Discover Ontario’s best trails at a mountain bike event in Sault Ste. Marie

By Conor Mihell

An epic trail network and incredible terrain is rapidly making Sault Ste. Marie a hub for mountain biking. Ontario cyclists are buzzing about the new trails in the Hiawatha Highlands, only a few minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie’s city centre. Hiawatha has it all: Over 50 km of trails include a mix of impeccably-built, flow trails with fun tabletops and banked corners; old-school, lovingly handbuilt trails with steep drops and rooty climbs; a pump track; and a challenging and scenic backcountry route that blends machine-built features with handmade technical sections.

Three events scheduled for this spring and summer promise to showcase Sault Ste. Marie mountain biking and reveal why this bustling city in Northern Ontario is emerging as one of Ontario’s best cycling destinations.

Skeeter Slam, June 15-16

You may have heard that June is mosquito season in Northern Ontario. But mountain bike competitors at the Ontario Cup races in Sault Ste. Marie will leave biting insects in their slipstreams as they flow along Ontario’s most exciting network of single-track in the Hiawatha Highlands, in the third stage of these province-wide mountain bike events.

Skeeter Slam – Ocup #3, presented by Ontario Cycling and the Sault Cycling Club, is scheduled for June 15-16, and it features something for everyone: a grueling 45-km XC Marathon on Saturday morning, high-speed Short Track racing for all ages on Saturday afternoon, and a full day of OCup age-bracket racing for kids, youth and adults on Sunday.

“The races are open to anyone,” says Travis Anderson, one of the event organizers. “We’re hoping to get people who want to try racing for the first time, all the way up to some of the best up and coming racers in the province—the future World Cup and Olympic racers. We’re really positioning the event as a fun-filled event highlighting our world class trail system, rather than your conventional OCup.”

Hiawatha’s outstanding trails will be the centrepiece of this Ontario mountain bike event. Ontario Cup racers will be challenged by rocky uphills and thrilled by flowing descends. Out of towners will surely fall in love with the area’s wilderness feel—yet it’s so close to great accommodations and dining in Sault Ste. Marie. “I think the new trails are a great fit for the event,” adds Anderson. “They’re the perfect combination of fun, fast and technical with features that you won’t see on any other race courses in Ontario.”

  • Register online for the 2024 OCup Mountain Bike #3, hosted by the Sault Cycling Club at the Hiawatha Highlands

Salty Marie Trails Festival, July 27

Last year, Sault Ste. Marie cyclist Graham Atkinson and a few friends came up with a clever play on words to name the city’s newest mountain bike event, hosted in the Hiawatha Highlands. The Salty Marie is a nod to “people not being able to pronounce ‘Sault’ Ste. Marie,” Atkinson says. “Turns out ‘salt’ names are also easy to come up with for different races.”

Atkinson was blown away with the support for the inaugural Salty Marie, which attracted over 200 participants last year, including 50 visitors from Ontario and the United States. Registration is already booming for this year’s event, scheduled for July 27, and Atkinson is anticipating an even larger contingent of out-of-towners as Sault Ste. Marie gains recognition as a top destination for mountain biking in Ontario.

“Last year’s success showed us that the city was ready for something like this,” says Atkinson. “This year we’ve decided to double down, and we think a lot of our growth will come from cross-pollination with the OCup races in June and Crank the Shield in August.”

The Salty Marie is equal parts “trails festival” and a “party in the woods,” Atkinson explains. There are multiple mountain bike race options, ranging from the beginner friendly 2 km Saltine Shred to the epic 50 km Big Brine (further evidence that Atkinson and the team of organizers take their salt puns seriously). Mid-distance 10- and 25-km events are also available so anyone can test their limits while having fun. What’s more, you don’t need to be a mountain biker to participate, with 10- and 21-km trail running events also on the schedule.

“It’s a trails festival for everyone,” says Atkinson. “The racers are going to love it, but you can have just as much fun attending as a spectator, with live music, great food, beer and races to watch.”

