I was recently doing a bit of shopping around for a Canadian beach-front rental near Buffalo. In my search I kept reading references to the Fort Erie Friendship Trail. When I was in high school and college I would often ride my bike up to the Canadian beaches from what we then called the West Side but now call the Elmwood Village. There were no bike paths in the city and certainly none in Canada. Much of the ride was pleasant but, often I was forced onto very busy very bike-unfriendly roads.
The Friendship Trail runs roughly from the the Peace Bridge to the south end of the Welland Canal hugging the lake shore. I believe that it is the newest leg of the Greater Niagara Circle Route, which is composed of 4 distinct bike paths forming a rough rectangle defining much of the Niagara Region. In addition to the Friendship Trail along the Lake Erie shore, the Circle Route also includes the “Welland Canals Trail (roughly following its namesake on a north south route), The Waterfront Trail (an east/west leg along Lake Ontario), And the River Recreation Trail ( a north south leg traversing the entire Canadian shore of the Niagara River.
Much of the Circle Route is separated from traffic. And though it is in Canada, this amazing asset is also extremely accessible to people in Buffalo. Several trails now available in the city are directly linked to the Peace Bridge with only short stints on city Streets. Within the city a biker can travel within parks and on separated trails from as far as Downtown, The Buffalo Zoo, Tonawanda and beyond to the Erie Canal and Grand Island. My previous experience riding sans bike path in Canada made me curious about the Friendship Trail so I put out a call for some information. A friend’s son, Austin Sanders responded:
“I ride from Buffalo to Fort Erie on the trail at least once a week. Last summer I rode to Port Colborne a few times, the trail layout and scenery is different in each area along the ride.”
Austin grew up in the Elmwood Village and on the Canadian shore. He offered to give us a brief tour of the Friendship Trail and hopefully will grace us with more writing on BRO in the future.
From Austin Sanders:
Following the current of the Niagara river the Niagara River Recreation Trail bends north flowing in the direction of the Falls. Head south and west instead to find the Fort Erie Friendship Trail. This trail wraps along the coastline beneath the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge and beneath the ramparts of the recreated 1812 Fort Erie garrison and the nostalgic flying colors of the Union Jack. Here at the tip of the Niagara Peninsula the Trail bends towards the west, entering the woods behind the ruins of the historic Fort Erie Hotel at Waverly beach. The long views of the international river border and the Buffalo skyline from the Canadian perspective are replaced by the dense cover of canopy overhead. Road markers and maps at each crossroad along the straight running path of the rail trail makes navigation simple, while well maintained benches, waste cans, and grass shoulders beside the path allow the crossings to serve as rest breaks. The roads are marked with painted crossings and signs to motorists. At night the path lies in total darkness, turning the night over to fireflies and constellations.
The Trail passes directly through the Town of Ridgeway where a few intimate restaurants known stateside for their Canadian dishes graciously welcome travelers who utilize the trail and view the town as a destination in itself. Moving west beyond Ridgeway and the battlegrounds of 1866 the path takes on a prairie feel as the canopy diminishes, opening on to vast crop fields. Nearing Sherkston Beach, as the path moves further from the shoreline, the only topography becomes that of rhythmically set hay bails. Then in the distance a towering lift bridge breaks the horizon growing slowly each mile nearing Port Colborne. Finally crossing the bridge, and with it the southern end of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a view widens across Lake Erie to unseen Ohio. Here the mammoth Port Colborne grain elevators reflect the impressive history of shipping and industry that shaped this international junction on the Great Lakes. Northward the Welland Canal’s Parkway Trail continues 42-km to St. Catherines and up along the Lake Ontario coastline.
In contrast to the specter of Buffalo’s mighty industrial heritage glimpsed in neighboring Port Colborne, taking the Friendship Trail instead northward up the Niagara River Recreational Trail leads to Ontario’s compact and bustling tourism hub perched on the Falls. Further north the Niagara River Trail reaches up to Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country. Here the path turns into the Waterfront Trail completing the impressive 140-km loop. Both the Peace Bridge and the Rainbow Bridge connect to this loop which constitutes the Greater Niagara Circle Route. Entering Canada, bicyclists need only make their way to Niagara Boulevard to meet the trail on the river’s edge, at the location of the popular Ming Teh restaurant. For travelers leaving Canada the trail is streamlined directly out of the Mather Arch Park. On the American side of the Peace Bridge the Delaware Parks, Riverside, and Tonawanda bike paths all connect to Niagara Street. Information on crossing the bridge is available at the peacebridge.com website.