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Learn more about the Amazing Places you can find on this trail
This is one of the most scenic rides in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, a circle route through rolling rural countryside, granite ridges, stream and marsh crossings and wonderful, historic villages. While you could start the loop at any of the villages, let’s begin at Athens.
The town of Athens, with its annual agricultural heritage Steam Fair in the 3rd weekend of July, is known for its building-side art murals and heritage buildings. Head south on Cty. Rd. 5 for a short, steep downhill leaving town. The route is flat for the first few kilometres, crossing farmland of the St. Lawrence Lowlands, until approaching the first granite ridge of the Frontenac Arch, over which Cty. Rd.5 climbs and curves. There are several long, rolling hills all the way to Cty. Rd. 2, and turn right to Mallorytown.
At the east edge of Mallorytown is the Coach House Museum, a window into village history and a display including the Mallorytown Glass Works, Canada’s first glass-making site. There is a washroom nearby. The grocery store in the village has refreshments.
Turn off Cty. Rd. 2 onto Cty. Rd. 4 at the Freshmart grocery, through the village to travel generally west from Mallorytown. The route traverses dairy farming land that's relatively flat until a 5% grade up and over Quabbin Hill.
There are interesting rock formations at the rock cut on the north side of the road on Quabbin Hill. At the top is Potsdam sandstone, formed during the Paleozoic era, ca. 500 million years age, with traces of minute fossils. There is a “time sandwich” here, with the sandstone sitting on top of the Precambrian granite dating back 1.5 billion years – with some 1 million years of geological history missing. The granite is the basement rock of what was one of the planet’s major mountain ranges, erased by weathering and glaciers, and where the sandstone is from seabed sediments accumulated as the granite lay in primitive ocean depths.
At the intersection with Cty. Rd.3 or Outlet Rd., turn north and before long, come to the hamlet of Outlet – named for the place where Charleston Lake empties into Wiltse Creek, which runs to the Gananoque system. There's a delightful camp store, Twist’s, across the bridge on the west side where you can stop for ice cream and refreshments. On the east before the bridge is the Wiltse Creek artist studio featuring local artists.
A few more kilometres past Outlet, you may want to detour from the route to turn down Woodside Rd. to Charleston Lake Provincial Park, where there is an interpretive centre to introduce you to the park’s lake setting, and perhaps a swim at the sand beach, a trails experience, and views of this jewel of a lake.
Continuing north on Cty. Rd. 3, the road winds through ridges and wetland-filled valleys, and along the edge of Killenbeck Lake on the way to Lyndhurst. Cty. Rd. 3 ends at Cty. Rd. 33 – turn right, to Lyndhurst.
There are a few places to stop in Lyndhurst for food/drink, making Lyndhurst a good alternative start/end trailhead. Lyndhurst was originally Furnace Falls, named because it was the site of the first iron foundry in Upper Canada. The falls here was one of the highest in the region, and powered the foundry bellows, as well as a lumber and grist mill. Archeological work is going on to discover more of the foundry’s story, where iron was made into cannons and cannon balls for the first Fort Henry. The historic Lyndhurst Bridge, built in 1856-57 of local stone, is the oldest stone bridge in Ontario. The stone is predominantly Potsdam sandstone with distinctive traces of fossils, yet there's a good peppering of split granite and gneiss fieldstones as well, reflecting the surrounding geology.
After exploring the village and its interesting shops, from Lyndhurst, follow Cty. Rd.33 northeast to Lower Oak Leaf Rd, turning right and following it's rollicking, rolling descents through stands of oak, birch and maple. A quick side trip, turning right where the Lower Oak Leaf Rd. intersects township road 40, will take you to Charleston village on the north shore of Charleston Lake. The final stretch north on township road 40 brings you back to Athens, traversing gently rolling farmland.
This route assumes a start/end in Athens, where there is parking, washrooms, and food/water. It could as well start from Lyndhurst or Mallorytown.
Rolling hills, grades up to 5% or 6% for short distances. Southern portion relatively flat.
The entire route is paved and suitable for hybrid or road bike.
Notes and Cautions
County Roads 5, 3 and 33 have no paved shoulders and can be busy on weekends. In particular, Cty. Rd. 3 (Outlet Rd), carries vacation traffic from Hwy 401 to cottages and Charleston Lake Provincial Park. Exercise caution, being aware of traffic from behind, and passing vehicles especially on hills and curves.
This route circumnavigates Charleston Lake, providing an exploration of the Arch's unique geology and heritage.