Before you head out, please check to make sure that the trails are available, using the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide.
The Abitibi Canyon Tour located in OFSC District 15, sits less then 200km from the southern tip of Hudson’s Bay and The Arctic ocean making it the most northern of all the 35 official OFSC sanctioned snow tours. This unique location sets it apart in many ways from the low height of the black spruce trees (thanks to a short growing season) that line many of the trails to the brilliant and abundant sunshine often bathing regions this far north. Sure it’s a decent hike when trailering from The GTA (about 9 hours) but once you’ve arrived it all becomes worth it.
At 300km The Abitibi Loop is the perfect mid-range length for touring riders looking to rack up some kilometers while still taking in the sights along the way. The primary trail used is A103 most commonly originating in Cochrane, ON and heading in a clock-wise orientation, passing through Smooth Rock Falls and continuing to Abitibi Canyon.
(Abitibi Canyon Basecamp - Photo by Shelby Mahon) The variety Abitibi offers is second to none and the unique geography of the region allows for this. The west side of A103 known to locals as ‘Piston Alley’ is a wide fast trail often chasing hydro lines, making it critical that you check the weather and dress accordingly, as any exposed skin at these highway speeds can be prone to frostbite. Believe me it’s no accident that a warm-up stop was made at the most northern point of the loop after riding this section. (It also doubles as a gas station with a large drum of 92-octane gas on hand. There are no other fuel stations in the area so make sure to gas up here!)
Once you reach Abitibi Canyon you’re treated to some epic snowmobiling; Freeriding in the famous canyon through a few feet of powder is something trail riders don’t often get the opportunity to do. Carving fresh lines in the massive bowls of the canyon feels more akin to riding in B.C back-country then Ontario. Another great attraction offering those social media worthy photos is the Abitibi Canyon Dam (originally built in the 1930’s). I like to frame riders with the dam in the background or if you like epic landscape shots, hop off your sled and photo-bomb the majestic Abitibi River.
One unique and memorable attraction I strongly recommend checking out when in Cochrane, is the Polar Bear Habitat. This is both the largest, and only human fed care facility in the world dedicated strictly to Polar Bears. What separates it from other sanctuaries is the 7 hectares of natural wilderness including a large lake that provides the bears with an ice platform for over half the year, giving them the feeling of being in their natural environment.
Their mission is to take on the bears that wouldn’t make it in the wild otherwise, while offering a place to thrive. It also acts as first hand education resource to the public on these majestic predators. While on site you can get an up-close and personal look as they are hand fed by the staff, it was amazing how docile and well behaved a 700kg animal could be as the trainer hand-fed them frozen fish for lunch.
Another attraction worth a visit while on site is The Cochrane Classic Vintage Riders Snowmobile Museum. With 100 vintage sleds on display dating back to the 1950’s, serves up a gold mine of information and history for anyone with an appreciation for the origins of snowmobiles and snowmobiling in the region.
Going along with the theme of unique, Abitibi Canyon presents a much different lodging experience from the typical hotel, with two options available. The first is called Abitibi Base House located in Smooth Rock Falls. It offers all the creature comforts a touring rider could ask for; equipped to accommodate up to 8 riders with an optional heated garage for sleds, running water, electricity, internet and even satellite TV. These might sound like expected amenities in 2018 but remember where talking about remote northern Ontario!
The second option is the more rustic but authentic expereince, especially if you’re looking to un-plug from life for a few days. Abitibi Base Camp is located an hour’s drive north of Abitibi Base House (or head north on ‘Piston Alley’ by sled) where a modified trailer awaits you for a one-of-a-kind camping experience. No ‘Glamping’ here; you get a warm bed and a BBQ with power supplied by a generator and that’s it. No Wi-Fi or running water here. What’s the big benefit to staying at Base Camp? It’s proximity to the trails! Located just 2km from A103 makes this a highly desirable option for the die-hard rider who is looking to be on the sled as much as possible not sitting in the truck trailering to locations. Sure the surrounding cities of Cochrane and Smooth Rock Falls offer standard hotels, restaurants and fuel but all of those aren’t located in such close proximity to the trail. Regardless of your preference having a few options is great depending on your tastes and what type of ride you’re after.
As I’m writing this it’s late December and we’ve had another green Christmas in Toronto. With the sporadic nature of Ontario winter’s these days having places like The Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour are becoming more of a necessity then a novelty. Cochrane is currently under a snowfall warning yet it’s 10 degrees Celsius here in the city! With such a consistent snow pack year after year It’s not un-common that the riding season up there goes into May and for that reason alone makes it a great option and worth checking out!