My 933 Kilometre Ride in Northern Ontario

"If you like to ride straight, skip this loop because you never ride straight for long."

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Make no mistake, when it comes to motorcycle touring, Northern Ontario is an elephant. It's easier to get to than I realized. But, once there, I found I had to change my whole concept of space and time. Northern Ontario is gargantuan.

On my recent trip, I rode to Northern Ontario to ride a loop. It would take me from Sudbury via 144 to Timmins, west on 101 to Chapleau, south on 129 to Thessalon, and east on the TransCanada to close the loop. This little loop, which looked smaller in Google Maps, turned out to be 933 kilometres. It circumnavigates an area larger than the states of Vermont or New Hampshire or the country of Turkey (which has a population of 81 million people). What’s more, it amounted to just 3.35 per cent of the total land area of Northern Ontario. Heck, my ride wasn’t a bite; it was only a nibble.

My ride. // Photo credit: John Lewis

To be fair, to see most of Northern Ontario, you’d need a seaplane, not a motorcycle. But, for tarmac riders, there are over 11,000 kilometres of paved highways in Northern Ontario, according to a senior policy advisor at the Ministry of Transportation. If you are an adventure rider and like tearing up the gravel, you can add a lot more riding. But, beware, some of the gravel roads are primarily for logging or mining and the truck drivers, I've been told, don't always have a lot of patience for motorcyclists who ride a little too cautiously and hold them up.

On my way around the loop, I stayed at Halfway Lake Provincial Park (off of 144), Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park (off of 101), and Chutes Provincial Park (off of the TransCanada). The sites were great, and the staff were all stellar. I highly recommend all three. 

For me, camping adds a certain je ne sais quoi to my moto-travels. How can you explain how the sound of the falls, or the birds, or the wind through the trees, makes my morning coffee taste better? What rationale could possibly account for how the smell of the early-morning dew or the late-night campfire makes my one-pot meals taste like gourmet feasts? And, what is it about camping that gets you to meet the nicest people? Somehow you instantly become friends, if only for a night or two. Getting invited to share a fire, or a beer, or join in on a game of cards is the norm. I grew up this way. For me, it's how life should be.  

If camping isn't your thing, then hotels and motels are available at all of the major centres and along the TransCanada so accommodation is easy to arrange.

Exploring Timmins on day 2

The Full Beard Brewing in Timmins is the perfect afternoon stop. // Photo credit: John Lewis

My ride from Halfway Lake Provincial Park to Ivanhoe Provincial Park was only 339 kilometres, so I had time to visit Timmins. I ate lunch at the Full Beard Brewing Co. Since I was riding, I didn't try one of their taster trays, as tempting as it was, but I did meet Jonathan St-Pierre, one of the founders, and he showed me around the brewery. I left with a couple of cans to sup beside that evening's fire. (YUM!) I drove around Timmins to sightsee, then headed to my campsite at Ivanhoe. 

I'm finding a lot of good reasons to keep going back to Northern Ontario. Its inconceivable size dictates the need for multiple bite-sized trips to see all of the beautiful places there are to see. (Although there is no way I'll ever get to them all.) One example, Aubrey Falls, I was able to cross off my list during this trip.

Aubrey Falls from the top. // Photo credit: John Lewis

At Aubrey Falls, I negotiated the dirt track down to the parking lot. The hike up to the falls is less than a kilometre, and it is well worth the trek. I met a young family, and we hiked up together. Their six-year-old daughter adopted me, and the tinkling bear bell tied to her shoe accompanied us up the hill. She beamed when I thanked her for being my bear protector. At the top, the view was mesmerizing. I could have stayed there for hours watching the falls. It was hypnotic; it was peaceful. One tip, though, is don't stop your hike at the bridge. I talked to one couple who had made that mistake the day before and were back to hike to the top, where you get the best view of the falls.

My ride went from fun to fantabulous

The road never went straight. // Photo credit: John Lewis

Upon leaving Aubrey Falls, I headed south on ON-129. Little did I know I’d left the gentle curves behind me. My ride went from fun to fantabulous. Cresting the hill, my shocks extend as my bike seems to defy gravity. It rose up, my stomach followed. There was no indication as to which way the road turned. I stayed alert: to turn hard left, to turn hard right, to avoid a logging truck, or to go straight. The road never went straight. The road’s course followed the winding of the river; its undulations echoed the hilly terrain. My view was bound by rocky escarpments on the left, the river on the right, and the hill in front; there was always a hill. Disney rides don’t get better than this. But, I’m challenged trying to get the most from the ride while taking in the scenery. Another blind corner, I move over to get the best view. The road opens up. I look through the turn, choose my line, gear down, lean the bike, and roll on the throttle. I’m looking down the river, and it’s a picture that should be taken. I can’t find a place to stop. There are no motorcycle-friendly shoulders. I ride on. This repeats time and time again. Hill, corner, great view. Lost photo opportunity. Nevertheless, bliss. 

Another blind corner. // Photo credit: John Lewis

I enjoy the peace, beauty and isolation of riding in Northern Ontario. But, beauty can be in the eye of the beholder. I spoke with one rider who complained, “Riding up here is not really my thing. Hours and hours of riding past trees, and forests, and rivers, and lakes.” I said, “Exactly! It’s hours of riding past trees, and forests, and rivers, and lakes.” What’s not to like? It's moto-meditation at its best. I fall into a peaceful flow state that makes the ride easy, and the hours fly by. To each their own, I guess.

in search of the great white moose

I met some people from Timmins who were also camping at one of the parks. They told me to keep my eyes open for the great white moose. I didn't know whether this was something the northerners good-naturedly teased us southern Ontario folk with or whether it was true. Nevertheless, as I rode, I kept looking to have a not-so-close encounter of the moose kind. But, alas, despite searching, I did not see a moose—white or otherwise.  

Every part of the loop had something to offer. There is one caveat: if you like to ride straight, skip this loop because you never ride straight for long. 

Once you've experienced a northern ontario ride, you'll always come back for more

The landscapes stay with you, long after the ride is complete. // Photo credit: John Lewis

An intangible but seldom spoken benefit of riding in Northern Ontario is its distance from Toronto. You are out of the ripple effect of Toronto’s fast-paced nuttiness. After a day or so, you notice that the pace is more relaxed. And that the people talk slower. And that they seem nicer. People, and life, are different. And well worth the trip.

I'm not done with Northern Ontario. So far, in two trips, I’ve bitten off less than 10 per cent of the paved highways. I’m planning to go back soon to take another bite.


About John Lewis

John Lewis loves telling stories that inform, inspire, and entertain. He writes about motorcycle touring, motorcycle safety, culture, travel, and more. His work has appeared in a number of national magazines including Motorcycle Mojo and The Motorcycle Times, as well as many blogs and websites.

Recommended Articles

Search Motorcycle Touring