  • Register online for the Salty Marie Trails Festival, hosted by Red Pine Tours and the Sault Cycling Club at the Hiawatha Highlands
Racers at the start line
Racers preparing to race
Racers receiving medals
Winners on the podium
Racers enjoying drinks
Enjoying some relaxing drinks afterwards!

Crank the Shield, August 16-18

The passion for “adventure cycling” oozing from Sault Ste. Marie native Sean Ruppel is a big reason why the area has become prominent on the Ontario mountain bike map. Ruppel’s 3-day Crank the Shield stage race has earned a reputation for being a seriously challenging mountain bike event, with rugged climbs, river crossings, incredible vistas and the feel of a long-distance adventure race through remote backcountry. Ruppel scoured the Algoma wilderness north of Sault Ste. Marie to weave together Canadian Shield trails, double-track and flowy single-track to create Ontario’s toughest mountain bike event.

Adventure remains a central element of the 2024 Crank the Shield, slated for August 16 to 18. But this time, Ruppel has tweaked the race itinerary with more focus on single-track, creating a more accessible event and taking advantage of the smooth and flowing machine-built Sault Cycling Club trails in the Hiawatha Highlands.

“Crank the Shield opened people’s eyes about the great mountain biking in Northern Ontario,” Ruppel says. “Now it’s time to showcase the great trails that the city has put so much investment into. This year, the pitch is more single track than ever.”

Crank the Shield has always given riders an excellent cross-section of mountain biking in Sault Ste. Marie This year is true to form. Day One follows a 52-km route through the backcountry of Stokely Creek and the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, a wilderness network of single- and double-track with plenty of climbing and hidden swimming holes along the way. Day Two makes a 35-km link from Stokely to Hiawatha, including the challenging handbuilt trails at Bellevue Tower, which ranks amongst the longest downhill single-track for mountain biking in Ontario. Day Three is brand new for Crank the Shield, featuring over 55 km of riding in the Hiawatha Highlands.

Besides running great mountain biking events, Ruppel also knows how to put on a serious party, and apres Crank the Shield doesn’t disappoint with food and beer at the awards ceremony and post-race dinner at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Museum.

  • Register online and check out accommodations options for Crank the Shield 2024
Mountain Bike Racing
Racers at the start line
Mountain bikers enjoying the view
Racers enjoying the view
Mountain bikers descending
Racers on a downhill
Racers at the podium
Racers on the podium

Make a weekend of it!

Come for a races, stay for the weekend! Enjoy a 90-minute river cruise on the Miss Marie Soo Locks Tour boat! If you are just looking to relax and enjoy some local drinks, check out our own microbrewery Northern Superior.

Check out our famous Bushplane Museum featuring 24 real Bushplanes to explore! Inside the Bushplane Museum you’ll also find Entomica Insectarium, complete with a host of real life insects and bugs you can actually hold! 

Have you ever tried axe throwing? Check out one of our newest and most fun indoor activities! Missing golf and still need a fix? The Up and Down Lounge has state of the art golf simulators, which can be booked by the hour. 

Get info about hotel stays or any other info by visiting the respective page on our website… and enjoy the races!

By Sault Tourism

Fall Rendezvous Festival, at the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site, is a 4-day event, hosted each September by the Friends of Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site. The festival, this year occurring September 20th – 23rd, is a chance to immerse yourself in the history of the war of 1812 and the daily life of the early 1800’s, through a number of live reenactments including; canon and musket fire, Indigenous storytellers, workshops and more!

Keep reading to learn more about the Fall Rendezvous Festival.

Fall Rendezvous Festival

Four Days of Festival

The Fall Rendezvous Festival starts on Wednesday, September 20th and will run for four days until Saturday, September 23th, 2023. The event is open to the public, as well as for groups including School Groups, from 10am to 4pm for each day. 

