Finding the Road Less Traveled


Recently on a Frontseat Driving event I was asked how I had found such a great collection of backroads.  I simply answered with a laugh that I drive a lot. While that IS true, and while I do oftentimes simply steer the car up a road simply because I’m not familiar with it, truthfully there is a lot more to finding great driving roads especially when travelling abroad.


Before you can travel the road less traveled, you have to find it.  Today’s mapping technology, along with the proliferation of GPS has made navigation a breeze.  Getting from point A to point B has never in history been so easy, and so terribly boring.


These days finding your way is as easy as plugging in your destination, you don’t even need to include your current location, the magic box in your hand knows precisely where you are.  Instantly this results in typically two or three routes being mapped out, one is the route with the shortest distance, perhaps a toll free route, and even one avoiding construction or traffic delays.


That’s fine for getting to the airport, or finding the nearest Starbucks but when it comes to enjoying the narrow, and twisty backroads and the small towns that dot them, today’s tools are nearly useless.

While new technology has it’s place, when it comes to finding great driving routes we use old technology, usually books.  Instantly you likely think of atlases and folding paper maps, as they are certainly invaluable tools of the trade.  While we’ll cover both shortly they aren’t our first choice in fact it’s history and geography books that we have found to be the most useful.  No we don’t read them before every outing, but once you’ve read a few they become the single greatest source of reference.  The knowledge contained within them provides the foundation that the rest of our efforts rest upon.


Seems a stretch, I know so let’s quickly dispel your incredulity with a quick explanation. Understanding how man got around, and how the land was settled and the first roads developed through time, provides some insight into finding great routes.


Regardless of where you live, who was there first, or who tamed the wilderness to build communities as we know them, following the steps of the first explorers and those that followed will always lead to great driving roads.


I think we can all agree that the best roads, are the winding and undulating roads.  And those roads are usually the oldest roads. This isn’t by chance. The earliest roads evolved from foot paths, that were in fact worn by hunters following (usually) deer, as a result nearly every locale in North America has a Deer Run road.  Later many roads simply followed the European settlers’ footsteps as they puddle jumped from lake to lake along rivers as they made their way inland.  Here again put Portage Road into Google maps and see how many hits you find.


Man has always relied on water.  Whether as routes of travel, to feed their crops and livestock, or run their mills that ground flour, cut lumber, and eventually produced electricity.  So as the settlers made their way upriver eventually deciding to put in roots along the way, towns sprung up. The roads connecting these towns simply followed the path of least resistance, alongside the river.  And rivers rarely run straight.

While rivers rarely run straight they always run in the lowlands, often in the valleys of hills or even mountains.  While building a road upriver was pretty easy the need to build roads from one valley to the adjacent valley required greater engineering.  These roads followed the topography for ease of construction, which of course was very rarely straight, instead often climbing and curling around these same hills and mountains.


Of course as trade and industry increased, and before trains spanned great distances with ease, ships were the transportation mode of choice.  Ships relied on the depth of oceans, the deepest rivers, and large lakes, which is of course where you find the world’s largest cities. These large cities usually built up on vast flat areas at the mouths of rivers, became the greatest sources of employment and thus settlement.  This left the smaller hamlets, towns, and villages on tributaries, and valleys upriver to grow more slowly, and to resist industrial growth all the while becoming increasingly charming and quaint.  While some of these early roads were eventually flattened, straightened and paved smooth, in most cases that was impracticable and they remain twisty two lane roads to this day.


So through our history and geography books we’ve learned that the best roads follow rivers, and valleys running upstream from the big cities.  We’ve learned that mountain passes (also called gaps in the American south) connecting valleys are equally twisty in addition to offering great views.  And since the largest cities are usually found further downstream at the mouths of these rivers, the most charming small towns and villages are often found along these same roads.


In many cases the towns, villages, and hamlets of past are long gone made redundant by evolving technology.  But often vestiges of their industry are left behind.  Towns as mentioned earlier often sprung up alongside a creek or river often at the site of a waterfall or set of rapids where the rushing water could power a mill.  Often those mills remain as historic monuments, fancy restaurants, antique shops, or maybe just a decrepit foundation of field stone.  Sometimes the memory is so faint that one has to rely on the road’s name, but rest assured most any Old Mill Road will be a decent driving road or in the vicinity of some.


Some other vestiges of times past, are kilns and quarries, dams, bridges, tunnels, school houses, and of course churches.  Sometimes the features are right in the street name, but searching for any of these features is a good tactic.  There are even entire websites dedicated to just historic bridges and if an old bridge remains, it’s likely a narrow road with little traffic, and we know bridges cross creeks and rivers – sounds like a good recipe doesn’t it?


