Red Clay Time Machine: PEI Heritage Roads

You don't have to travel to the northwest to get to the Klondyke Road. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

“I’m pretty sure we can get through here,” I told Glen. “Well, at least I can. You might have some trouble.”

Looking down the grown-in Wallis Road, I knew I could sneak my Yamaha WR250R through. Glen would have to do a bit more brush-bashing on his BMW R1100 GS, but I figured he’d make it too. A few minutes later, it turned out I was right on both counts. As we put our kickstands down and picked the shrubbery out of the bikes’ bodywork, I said, “I don’t think the rest of the trip will be like this — that was supposed to be the worst of it. But I guess we’ll find out.”

We would indeed find out. We’d decided to ride all of PEI’s Heritage Road system on our motorcycles, but the very first road we came to was supposedly closed, according to Google Maps, anyway. Apparently, Google hadn’t reckoned on a motorcycle going where the camera car wouldn’t dare.

Upon exit from the Wallis Road, we discovered it was, indeed, closed. Google Maps was not mistaken. Credit: Zac Kurylyk


If you’re not from PEI, you probably don’t know about the Heritage Roads unless you’ve looked carefully at the provincial road map. They’re listed in the corner (or at least they used to be — I haven’t seen the 2023 tourists’ road map yet).

These roads are basically farm lanes that have been left to look as they did 100 or more years ago, before pavement rolled out across the Island. Think Anne of Green Gables’ era — this is the kind of road she would have walked.

Extra oil, an essential anytime you leave home on a 25-year-old motorcycle. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

PEI’s Department of Tourism describes them this way:

These narrow, red clay lanes are special places – each with a story. Spared from asphalt, these roads are no longer just avenues for getting from one place to another, but a unique part of our heritage.

The terrain over which these routes travel is varied and captivating. Steep hills, twists and turns lure the traveller onward. Vistas provide panoramic views of the countryside, as well as glimpses of rural life – farmsteads, new and abandoned as well as the remnants of sawmills and furniture factories – early enterprises that have since ceased operation.

“Tunnels” of foliage are found along some of these trails. Native hardwoods such as sugar maple, red maple, beech and red oak contribute to the arching canopies. Spruce, pine and hemlock provide contrast and depth when interspersed with deciduous trees and form sturdy hedgerows.

I grew up on the Island and had been on some of them before, but I hadn’t ridden them all. I’d been planning a trip to do so since about 2014. Now, with COVID regulations eased and travel to PEI much easier, it was time to make good on that plan.


It felt good riding from South Freetown to Mill River, the scene of our next stop. We were headed “up west,” as you say on PEI, and we ran along the Northumberland Strait as much as possible, avoiding the misery of Route 2, which is straight, boring, and filled with homicidal moto-maniacs. Union Corner, Egmont Bay, Enmore, along Route 11. It’s not exactly twisty, but the scenery is great, and there are some fun corners along the way.

The back roads on our road “up west” gave us a chance to stop and check out the quiet lanes that lead down small backcountry wharves. Credit: Glen Howatt

And then we were at the Hackeney Road, the only Heritage Road in western PEI. It was in much better condition than the Wallis Road where we’d started, but like most of PEI’s unpaved roads, it holds hidden dangers for the unwary motorcyclist. It looks smooth enough, but the red dirt turns into sand when it dries out or slippery clay when it’s soggy. With appropriate tires and a steady throttle hand, no problem. But if you get ham-fisted with the gas or if your tires aren’t up to the task, it’s surprisingly easy to woods it, especially if you wander into one of the ruts left by farm tractors.

Glen and I had grown up riding this stuff, so we knew what to expect. It turned out that the Hackeney Road was a short, pleasant, tree-lined ride through farm fields. It was the kind of road you’d walk your dog down off-leash. The kind of road that used to carry all of PEI’s traffic. The kind of road that the tourism department wants to keep around to remind visitors that once upon a time, the Island wasn’t all water parks, country music festivals, overpriced cabin rentals, and seasonal restaurants filled with jaded wait staff.


To be fair, this western end of PEI really does look pretty much the same as it did when I grew up there. There’s some tourist traffic, but nowhere near the development you see in the Cavendish area. And the roads are in much better shape now compared to when I used to run my Yamaha XS650 here, wondering what part would fall off next and how I’d get home when that happened.

We headed back east via Route 12, which is a lot like Route 11; you ride through some small towns, some sprucy-looking swamps, and see some coastal views. I think the curves are better along Route 12, though, at least through the Grand River/Lot 16 area.

We had some daylight left, so we figured we’d run the Heritage Roads around Irishtown next en route to our digs for the night. I’d been on the County Line Road and the Millman Road before and knew what to expect here. The top of the County Line road is so closely lined with softwood trees that even the brightest days see heavy shade, although the hay fields that line the road are always bright. And jigging over to the Millman Road, it’s more of the same; straight, some minor washouts where the sand is heaviest, and a very cool POI at the southern end of the road as it runs past the now-shuttered Woodleigh Replicas amusement park. You probably wouldn’t expect to see a large-scale model of the Tower of London in rural PEI, but there it is.