Admission is by donation (pay what you can) and includes entrance to the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site heritage buildings and grounds, as well as interaction and knowledge sharing with 36 heritage performers including Francophone and Indigenous storytellers. See the Red Coats and the flash in the pan, smell the gunpowder as the muskets and cannons ignite, hear the drumming and our storytellers, taste Algoma Country’s culinary samplings. Immerse yourself!

Fall Rendezvous Festival
Fall Rendezvous Festival

Canon and Musket Firing

A fun part of the Fall Rendezvous Festival is the historical reenactments from the period surrounding the war of 1812. Restored canons and muskets from the era are fired at regular intervals throughout the festival, with groups of onlookers and spectators kept at a safe range. 🙂 

Expect the canon to fire every hour or more frequently when groups are on tours!

Fall Rendezvous Festival
Fall Rendezvous Festival

Heritage Performers & Activities

There are 36 heritage performers and exhibits present at the Festival. These include Coureur du Bois, Voyageurs, Métis, quill work, canoe building, drumming & Indigenous song, sacred plants and teachings – all in live performance! 

Saturday will also see the addition of the Algoma Maker’s Market, tasty local samplings from Hogan’s Homestead, Thinking Rock Community Arts, Beaver Tails food trailer and culinary arts by members of Buy Algoma, Buy Local.

The site is accessible with parking, boardwalks, washrooms and audio tours.

Festival Schedule

Check out the festival schedule below!

Wednesday to Friday

9am-4pm

  • Cannon firing every 15 minutes: 9am – 2pm, then again at 3pm and 4pm (talk and demonstrations)
  • Mini Militia – learn the drill of an 1812 soldier
  • Canoe building – the art of birch bark canoe
  • Meet the Voyageurs and the Coureur du Bois
  • Learn about the important linkage with Fort St. Joe
  • Indigenous Allies – drumming and sacred plants
  • Women of the Era – the clothing and their roles

Saturday

10am-4pm

  • Cannon firing on the hour from 10am – 4pm
  • Same great stations as Wednesday to Friday
  • Beaver Tails food trailer 11am – 3pm
  • Algoma Makers Market 10am – 4pm
  • Thinking Rock Community Arts 1pm – 4pm
  • Hogan’s Homestead maple tasting 1pm – 3pm
  • The Soup Witch
  • Centre Francophone

THE ERMATINGER CLERGUE
NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

Fall Rendezvous Festival takes place on the grounds of the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site; where two of the oldest stone buildings in Ontario are Sault Ste. Marie’s only remains of the fur trade era, and home to the earliest European settlers. 

Learn about the war of 1812 through interactive displays, enjoy an audio tour to help guide you through the site. There is also a gift shop filled with local artisan products and memorabilia from Sault Ste. Marie. Read more about visiting Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site here. 

Thanks to our Partners!

The Fall Rendezvous Festival is hosted by the Friends of Ermatinger National Historic Site and funded by the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario and the City of Sault Ste. Marie. 

By Conor Mihell

A Marathon for all levels of skiers, fatbikers and trail runners blazes new trails to celebrate Sault Ste. Marie’s rich winter sports tradition

The history of nordic skiing in Sault Ste. Marie is long, colourful and defined by a profound sense of community. More than half a century ago, winter enthusiasts from the upstart Soo Finnish Ski Club blazed their own cross-country ski trails through the snowy woods and rugged hills of what’s now known as the Hiawatha Highlands, located just north of the city centre. Early skiers didn’t know the pleasure of machine-groomed trails. Frontrunners in the club’s recreational races not only set the pace, they also had the challenge of making tracks through the soft powder while keeping ahead of pursuing skiers. Such legendary beginnings kindled one of Ontario’s most vibrant cross-country ski scenes and blazed the way for the development of some of the province’s finest networks of trails.

