When people think of sledding destinations, Ontario is always in their top five. No matter where you live, or what you ride, the snowmobile adventures here are legendary the world over. And it looks like this winter is going to be one for the history books. So, we’ve assembled everything you might need to know to make the most of this season.
We’ve seen dozens of predictions from all kinds of other media, and the one thing that they all have in common is the expectation of a good old-fashioned Canadian winter. If you’re riding up from the U.S., you’re in for a treat this year. If you grew up here in the land of maple syrup, get your sled ready and plan to make the most of the 2018 season. Looking for tips on where to ride? We’ve got some suggestions below.
Ontario Snowmobile Trail Permits
Despite some online permit challenges, tens of thousands of snowmobilers saved big time by purchasing their Seasonal Trail Permit early. The last minute crush of permit buyers is surely proof that sledders are ready and eager to get riding. Another huge group went online by December 1 and saved 50 bucks, so if you haven’t got yours yet, now’s the time!
This year there’s been a change of dates for the “no-cost” Try Our Trails weekend usually held on the Family Day long weekend—for those of you holding out for a chance to drag out the sled for two days without paying. The OFSC will announce the new dates for 2018 on December 4. Check their website, or this one, for updates.
If you’re part of the club network in Ontario, you’ll notice that there’s been lots of chatter about groomers leading up to the 2017/18 season. The vehicles themselves have seen massive upgrades around the province, which will lead to a vastly improved and more consistent trail riding experience everywhere. And as for the men and women who actually do the work, last winter there was a “meeting of the minds” in Dubreuilville—home to the legendary Luc Levesque, a.k.a. The Groomer Guy. Catch the video below for the full story.
How to Plan Your Snowmobile Trips
There are so many good places to go riding in Ontario this year. We know that many of you are considering where to plan your trip and here's a great combo of resources to help you out. The newly revamped OFSC interactive trail guide is the sole official source for viewing the entire OFSC trail system and current information about trail availability. On it, you can check ride distances, view district trails, and check out 35 Snow Tours. Those who want to create personalized itineraries should visit the Go Tour Ontario Interactive Trip Planner. It offers a more detailed and customizable look at some of the OFSC's best snow tours, complete with all the points of interest, snowmobile-friendly restaurants and places to stay along the route. You can even choose to have the trip planner display construction along the way as well as cell phone coverage—because you can get pretty remote when you travel north in Ontario. Fortunately, there are snowmobile dealers and repair shops all over the province.
Another way to find new places to ride is to check out the big list of snowmobile events going on across Ontario this winter. The list is always long as the snowmobile clubs in Ontario are very passionate about what they do. Make following them on Facebook part of your strategy for tracking where the snow is at this winter.
Where to Ride Ontario Snow Trails
Here’s our list of the top destinations for 2018. Don’t hesitate to call your buds and get your schedule firmed up now. It’s going to be a really busy season.
The RAP Tour
Ontario’s oldest and most venerable snowmobile tour is back for another season, and for riders looking to get in every conceivable type of terrain into their season, the RAP (Round Algonquin Park) is it. Close to everything, the perfect length, and with killer accommodations all along the way (check out Spectacle Lake Lodge just east of Algonquin Park or Cedar Gables Lodge in Bonfield)—there’s a reason everyone does the RAP. If you’ve never done it, check the video—most of it was shot there.
The Seguin Trail
This blast from Parry Sound to Algonquin Park is one of Ontario’s most highly travelled trails. Connecting everything to everything else, if you need to move east-west in the province, chances are you’ve taken the Seguin. We love this as a quick solution to a weekend ride. Even if you don’t stay at the Jolly Roger or stop at the Sprucedale Hotel, there are plenty of other iconic landmarks. Personally, we love the Edgewater Park Lodge in Kearney or the Caswell Resort Hotel in Sundridge for an overnight, but you won’t be short of options.
A personal favourite (and not just because my camp is up in this neck of the woods) is the sledding in Northeastern Ontario. The clubs up here are die-hard and the trails are always impeccable. There’s plenty of wide-open terrain and you can ride for days. The city of Temiskaming Shores especially is a snowmobile town and you’ll never be in bad company—there are always hundreds of sleds at the hotels and restaurants in town.
Just north of Temiskaming Shores is the Abitibi Canyon Tour. Known far and wide as one of the longest running tours, it’s also home to the crew at the Abitibi Base Camp, who specialize in a little backcountry riding where the hills and powder are plenty. There is now staff, gas, and food there all the time, and a couple of rooms. It is cash only right now, but that may change.
