Pick Axe Loop - Ontario's Ride The Highland's Dirty Proposition

By: Martin Lortz

Ask an Ontario motorcycling enthusiast what their go-to Ontario riding destination is, and you will find "Ride The Highlands" is often at the top of the list. The area is renowned for its abundance of twisty roads, stunning landscapes, welcoming communities, good food, comfortable accommodations, and everything you need for a memorable ride for a day or more.

At the end of the 2022 season, the good folks at Ride the Highland proved that good things come to those who wait and added the Pick Axe Loop to their collection.

What's so special about the Pick Axle Loop? Dirt and lots of it. Mainly comprised of gravel roads, forest access paths, and some ATV trail sections, the new 350-kilometre loop meanders off the beaten path through Ontario Highlands and the Ottawa Valley and has the Ontario adventure bike community jumping with joy.


With the riding season ending and the possibility of the temperatures dropping below freezing, we packed up our bikes and headed out to get our fill of Highland dirt.

While the Pick Axe loop is 350 kilometres long and can be done in a day, for us coming from Toronto, we are looking at a three-day trip covering approximately 1000 kilometres. With many access points along its length, coming from Ottawa, Quebec, the border crossing to the south or the GTA, a bit of saddle time will get you to a starting point closest to you.

Upon reaching the southwest corner of the loop, we take a left onto Glenfield Rd. The pavement quickly turns to an unpaved, rocky road, letting the fun begin.

Low fuel lights glowing announce the need for a short detour to top up the tanks before resuming the fun along a long stretch of gravel and dirt, following parts of the Madawaska River on the way to Highway 60.


Night number one is spent at Ash Grove Inn just south of Barrys Bay; comfortable rooms and my 'end of day on the bike' favourite, an on-site restaurant, means we don't have to go far to feed the body.

On day two, we linger over breakfast to allow the sun to melt the layer of ice off the bikes before resuming the adventure. Morning coffee needs are met at Madawaska Coffee in Berry's Bay.


A fun stretch of Paugh Lake Road provides a chance to warm up on the bike before the fun begins. A small loop at the northwestern tip of the Pick Axe loop presents the most challenging section of the trip, the White Mountain Chute Trail. Add "mountain" to a trail's name in Ontario, and difficulty is instantly implied. Ok, maybe "mountain" is a bit of an overstatement, but a long stretch of uphill terrain covered in rocks will test your skill level and your choice of bike size. This section is a loop and returns to its start, but it can easily be avoided if necessary.

The rest of the morning consists of gravel roads through the local farm country, eventually popping out in Wilno for an impressively large and equally delicious lunch at the famous Wilno Tavern.


We spent the afternoon wandering through the Ottawa Valley along gravel and unmaintained roads; some made soft and challenging by recent grading. We stop in Killaloe to fill the gas tanks and sample what Killaloe is famous for; it is the home of the sweet and tasty treat, the beavertail.

We arrived in Calabogie feeling famished. After satisfying our hunger at the Redneck Bistro, we headed across the road to the Calabogie Brewing Co. to grab some post-ride refreshments. We settled in and cheered to a good day at our day two home for the night, the very cool Somewhere Inn Calabogie.


On day three, breakfast is first at Oh-el-la Cafe, which is highly recommended and deservingly so. We gas up the bikes at the Bogie General Store and roll into the day along a combination of Ride The Highland's best-paved twisties and offshoots of equally fun gravel. As we finish the Pick Axe Loop, we are met with an incredible stretch of forest access road that leaves us eager to return.


Yes, good things come to those who wait, and this Ride The Highlands Pick Axe Loop was definitely worth waiting for. The riding season can't arrive soon enough. Dirt in the Highlands: if you haven't yet, you definitely should.

The Pick Axe Loop is now found on the famous Ride The Highlands map.

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