a fun and adventurous recreational race

Fast-forward to 2022, and local event organizer Lawrence Foster was looking to celebrate Sault Ste. Marie’s snowy winters and exceptional skiing terrain. He conceived the inaugural Beaver Freezer Marathon as a fun and adventurous recreational race to wrap up the season at the Hiawatha Highlands. Multiple race options catered to all levels of skiers, fat-bikers and trail-runners, including families, beginners and elite athletes alike, with distances of up to 42 km. Scheduled for mid-March, the event would link existing Hiawatha Highlands nordic ski and fat-bike trails with frozen lakes and wetlands, showcasing the rugged, snow-covered landscape. All proceeds from the volunteer-run event would go towards supporting future trail development to support Sault Ste. Marie’s ongoing efforts to become a hub of outdoor recreation.

“We wanted to make it fun and inclusive,” says Foster, a Sault College professor and former world-class adventure racer. “We had team options. You could race it as a relay or do it as a group. Your kid could ride or ski beside you in the relay. We wanted to have a community event with a friendly vibe, all supporting a good cause.” 

Upwards of 300 Competitors

First-year registrations far exceeded Foster’s expectations. Upwards of 300 competitors signed up for the event, the majority locals but also approximately 40 registrants from Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa and Michigan. “It seemed like a great way to ski in places you wouldn’t get to experience otherwise,” says participant Paul Kyostia. “I was looking forward to skiing across the lakes with the benefit of packed trails in between.”

With Foster in charge of mapping a course, participants were sure to get a premium slice of Algoma backcountry. Starting and finishing at the Hiawatha Highlands headquarters at Kinsmen Park, the Beaver Freezer route wound through nearly a dozen frozen lakes and waterways, including Trout and Lower Island and Finn, just north of city limits. Groomers marked and packed the trails for easy skiing, cycling and running. Sault College was the inaugural event’s title sponsor and the college’s Natural Environment students volunteered to assist with race day details, including safety checkpoints and aid stations. 

abundant snowfall and perfect lake ice

With abundant snowfall throughout the winter and perfect lake ice, the plan seemed bulletproof until a deluge of freezing rain forced Foster to postpone the Sunday race until the following weekend. Foster was deflated, but at the same time he knew that so many dedicated enthusiasts would do far more than salvage the event. Participants and volunteers shuffled their plans and held onto their enthusiasm, and with improved weather conditions Foster says the rescheduled race day was all he ever hoped for. “Countless people lined up to volunteer to make it a great event,” he notes. “I’ve received so many messages of support from people looking forward to next year’s Beaver Freezer. It feels good to be contributing to the momentum of trail development with the Kinsmen Club, the Sault Cycling Club, and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.”

Foster admits that the weather always remains a wild card for late-winter events, but he’s hoping that scheduling the 2023 Beaver Freezer Marathon across an entire weekend will provide an adequate buffer for any surprises. “The biggest highlight has been the support of the community,” Foster says. But given the area’s deep and passionate roots for nordic sports, local support is a given. As word gets out, Foster anticipates a larger contingent of out-of-towners—with visitors arriving to experience the great trails and welcoming vibe of yet another shining example of why Sault Ste. Marie has always been Ontario’s winter sports capital. 

2023 Event

The 2023 event will take place on Saturday, March 11th, with Sunday, March 12th being the backup day. All the information you’ll need including course details, timing and other info is available on the Beaver Freezer website

Out of town guests will receive 10% off their stay at The Water Tower Inn. Details here.  

The Event is Adventure Riding At Its Finest

By Conor Mihell

Crank the Shield is a 3-day mountain biking event held in the Algoma Highlands just north of Sault Ste. Marie. With the city having some of the best mountain bike trails in Ontario, bringing the race back is in 2022 is a perfect fit for the community. Registration for this year’s event, being held from July 29-31, is now open. Sault Tourism spoke to event organizer Sean Ruppel about this year’s installment. 

