Exploring Gravel – Burks Fall’s Loop – West of 11

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This is part two of my two-day adventure on the Burk’s Falls Loop.

I decided to break this ride report up into two separate posts. Simply because both days felt like two completely different rides catering to two completely different types of riders.

This post covers the less technical, more on-road, cycle touring part of the journey west of 11.

If you haven’t already, please check out the original post, Exploring Gravel – Burk’s Falls Loop, East of 11, about the much more technical and fun for me, back roads adventure east of 11.

Update – I added a new section – A Conversation with Tiago that I encourage you to read at the bottom of the post.

Route Map

The route below is the original route created by Tiago.

For this eastern loop, we started at Lake Bernard Park, on the southern shore of Bernard Lake.

An interesting but completely useless fact. Lake Bernard is the world’s largest freshwater lake without an island. Another interesting fact pulled from Wikipedia, Lake Bernard is not connected to any other lakes making it highly unusual in many different ways.

Route Notes

Parking – If you’re staying true to the route, multiple parking options exist in Burk’s Falls, as per my previous post. Otherwise, we parked at the trailer park, with the option for limited street parking as well. I’ve also been advised by Tiago that Screaming Heads makes an excellent starting point as long as they are open, give their consent, and if you hopefully donate while you’re at it.

Elevation Profile – Cropping Tiago’s Route, Ride with GPS shows 530m over 55km. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good comparison here since we started and finished at the campground with drastically changing weather throughout, tracking 616m over 68.5km. What I can say is the route never felt all that hilly or challenging, perfect for most anyone.

Speed Profile – Faster than most.

Route Profile – More of a road ride than a gravel ride.

Safety Profile – There was quite a bit of traffic especially on Hwy 520. I had a chance to connect with Tiago after posting this, and it sounds like our experiences with traffic off 520 is not the norm.

Stores – Magnetawan 28km from the bottom tip of Bernard Lake, and the filled with amazing baked goods Cornball General Store at km 38.

Crown Land Camping – Nothing apparent.

Favourite Part – Walking through Screaming Heads.

Least Favourite Part – The traffic we experienced and Highway 520.

My Stats – 68.4km, 616m climbing, 4:32 total time, 3:10 moving time, 21.5km/hr moving speed.

Lake Bernard Park to Magnetawan – Kms 0-25

Most people completing the Burk’s Falls loop will start in Burk’s Fall, head east of 11, finishing up with the parts I’m writing about today.

As I said before, if you haven’t already, you should read this first, Exploring Gravel – Burk’s Falls Loop, East of 11, then come back for part 2, AKA day 1, when you’re done.

Our original plan had us staying true to the route, starting in Burk’s Falls, finishing day 1 at the campground, with a planned shorter and easier ride for day 2.

With torrential rains in the forecast, we decided to leave the tents at home, sleep in the car, and save the bikepacking for another day.

Although there were multiple crown land camping options east of 11, Lake Bernard Park served the trick, covering parking, tenting, toilets, and everything else we needed.

More than that, it was perfectly positioned 100km in, leaving us with a planned 65km on day 2.

Starting the Ride at Lake Bernard Park

Heading out from Lake Bernard on a summer Saturday morning, the traffic was anything but pleasant.

The Saturday Traffic Out of Lake Bernard Was Anything But Light

The route started easily with an 80m climb over the first 5km to Pevensey Road, followed by a 2km/40m descent across Highway 11 to Sterling Falls Road.

Crossing 11 Via Pevensey Road

With the turn onto Sterling Falls, we hit gravel, excited for what the day had in store.

Hitting Gravel on Stirling Falls Road

The views along Sterling Falls didn’t disappoint.

North Horn Lake Road

4km later, we transitioned onto South Horn Lake Road for 9.5km of nothing particularly memorable.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad, nothing that made us want to stop for a picture, no memories of gravel, but not of asphalt either, really nothing of anything. My best guess looking back was a 9.5km moderately trafficked cottage access type road.

This was followed almost 9km along Hwy 520, save for a slight bypass along another 2.5km of cottage access roads.

Hwy 520 North of Port Carmen

Arriving in Burk’s Falls, our feelings were mixed, the scenery was okay, but nothing awe-inspiring we couldn’t find closer to home, and the traffic sucked.

The town itself was nice, including Magnetawan Locks.

Magnetewan Dam and Lock

And a historic log cabin.

Magnetewan Historic Log Cabin

Magnetawan to Screaming Heads – Kms 28-47

As we turned out of a Magnetawan, a slight rain began.

And maybe it was that rain, or maybe the constant passing of cars, whatever it was, the ride to Screaming Heads along Nipissing Road South, and Midlothian was not my favourite.

We drove a long way, planned a fun weekend of riding bikes, and couldn’t hold a conversation for more than thirty seconds before cars would come passing by, forcing us into a single file for our own safety, regardless of whoever may have had the right of way.

