FOTC: Tiago Varella-Cid and the Burk’s Falls Loop

What’s a Chetwynd?

Aw dang.

My pal Tiago sent a report of a secret new loop, and it looks tastier than anything I’ve ever seen.  Okay, that’s not dang-worthy.  The dang-worthy thing is that I really really really want to ride it…but I think it’s waaaaay too epic for me.

He calls it: The Burk’s Lake Gravel Loop (via Sand Lake, North Algonquin, and Sundridge).

I call it AWESOME!


Basically, the details are in the title, but for those trying to envision the area without knowing the location of the bustling metropoli (metropollisses?) in the title, it starts just west of Chetwynd…and goes counter clockwise!

Sorry, that’s not very clear.  Chetwynd is between Kernick Lake and Larsen Lake
…as the crow flies
…and the route goes counter clockwise!

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.51.54 AM

I’m kidding.  Burk’s Falls is about 40k north of Huntsville (about 250km north of Toronto) on highway 11.

Looking at the pictures, it’s raw, remote, and spectacularly beautiful.

Here are the Deets:

  • 115km
  • 1,100m of climbing
  • Maximum 8.5% climb/descent
  • Burk’s Falls, Sand Lake, Algonquin Park, Little North Magnetewan River (yes, that’s the full name), Sundridge, Lake Bernard, Kennedys, Pevensey, Pickerel Lake, Jack’s Creek.

I know eh, whoa.

The route can be divided into six segments:
  1. Burk’s Falls to Sand Lake: 25km
  2. Sand Falls to Algonquin Park:  15km
  3. The Missing Link  (Algonquin Park to Little North Magnetawan River):  13km
  4. Little North Magnetawan River:  18km
  5. West to Sundridge:  10km
  6. Sundridge to Burk’s Falls:  35km

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.51.21 AM

Okay, so here’s the thing about Tiago.  Dude’s Facebook profile pic is him climbing a sheer rock face.  Um, I get a cramp getting out of bed.  So yeah, he’s definitely stepping down when he allows me to call him a pal.  56890429_10161612400625298_7949745445671010304_nBut here’s the other thing.  Aside from being a weapon on a bike, dude is one heck of a nice guy.  He’s giving of his time, and can always be counted on for a kind word.  I dig that.

I reached out to him for this report after reading his post about the ride on Ontario Gravel and Adventures, and he didn’t just willing agree, he jumped at it, and then he sent an awesome report, and then he sent some awesome pics.

It all adds up to a great story, and if I’ve realized anything about cycling, it’s all about the story.  So, his recap of the route comes first, and then I’ve included “A Little Bit About Tiago”

Btw, as you’ll see, apparently Tiago took a professional photographer with him, because the accompanying pictures are absolutely stunning.

Check it out:

Tiago, 115k of Gravel Awesomeness, a few Lakes, and Burks Falls

The Burk’s Falls Gravel Loop (aka The Missing Link) is a little gem of gravel riding.

Loops are the best for greater discovery, but when I looked into the crystal ball of RidewithGPS for the area, it didn’t let me connect some of the back roads as a loop.  Not deterred by that, I preset my route and went for it, only to discover…

…that my first attempt at the route put me onto private land, and the subsequent detour that reconnected to the route led to a dead end (that shows a trail on the map database, but in reality it is a WHT? (Whatever Happened To?) faint remnant of a logging trail that had grown over).

I had a choice, backtrack about 65km, or venture on and try to connect the loop that was only a short connection on the map.  You can probably guess what I chose.  That choice wasn’t much fun, and I bush whacked about 3km through forest and mire.  I got enough mosquito bites in the process to look like I had the measles, and came out onto a ATV track that wanted to send me through a hip deep water crossing.

Thankfully a couple of ATV guys came along.  They were perplexed as to how I had gotten there, but offered to lead me out to a gravel road.

On that day, I definitely got more adventure then I had hoped for!

I’ve learned to look for the positives, so I analyzed the route I took, and discovered there was probably a simpler connection (one the software didn’t want me to take, and since it’s a remote area the heat maps don’t have the data to correct it).

Some insider trading with a local was all I needed, and so on the next trip to the cottage I tried again and it went…. perfectly!

It all starts in the town of Burk’s Falls (population 981).

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.51.08 AM

1. Burk’s Falls to Sand Lake: 25km
From Burk’s Falls, some nice asphalt country roads turn to rolling gravel.

There is a short detour that passes through a resort at Sand Lake where the Red Canoe Restaurant offers a nice breakfast on a patio. You couldn’t find a better spot in the middle of nowhere, especially during COVID times.

Forested gravel roads are always served cool.
Forested gravel roads are always served cool.

2. Sand Falls to Algonquin Park:  15km
It’s very much PG to that point, but things get more interesting further along as you smell the Spruce forests, and witness the beauty of Algonquin, while you pass it’s northern boundary.  The rough gravel roads last until about the 50k mark.

