Trail Description

The trail environment:

General Landscape

From Smiths Falls (km 0) to Chaffey’s Lock (km 42) the trail passes through flat farmland and woods overlying limestone and sandstone. From Chaffey’s Lock (km 42) to Eel Bay (km 68.5) on Sydenham Lake, the trail traverses a neck of the Canadian Shield known as the Frontenac Axis. This links the vast Shield country to the north with its smaller but most impressive southern extremity, the Adirondack region of upper New York State. The Shield country is identified closely with its dominant geological characteristics of rugged, hilly forests, plentiful lakes and swamps and numerous outcrops of attractive pink granite and grey gneiss. From Eel Bay (km 68.5) to Strathcona (km 103) the trail crosses mainly flat agricultural land known as the Napanee Plain.

Wildlife Habitat

When crossing the agricultural landscape, the trail right-of-way is generally bordered on both sides by a narrow, natural hedgerow of sun-tolerant native trees, shrubs and plants. This provides ideal habitat for a wide variety of insects, birds and small mammals. In swampy areas, the right-of-way offers a dry respite to the surrounding marshes much appreciated by egg-laying turtles who will take advantage of the gravelly banks along the edge of the trail.

In forested areas, the trail provides sunlit edges to the otherwise shaded forest floor. These edges permit the growth of sun-tolerant vegetation such as wild apple trees, berry bushes and grass, thereby enhancing the forage possibilities for numerous animal species. The observant trail user will encounter: a variety of birds including herons, ospreys and turkeys; several varieties of turtle including the snapping turtle; several species of snake including the endangered black rat snake; and numerous mammals such as mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, otters, foxes, coyotes, and deer.

Human Habitation

There are 48 public road crossings over the 104 kilometer length of the trail. Numerous houses and cottages are built beside or visible from the trail. The communities that the trail passes through or close to are listed below:

Community Name Restaurant(s) Accommodation Shop(s)
Smiths Falls (km 0) Yes Yes Yes
Portland (km 25) Yes Yes Yes
Forfar (km 30) No No Yes
Chaffey’s Lock (km 42) Yes Yes Yes
Perth Road Village (km 60.7) No No Yes
Sydenham (km 71.7) Yes No Yes
Harrowsmith (km 78.2) Yes No Yes
Yarker (km 88.6) Yes No Yes
Camden East (km 95) No No Yes
Newburgh (km 98.7) No No Yes
Napanee – 7 km beyond Newburgh Yes Yes Yes

Further information can be found on some of the websites listed on this website’s links page

Trail Conditions

Trail Surface

The Cataraqui Trail follows the former Canadian National Railway line from Smiths Falls to Strathcona near Napanee. Therefore, the trail has no steep grades of over 5%. The only exceptions to this are at Opinicon Road (km 59.1) and Colebrook Road (km 87.8) where the railway overpasses were removed and at km 69 where the trail was detoured up the hill around some cottages.

The trail surface is usually the gravel surface of the old railbed. In many places, an additional layer of crushed stone (granular A – ¾ inch minus) has been added. In 2008 and 2009, stone dust surfacing was placed from Hogan Road (km 66.8) to Boyce Island (km 68.2) and from Yarker (km 88.8) to East Street in Newburgh (km 98.4). This work was done with the help of grants from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and the National Trails Coalition. A stone dust surface is more expensive but provides a smoother ride than the rest of the trail. Approximately 30% of the trail has this stone dust surface so a hybrid or mountain bike is the best choice for cycling on the trail.

The following sections represent the best trail conditions for cycling:

Km 0-5              Smith Falls

Km 24.8-26.2   South of Portland

Km 62.9-63.5   West of Norway Rd

Km 66.8-68.2  West of Hogan Rd

Km 74.2-78.9   K&P trail and east to Loughborough-Portland Rd

Km 84.3-102   Stone Mills Twp

Trail Distance Markers

Kilometer marker posts spaced at 5 km or less indicate the total distance from the Smiths Falls trailhead.

Trail Emergencies

Cell phone reception is generally available on the east and west sections of the trail. However, in the rugged Canadian Shield between Chaffey’s Lock and Perth Road Village cellular service is unreliable or non-existent;  plan accordingly (see Trail Emergencies).

Poisonous Plants

Be aware that poison ivy and wild parsnip are widespread along the trail. Vegetation is regularly trimmed to reduce the chance of contact with these plants on the trail itself.  Please stay on the maintained trail-surface area.  If you wander off into uncut vegetation, your risk of contact with these plants increases.  Learn what these plants look like (see 5 poisonous plants of Southern Ontario you should avoid).