Smooth Rock Falls’ infamous Moose Motel is back in business with new owners—and they are doing things right. There is heated storage for 40 sleds, a “man cave” under construction, free laundry facilities, and some units are now equipped with kitchens. The rooms have been substantially tidied up, but this is still no-frills snowmobile accommodations.
Boasting some new backcountry riding destinations, the Aventure Nord snow parks are vetted by local guides and the accommodations have a check-in/check-out system to make sure you all get home safely when riding some of this gnarly terrain. This isn’t the mountains, but there’s enough territory here to keep you busy—and if you have your Ontario Snowmobile Trail Permit, the Corridor du Nord trails are pretty killer too.
The website is currently only available in French, but we assure you, the towns are fully bilingual. Check out the map of their system here. It’s worth suffering the awkwardness of Google Translate to see what’s going on up there.
With the re-opening of Halfway Haven, Algoma Country has once again become a killer long-distance touring destination. The North Shore Loop will keep you busy and the All The Way There route will take you through some of Ontario’s best trails—from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa, Dubreuilvillle and Chapleau.
The “Top Secret Boondocking Location” in Algoma Country is hardly top secret anymore. Ontario’s worst-kept secret backcountry sledding destination is the destination of choice for thousands of riders this year. Make sure you book your hotel early. Rumour is that it’s going to be a crazy year in Wawa. Check out this vid from Steph Santeford and Jess Kline’s trip last year.
No mention of sledding in Algoma would be complete without the Magpie Relay, the powersports mecca born in the heart of tiny Dubreuilville. Home of The Groomer Guy, this is a great place to stage out of for massive snowmobiling loops—either back to Sault Ste. Marie or onto Hearst. The Magpie is home to indoor snowmobile storage, a well-established “man cave,” and is relatively close to some boondocking opportunities—but you’ll need to talk to the locals for that.
Everything You Need To Know
Every year we here at What A Ride start the sledding season by scouring the internet for details on the local clubs, events, and repair shops to keep our main listings up to date. If you don’t know about these pages, this is a great place to start:
- What is the OFSC?
- The Complete List of Snowmobile Events in Ontario
- Ontario's Snowmobile Clubs and Regions
- Snowmobile Repair Shops and Details
- Ten Ways to Track Snow in Ontario
- Safety Tips and Rules for Riding in Ontario
Backcountry Riding in Ontario
On the subject of backcountry riding—if there’s anything more controversial in sledding in Ontario, we don’t know what it is... except maybe for snowbikes (see below). It’s no secret that snowmobiling is changing in Ontario, and that's a good thing. While trail riding still remains the most popular form of snowmobiling, as evidenced by the 100,000 or so snowmobile trail permits registered online, backcountry riding is gaining momentum too and here's why.
The new generation of sledders doesn't want to be confined to the trails. Manufacturers are pushing sleds that do well on- or off-trail, and people are buying them. And looking for places to ride. While crown land is an option, there’s no system for knowing where to ride, what’s safe and what isn’t, and how to get to these places. It’s always a good call to “know before you go.” So talk with locals and do your research online; when you're unsure, stay on the safe side—a bit of extra precaution can extend your riding season.
Of all the winter predictions, this is one that slipped by everyone: the development of private snowmobile trails. Sure, tiny sections of private trails have existed here and there—after all, this is how clubs originally got started—but now riders have some real options. The Magpie Relay in Dubreuilville is developing a system called The Mooseback and we had the chance to ride some private trails owned by Mike Brazeau at Horwood Lake Lodge this past winter. For something different in trail riding, this is always an option. Check the video below:
Last year What A Ride rock star Katie Erb clued us in to the Haliburton Forest in Ontario’s Highlands. Rated as one of the top snowmobile destinations worldwide by Snowmobiler.com, the forest is the only privately owned snowmobile operation in the world with 300 km of perfectly groomed trails. There are cabins throughout the park to stay at, so you can easily make a weekend of it, and the season is long enough here that you’ll get plenty of opportunities to ride.
Separate permits are required for riding, but if it’s the only place you go snowmobiling this winter, you can buy a three-day pass. There’s also a hard limit of 100 sleds, so the trails are never overcrowded.
To Snow Bike or Not to Snow Bike
I’m sure most Ontario riders saw this Facebook post, and more than a few of you jumped in on the “debate”—although, it’s hardly a debate. Everyone knows the rules. The deeper issue is that anyone who’s ridden a snow bike loves them, and wants to ride. Yes, you can ride on Crown Land, but getting there is difficult without using OFSC trails. There’s plenty of disagreement on how to handle all this, but make no mistake, the wave of backcountry boondockers on ultra-light mountain sleds and snow bikes is just about to crest.
2018 promises to be one of the best seasons on record. The time is now to start booking your trips and getting ready for a True Canadian Winter.
Winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.