Witness the beauty of Algonquin:

3. The Missing Link:  13km
(Algonquin Park to Little North Magnetawan River)
The road gets rougher and the grades sharpen.  Deer flies motivate you to not go too slow up the hills, and the rocks test your skill while riding down raw ATV tracks.

The ATV track. Full disclosure. It’s not as smooth as it looks!
The ATV track. Full disclosure. It’s not as smooth as it looks!

You’re not in Kansas anymore!  The trail is rough, but don’t let that discourage you.  I saw a moose as I passed through the first time.  It’s prime habitat, and worth the hassle of a few flies.   And then there’s the lake you’ll come across right beside the trail.

Trail side lake
It’s private, and well worth a skinny dip, or at least a head dunk (which is what adventure riding is all about).
4. Little North Magnetawan River:  18km

The route connects cleanly to a gravel road where all will be forgiven as you’ll be cruising parallel to a river following its downward flow.

Created  a 17.67km segment after the missing link. ‘Go With The Flow!’
If you have some steam left, give it up on a 17km segment called “Go With the Flow”

5.  West to Sundridge:  10km
Head west on gravel roads climbing steadily to Sundridge where you can restock.



6. Sundridge to Burk’s Falls:  35km
The route back to Burk’s Falls is a relatively tame but pleasant gravel return, with a passage through a rare covered footbridge as the finale.

Rocky slab access to the waterfall.

What I didn’t mention is that leaving and returning to Burks Falls there are numerous roads which have been freshly paved!

The fresh blacktop around Burk’s Falls is oh so sweet.

Here’s the Strava Route:


As an added bonus. Check out Missing Link Adventure Tours

Btw, Rob Edmonston runs Missing Link Tours, a local business that caters to cyclists, and it’s a great place to use as a base.  One of his rides provided the missing link to connect my loop (and he knows other routes in the area too!)

And there’s more…
Coincidentally that route looks to be the start of something much greater:  A possible bikepack eastward to the Ottawa River.  I delved into that branch recently and went down the rabbit hole!

Through the Rabbit Hole

So that’s what Tiago has to say about that.

Awesome eh.

As I always do, I asked for THE STORY too.  What makes a dude like Tiago tick?

He not only talks about some epic experiences, but since he does brevets, I included a link to a definition.  Btw, he also does some ridiculously loooooong rides, and there’s even a FKT somewhere below.

Wait, what’s an FKT?  Gotta read to find out–and just to be clear, I was totally wrong about the meaning when I first read it…

Hint:  click on the record scratch link (and you’re welcome in advance).

So, here’s…

A Little Bit About Tiago

Colin, aka Team Colin reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in doing a write-up on a loop I established in Burk’s Falls.  To me the route didn’t seem that significant (and the loop itself is somewhat remote), so I can’t see the route being ridden that often, but the process of finding the route is part of a larger story.

Last year was my biggest year of riding ever.  I rode my mountain bike less, and switched my focus to long road and gravel rides.  The highlight was in August, at PBP2019 (Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur), a 1200km brevet (ridden in under 80 hours) through the french countryside, along with thousands of randonneurs from around the world.  It was a surreal experience that left me more enamoured with cycling than ever and an unquenchable thirst for cycling adventures.

In the Fall I rode a spectacular gravel ride with a few friends.  It was a 400km, two day loop, starting in Greater Napanee, riding the Cataraqui Trail towards Renfew, and then returning via the K&P Trail the next day.

I enjoyed it perhaps even more than the PBP (which says a lot), but it was the last big ride of the year, and I was happy to spend the winter riding icy trails on a fatbike, spinning at the velodrome, and XC skiing.

As winter progressed, I did what many cyclists do: I envisioned the various 2020 races and rides.   The usual favourites (P2A, Randonneurs Ontario Brevets, mountain bike O-Cups, and Epic 8 hour races) began to fill the calendar, but there are other groups and clubs like LapDogs Cycling Club, GGG, and Warriors, which fill-in the gaps.

The spring would start with an LDCC road trip to North Carolina, where the roads wind-up mountains like a fairy tale for roadies, and the ‘rest days’ would be used to let loose on some of the best MTB trails in the US.  Better yet, the camaraderie makes for non-stop fun even when the riding is done.

I had also won the lottery with a spot to ride the DK200, and turning 50 was going to be the best year ever! (cue Royal Blood, Figure it Out)

Then came COVID-19! (Insert record screech)

As the pandemic became a reality, it didn’t take long to realize things were gonna change drastically.

First, the LDCC road trip got cancelled, and one by one the other events and races fell like dominos.

Since I’m not much of a virtual rider, I had a logical alternative:  Solo rides.  But there was a catch.  Where would I ride?  Sure I had lots of places in mind, but the initial restrictions and concerns of avoiding hospitals during early COVID times kept me off the roads, and since I believe we are all ambassadors for the sports we do, I didn’t want to get in trouble for venturing too far.

