Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stony Swamp trails, Ottawa

Many mountain bikers in the Ottawa area are surprised to learn that the Stony Swamp in Bells Corners offers some great trail riding. I only really discovered the area myself a couple of years ago, despite driving by it almost daily. Sure, you can see some trailheads from the road--but from that perspective it really doesn't look inspiring. Why bother bringing out the bike when the Kanata Lakes technical trail system is only a few minutes away?

It wasn't until I got really desperate for some new trail options that didn't guarantee bloodied shins and bent derailleur hangers that I finally caved and rode into the swamp. Wow! It's amazing back there! Turns out there's a few thousand acres riddled with trails through red pine forest, limestone outcrops, and--yes--swamp. The riding is mostly flat, but fast and flowy in many places. There are some moderate technical sections for fun, and best of all the mud and bugs are far less an issue than at Kanata Lakes. In fact, Stony Swamp tends to dry out really fast in the spring (except for a few stubborn spots) and the mud, perhaps because it's mainly on limestone instead of granite, isn't the sucking sticky clay stuff that can make riding and bike maintenance a chore elsewhere in the Ottawa area.

Stony is a great area for long training rides where you want to stay in your Zone 1 or Zone 2 exertion level for 2-3 hours. Technical difficulty is mainly a 1 on a 5-point scale, and the technical sections are about a 2. It's perfect for introducing someone to trailriding, or if you have a hardtail and just want to go fast.

I've found that one of the best places to start is the small NCC parking lot on Timm Road. There always seems to be a few cars parked here with middle-aged men sitting by themselves. I don't know if it's a pick-up spot or something, but I'm less concerned about getting my car broken into while they're hanging around. By contrast, the large lot across from Hazeldean mall seems to get a lot of break-ins. There are many other places to start from, but I like the drama and solitude of the Timm start.

The attached riding route looks a little wacky because I've tried to minimize retracing the same section in the same direction. Despite all the trail options getting lost is hard. A good baseline route through the area is the Rideau Trail, indicated by red arrow trail markers. Other than that, just explore. It'll probably take you a few long sessions to really find everything.

For an official trail map and other info about the Swamp, here's the NCC page.

Update (2014): Stoney Swamp fell victim to an extensive bush fire several years ago, To reach the fire, crews cut a number of roads into the heart of some of the best mountain biking trails in the swamp. The remaining trails are still pretty good--especially for beginners. But the hardest stuff is gone. 

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