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Many riders ask why I go snowmobiling in Northeastern Ontario. After all, The Province of Ontario offers 30,000 kilometres of snowmobile trails operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC). So, what makes Northeastern Ontario stand out from the rest and inspires me to return again and again?
Positioned adjacent to Quebec and extending far to the west, Northeastern Ontario stretches north from gateway towns like North Bay, Sudbury and Mattawa all the way to James Bay. Among its neighbouring northern regions, Northeastern Ontario is located closest to Ontario’s major urban centres, a sure-fire magnet pulling snowmobile trail riders north to ride.
Get The Rush
On any given ride elsewhere, you may experience a thrilling section of trail that really blows your mind – you know, the kind that sends chills up and down your spine. One that puts a huge grin on your face that says, “THIS is what snowmobiling’s all about!” Well, Northeastern Ontario delivers that elusive sensation over and over and over again. There’s simply no other place like it in Ontario for feeling the rush on every ride.
Northeastern Ontario’s popularity as a snowmobile destination starts with reliable, long-lasting, abundant snow. Consistently cold temperatures also plunge the mercury below freezing for the entire winter. Together, these natural phenomena create snow crystals with natural binding properties. So, it’s not just any old kind of snow in Northeastern Ontario. It’s excellent snow for grooming – and Old Man Winter continually replenishes it, so previously fallen snow rarely gets old or overworked.
The region’s notoriety as a top snowmobiling playground also results from its natural resources economy. Forestry and mining operations have created an extensive network of access roads that, along with many utility corridors, can become excellent snowmobile trails.
Many of these thoroughfares were built for big trucks and industrial equipment. Consequently, they feature extra wide surfaces, long straightaways, sweeping corners, gentle hills and extended sightlines that make for easy, forgiving and exciting trail riding.
That’s why the Northeastern Ontario snowmobile clubs of OFSC District 11 (Near North Trail Association), District 12 (Sudbury Trail Plan), District 14 (Timiskaming-Abitibi Trail Association) and District 15 (Northern Corridor du Nord) have worked hard to assemble a seamless web using as many of these superior riding corridors as possible. Most of these routes now form part of the famous Trans Ontario Provincial (TOP) Trail system that connects communities and enables cross-regional riding.
With the key ingredients of quality snow and exceptional trails in place, the focus of the OFSC districts in Northeastern Ontario is on great trail grooming. Many of the backbone trails in their system have the advantage of being on the aforementioned manmade surfaces that were previously or are currently maintained for industrial use. This increases grooming effectiveness, and grooming operations can start earlier and continue virtually uninterrupted all season long. The result is typically a deep base of well-compacted snow that restores well with each grooming run and normally endures longer than anywhere else in the province.
Longest Riding Season
The combination of its weather, trails, and grooming make Northeastern Ontario trail riding possible from December to April in some areas. So, snowmobilers can discover top-notch trail riding here when sledding at home hasn’t even started. Or when your local trails suffer lack of snow or in-season thaws. And when there’s nothing left in the spring but bare ground in your front yard. Or whenever you simply want the best that Ontario has to offer!
All of these factors are a very special advantage in a region that gives new meaning to the word “BIG”. Northern Ontario is 95% Crown Land, most of which is rugged Canadian Shield. With less than 10% of Ontario’s population, much of its 800,000 square kilometre land mass is wilderness. Northeastern Ontario comprises about a third of this huge territory.
So, first timers to this region are always pleasantly surprised by how far you can ride in a day without strain or adding extra hours in the saddle. Northeastern Ontario makes it easy. It’s a paradise for high milers, for long distance saddlebag touring, and for anyone who just wants the ultimate Ontario trail riding adventure.
Navigating the trails is also easy in Northeastern Ontario. Its snowmobile trails are well-mapped, marked and signed so visitors can find their way with confidence and peace of mind. What’s more, first-timers can choose to ride any part of the almost 900-kilometres from North Bay to Hearst by sticking to only one trail - TOP Trail A. This main trunk trail runs roughly parallel to Highway 11 and connects many well-serviced communities the entire way. So, your simplest navigation choice is just to follow the TOP A signs!
Northeastern Ontario offers a variety of other trail experiences. The Canadian Shield provides scenic wilderness riding through many backcountry areas. Moreover, snowmobile clubs in many communities offer local trails that are often very bit as good as the TOP Trails. These local gems are great alternative routes for touring riders. At the same time, they also provide day loops of various lengths for shorter rides, allowing visiting snowmobilers to explore closer to town.
OFSC-promoted “Snow Tours” are designated routes on well-established trails, specially selected for turn-key, self-guided rides. In Northeastern Ontario, some of the local rides just described are also Snow Tours, including Kapuskasing’s Lumberjack Loop, Hearst’s Missinaibi Expedition Tour and Sudbury’s Chiniguchi Wolf Loop.
But if big is your riding preference, Northeastern Ontario also provides several multi-day Snow Tours, including the Gold Rush Tour, the Northern Corridor Adventure Tour and the Ride Around Nipissing (RAN) Tour. In all, Northeastern Ontario offers a total of 11 Snow Tours riding choices, several of which are described here.
One advantage of its big size is that Northeastern Ontario offers many distinct destination choices. There isn’t room to cover them all here, but some of the most popular include the Greater Sudbury Area, the North Bay-Mattawa region, and the Cochrane area. Meanwhile, Timmins, Temiskaming Shores and the previously mentioned Northern Corridor are also highly rated riding choices.
Good Highway Access
What’s more, getting to Northeastern Ontario is easy through its gateway centres by travelling via Highway 17 (Mattawa), Highway 11 (North Bay) or Highways 400/69 (Sudbury). These primary transportation routes to Northeastern Ontario are well serviced and maintained all winter long. And judging by the number of trailers being towed north every day, snowmobilers are putting these highways to good use!
Another noteworthy attribute that makes Northeastern Ontario special is its snowmobile-friendly communities. Each has its own unique flavour, including many municipalities such as Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst, where Francophone language and culture flourish. Meanwhile, every town in the region embraces winter with a passion and welcomes snowmobilers with exceptional trail access, hospitable services and a high percentage of residents who love snowmobiling as much as we do.
One thing that always amazes me about Northeastern Ontario is how little traffic there appears to be on the trails. Motel parking lots may be full of trucks and trailers. Every evening, restaurants and bars may be bustling with groups of snowmobilers. There may be sleds in front of every room each night. But each day, the sleds disappear into so many kilometres of trails that there’s rarely traffic in sight. Frequently, the only time you’re aware that others are also out on the trails is when you meet them at warm up shelters, clubhouses, gas stations and restaurants.
As you may already have realized, Northeastern Ontario is simply too large to cover in one ride. Or even several trips. In fact, you can revisit the region numerous times, choosing a different riding area each time, and never ride the same trail twice. What more could a snowmobiler want?
In my estimation, Northeastern Ontario has earned a well-deserved reputation for memorable trail riding. So much so that the region has become that special must-visit destination for snowmobile enthusiasts like me. It’s truly Old Man Winter’s epic playground and should be on every snowmobiler’s bucket list. After all, it’s all about bragging rights, eh?