One usually thinks of dusty western deserts when the term ‘ghost town’ is used,  however the truth is ghost towns exist all over the continent.  While they may not appear readily on a map, these towns of past still intrigue us and are extensively covered in books and websites online.

So we are nearly ready to refer to mapbooks.  But before we go to the obvious resources, lets cover a few more less obvious ones.  While I haven’t actually used the word yet, what we’ve been discussing so far relies heavily on topography, the actual physical contours of the land, the elevation differences. While we could refer directly to topographic maps they aren’t readily available at the auto club, or gas station, and they certainly aren’t easy to read on the side of the road. However there are hints to topography found in more readily available resources.


Sadly humans consume and use every square inch of land that we can unless it is cost prohibitive. Generally speaking we avoid building on the sides of mountains or large hills, landslides, avalanches, or just the sheer cost of building are some obvious reasons why.  Added to that is that we heavily rely on agriculture. The best arable land is flat receiving sunlight all day, expansive, and fed by rivers.


It is for that reason that our Provincial, State, and National parks and Public Land are either extremely remote, or in areas otherwise too expensive to build on or to farm.  Usually because of the proliferation of mountains, hills, lakes, swamps and marsh land.

Locating these parks or federal lands is a sure fire method of finding good driving roads.  Finding the parks is straight forward, they are the green areas on the map however finding federal lands requires a bit of effort.  In the United States these lands are governed by the BLM the Bureau of Land Management and maps are available from them. In Canada maps showing Crown land are available online at each province’s website.


These same areas are also the destinations of skiers, sport fishers, rock climbers, kayakers, canoeists, mountain bikers, hunters, ATVers, 4×4 offroaders and many others.  In most cases the roads leading to these destinations are great driving roads, so investigating where these outdoor sportfolk are active will surely lead you to good driving roads.


Okay time to finally discuss the obvious tool of the trade, the atlas or mapbook and folding maps.  As a reminder we are still discussing the finding and planning stages of the process.  For that reason size wins. Size in this case meaning big pages not many pages. Using a large easily legible atlas or folding map will make your work easier and likely will show ALL road whereas smaller versions omit the smaller backroads.  In order to get the most detail, it’s advisable to purchase an atlas covering as small a geographic area as possible for your needs. For example you’ll likely get a more detailed map in an atlas covering your province or state than you would an atlas showing an entire country or continent.

To get the most out of your atlas or map take the time to learn the legend, differentiating between freeways and two lanes highways, or our absolute favorites recreational roads is essential.  As we have been reminded a few times recently identifying gravel roads is also important when planning routes others will be travelling. While we don’t have paint jobs worth worrying about many others do!


If you are using an atlas or map that includes topography, learning how to read the contour lines, and associating the colours used with the grade will be an invaluable asset.


The Frontseat Driving atlases of choice for planning routes in Canada are by Backroad Mapbooks.  While our preference would be for even larger maps, truthfully they are of a size more conducive to bringing along in the car.  Being spiral bound makes them even easier to use in the tight confines of the cabin, if you choose to bring them along. More importantly they include an incredible amount of info. Topographic contour lines, roads of all sizes, even deactivated roads, snowmobile routes, and motorized trails are included.  


As was mentioned earlier, knowing where outdoor enthusiasts go to have fun is a good clue to where the good driving is.  The BRMB mapbooks include info on hunting, fishing, paddling, ATV, and camping destinations among other pursuits all adding to their usefulness.


In the United States our go to resource is Mad Maps.  Mad Maps produce water and tear resistance folding maps made for the tough life on the road.  What is especially unique about these maps is that they have already compiled the best driving routes around the nation and made them easy to follow.  With roadside sites of interest, restaurants, rest stops lodging and gas stations along the route already marked there is little to do but follow along.

What’s in a name?  Well often a description.  A road or place name with the physical features we have identified as associated with good driving is a bit of a no-brainer isn’t it?  Scanning the index for river, riverside, lake, pass, gap, rise, ridge, gorge, falls, mountain, hill, valley, rapids, crook, bend, and let’s not forget one of the most common descriptors – snake, is an excellent method of identifying good driving roads.


Finally, simply pouring over a map, looking for the blue squiggles of a river or creek, that cut through a block of green forested land, and the fine curvy lines of a backroad following alongside it can be not only informative but with relaxing music on in the background and your favorite beverage within reach also quite enjoyable itself.  Or maybe it’s just me which could explain how I ended up with a website about driving.   


