By Sherry Ott
There are some places in the world so picture-perfect, it seems like they can't be real. As I biked across the PEI countryside through rolling hills of green fields, patches of colorful purple lupins blowing in the wind, and bucolic farms, I thought – this is so quintessential it hurts. Then just when you think the view can't get any better, you cycle to the coastline where the trail intertwines with the beaches, the blue sky dips down to greet the red cliffs, and lighthouses abound. Finally, you finish your biking day peddling into a colorful little seaside town full of small, local businesses where fresh-caught seafood is available on every corner. I don't think I could put together a better place to bike if I tried.
There's no better way to see and experience Prince Edward Island than from a bicycle seat.
Biking in PEI
I set out to see PEI by bike on the Great Canadian Trails' Prince Edward Island by Bike itinerary. This 5-day self-guided trip promised to deliver a way to see the island at a slow pace where you could meet locals and enjoy all of the scenery in an active way.
The beauty of this trip is that Great Canadian Trails takes care of everything for you; accommodations, luggage transfer, bike rental (and most bike gear), as well as transportation around the island when needed. They even provide a phone app with turn-by-turn directions of the routes, and while biking, it tells you about points of interest along the way.
That means all you have to think about is where to eat seafood every night!
Self-Guided, But Not Alone
I embarked on this journey across PEI with the hope of getting some exercise and eating lobster; however, I quickly learned this biking adventure would be much more than that. It also included meeting locals, fishing culture, North American history, literature, and a newfound love of potatoes.
Logistics: Leave it to GCT
Wearing a red Sox hat- our logistics Czar, George, jovially told stories the entire drive to the start of the trail. This is supposed to be a self-guided tour; however, any time you spend with George is 'guided' because he loves to share information about the island he grew up on.
He picked us up to drive us to the bike shop and then to the beginning of the trailhead. But he also checked in on us regularly and had other employees pick us up from other spots that we couldn't bike to/from. He told us stories, educated us on history, and, most of all, embodied what the people of PEI were about – hospitality. He cared for us like we were his ducklings.
And most importantly, GCT picks up and moves your luggage each day, making your daily peddling a breeze! George and his team expertly move your heavy luggage, and every evening, when you arrive at your destination – there it is – waiting for you. All you have to take with you each day on the bike is simply what you need on the ride.
Biking Across the Best of PEI
We biked through forests, farms, seaside villages, wetlands, and national and provincial parks; there was never a boring view.
One of the primary trails we were on was the famous Confederation Trail. The 'Confederation Trail' reaches from the far west to the far east coast of the island – A route which is known locally as the 'tip-to-tip' trail. It's a perfectly groomed rail trail following the old rail lines on the island. We started and ended the trip on the Confederation trail, and I appreciated its gentle grades and shade. One of my favorite areas was the ride from Morell to Saint Peter's Bay, where we were treated to multiple bridges and inlets teaming with bird life.
We biked along the Gulf Shore Parkway in Prince Edward Island National Park for a couple of days. The parkway connects the beaches of Cavendish to North Rustico to Brackley to Covehead to Stanhope. The bike path runs next to the car parkway – but you can't get any closer to the coast than by biking along this beautiful paved pathway. There were even a few opportunities to bike along the floating boardwalks!
We stopped at every beach and lighthouse to enjoy the views, and I even took a dip at the beautiful Covehead lighthouse beach early in the morning when we had the entire beach to ourselves!
I will admit I was a bit nervous at first when we left the ease of the Confederation Trail to hop on the shoulder of a road, but I was impressed with just how great the local drivers were at giving bikers plenty of room. You can tell that the islanders are very bike aware. Plus, the traffic on our road routes was really light, so it wasn't as intimidating as I originally thought.
The road routes did seem to be a bit hillier – but nothing to be too concerned about, especially if you chose an e-bike! I loved the rolling hills and farms in these areas; they were so picturesque.
The itinerary also takes you through Greenwich National Park, where you can spend time off the bike hiking the impressive floating boardwalks and coast. Or it's also a great place to rest your legs and have a beach day!
Bike Around a Literary Giant
You have the option of biking through and spending time in Cavendish, the 'real home' of the fictional town of Avonlea from the book Anne of Green Gables. If you read the book series, this is a 'must stop' on your itinerary. There are a number of AOGG attractions around Cavendish, but if you only have time for one – check out the post office. You'll find a historical museum about the author and learn about her childhood that inspired her to write the popular series. Plus – you can get an AOGG stamp!
My favorite day was riding into the town of North Rustico. This cute community had a newly developed boardwalk that doubled as a bike trail. We rode from the beach along the inlet and right into the wharf, where fishing boats were docked for the day. The colorful fishing huts were not only cute – but functional. You could tell the waterfront was an active wharf, and I could only imagine the hustle and bustle around the area in the mornings! Lobster traps were stacked high, and the boats were immaculate. Each fishing village meant a fresh seafood lunch or dinner for me – often both!
The day we biked into North Rustico was also the day that I had my favorite lobster dinner at the world-famous Fisherman's Wharf lobster restaurant. It was also the day I was introduced to eating my lobster cold – like a local.
Biking Means Guilt-Free Eating
PEI is called Canada's food island. Biking and burning calories across the food island mean you can enjoy all the delicious cuisine PEI has to offer without guilt, especially lobster! Here are a few of my favorites and surprises.
