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The Globe and Mail

Yes you can (and should) escape Toronto’s concrete jungle. Here's how

The Elora Cataract is part of a national network of trails.

J. Raymond Soucy

Although I enjoy big-city life, I also relish the chance to escape it. There's nothing like being in nature to nourish a metropolitan soul, especially if it involves physical activity.

But what to do if you live in Toronto and recoil at the thought of driving hours to a cottage or resort? (Count your blessings, Vancouverites, Montrealers, Calgarians, etc.) Consider driving just 75 minutes west to ride the little-known Elora Cataract Trailway, now part of the Trans Canada Trail.

A former railway line, the 47-kilometre Trailway is perfect for nature-deficient urbanites seeking solace from the concrete jungle. Ideal for cycling (or in the winter, cross-country skiing), it's flat as an ironing board, well-maintained and runs through or alongside farms, forests, lakes, cottages and villages from Elora to Cataract.

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Depending on your fitness level, eagerness and riding prowess, you can do the round trip in either one day, or stay overnight in a B&B. Casual cyclists should not be deterred at the prospect of riding 94 kilometres. What might seem daunting in the city is far less arduous when riding in nature, free of the obstacles of urban cycling.

I took to the trail one golden morning this summer with my wife, Galya. We started at the trail head on the eastern edge of Elora, a small town near Guelph known for its 19th-century limestone architecture, galleries, shops and arts community. From there, it was a short ride to Fergus, where a lack of signage made it challenging to find the resumption of the trail a half-dozen blocks away.

But after that brief diversion, it was smooth sailing. Although unpaved, the trail's hard-packed earth is bike-friendly. Distance markers every kilometre keep you on course, and occasional signs explain notable aspects of nature, vegetation or history.

About 10 kilometres in, we reached the Shand Dam, erected in 1942 and the first in Canada built solely for water control. On one side, it offers a wonderful view of the Grand River below; on the other lies Lake Belwood, a nice spot for a swim.

For lunch, we stopped at one of the few eateries next to the trail. Situated at the 18-kilometre mark in Belwood, Super Snax is a family restaurant serving good, basic fare from morning until evening.

By mid-afternoon, we reached the end of the trail at Cataract. The final two kilometres were temporarily closed for maintenance, but we took a detour around the work to get to the gorge and waterfalls in the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park on the Bruce Trail. After a day of pedalling, we relaxed on a small bridge, savouring the view and sound of the Credit River plunging into a deep gorge below us.

The next morning, after spending the night in the nearby town of Erin, we retraced the itinerary in reverse. It was no less satisfying. By late afternoon, after having taken a more leisurely pace than the previous day, we arrived in Elora. My only complaint? That the Trailway isn't longer.

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For more information, visit the Elora Cataract Trailway website. The Trans Canada Trail project aims to create nearly 24,000 kilometres of connected trail, stretching across the country, by 2017.

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