I’m not sure how my husband and I “found” the Cataraqui Trail shortly after it officially opened in September 2000, but over the course of a few months, we travelled its 100 plus kilometre route that connects Strathcona, just east of Napanee, to Smiths Falls along an old railway line.
Watch for these signs marking the trail.
Each time out we’d walk or ski a section of the trail and mark our spot for the next time. There was a lot of back-tracking as we had to get back to our car, but we didn’t mind that too much as we’d inevitably see something on the way back that we’d missed the first time around.
We’ve been out many times since that first year and have joined or taken friends and family to discover this beautiful trail and the communities it passes through.
What we find especially interesting are the changes over the seasons—and there are a lot of them, from the first buds of spring to the snow-coverings of winter.
In 1997 the right-of-way was donated to the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority by CN Rail, and land acquired for the development of the trail in 1998. It has become one of the best year-round recreational facilities in our region yet it never seems to be crowded. It remains a hidden treasure, but one that more folks are discovering.
The trail is an important link in the Ontario network of snowmobile trails, and therefore snowmobiling is allowed. As pointed out in the regulations, “Except for trail maintenance and emergency vehicles, motor vehicles are not allowed on the Cataraqui Trail. This means that vehicles such as ATV’s and dirt bikes should not be on the trail.”
There is mutual respect between the snowmobilers and those of us on foot. We step aside for them, and they slow down for us. However, the trail is not monitored, so it’s “Use at your own risk.”
With recent donations from the Ontario Snowmobile Association (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) and the efforts of the Lennox and Addington Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club parts of the trail have a new surface of stone dust. Grooming and other maintenance has also been done with the help of the Rideau Ridge Snowmobile Club and the Athens and District Snowmobile Club. Visit their website at www.familysnowmobiling.ca
While cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular winter activities on the trail, this is truly a four-season facility. We’ve seen lots of folks out hiking (often with dogs), horse-back riding, skiing, bike-riding, bird-watching, and just generally enjoying themselves on the trail. Yet it is rarely crowded.
For the most part the trail is relatively flat but there are occasional steep grades. Sturdy footwear is always recommended. In the warmer months some parts of the trail are wide enough, and well-packed enough, for strollers and wheelchairs, so the whole family can get out and enjoy the trail.
Getting to the trail is easy as there are 48 main and secondary road access points. While much of the trail passes farm lands and other open spaces there is a lot of it that goes right through communities so it’s easy to stop for a snack or meal if you didn’t bring one.
As these photos show the trail is a great place for winter activities. When the snow’s gone, we’ll get back to enjoy hiking—and who knows? Maybe we’ll do the entire route again this year.
Trail marker: 100 km.
While this may be one of our region’s hidden treasures, it’s bound to be discovered as more people want to get active, and any time of the year, the Cataraqui Trail is a great place to do just that. See you out there!
By Christine Peets
Photos: © Jim and Christine Peets