About 9km out of Magnetwan, at the turn onto Midlothian, we discovered our first of two high points on the day with an unplanned stop at the must-visit Cornball General Store.

Cornball General Store – Nipissing and Midlothian Roads

The baked goods were cheap and fantastic.

Cornball General Store – Cheap and Tasty Treats

The blueberry cream cheese danish and two date squares didn’t disappoint.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Danish From The Cornball General Store

Screaming Heads to Burks Falls – Kms 47-56

Without a doubt, the highlight of the day had to be Screaming Heads.

Screaming Heads is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, with a plethora of massive concrete sculptures of a castle/home that was off-limits for viewing, a couple of local vendors selling their artistic wares, and the screaming heads of course.

The site is a one-of-a-kind treasure in Ontario and definitely worth the visit if you’re passing by the Burk’s Falls area.

Arriving at Screaming Heads

Screaming Heads was created by a retired school teacher and artist, Peter Camani, who apparently lives onsite in this farmhouse he converted into his Midlothian Castle.

The Midlothian Castle at Screaming Heads

The main stage, also home to the annual Harvest Music Festival, was the perfect place to rest our bikes while we pulled out the cameras for a few shots.

Screaming Heads Main Stage – Photo Courtesy of @GravelRoadCanada

Special thanks to professional photographer Mike Chajecki, seen below, for taking the photo above and all the other pictures that truly stood out from our weekend adventure.

@GravelRoadCanada Getting the Shot at Screaming Heads

After too many photos, we jumped back on the bikes for the shortish ride to Burk’s Falls.

The Falls at Burk’s Falls

Where I stopped to learn a little bit about the history of Burk’s Falls and Magnetawan.

A History of the Steam Navigation on the Magnetawan River

Burks’s Falls back to Lake Bernard – Kms 56-68

For most people, arriving in Burk’s Falls would complete the loop.

For us, having started at Lake Bernard and planning a second ride tomorrow, our day was not over, with a shortish 12km ride back to our start along Berridale Road.

@GravelRoadCanada Enjoying a Post Ride Dip in Lake Bernard

With torrential rain in the forecast, we hoped to head to Huntsville, find a patio, eat some dinner, and wait out the worst of the rain.

With no open patios to be found, we ended eating indoors, at the surprisingly fantastic Huntsville Brewhouse by Lake of Bays Brewery.

With at least fifteen beers on the menu, there’s sure to be something that suits your tastes.

Enjoying a Flight of Beers from the Lake of Bays Brewery’s Huntsville Brewhouse

The beer was great, the food was even better.

Dinner at the Lake of Bays Brewery’s Huntsville Brewhouse

Final Thoughts – Burk’s Falls Loop – West of 11

Coming into the day, I knew there would be asphalt, including some connections along the more heavily trafficked Highway 520. But I also expected a gravel ride with maybe even a few challenging sections thrown in. That it was not.

Looking back, I think the parts west of 11 are ideal for riders looking to extend their day, see more of the area, all via a less technical extension.

Final Thoughts – The Burk’s Falls Loop

We drove to Burk’s Falls seeking adventure, and adventure was exactly what we found.

Burk’s Fall east of 11 was a truly epic ride, featuring some of the most beautiful gravel and fun ATV tracks I’ve come across.

After years of road cycling and mountain biking, I’m new to gravel. Even though I’ve only been riding gravel for just over a year, I’m lucky enough to have ridden some epic routes like Loop 1 of the Motherload – A Tale of Seven Hills, Loop 2 of The Motherload – A Photo Journal, and The Hasty Highlander’s Lake Loop.

The Burk’s Falls Loop east of 11 was truly special, easily worth the drive from wherever you may come. The parts west are great if you’re legs still have something more to give. If not, drive to Screaming Heads on your way home.

All that said, I know Ghost Gravel was looking to host what looks like an awesome event near Magnetawan, so I’m sure there’s plenty of more gravel in the area just waiting for me to discover.

Thanks for reading,

Cory

Update – A Conversation with Tiago

I had a chance to connect with Tiago after writing this post, and I have to say he seems like an all-around great guy whose accomplishments I truly admire, and the routes he shares have been some of my favourites.

On traffic, it sounds like the traffic we encountered west of 11 was not the norm. That normally the traffic is usually reasonably right. Perhaps, with cooler weather and torrential rains in the forecast, many cottagers decided to make the day an errand day, leading to an unusually high amount of cars on the road.

As for the differences in the two different loops, Tiago shared, ” I created the route with both loops in mind to be done in a day, and since Screaming Heads is special, it requires a detour. Riding both loops in a day also takes a greater effort, and hopefully, then the country roads are a more welcome experience to allow one’s legs to recover, and the distance can be covered in less time.”

And apparently, if you ride that area in fall when the colours are out, the foilage is truly something special.

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