Seafood Glorious Seafood
I admit – my main seafood love is lobster – so any time I had the chance, that's what I ate. In fact, I got so good at cracking through and eating a whole lobster by the end of 5 days I think I could've been considered a 'local lobster eater'! Even though whole lobster was my preferred preparation, I also had plenty of lobster rolls with big hunks of PEI freshly caught lobster on a butter-toasted bun. I even had a lobster pizza one night to mix things up!
In addition to my favorite crustacean, a PEI must try is the oysters. You'll cycle past many oyster farms, my favorite being the Colville Bay Oyster Farm in Souris on day 5. Their distinctive green shells and salty-sweet flavor are known all over the island. I biked all day, thinking about celebrating with Colville Bay oysters that evening!
Potatoes are king in PEI. Thanks to the 'perfect storm' of weather and landscape that produce the award-winning PEI potatoes known around the world. George fed us fun potato trivia like - if PEI were a country, it would be the 7th largest producer of potatoes in the world!
Every restaurant we stopped in always served up an ice cream scoop of the famous PEI traditional potato salad. Normally made with homemade mayonnaise, this potato salad is the perfect accompaniment to lobster and any seafood. I also highly recommend having PEI potatoes the 'purist' way – boiled with butter – simple and delicious!
However, my biggest and most delicious potato surprise came when I was in Souris and came across the shop Oh Fudge! I (along with the rest of the world) had no idea you could make fudge out of potatoes. I was skeptical at first bite, and then the creamy goodness hit my palette. I couldn't even comprehend how potato fudge could be this incredible. It really did taste like fudge, and no spud taste at all. Then the biggest surprise of all was revealed – each square was only 20 calories. It didn't even make sense to me how something this delicious and sweet could only be 20 calories…and by the way, gluten-free and sugar-free (the only sugar in the square comes from chocolate). Do yourself a favor – try the PEI potato fudge… you'll never want regular fudge…or even a candy bar again.
Bike 30km/19mi – heck, yes, you can have ice cream! PEI is known for its world-famous COWS ice cream stores. It's delicious, and you'll find the stores in all the right places. They have grown from one shop on the Cavendish Boardwalk to 11 stores across Canada and one in Beijing, China.
However – once you get into the rural parts of PEI you get exposed to the little mom-and-pop shops located in small villages. That's how I found Cherry On Top Ice Cream shop in the seaside town of Souris. Located on the main street of Souris, the door to the little shop was open, inviting me to come in. But what really pulled me in was the incredible energy and happiness coming from inside. I don't think I've ever met people who were so excited and passionate about ice cream. Their passion was well directed – once you have a taste of their small batch of handmade ice creams, you too will be telling everyone in the world about it! My favorite was the rhubarb crisp; however, their flavours change seasonally.
I know what you are thinking; why would you want hot chocolate in the middle of summer while biking? Well – it's likely that during one of those perfect biking days on your trip, the temperatures may drop, the clouds open up, and there will be torrential rain. And you better hope that day you find yourself in St. Peters Bay, where you can walk into the Black & White Bakery and get a soul-warming hot chocolate.
Bed, Breakfast, and Local Charm
Much like the theme of Anne of Green Gables - this island community is welcoming, and they go out of their way to make you feel like you are a part of it - like you belong.
You won't find chain hotels on PEI, which mean each accommodation has a unique, local flair. We stayed in a variety of small bed and breakfast inns, motels, and cottages. Many of the places we stayed felt as if we had stepped back in time and had incredible views. I adored the cottages at Brackley Beach and the views the last night at the lighthouse hotel.
To top it off, we could leave the bikes unlocked everywhere we went...the beauty of PEI.
Tips For Your Self-Guided PEI Adventure
- Make sure you talk to your driver, who does your transportation. This could be George, or it could be one of his employees. Your driver is kind of your lifeline to the area/village you are in. They told us what restaurants to go to in the village or, most importantly – if there weren't any restaurants open in the village. We went during shoulder season (June), and not all restaurants and lodging were open for the season yet. Our driver could let us know that and tell us where to get food on the way or how to even plan the next day for lunch on the trail, etc.
- If you want to see the abundance of lupins bloom, plan your trip for June! They bloom from June to mid-July, making the already beautiful landscapes even more jaw-dropping. Plus – they are great places to take photos! (Add Lupin photos)
- If you have any bike problems, you need to talk to your awesome driver because the drivers not only transport you, but they can also fix bikes! And if there's something they can't repair and you absolutely need a different bike for some reason, they can get it out to you. It's beautiful because the island is small, and Charlottetown is really kind of in the middle. Bringing a bike or part from Charlottetown is actually fairly easy and doesn't take long.
- Use the navigation app that GCT provides. It had so much information about sights, where to eat, and points of interest. In addition, it tells you a bit about where you will stay each night and even what to pack.
- Worried about the difficulty, or maybe you are a beginning biker, rent an e-bike! It allows you to enjoy your time on the trail even more! All of the accommodations provide charging.
The five days flew by, and suddenly George was picking us up to take us back to Charlottetown and our flights. We reminisced with George about our favorite parts of the island, our favorite foods, and the wonderful people we met along the way. I was sort of sad to hand back my bike in Charlottetown; it had delivered so much serenity to me. Sure, we worked hard and biked 185km/115mi, but it was a beautiful way to be active, see the best of PEI, and eat lobster every day! From farmland to coastal parks and villages, PEI has it all for a perfect biking holiday.