Backcountry Adventure Riding

In the three years that have passed since the last installment of the Crank the Shield mountain bike stage race, organizer Sean Ruppel has had plenty of time to reflect on what makes this three-day event so special to him. “It’s always been about the type of riding,” says Ruppel, the Muskoka-based owner of Superfly Racing. “It’s all about backcountry adventure riding, out in the wilderness with real mountains and pristine rivers. There’s no better mountain biking anywhere else in the province.”

The long, pandemic-caused wait for the next Crank the Shield event has built up a lot of enthusiasm in Ruppel and race participants. Ruppel’s business plans, coordinates and hosts adventure races across Ontario. In the inaugural, 2018 Sault Ste. Marie event, Ruppel felt like he was sharing a secret treasure with the broader mountain biking community. Ruppel envisioned an epic 230-km route on many of the rugged Algoma trails he had been exploring all his life from a family cottage on Lake Superior. “Make no mistake—this is as ‘real’ as mountain biking gets!” he wrote in the race prospectus.

Rugged Algoma Trails

Ruppel’s mission was accomplished: 180 participants were awestruck (and seriously exhausted) by the expansiveness of the terrain, which included grinding climbs to some of Ontario’s highest peaks, obscure logging roads, multiple river crossings, and swooping single-track. Crank the Shield starts with a wilderness train ride aboard the famous Agawa Canyon Tour Train, and includes overnight stops at Stokely Creek Lodge and Searchmont Resort before wrapping up in Sault Ste. Marie’s Hiawatha Highlands. The 2019 sequel only added fuel to the fire. “It’s like suddenly mountain bikers from elsewhere in Ontario were aware of how epic the off-road riding is up here,” Ruppel notes. “People were starting to look north.”

Then, of course, came all the confusion and uncertainty of Covid-19, which put Crank the Shield on pause. Now, as pandemic restrictions are lifted, Ruppel is equal parts thrilled and refreshed to return to organizing the event July 29 to 31, 2022. Besides the personal pleasure of returning to his own favourite landscape of Canadian Shield mountains, wild rivers and labyrinthine trails, Ruppel believes lockdowns revealed the sense of freedom and great adventures available in Northern Ontario. “So many people have had an awakening,” he says. At the same time, Sault Ste. Marie made huge investments in mountain biking trail infrastructure, expanding the network of single-track at Hiawatha Highlands and investing in new machine-built flow trails for riders of all levels. “The Soo has always been super welcoming and friendly,” Ruppel notes, “but now it’s an even cooler vibe. The city has embraced cycling and the local community of riders is growing rapidly.”

One of the most challenging days ever spent on a bicycle

Ottawa-based cyclist Rob Parniak was pushed to his limits by previous installments of Crank the Shield. “The route was harder than I expected,” recalls Parniak. “The first stage with rough trails, river crossings and lots of climbing was one of the most challenging days I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. Getting through it felt like a commendable accomplishment.”

For Parniak, a Sault Ste. Marie native, Crank the Shield was a reunion. He always recognized the city’s outdoor potential, and was blown away when it was put on full display. “I see a sort of scrappy pride in a lot of Sault people of my generation,” says Parniak. “It’s as if they’re determined to defy the stereotypes. They’re creating their own happiness by building their own place. The cycling scene–the bike shops, the trails, the club, this race–are tangible examples.”

The 2022 Race

Ruppel says the 2022 Crank the Shield race, (July 29-31) will fall back on what made it so successful and impactful in the past, including great hospitality at Stokely Creek and Searchmont and a vibrant after-party at the Bushplane Museum on the waterfront in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. But mostly, Ruppel insists Crank the Shield is all about the riding. “It’s a niche event,” he says. “You have to be a serious off-road rider to take on three days of this type of distance in this kind of terrain.”

Tweaks to the route bring the cumulative three-day distance to 200 km. Upgrades include: an optional climb to the summit of Batchewana Mountain, capped at 20 participants, for those seeking a high-adventure, quad-pumping climb to Algoma’s highest point that won’t be counted in total race time; improved single- and double-track segments in the Algoma Highlands and Searchmont portions of the race; and a velvety smooth, fast finish on 35-km of purpose-built mountain bike trails at Sault Ste. Marie’s Hiawatha Highlands on day three. 