As great as books and maps are, there is no denying the value of the internet.  Like most things in life consulting with others is an unparalleled resource. The internet is a phenomenal tool to this end.  Likely you are a member of at least one vehicle related forum frequented by folks from all over the country, the continent, maybe the world. Reaching out to others for driving route suggestions is a great opportunity to take advantage of, one we regularly use when planning routes abroad. Probably the single most active group of drivers going, are motorcyclists.  They are also very active on the internet, regularly sharing their favorite routes online with maps, photos, and even updated road conditions. There are websites that are solely focused on a single driving route or even a single stretch of road.


Of course we don’t only rely on paper maps, in fact we usually refer constantly to street views on Google while pouring over our atlas.  Coming soon we’ll look at some of the online resources that are out there, as well as apps and route mapping tools.  In the meantime if you have some tips of your own on finding good driving roads or just want to share your favorite drives, we’d love to hear from you.  Contact us, comment below or use our Facebook Page.


We love Autumn.  We love driving. We love driving with friends.  

We especially love Autumn driving with friends.

We did just that Sunday past.

Some of our favourite roads and a few squiggles we weren’t familiar with were thrown into Google maps, a last minute invite was posted onto Facebook and before you knew it a cruise was happening.  

It never fails to awe how a machine can bring people together as the automobile has managed to do, for over a 130 years.

Our unlikely cast came from all walks of lives.  Quite a few decades separated the youngest from the oldest .  Several of us have only known each other for a few weeks, and most only met that day.  Yet when you throw the love of cars and driving into the mix any differences quickly faded into the background and a bond instantly solidified.

It is perhaps ironic that in an age where there seems so much strife due to differing political, religious, and social values the attack on the automobile is at its height.  Maybe rather than attack car ownership we should celebrate it, and encourage driving events, and car club membership to bring unity and fellowship.

Okay so admittedly we’re romanticizing a bit and straying dangerously near politics but the point is, it’s pretty cool how a machine can bring folks together.  Heck, for all its importance to society you don’t hear about refrigerator clubs, or refrigerator meets do you?!

Enough words.  Here are some pretty pictures.

The route snaked up and down the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario between Burlington and Orangeville.  Whether weaving your way up, flying down, or approaching from a distance the escarpment provides a brilliant backdrop at this time of year. 

Despite the ‘seat of our pants’ planning that was employed in organizing the cruise at least some effort was expended in choosing the route.  Some roads were hit from the direction providing the best driving experience, while others were approached with the best view in mind.  

The route took us through a number of quaint towns and hamlets including Limehouse, Glen Williams, Terra Cotta, Cheltenham, Boston Mills, Inglewood, and Belfountain where we stopped for coffee and some treats.

A big thanks to everyone for making it out, it’s always more fun cruising with others, we appreciate the company. 

This coming Sunday October 28 Frontseat Driving will be hosting yet another cruise, this time in the Niagara Region.

Expect a great variety of rolling country roads, tight winding technical driving, riverside and lakeside views, several waterfalls, and along the entire route a beautiful autumn backdrop. We’ll stop for lunch and drop into a couple of wineries worth the stop even if you aren’t a wine drinker. We’ll roll through many small hamlets, and towns and stop to explore several unique neighbourhoods along the way.

A very special thanks to Larry Strung not only for all the car photos seen in this article, but also for the great company in the Fintail.  The best backseat driver Frontseat Driving has experienced yet!  You can reach Larry at

We’ll leave you with this beauty – perfectly curated with autumn themed paint and a rolling ribbon of asphalt behind it.


For the past two years, a humble but hugely fun auto event has been foremost on our driving itinerary.  We have attended the Cobourg Lions Club annual poker run – car rally two of the three years they’ve held the event.  This year marks the 4th and it is fast approaching.

The “humble” part comes through the fact that these are just some good folks enjoying their vehicles and taking in the countryside.  This is truly a run-what-you-brung event, no pretense to be found. 


Each year while remaining beautiful, the route changes and some new ideas are presented to challenge and delight not only the driver and navigator but even the crew in the backseat.  This is truly a fantastic family event.

So what is a poker run?  Like a navigational rally each team is presented with a route book that provides written directions that often require diligent attention as not every instruction is straight forward.  It’s during events like these that you realize how many intersections aren’t properly marked!


Along the way, you will be presented some challenges to prove that you have accurately stayed on the prescribed route.  These challenges provide an opportunity for the whole family to get involved as you all pile out of the car to search for a hidden cache of treasures, or perhaps record dates or details from a roadside historic plaque!

The poker run is about accuracy not speed, so these challenges offer a great opportunity to not only stretch the legs but grab a coffee, and a snack from a local bakery, hit the washroom, or grab a bit of gas if you left the house a little rushed.


The route will cover stunning landscapes, charming towns and villages, rolling hills and fun driving roads.  You will find no shortage of camera worthy views, it was a challenge to narrow our collection of photos down to just those in the post.

