fortified by whimsical Eastern Hemlocks and towering tall Oaks. I hop back on my bike and leave the river to dip into the forest once more. Squirrels rustle through the forest floor as I zoom past.
Through a knotty, cedar forest I feel my legs burning and my breath escaping me. Up a short climb and my thighs are screaming at me to quit, I tell them to be quiet, and I crest the hill and find a glorious, open downhill section through a bright deciduous forest. Thirty seconds of relief is all my legs need as I coast down the leaf-covered trail. Picking up speed, I round a corner and find myself on a familiar trail through a pine plantation. Not long after and I’m back at the truck guzzling down as much H2O as I can and trying to gain back some of my breath that I lost somewhere on the trail. The ride was awesome and what’s better is that it’s 1:00 in the afternoon and it’s only 18 degrees. Fall riding at its absolute best.
After taking some photos, I left the conservation area with a clear mind and a renewed love for Hastings County. As most of us work our 9 to 5’s, Monday to Friday, it feels like we often fall complacent in our lives. We forget that we live in one of the most exciting places in Canada, with adventure and incredibly rugged beauty just oﬀ the beaten path. A quick run, roam, or ride through a local green-space can wake us up, reminding us how much fun life can be and how amazing Hastings County really is. A staple in our area is the Moira River, and it simply doesn’t look any better than within Vanderwater Conservation Area. A beautiful place, protected and spared as a place to roam for anyone and everyone.