“This event has made such an impact on everyone who has ridden it,” says Ruppel, “and after the few years away, I’m excited to get back at it. This is my opus, my dream race. I can’t wait to provide riders with an introduction to my favourite place on earth.” 

Visit the Crank the Shield website for more information including how to register. 

By Sault Tourism

Enjoy a wide array of fall themed events and festivals in the Soo!

From maple syrup events to historical reenactments, culture days to family fun days and even an Oktoberfest! Experience various events this fall in Sault Ste. Marie, all against a beautiful backdrop of autumn colours. Here are some of the fun things coming up in September and October. As always, stay up to date with all the happenings in Sault Ste. Marie by visiting our events page. 

Fall rendezvous and Culture Days

September 23rd & 24th

The Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site hosts it’s annual Fall Rendezvous and Culture Days event. Demonstrations of drumming, quill work, cannon, militia and voyageurs. Read more here…

Hogan Homstead's 'Fall In Love with Maple Event'

Culture Days

September 23rd – October 16th

Film screening and talks, ‘Meet the Author’, feather wrapping workshops and much, much more. Join us as we celebrate Culture Days 2022 in Sault Ste. Marie. This event highlights our diverse cultures, arts and heritage within a collective hub known as “The Sault Ste. Marie Cultural Corridor”. Read more here…

 
 

WEEKEND FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION

September 30th & October 1st

The two-day event offers a free, family-oriented showcase of Indigenous arts, culture, and heritage as well as key educational opportunities surrounding Indigenous history and ongoing reconciliation efforts. Attendees are invited to spend the entire weekend in Baawaating with exclusive coupons and promotions provided by participating partners.

Don’t miss a spectacular drone show on Friday night about Truth and Reconciliation that will be illustrated with over 200 drones over the night sky. Read more here…

2022 Soo Greyhounds Season Opener Block Party

Friday, September 30th

The Soo Greyhounds hockey season kicks off with a tailgate style party before the game! Local food, beer, live music, games, and more! 
 
Block party will be in the GFL Memorial Gardens block (Brock to Dennis Street).
More details to be announced closer to the date. For more information, contact info@saultdowntown.com 
 

Doors Open Event (free entrance!)

Saturday, October 1st

Come and explore many of Sault Ste. Marie’s historical and landmark buildings live and in person for Doors Open Sault Ste. Marie! Attractions include the Algoma Conservancy of Music, Art Gallery of Algoma, Ermatinger Clerque Blockhouse and Old Stone House and more! Read more here…

Thomson Farms' Fall Family Fun

October 1st – 31st

During pumpkin season Thomson Farms hosts activities for everyone in the family to enjoy. Come out and enjoy a tractor wagon ride to the Pumpkin Patch to pick out your pumpkin. There is the Corn Maze and Corn Cannon, as well as fall berry picking. Click here for all the info…

Robertson Cliffs Challange

October 1st – 16th

Run up the Algoma Highland Conservancy Robertson Cliff’s. Bear in Mind Running have the toughest 5km hike in all of Algoma, a virtual race over the first 2 weeks in October! Attempt The RCC as many times as you want over the two weeks. Each participant receives an AHC trucker cap! Proceeds contributed to the silent sport recreation initiative of the conservancy. All the details can be found here!

Algoma Fall Festival

October 6th – 29th

The festival maintains a range of programming that includes music, theatre, dance and the visual arts. This year eight events are planned including Broadsway on Oct 6th and The Family Crow on Oct 7th. For the full range of programming click here!

Oktoberfest 2022

October 14th & 15th

The biggest and best Oktoberfest in Northern Ontario. Locally brewed craft beer, live music and a Munich style Biergarten! Tickets sell out fast so book soon! Click here for all the info.