Biking the Niagara Heritage Trail and Wineries

Last summer we spent a week exploring the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is the last post of the 6-part series of posts about that trip and the fun times we had exploring the land up north!

If you’re not keen on spending more time at the Falls (as magnificent as they are) or doing all the more touristy things, Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) offers quite a bit of other activities for both adults and family. I wish I’d planned on time for kayaking, as that’s an option for the lower, more calm part of Niagara River, as it flows into Lake Ontario. And of course, kayaking on Lake Ontario is also a good possibility.

There is about 33 miles of biking trails on the Niagara River Recreation Trail. Part of other trail systems, including the Trans Canada Trail, Waterfront Trail, and the Greater Niagara Circle Route, the Niagara River Recreational Trail runs along the Niagara River and extends from Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, through Chippawa, to Historic Fort Erie. This mixed-use path passes through many Niagara Parks attractions, historic sites and natural areas, and can be quite congested in the more touristy areas.

Constructed in 1986, the Niagara River Recreation Trail is a paved path for hikers and cyclists. It is divided into four scenic sections, each with its own history and high adventure set amidst lovely countryside. It takes one to two hours to pedal leisurely each of these sections: NotL to Queenston; Queenston to the Whirlpool Aero Car; Chippawa to Black Creek; Black Creek to Fort Erie. We only biked the NotL to Queenston section.

We chose to rent bikes for the day from Zoom Bikes. A paved path follows the river all the way to the Falls. With my young son along, we decided to only bike over to Queenston and back — still a pleasant ride along the river, partially shaded. We passed a number of orchards and wineries and my friend and I made a mental note to head back to the wineries, on our bikes, after we brought my son back to the cottage for lunch.

But meanwhile we were biking past some gorgeous homes — some older, some not, but all beautifully landscaped. There were also some notable historic homes, like Willowbank, pictured above, and the McFarland House. Willowbank was the home of Alexander Hamilton, the fourth sheriff of the Niagara district. He built Willowbank in 1833 (it was completed in 1835) overlooking the village of Queenston.

In NotL proper, the scenic river trail branches off into the Canada Heritage Trail, which runs through the town. The scenic river trail dead-ends at, logically enough, the mouth of the Niagara River.

That afternoon, although we chose only to go to a couple of wineries, we realized that bike enthusiasts can spend several days touring the wineries by bike — the terrain is for the most part flat and conducive to pleasant riding through the orchards and vineyards. The wineries are well marked and there several bike maps available giving the locations of the wineries. In addition, several outfits in town provide tours of the wineries — either via vehicle or via bike. But you don’t need a bike tour — just head down the Scenic River Trail and you’ll pass by half a dozen wineries!

These wineries accommodate bicyclists by either holding your purchases for later pickup or they will deliver (if you purchase a certain amount). The commercial bike tours often include ferrying your purchases from the wineries back to either your hotel or a central location, such as the tour’s headquarters.

If you don’t want to schlep your own bike all that way, no worries — there’re are several bike rental outfits in NotL that are quite reasonable.

Niagara-on-the-Lake and the surrounding region has more wineries and vineyards than anywhere I’ve been before. In fact, that region, with the most area under vine and a series of recognized sub-appellations, is Canada’s largest wine growing region and is blessed by a unique micro-climate facilitated by the interaction of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario.

I was especially taken by the prevalent Gewürztramer and GerwurztraminerRiesling wines that were there. Gerwurz, as it’s sometimes referred to, is, an aromatic wine grape variety, used in white wines, and performs best in cooler climates.

The area is also known for its ice wines. A true Icewine can only be made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine and picked when the thermometer dips to -8° C or lower. The solidly frozen grapes are handpicked and pressed immediately to gently release a single drop of thick, rich, yellow-gold liquid, highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity. The yield is small, but the result is a sumptuous and perfectly sweet wine.

Tour the largest sub-appellation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this flat and fertile plain is optimal for growing grapes.
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Visit the vineyards that sweep down to the shores of Lake Ontario to produce full-bodied and flavourful wines.
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Explore without covering a lot of distance as the wineries along the picturesque Niagara Parkway are quite close together.
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Tip #1: Cyclists are welcome at all Niagara Parks attractions, restaurants, and shops. All facilities are equipped with bicycle racks to secure your bike while you enjoy the sights/sites.

Tip #2: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I’d love to hear what you’re doing! Email if you’re interested in being a guest-blogger!