The Cambridge to Paris Rail-Trail provides a great and easy day trip along the Grand River with a stop in Paris for refreshments. Some rail-trails can be a little boring so expect to be surprised with this very scenic river route.
We arrived at the car parking lot on the south end of Cambridge which is located along with the canoe launch site and found it bustling. Numerous canoeists and kayakers were heading out and we would continue to see them throughout the day.
At the other end of the parking lot was the Kilometer 77 sign and map for the Cambridge to Paris Rail-Trail with a small number of cyclists beginning their ride. The first part of the rail trail is flat as expected and the hard packed surface posed no issues for my road bike. To your left for the first 5 km is Highway 24 with a wall of trees allowing for only an occasional glimpse of the traffic. On your right the Grand River is also out of sight at this point due to the forest.
The Cambridge to Paris Rail-Trail first opened in 1994 and it follows the route of the Lake Erie and Northern Railway, with historic signs along the route explaining the history.
After 5 km Highway 24 curves to the east and you head into the solitude of a Carolinian hardwood forest. Along the side of the trail there are lots of wild flowers providing a sharp contrast to the forest and adding a lot of colour. You will be on a slight incline for a while, actually so gentle my cycling companion didn’t even notice until I pointed it out.
There are signs every kilometer marking the distance and after 9 km you arrive at the Glen Morris canoe launch site. Today this site of a former rail station has a large parking lot, washrooms and benches. Some people hike this trail as it is part of the Trans Canada Trail, so there were benches spaced all along the route. After Glen Morris expect to see the river every so often.
Shortly after the 12 km marker you reach the highest point along the route at Spottiswood Bluffs with some benches on the right affording excellent views of those paddling the Grand River. What I like is that along this section all you see is the river and forested banks as there are no homes or sounds of road traffic, very peaceful.
As you continue to cycle along you soon come to a set of stairs to the right of the trail. Head up these stairs and out on to a stone column, all that remains of a former CNR bridge of the past. Today only the columns and fast flowing Grand River remain from this outlook point.
However, on this day ride we turned right on the paved East River Road and glided down a slight hill into Paris. First there is the canoe landing as they must portage around Penman’s Dam.
But we followed the curve of the road to the left and turned right on William Street at the intersection. There are public washrooms in the Syl Apps Community Centre on the left.
Cross the Grand River and turn left down the main street of Paris. We stopped at the Brown Dog Eatery and Frittery as it offers balconies overlooking the river where we could view the canoeists, groups on rafts and a heron standing on a rock. I ordered an apple fritter for $1.25 which took forever to arrive. However this specialty of the house was worth the wait, with fresh sliced apples and a light spiced crust and still warm from the oven.
We returned to Paris the same way so the total distance was a reasonable 44 km. Click on the link to check out other Ontario cycling routes.