updated on: March 20, 2017
Remote Snowmobile Vacations Done Right
Going to the Snow in the Heart of Northern Ontario Backcountry
A passion for the sport and a rare ingenuity around hospitality are drawing sledders to Horwood Lake Lodge, where there's always more to do than time to do it!
Nostalgia—that's the feeling I had leaving Horwood Lake Lodge after visiting for the first time. I didn’t want my winter wonderland weekend to end, but the thought of spring and fall ATVing and summer fishing has me excited for more weekends and stays at Horwood Lake Lodge to come. The weekend I spent at Horwood was absolutely picture perfect and far exceeded my expectations of any "lodge life."
Road Trip time
I travelled with my friends Ryan Tarrant, Mike Jacobs, and Virgil Knapp from Southwestern Ontario along Highway 11 up to Northeastern Ontario and the City of Timmins. The road trip set the tone for the whole weekend—non-stop laughs and fun, the typical tendencies for any "guys weekend." There's never a dull moment when we’re all together, and these are the moments and memories I live for.
We arrived in Timmins later in the evening, so instead of going directly to Horwood Lake Lodge, we stayed one night at Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa. This allowed us to have dinner with Guy Lamarche, Tourism and Events Manager for the City of Timmins. He's the mastermind behind all things tourism for the city and I can’t wait to come back and participate in The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge this August 25-27. Maybe then I’ll have time to enjoy everything Cedar Meadows Resort has to offer—from the day spa and Nordic baths to the wilderness tour through the park to see moose, bison and elk.
From Timmins to Horwood Lake Lodge, it was about an hour and a half drive down Highway 101. We left Timmins early in the morning and began the approximately 90-km drive to Horwood to allow for another full day at the lodge. The Kenogaming Road turnoff from Highway 101 was snow covered and windy, but easy enough to navigate to our destination.
Upon arriving at Horwood Lake Lodge we were greeted with kisses and cuddles by the four Alaskan Malamute "guard" dogs—they are the sweetest and friendliest, and I definitely wanted to take one home with me.
After all of the excitement with the dogs, we were welcomed with open arms by Mike Brazeau, Horwood Lake Lodge owner and manager. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to be sweeter than the Horwood dogs, but Mike is the most genuine, humble, hardworking, and pioneering man I have ever met. A native of Timmins, he has lived in Southwestern Ontario for the greater part of his life for work and to raise his family. It was a dream of his to come back to Timmins and live in the "great white Ontario north."
Four years ago in March 2013, Horwood Lake Lodge came up for sale as a seasonal lodge and Mike put an offer on it, without even letting his wife Jaana know! The rest, as they say, is history. Mike and Jaana have moved back north to own and operate the lodge, and they’ve fully transformed it into a four-season playground.
The Off-Grid LifeStyle
As an outdoorsy person, there is nothing I like more than being "off-grid." Mike has fully converted this lodge to be self-sufficient. The electricity is solar and battery powered, a 300-foot well has been dug for clean, safe drinking water, and 10,000 litres of premium, non-ethanol gas is available for sleds and boats alike. Cell phone service is not always available, but they do have satellite Wi-Fi to stay in communication.
Mike took us on a tour of their whole facility, including the shop with its own groomer, skid steer, Kubota RTV, the fish cleaning house and docks, European sauna which will be expanding soon to include a screened-in hot tub room, the battery and solar panel cabin which will also be expanded this spring to house a greenhouse, the main lodge and restaurant, the eight rental cabins with a total of 58 beds, and three tipis with 12 bed spaces.
There's a lot going on up there, but I can’t forget to mention the fishing boat rentals—16-foot Mirro Craft flat floor boats with full swivel seats, live wells, depth finders, and 20 hp Yamaha outboards. And soon they’ll have Honda Foreman 500 ATVs and Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry snowmobiles for rent. It truly is an autonomous lodge, inspired by Mike’s vision for living independently and self-reliant.
To the Trails
For this excursion, we were treated to some great machines courtesy of the good people at Mikey's, who sell and service all manner of fun things that go. They dropped off three sleds for us, an 850 Ski-Doo Summit X with a Mikey's Edition wrap, a 600 Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry, and an 800 Ski-Doo GSX. We also had the Polaris 800 Switchback Assault and 800 Switchback Pro S that we'd trailered up with. A pretty decent situation to be in!
The main reason we came up here was to snowmobile. Horwood Lake Lodge offers 180 km of privately groomed trails that Mike grooms himself with his own New Holland TS 110 groomer, fitted with a Shurtrac 10-foot wide drag. As snow conditions change in southern Ontario and snow become less and less, you’re always guaranteed a white winter in Timmins.
There was no shortage of snow when we were at Horwood and the trails were groomed perfectly smooth. Mike prides himself on his trails and trail conditions. No trail permit is needed—you can stay at the lodge and enjoy the trails. There’s plenty of space for backcountry riding on nearby Crown land, and the backcountry trail zones are marked as well.
Our ride on the weekend started out with breaking an ATV trail that had not had sleds on it for over six years. That’s my idea of trail riding, no tracks and about six inches of freshly fallen snow from the day before. There were a lot of overhanging branches and a couple trees down, but we made it through. With a little work, this trail will be up and running for sleds, adding to the kilometres of private trails Horwood has to offer.
Our crew spent the day riding the trails with Mike, the owner, and I threw in a little backcountry riding and pow carving too. It was the first time in over 16 years that Mike had spent an entire day just riding the trails as opposed to maintaining them, so I felt pretty lucky to have been able to share that time with him.
A Barn Burner of a Night
There’s no shortage of adventures and fun at Horwood and on Saturday night, Mike and the staff at Horwood planned a "barn-burning party." There was an old horse barn on the property that was falling down, and Mike wanted to make room to add six more tipis. Rather than just tearing it down, he thought: let’s have a burning party, and have Dabrowski’s Smoked Meats cater an all-you-can-eat rib dinner.
What a great idea, and was it ever successful! Sledders rode in from the Timmins and Foleyet areas. Some people drove from Timmins as well, and of course, all of the people staying at the lodge were there to watch the spectacle. The barn was lit at sunset and took 9.5 minutes to collapse—we had bets. It was one of the hottest fires I’ve ever witnessed!
Like I said, the barn had to come down to make room for six more tipis that Mike wants to build. Currently, there are three and I had the opportunity to stay in one by myself for one night. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life—it takes "glamping" to the next level.