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The Cataraqui Trail from Strathcona to Smiths Falls, Ont.

The Cataraqui Trail

Strathcona to Smiths Falls, Ont.

Distance: 104K

An abandoned railway line now serves as a paradise for trail runners in eastern Ontario. The total distance is more than 100K, but it can easily be split into sections between the many towns along the route.

Cutting through remote and rugged Canadian Shield country in eastern Ontario, the Cataraqui Trail follows the route of a former railway line that was abandoned in 1989 and converted into a multi-use recreation trail in 2000. The scenic 104K route links up a dozen eastern Ontario towns between Strathcona and Smiths Falls. It connects to many other trail networks, including the Tran Canada Trail, K&P Trail, Rideau Trail and various snowmobile routes.

With more than 50 road crossings, many of which go right through, or very near, towns, the Cataraqui Trail is accessible from many points of entry. For the more adventurous, it is easy to travel light and re-supply when needed at one of the many local stores at points near the trail.

Chaffey’s Locks

One of the most striking sections of the Cataraqui is located just west of Chaffey’s Locks. This 15K stretch boasts breathtaking views of cliffs rising steeply on one side of the trail while the other side plunges to pristine lakes below. There are no roads for the entire section and the rugged setting evokes a sense of wildness farther removed than its actual location. You may spot deer, wolves, coyotes and black bears here, and it’s not unheard of to see bald eagles, which are a rare sighting in this region.


Another popular section of the Cataraqui Trail is in the village of Sydenham, where the trail runs along the shoreline of picturesque Sydenham Lake. This is the route of the annual Sydenham Fall Trail Run each October.

Runners share the trail with hikers and cyclists, and in the winter with cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Horses and even the occasional dogsled team are sometimes spotted on the trail as well. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the Cataraqui, with the exception of snowmobiles, which are permitted on the trail in the winter. The local snowmobile club does a lot of trail maintenance, so its an amicable relationship.

It used to be rare to see runners on the Cataraqui, but with the trail surface having recently been improved, more and more runners are taking advantage of this convenient playground and workout venue.

Cataraqui Trail Tips:

Website: http://www.rideau-info.com/cattrail (includes map)

Footing: Easy to moderate. Trail shoes can be helpful in some sections, but road shoes are adequate.


  • Winter: Be alert for snowmobiles on trail during the winter months.
  • Hunting: While not permitted on the trail, be careful during hunting season as hunting is permitted on much of the adjacent property.

Derrick Spafford is the race director of the Sydenham Fall Trail Run. He lives along the Cataraqui route, in Yarker, Ont.

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