From there, it was a pleasant ride through gorgeous New London, then down Route 6 until we cut off to North Rustico in the darkening mid-evening. Our digs for this trip? Not some tourist cottage or campground. We were staying at our family’s property at the North Rustico lighthouse, sleeping in the same fisherman’s hut that we’d used on previous moto trips to PEI, before COVID. It was very spartan accommodation; no running water, no lights, no curtains on the windows, even. But it was a dry roof over our heads, and it felt good to throw our sleeping bags out at the only place on PEI that’s ever really felt like home in the years since I moved away.


At sun-up, the skies threatened a soggy day, but Glen figured he’d be OK without his rainsuit. It was mid-summer; how miserable could it get?

Behold our swank accommodations! Credit: Zac Kurylyk

It could get pretty miserable, it turned out, as we zig-zagged around Tracadie Bay. We were headed “down east” on the same back roads we’d taken when we rode around here as constantly-broke UPEI students. I always enjoy a stop-in at St. Peters Harbour or Savage Harbour, but the thick mist was certainly taking the edge off the fun. As for Glen, he was getting downright soggy, and that’s no way to start a long day’s ride.

In St. Peters, we called it; we had to get off the bikes, warm up and dry out. There was one table left open at Rick’s Fish and Chips; the waitress kept the coffee coming, and between us, a scoff of deep-fried bar clams and haddock was exactly what our dampened spirits needed. By the time we’d filled up, the skies had lightened, and we were down Route 16 and on the New Harmony Road soon enough. That led to Souris, which in turn led to some jigging and jogging past Cardigan and Montague until we were on the roads in the lower southeast corner of the Island.

That is a solid way to beat the chill from riding in soggy fog. Credit: Zac Kurylyk
Most of these farm roads follow the old property lines, splitting between fields that have been farmed for hundreds of years. Credit: Glen Howatt

Jacks Road is the best of the lot down here; it ends at Route 1, close to the Wood Islands ferry terminal. It also nearly ended my ride, as I had more confidence than traction at one point and slid off into the shallow ditch in a slippery clay section. Pin-it-to-win-it got me back on track quickly with no harm done, but it was a good reminder to pay attention on these roads. They look safe enough, but the clay can send you on a sideways trip into the woods.


The sun was burning hot as we rode past Charlottetown, a complete contrast to the earlier cold, soggy misery. I’d spent a lot of time riding out here, in Stratford, on the Bypass, through North River, when I was in college and university. It’s all much different now. There are more people, more cars, and more businesses selling stuff to people in cars. But what wasn’t different was the excellent Heritage Road network through the square formed by Green Bay, South Melville, Emyvale and Kellys Cross. I’d been through here before on both a bike and a car and remembered this area had some of the best unpaved roads on PEI. It held true again, along with the Warburton Road and Old Princetown Road that lay a few miles to the North. These are fun roads, with more corners than much of the rest of the network, a mixture of roads and trees and some hills, too.

A stop at Savage Harbour. There are a few unpaved roads in this area, some of them heavily traveled, but they aren’t designated as Heritage Roads. Credit: Zac Kurylyk
While the roads are mostly flat, you do encounter washouts, and the surface can be very slippery if wet, sandy if dry. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

You don’t want to blast through here at warp speed; you might run into a pedestrian or a tractor. But for a pleasant country dirt road, this is the best that PEI has to offer.

We’d originally planned to save some of this riding for the next day, on the way to the Confederation Bridge when we rode home to New Brunswick. But why delay? The weather was perfect at this point, and we had no other plans for the evening. As it turned out, we’d chosen wisely; we rolled out of the Old Princetown Road and in a hurried conversation, noted a massive storm cloud to the south. I’m talking the kind of cloud that looks CGI’d. Big and dark and mean.

At day’s end, we beat the rainclouds, but not by much. Through supper, we watched one of the most powerful thunderstorms I’ve ever seen. Credit: Glen Howatt

We booted it back to North Rustico on the double and had barely made it back to our shack when the clouds opened up. We ate camp stove cuisine that night as the sun went down with the rain. We left the hut’s door open, watching massive streaks of lightning tear apart the night skies.



The next morning, the rain was gone, but showers found us soon enough, sprinkling as we did our usual run back home through New Brunswick along the Kennebecasis River route. It’s the same route we used on the old Dawn 2 Dusk Rally a decade ago, and it’s still perfect for a couple of adventure bikes on the hustle.

Really, the whole weekend had been perfect. The goal of riding all the Heritage Roads had been a modest one, but it was still a goal we hadn’t achieved before, and we’d done it, and the roads themselves had mostly been very enjoyable. Rain and mist had dogged us much of the weekend, but we’d pushed through it, and it had made the sun that much more sweeter when it returned.

It was the last time we had to stay at “the beach house.” A couple of months after our trip, Hurricane Fiona destroyed the buildings here. But the Heritage Roads are still there… Credit: Glen Howatt

We also revisited our family property and stayed in the old homestead one more time after years of COVID shutdowns. It felt good.

It was the last time we would stay there. A couple of months later, the building was washed away by Hurricane Fiona. We haven’t found so much as a single piece of wreckage since. After generations on the property, it’s gone. But the Heritage Roads, the roads used by the same people who lived in that old fisherman’s hut, still remain, and if you get a chance to ride them, you should. Just remember to ride carefully so you don’t end up in the woods…


  1. Great adventure on many levels.I now have a mission planned to the island.Rebuilding a KLR650 (08 ) over the winter. Installing SHINKO 705 dual purpose tyres. I hope they work in the red mud!

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