Prince Edward Island’s red earth has become synonymous with the prosperity of agriculture in the region. Turns out the stuff is lending itself pretty well to the success of mountain biking on the Island, as well.
PEI has become a go-to destination for riders on the east coast
While PEI is least likely the place you’d expect to use the term “mountain” to describe any form of recreation, the Island has become a sought after destination for mountain biking in the Maritimes. From the development of new trails in Bonshaw to the sculpted masterpieces of Brookvale, PEI has become a go-to destination for riders on the east coast in great part due to investments from the department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, and the department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture. Cycling PEI was instrumental in working with these provincial departments to develop the mountain biking trails on the Island.
Brookvale saw its first trails cut in 1966 in the form of alpine ski trails. A double rope tow was installed, a bunny hill cut for beginners and two army tents set up for a lodge. The following year, Brookvale formally opened for alpine skiing.
Following the development of cross country ski trails … singletrack began popping up all over the park
Mountain biking didn’t show its face at Brookvale for nearly 3 decades. Following the development of cross country ski trails built for the 1991 Canada Winter Games in what is now Mark Arendz Provincial Park at Brookvale, singletrack began popping up all over the park. In those days it was: rake a path, cut some branches and tada… you have a trail.
As the years passed, the number of trails increased to roughly 11km of singletrack. That was the mid 2010s when you’d arrive at the park, climb the fire road and within minutes be lost. You could always find a trail descending down but you didn’t know where it would take you. While adventurous, it was hardly the kind of experience you’d want to provide for your family.
It was at that time that John Mullins, who had been grooming the cross country ski trails for many years and envisioning mountain bike trails throughout, began working on the development of new mountain bike trails with fellow builder, Joe Downham. Thus began the partnership of Joe and John who have gone on to build further trails at Bonshaw and new trails at Brookvale including Green Machine, Bleu Nuit, Coastline, Surf n’ Turf and most recently, Plamu, PEI’s premier jumpline.
The history of Strathgartney and Bonshaw Provincial Parks is a little different. These areas adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway were first settled in the 1800’s. The area was home to a shipyard, and several mills with the river offering opportunities for transportation. The Crosby Mill is one such mill that operated right up until 1955.
Strathgartney Provincial Park was established as PEI’s first Provincial Park in 1958. With washrooms, a playground, nature trail and even pony rides, the park was a popular destination for camping and picnics. As time moved forward however, the park became less and less used as attention became more focused on Cavendish.
The original trail in Bonshaw was built by the Red Cross in 1977 for a youth development program. It later fell into disrepair only to be revived in the mid 80’s by Larry Cosgrave, Luke MacDonald and some of the other original mountain bikers on the island. Mountain bike trails have existed in the area ever since.
Due to rerouting of the Trans-Canada Highway, the park was expanded and new trails were developed over five years by notable PEI trail builders, Albert Flavell and Mark Bowlan along with 18 keen builders from the local community. Now, only 20 minutes from Charlottetown, Bonshaw Provincial Park hosts 25 km of trails on nearly 700 acres of land.
From the smooth and flowy “Elliot Run” right through to the rooty, technical “Goat Trail”, these trails run the gamut for difficulty. While many trails will be difficult for beginners, parts of the main trail, “Ji’ka’we’katik”, Mi’kmaq for “the place where bass are plentiful”, are accessible to newer riders.
While both Brookvale and Bonshaw make for great family ride destinations, if you have really little ones looking to get out on the trails, both Robinsons Island and Rotary Park are great options. Located in Prince Edward Island National Park, Robinsons Island is home to roughly 5 kms of beginner trails, a pump track and options to ride skinnies, rock roll overs, a teeter totter and other technical features to help riders advance their skills. The 6.5 km network at Rotary Park in Summerside is another great option for young riders, families and those looking to get out on the trails for the first time.
Adding to the appeal of riding in PEI is the winter fat biking that has been gaining significant traction in recent years. Brookvale now has 10km of trails groomed for fat tires – strategically beginning with the “Fish Ladder” climb to warm your bones for the chilly ride ahead.
One day this past summer, Brookvale had more than 160 cars in the lot
Not only is the number of trails on the rise but ridership has been increasing, as well. This is evidenced by the full parking lots seen on any given day during the summer. One day this past summer, Brookvale had more than 160 cars in the lot. Between the “Thirsty Thursday” group rides and Cycling PEI’s “Rigid Riders”, new riders are joining the fold each season. Those groups coupled with Meridian 63 MTB offering both mountain bike instruction and tours will only further grow ridership in the years ahead.
Adding to the draw at Brookvale, you can now get gourmet coffee, snacks, and even maintenance for minor repairs from Bits ‘n Bikes mobile snack trailer. Started by Cynthia King as a way to pivot her tour company, PEI Cycling Tours during Covid, she retrofitted her tour trailer with an espresso maker and fridge and has begun catering to riders visiting the park. And good thing. There’s nothing like finding good coffee right at the trailhead.
Following the day’s adventures, plenty of opportunities exist for your après experience in all kinds of corners close to the trails. Just 10 minutes from both Brookvale and Bonshaw, you’ll find the seaside village of Victoria. Alongside art galleries, a playhouse, and other artisanal offerings, you’ll find the Landmark Oyster House, Richard’s Sea Food, and the Lobster Barn for a satisfying après experience. Also close to the trails is Riverdale Orchard Cidery, offering delicious ciders and a menu to satisfy even the most critical diner.
Back in Charlottetown, options for dinner and late night abound with scores of restaurants, pubs, craft breweries and all the other kinds of options you’d expect in a capital city. In addition to its culinary offerings, Charlottetown provides for all your bike shop needs with McQueen’s Bike Shop and Outer Limit Sports. Prince Edward Island even has its own mountain bike suspension service with Island Bicycle Services focusing on fork, shock and seatpost service.
other trail networks are under development
While Brookvale and Bonshaw generally get the shoutouts for riding in PEI, other trail networks are under development. New trails at Cardigan have been under construction with more trails in interest and planning phases in Coleman and O’Leary.
While PEI might be the last place you’d expect to see mountain biking flourish, it is doing just that. With new and diverse trails catering to all level of rider, all the food and beverage options for which the island has become known, and just the overall relaxed vibe of island life, Prince Edward Island has become a must ride mountain bike destination in Atlantic Canada.
Contributed by Chuck Sutton, Advisory Committee Member and Community Advocate for Mountain Bike Atlantic