Have you ever experienced winter in the middle of the woods, the pine tree boughs weighed down with snow, more snow peacefully falling around you? What about the sight of an incredible lookout high above the lower treeline? Or the discovery of a historic mine featuring massive walls of the Canadian Shield towering above?
In March 2022, Brandon and I had the opportunity to explore some wild Ontario wilderness by snowmobile, in arguably the most beautiful season in Canada on the Explorers Snow Tour. The tour takes you over 234 km through some of Ontario’s incredible wilderness on the OFSC District 11 Snowmobile Trails, and includes these ten Points Of Interest.
We arrived the night before our trip to settle in, using North Bay as our home base for the weekend. The following morning we met Jeff and Backroads Bill at the Canadian Ecology Centre in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, the very center of the tour, to make introductions and kick off the journey. Jeff had a trailer full of Yamaha Snowmobiles that he then hauled down to Mattawa where we unloaded, geared up, and took off to our very first POI!
1. Big Joe
Our first stop was only a few minutes past our starting point, snowmobiling right through the town of Mattawa, Ontario, the tall standing statue of Big Joe Mufferaw, the one they wrote a song about. We spent a few minutes learning about his history and then headed into the trails to our next POI. The trail conditions were near perfect.
A note on Trail Conditions
I grew up snowmobiling a few times each winter at my family’s land in the Ottawa Valley, and I could only describe my first impression of the Mattawa and surrounding area Snowmobile Club Trails to be VERY well cared for. The area itself proves to have enough elevation to host a pretty epic abundance of snow, along with the valleys and hills you get to ride through, it makes for a remarkable experience for every snowmobiler, whether a new rider or a seasoned rider.
2. The big vista
With a great introduction to the trails, we hit the first stunning lookout on the tour which overlooks the Mattawa River Valley and featured snow-capped pine trees and contours of high hills way off in the distance. As we looked off into the distance, some big, beautiful snowflakes, which really complimented the scene, began to fall. Next up, the mica mine!
3. the mica mine
The trail to the mine was incredibly diverse, over the hills and through the woods, a mix of hardwoods and evergreens, all of it covered in a clean, fresh blanket of snow. The temperature was a very manageable -6 degrees Celsius. When we arrived at the mica mine, we climbed up and walked down a narrow hallway with walls of Canadian Shield on either side of us which opened into somewhat of a huge, long narrow pit of sorts. There was a bit of a slide to get down into it, and there we experienced the grandeur; a huge cave-like overhang of Canadian shield over a bed of millions of flakes of shiny mica. White mica, or muscovite, was used back in the second world war and I would describe its appearance as hard, transparent tinfoil. After some exploring, we were eager to hit the trails again and head to lunch.
About a 30-minute snowmobile ride from the mine was Camp Conewango, where owners Chris and Wendy made us an incredible lunch and told us all about their beautiful and very historic property, which dates all the way back to the 1850s. I would highly recommend this stop for lunch, Chris has some very beautiful antiques around that I’m sure he would love to show you. And the trail to and from this stop is super fun might I add… Lots of open space to ride.
4. The Former Beach (aka red bridge lookout)
Our last stop of the day featured a breathtaking vista known as Red Bridge Lookout. This lookout, as Backroads Bill says, used to be a beach! No kidding, the many kilometers of land we were taking in at that moment was once filled with water and when the retreat of the glacier came it created the stunning view we now get to enjoy from such a high vantage point. After a long day and tons of exploring we headed back to North Bay Holiday Inn and had a great meal downtown at The Station.
The next morning was an early one. The air was fresh, one of those winter mornings where the sun was shining and the cold air hurt your lungs just a little bit. We drove down to the Dinner Bell in Bonfield which you can ride to right from the Snowmobile Club Trails and had a great breaky to start the day. We met Jeff, Bill and even had our friend Claude join us for the day, got coffee’d up, and once again geared up and hit the trails hard for a long day of snowmobiling.
5. Stepping Stones
The trails from the Dinner Bell to our next POI on Trout Lake were nothing short of FUN! There was tons of room, yet the trails were winding and challenging. Snow conditions along with the well-groomed trails made the ride very enjoyable. From Trout Lake, the trails went from wide open to narrow and interesting, heavily wooded, again with a variety of trees from the high hardwood forests to the lower-lying pine and spruce trees, winding S turns and ups and downs throughout.
6. Devil's Canyon
Eventually you reach the spooky Devils Canyon, POI number 6 on the tour. This one was particularly memorable, with myths and tales about the Wendigo… I’ll let you read up on that one, but maybe do it during the day.
7 & 8: Boulter View and Pioneer spring
Moving on, we jumped back on the sleds and headed through the wooded trails to find our next stop, Boulter View. Another stunning vista and great place to stop and see the incredible terrain in the area—and you don’t even have to get off your snowmobile to see this one, you can ride right to the top! Back to the rails we went, to find Pioneer Spring where you can fill up your water bottle with some very clean and fresh drinking water right from the spring itself, and then rip down some very fun and very hilly trails.
9. bridge runs
We ended day two at Amable du Fond River bridge, made a campfire and cooked up some grub to fuel up for a longer sled ride back to the trucks. The snow really started coming down too, it was absolutely beautiful.
10. white pine
A little tired, a little sore, and a lot happy, we woke up ready for our last day of riding the Explorers Snow Tour. It was a cold one too, the coldest day yet, starting around -25 degrees Celsius… the handlebar and thumb warmers really came in handy this day. We met the boys down at the Mattawa golf course, jumped on the Yamahas and sledded through a very different terrain than all the other areas. The trails were freshly groomed that morning and absolutely perfect. They led us into a gorgeous white pine forest where very careful harvesting practices were carried out which leaves the remaining trees to grow exceptionally healthy and monstrously tall. If you’re any kind of nature lover like I am, you will be taken by these majestic trees. This was our final few kilometers of the Explorers Snow Tour.
plan your explorers snow tour in northeastern ontario today
This tour was an incredible experience, Brandon and I had a blast taking it on. It’s something new snowmobilers as well as season ones would enjoy immensely, and it can be accomplished in as many segments as the rider wants. The trails were phenomenal, well-groomed and interesting, with diverse terrain all throughout. The views were stunning! Learning the history behind the different POIs and being able to enjoy and explore the North Bay/Bonfield/Mattawa region by snowmobile was an unforgettable experience.
We are so lucky to live here in Ontario and have snowmobile clubs and landowners who allow access to these trails so that we can enjoy the outdoors. I know I will never take these opportunities for granted.