So I looked for routes that capitalized on our extensive bike trail network.  I started my rides early in order to avoid people, and the cold and damp early Spring weather worked in my favour to keep people indoors.

There was a eureka moment that set things in motion.  It was a goal to explore, to ride, as much varied terrain as possible within reasonable confines and not repeat a route if possible.  The simple resolution was based on a realization that exploring and riding is what quenches my thirst for adventure, and would allow me to still complete some significant rides.

And so it began. First I needed to figure out how to create better routes.  RidewithGPS solved that issue, and I began exploring connections on trails.  I had ridden many in the past as part of other rides, but I started exploring better connections that got me out of the City.

It wasn’t long before I had covered local routes, and with better weather people started flocking to trails, so I started looking farther away from the crowds and the city, and towards gravel roads where traffic would be the lightest.

By then social distancing had been established, and solo rides made a lot of sense especially if I used a mask and sanitized my hands at any stops.

My favourite bike shop, Batemans called to say my new Pivot Vault had arrived, and I was keen to try  something substantial for the maiden voyage.  I set my sights on the Full Monty version of Durham Destroyer (a 321k gravel grind)


It went beautifully (except for running out of battery on my main light a bit early).  My time was an FKT (Fastest Known Time), and it served as confirmation that I had more in the tank for bigger rides!  Better, the Vault surpassed my expectations, so I had a partner in crime to push my limits.

From there I kept looking for more routes.  Some were personally generated, other routes were rides in very small groups as restrictions eased, and then there were also established bike-packing routes:  I rode around the Simcoe County Loop Trail, enjoyed some big gravel climbing days around Mono, and rode the GNR, and BT700.

Having to be self-sufficient on such adventures is a major confidence booster, and each ride was more rewarding than most of the races I would have entered.

The thing about epic rides however is that they take some time to recover from, so it’s not only good to ease back once in a while, but it’s also a matter of balancing family life.  My wife and I have an understanding. I get to ride one day each weekend, but the other day is for us to share.   So naturally when we went to the family cottage I looked for a new route.  I already had a pre-set route but it was kind of tame and I wanted to explore the area beyond what I already knew…

And with that, the Burk’s Falls Gravel Loop was born (which is at the top of this post).

Thanks for the route Tiago.  Epic and awesome and so very boss.  Nice work.
Roadside Waterfall
Roadside Waterfall

So I started thinking.  While I’m happy with a 50k loop in a day (and less happy as the distance increases), Tiago nails some of the biggest and gnarliest grinds that Ontario (and beyond) has to offer.  Heck, he probably finished the 115k Burk’s Falls Loop before lunch (and then wrestled a bear), and even though I know we can’t all be as epic as him, this loop (and the story that goes along with it) makes me want to push for a bit more, and I think maybe that’s the point of gravel riding.

Whether we can ride a few hundred km in a day, or 10k around the neighbourhood, the spirit of adventure is what pushes all of us to explore, and without that spirit, routes like the Burk’s Falls Gravel Loop wouldn’t be born–and I gotta say, neither would my secret 30k South Scarborough Loop (which is the focus of an upcoming post…).

I wonder what other secret routes exist out there?  You know, the ones that reach beyond the mapped loops and trails…


I’ve been in the same boat as many during the Time of COVID.  MTB is my passion (and gravel is only a slight shift to my second favourite), but my family keeps a tight bubble, and I don’t want to leave my home for an hour drive, to ride for a few hours, only to drive home for another hour, while they’re stuck at home without outside interaction.  So I’ve been ripping my gravel bike close to home almost exclusively this year.  It’s awesome.  I not only get to keep fit (and work on some cardio) but it’s a great chance to explore the trails that I’ve always wanted to ride.  On almost every ride, I snicker to myself as I say “This trail isn’t just why I NEED a gravel bike–it’s why I LOVE my gravel bike.  It’s a good day when you can say that.

Also, as an added treat, here are all of Tiago’s pics FULL SIZE!

Bridge View
Bridge view
The edge of Algonquin
The edge of Algonquin
Rocky slab access to the waterfall.
Rocky slab access to waterfall
Roadside Waterfall
Road side waterfall
Created  a 17.67km segment after the missing link. ‘Go With The Flow!’
Created  a 17.67km segment after the missing link. ‘Go With The Flow!’
Trail side lake
Trail side lake
Forested gravel roads are always served cool.
Forested gravel roads are always served cool
Through the Rabbit Hole
Through the Rabbit Hole
And yes, there is gold at the end (or beginning…) of the gravel rainbow!
The next step. A branch from the route onto Forest Tower Rd

3 thoughts on “FOTC: Tiago Varella-Cid and the Burk’s Falls Loop

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