Along the roughly 150 kilometers, if you accurately stay on route you will encounter 5 checkpoints along the way.  This is where the poker comes in!  At each checkpoint you will choose a card that will make up a hand which back at the hall might score you one of the many shockingly impressive prizes.  Don’t worry, if your hand is looking light, there are chances to do some wheeling and dealing at the end!

The route leads back to the Lions’ Hall where a wonderful hot lunch awaits, with enough choices to please even the pickiest of eaters.  Here among the laughs, the war stories, and finger pointing (it’s always the driver’s fault) take the time to enjoy the warmth that stems not only from living in a small town, but being part of a COMMUNITY like that of Lions.


All that while you are supporting the countless community projects that the Lions are actively engaged in.  A truly worthwhile event for all!  This year the 4th Annual Cobourg Lakeshore Lions Club Poker Run is on October 20.  Email or call Christine Bayer at (905) 269-8505


It is truly with a heavy heart that we have to miss this years event. Please help us live vicariously through your adventures. Post up any photos of the event on our Facebook page.

The venue is a great little lakeside park offering a nice breeze, walking trails, and a kid’s play area, and would be well populated whether or not our cars were lined up for perusal.  

Why We Do it

Last week we attended a local cruise night.  We’ve been excited to have the Fintail out as it is undoubtedly a rare sight for most.  A couple buddies and their kids came out too, they aren’t as deeply immersed in the car scene as we are but like many, share an affinity for the automobile.   


In fact most of the audience at this cruise night could probably be described the same way.  Unlike most events where it really is just a bunch of gear heads looking at each other’s cars this event is very well attended by the general public.


The venue is a great little lakeside park offering a nice breeze, walking trails, and a kid’s play area, and would be well populated whether or not our cars were lined up for perusal.  



Strolling along the many lines of vehicles of all makes and models, it was interesting to overhear (okay, okay eavesdrop) the many conversations shared by this eclectic audience.  Of course nostalgia drove the bulk of the conversation, old stories from days long faded by the fog of time. Most were wistful, “My husband picked me up for our first date in a ‘58” or the “I could have bought one of these for $500 twenty years ago but…” or my favorite, a story about a young lad’s first driving experience in rural Ireland – rushing his mother, in the late stages of labour, to the hospital.


Of course some stories were more believable than others – you know the ones, standard fare for any automobile gathering – unbelievable horsepower claims, unlikely barnfinds, or “My buddy had one with factory one off, experimental heads that somehow slipped out to the dealership” – yeah sure he did LOL.  

The Cars or The People?

Among the many stories were perhaps even more questions (often whispered) and many answers in the form of shrugged shoulders, shaking heads, and looks of uncertainty.  Heck I had a lot of questions of my own, and often scanned the nearby attendees hoping to catch the attention of the car’s owner, usually to no avail.


It was at that point I realized, while indeed I’m there to enjoy the show, I should probably be around the Fintail, to perhaps answer some of the whispered questions that I’m certain my own car must have fielded.


Before I made my way back however I spotted a rare gem, an old boxy Volvo.  I was intrigued by a few details including a novel way to mimic a vintage battery, and an incredibly clean engine bay.  To my surprise the owner noticing my interest from afar, made the trip back to his lovely car to shoot the breeze.



Peter, with all the class in the world didn’t hesitate to throw our ‘young lad’ – someone he had met not more than 60 minutes earlier, the keys for a spin.

The owner, Peter, as it turns out is not only an incredibly talented fabricator, who will be lending his talents to the Finny,  but an enthusiastic owner, and an all around great guy. Remember the young Irish lad? Well the adult version (and his especially patient wife) spent the better part of an hour pouring over Peter’s Volvo which is as it happens, the spitting image of the Volvo he used to dash mom to the hospital.  He couldn’t hide the wave of emotion he felt, and you could see his wife’s deep understanding in her eyes, it really was quite touching. By this point of the evening the field of cars was thinning and Peter, with all the class in the world didn’t hesitate to throw our ‘young lad’ – someone he had met not more than 60 minutes earlier, the keys for a spin.  I’d bet good money our Irish friend went home and started shopping for boxy Volvo of his own.  And THAT is how the hobby carries on.  The car hobby thanks you Peter!


I won’t spoil too much about Peter’s Volvo not only because it will be featured here soon enough, but because, if you can’t tell this article isn’t about the cars, it’s about the people, and their stories!  


Next week, I’m going to make an effort to spend more time at the car, answer some questions, hear some stories, and hopefully for the second week in a row, make a new friend.  I hope this inspires you to do the same!  Car shows – are they about the cars or the people?