Gravel Roads Explorer

Adventure Touring in the Northeast

As motorcycle touring goes, it seems that the adventure touring movement is leading the charge and gaining momentum. With the latest ADV bikes offering comfort, reliability and go-anywhere ability, why would you settle for pavement when you can have it all? As you may have heard, Northeastern Ontario was made for adventure bikes.

OK, OK, it wasn't, but considering that the paved roads within its boundaries are outnumbered 10 to one by gravel and dirt, it might as well have been. So where do you start? I have a few suggestions – I won’t call them the best or even my favourites, because this is just the tip of the gravel iceberg and it’s too soon to make such claims. But they are a good ride on a big adventure bike and give a taste of the area’s potential.

Pioneer Road

Mattawa is one of my favourite riding destinations—a big part of that is because getting there is half the fun. Sure you can buzz along Highway 17, but just a few kilometres south you will find Pioneer Road, a meandering ribbon of gravel that takes you through a dense forest and past farmers fields. In fact you can travel the entire distance from Highway 11 to Mattawa without touching pavement.

Fox Lake Road

Heading west from Highway 6 just south of Espanola this narrow, limited maintenance road ticks off all adventure bike requirements. Rocks, gravel, soft spots, and potential mud—it can be a piece of cake one day, impassable the next.

Sultan Industrial Road

Starting west at Highway 144, this wide, gravel-covered, 100-km stretch of nothing might just be the best-known gravel road in Ontario. It's often compared to a mini-version of the Trans Labrador Highway. During the day it’s a main thoroughfare for log-moving goliaths, but late in the day and on weekends it offers middle-of-nowhere solitude.

Wilson Lake Road

As so often happens with adventure bike-worthy roads, their discovery is purely a result of chance. Being stuck in a road closed traffic jam on Highway 11, Wilson Lake Road was our only detour option. As it turned out this was a nice 30-plus-km stretch of dirt through an area worthy of more exploration.

Pine Street South

From Timmins, Pine Street South takes you south into the wilderness, but with a little navigating persistence and a long day in the saddle, you can end up in Sudbury. If this sounds like your cup of tea, I would suggest you check out the Gravel Travel website for some GPS routing information, as the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail passes this way.

Forest Acres Road HWY 533 - HYW 63

Dissecting Mattawa's Voyageur Multi Use Trail System (VMUTS), this road is a fairly easy ride but with a few hundred ATV trails surrounding it, a greater challenge is just a turn away. Many of the ATV trails in the VMUTS trail system are big adventure bike doable, hence my earlier statement that Mattawa is at the top of my list as an adventure ride destination.

Highway 553 and 810

This stretch of gravel north of Massey could be renamed as the gateway to adventure. It's 80 km to Ritchie Falls Lodge, where you can top up your tank via onsite jerry cans. From here north, your exploratory potential is only limited by the size of your gas tank.

There you have it, the tip of Northeastern Ontario's gravel road iceberg. If you find yourself in the area, give them a go. If planning a route, by all means include them, but don't pronounce them the best just yet—there is so much more where these came from. In fact, tell us what your favourites are, if you don't mind sharing. With a region this big, the exploration is just beginning.

About Martin Lortz

Martin Lortz is a freelance photographer/writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering adventure motorcycling, kayak fishing or family oriented outdoor pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people that partake in it, is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski Canada, Explore, Bike, Mountain Life, Couloir, Kayak Angler and Family Camping, as well as in calendars, catalogs and brochures.

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