Editor's Note: Northeastern Ontario is full of ATV-ready destinations. If you're looking for organized trails, the Mattawa VMUTS trails are known far and wide for their wealth of groomed and signed trails; however, there are literally tens of thousands of kilometers of accessible crown land trails, like the ones Dave describes in this article. And plenty of camps that make ATVers feel right at home.
For many an ATV season now, Paul Foley and Tom Milc of the Ottawa Valley ATV Clubhave been bugging the Nation Valley ATV Club, to join them for their yearly pilgrimage north of North Bay in Northeastern Ontario to Opimika Wilderness Camp & Cottages. And for many a season, something has always come up and we have not been able to make it. Finally, this year was the year. We gathered our bikes and gear and off we went.
Opimika Wilderness Camp & Cottages is located on Troutbait Lake, approximately 90 km North-East of North Bay on Highway 63. The Nation Valley gang is not unfamiliar with hitting the Transcanada highway and heading in that direction. While our favourite place to stop for supper is the Tree-Top in Chalk River, we left early in the morning, so we hit our favourite spot for breakfast, the Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior, Ontario.
We met up with the President of the Ottawa Valley Club and another club member here. The Antrim Truck stop is exactly what you would expect for a truck stop on the Transcanada: ample parking, all-day breakfast, quick service, bakery, and gift shop. What I was looking for was the trucker’s special breakfast. After more eggs and meat than anyone should ever eat in one sitting, especially so early in the morning, I hit the gift shop to pick up a new set of boot-laces, as I had broken one on the way, and then we were off to Opimika.
We continued on our way, waving to the Morning Mist Resort on our way by, and coming to the town of Mattawa, where we stopped for a couple more bags of ice, and fuel for the last leg of the journey. We took what is known as the Mattawa “short-cut,” a winding route that cuts the corner from Highway 17, over to Highway 63, then we turned onto McConnell Lake Road and enjoyed the drive through the wilderness on a wide, well-maintained gravel road. Following the clearly marked Opimika signs, we got to the cottages in about 25 minutes off of the highway.
Upon arrival, we met up with other travelers from the Ottawa Valley club, bringing the total group for the weekend to 12 souls. Ottawa Valley had secured the “Rec Hall” cottage for our group, which was a large hunt-camp style cottage, with a kitchen, two-piece washroom, a large common area with a huge table and chairs, and several couches and loungers for your comfort. Off of the common room, there were six bedrooms with multiple styles and sizes of bed to accommodate way more people than we had brought with us.
Out the back of the cottage was a firepit and picnic table, and a beautiful view of Troutbait Lake. We quickly unloaded and settled in. After chewing the fat and getting a snack, Paul Foley, Trail Master of the Ottawa Valley ATV Club, took us out for our first evening ride of the weekend. We hit the trails and old logging roads of the area, passing and visiting countless lakes and sights including some abandoned vehicles of days gone by, and one of the oldest pine trees in Ontario. Several miles and hours later, we were back at the cottage to enjoy a quick swim in the lake, and to get some well-needed shut-eye after a long drive, and a long ride.
Up early, we got some breakfast into us, and packed for a full day excursion. We hit the trails again, and headed over to the Silica mine. It was a site to behold. It was not a mine in what I would call the traditional sense; the silica is spread throughout the area, and the mine consists of a giant escarpment of silica, which is blasted and collected.
It definitely made you feel small standing before it. Our trail ride continued through many river and creek crossings, along lakes, through dense forest, some open logging roads, and across a gorge. Several hours into the ride, many, many hours from last seeing civilization, we came out to a trapping outpost, as remote as it gets and stopped for a trail side lunch. We had a small cook fire, and roasted hot dogs and sausages. It might have been the location or the company, but it was likely one of the most delicious trail-side lunches I have ever had.
After the brief repast, the heat of the day was upon us, and we jumped on our quads again and headed to some of the local waterfalls to cool off. These hidden gems were a fantastic sight to see, nature at its finest.
Throughout the day we were treated by sights of wildlife, from a beaver smacking his tail to some turtles sunning themselves and a snapper crossing the trail.
Rolling back into camp that evening, we jumped in the lake to shed the dust of the day, and set to work grilling up some supper and discussing the sights and stories of the day. That evening, Mike and Julie Sheppard, owners/operators of Opimika Wilderness Camp & Cottages, joined us at the Rec Hall for a fire and sing-along, Julie being a local musician.
The next day Mike took me on a tour of the solar system they use to power the camps and cottages. On the shore of the lake (out of sight, out of mind), Mike has a run of solar panels set up, and in a nearby powerhouse, batteries and inverters that keep the lights on, so to speak, for the whole camp. Prior to installing the solar panels, the camp was powered by a noisy generator, and the power was turned off at 11 pm. Now the camp was how it should be, peaceful and quiet, and if you happened to need to use the rest room in the middle of the night, no flash light required. I was quite intrigued by the solar powered system, and thought it was a great new age charm to an old-school camp set-up.
After the tour, we loaded up and headed out for a day-long adventure again. We headed the other direction this time, and several hours into the ride, we popped out in Thorne, Ontario. It was quite sudden and unexpected! We travelled up the powerline to the highest point in the area; it was quite the challenge, but the view was well worthwhile.
From the top you can see clear across the Ottawa River to the pulp mill in Temiscaming, Quebec. We had lunch on the shore of the Ottawa River, and watched some boats pass as we lounged in the shade. After lunch, our group split up, as a few were ready for a possibly well-deserved nap, and the rest of us scouted around some new trails, just to see where they led.
Eventually, we all met up at the camp again, and grilled up another amazing meal. After some relaxation, and some minor repairs on an ATV or two, we headed out again for our second night ride of the weekend. This time we headed around the far side of Troutbait lake on trails that Mike had scouted personally for guests to enjoy. We headed up a new logging cut to see the night sky and stars, unmarred by the lights of civilization of any kind. It was a beautiful night.
On the final day, Mike gave me a tour of some of the other cottages, and of all the boats, kayaks, paddle-boats, canoes, and all of the other treats the Opimika Wilderness Camp and Cottages had to offer. Mike and Julie have to be some of the friendliest hosts we ever had host us at their establishment. All cottages have a spectacular view of the lake and as you sit on the deck in the evening you will enjoy a beautiful Opimika sunset. Opimika offers everything for the avid outdoors person.
You can enjoy the four seasons at Opimika. Whether you fish, ice fish, snowmobile or ATV, they can accommodate your needs. They offer boat rentals, a shuttle service to the over 30 area lakes, Kayaks and canoes for a serene paddle. The kids will be amazed at the clear, clean water. They will be able to see fish bite their worm, or snorkel to the floating dock and watch the fish below them. The family pet is also welcome at Opimika, with common courtesy to the other guests, of course.
This was followed by the sad part, that it was time to head home again. Some of the lads were staying up for the whole week, and I have to admit, we were quite jealous, but some of us were duty-bound to return to work and family. We will definitely be putting the annual adventure to Opimika Wilderness Camp & Cottages on our permanent yearly calendar of events to partake in from now on!
For more information on any of the businesses or clubs, use the links below:
Nation Valley ATV Club
Ottawa Valley ATV Club
Opimika Wilderness Cottages
Antrim Truck Stop
Oldest trees in Ontario