How To Get The Most From Your Northeastern Ontario Ride

Good preparation is key to making your good ride even better!

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Visiting Northeastern Ontario is not the same as spending time on your local trails with family and friends or even going on a long day ride with your buds. At its best, snowmobile touring in Northeastern Ontario can be an incredible experience for a bunch of great reasons. And good planning can make it even better!

I’ve been a touring rider for a long time, typically racking up big miles every season visiting a multitude of Ontario destinations. By trial and error, I’ve learned a lot about planning a trip. So, here are some of my best ride planning tips for snowmobilers visiting Northeastern Ontario.

Choose Your Kind of Ride

Stay and play on day loops or opt for a saddlebag tour // photo by Craig Nicholson 

Your first consideration should be what kind of ride you want to do on trails operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC). For most snowmobilers, visiting Northeastern Ontario involves trailering to a destination. From that location, you can choose to stay and play, riding day loops from the same lodgings. Alternatively, you can stage from that location for a saddlebag tour over multiple days, stopping at new accommodations each night. Each has its advantages and benefits, and which one you choose and where you decide to stage from depend on the following factors.

Choose Your Planning Approach

Determine your availibility first and plan your trip accordingly // photo by Craig Nicholson 

I’ve used two approaches for planning my visits to Northeastern Ontario. One is to pick a destination and then make whatever plans are necessary to do a successful tour there. In my opinion, this works best for more experienced touring riders. The second approach is to determine first how many days you are able to ride and when, and then pick a destination that fits your availability. 

Frankly, the second option is a better choice for most snowmobilers because you control your planning according to what best suits your schedule. Whereas a locked-in destination tends to control your planning and may limit your scheduling flexibility. So, the following tips are for approach number two. I advise getting started early with your planning, preferably well before Christmas.

Decide When To Go

The first question to answer is: How much time do you have and when do you have it? Your destination choices are very different for a four-day weekend or a ten-day vacation. The “when” is also important, because many destinations deliver their most reliable trail riding conditions in February (this month also tends to be the most crowded), while others are at their prime in March. Fortunately, your window of opportunity in Northeastern Ontario typically extends from January to April. But just remember that January is normally the coldest month to be on the trails. 

Whichever time I choose, my preference is to build in an extra day if possible. This allows for an unexpected layover due to a winter storm, sled breakdown or simply to do some extra exploring of a particularly neat place.

Choose Your Riding Companions

Choose your riding companions–a max of eight sleds is best // photo by Craig Nicholson 

The second question to answer is: Who is going with you to Northeastern Ontario? The planning for your snowmobile tour varies considerably depending on whether it’s a family, couples’ or a guys’ ride. Also, it depends on what everyone’s expectations are and how experienced each rider is with being away from home. Remember, what your ride group is able to do will be determined to a large extent by any capability limitations of a snowmobiler with less experience or ability.

So, the “who is going” answer plays a major role in deciding how far to trailer to a destination, daily ride distances, number of pits stops each day, style of accommodations and the overall compatibility of participants. Deciding the “who” before Christmas makes it easier to complete all of your other planning. 

Whatever your choice of riding companions, I recommend an absolute maximum of eight sleds. Four to six is more ideal, with an even number of riders for room sharing. Anything more than eight sleds presents extra logistical issues, such as longer to gas up every time, to get served at restaurants, and to get everyone started in the morning and after every stop. If you have too many participants or riders with varying riding abilities, don’t count on riding as far each day. This may affect your destination decision and certainly your daily routing.

Go With Reliable Sleds

Check your equipment and make sure it can handle a Northeastern Ontario ride! // photo by Craig Nicholson 

There’s another huge determinant in deciding who’s going: Is each rider’s sled capable of doing a Northeastern Ontario ride? As much as every sled may be able to complete local rides at home, a snowmobile on tour has to be in good enough condition to make the entire trip without incident. 

Certainly, there’s no guarantee even with new sleds, but why take the chance of all your best laid plans going down the dumper because someone’s sled is too old, always requires tinkering after each day’s ride, or is simply not well maintained? Another consideration is that even when a sled is in great shape, is it tour-suitable and capable of keeping up with the others? Does every sled have spare belts and plugs?

Along the same lines, you also want to ensure that towing and trailering to Northeastern Ontario won’t be a problem for any participants. So before confirming riders, verify that there’s enough hauling equipment in good working order for everyone to share the driving there and back safely and on time. Also, make sure that each rider has the legalities in order well in advance, such as any necessary trail permits, sled and vehicle registration or insurance papers, and passports if required.

Choose A Suitable Destination

Do some resesarch and choose a logical, convenient spot for your group to ride // photo by Craig Nicholson 

Note that up until this point in your Northeastern Ontario planning, you’ve decided how long, when and who, but not where. Northeastern Ontario has many different riding choices. North Bay, Sudbury, Temiskaming Shores, Kirkland Lake, Timmins and the Northern Corridor towns of Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Hearst each offer great trails.

So why not make your destination a group choice? But don’t be lured into choosing one just because a rider really pushes to go there or everyone’s heard how popular it is. Instead, pick one with suitable drive time, that offers a good staging location, has a variety of trails for the number of days you want to ride, and that has sufficient amenities and services available on route to satisfy everyone in your riding group. 

So for example, a more experienced riding crew might choose a more distant area of Northeastern Ontario with greater trail distances between occasional towns. They might also be more willing to trailer many more hours to get there. Meanwhile, a couples’ group might lean toward a more populated area that’s closer with numerous trailside towns and more choices for eating, accommodations and nightlife. Each is a great choice if it fits your schedule and group expectations.

Make Your Reservations

Whatever your Northeastern Ontario choice, plan your staging location, tour route and book snowmobile friendly places to stay from those who advertise on trail maps and in snowmobile magazines. 

It’s always a good idea to reserve your lodgings ahead. This ensures you have a place for all of your group to stay, with safe sled parking, on site restaurant, fuel nearby and direct trail access. For your staging hotel, be sure there’s ample truck and trailer parking that you can use while you’re off on your saddlebag tour. 

Planning Tips For The Trails

After planning your Northeastern Ontario visit, here are a few other ride important considerations to take into account.

Finding Your Way

Trails are generally well-marked but always double check signage and bring a navigation tool // photo by Craig Nicholson 

Always carry navigation tools with you. For Northeastern Ontario, these include the appropriate trail guides. Each of OFSC District 11, District 12, District 14 & District 15 have printed copies available. If going digital is your preference, download the OFSC Go Snowmobiling App, which operates on mobile devices with or without cell service, Internet access or a data plan. 

Consult these frequently during your ride, double check trail signage, especially at intersections, and review your proposed route for tomorrow on the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide at your lodgings each night.

Keeping Warm

Northeastern Ontario is a great snowmobile destination because of its abundant & reliable snow. That’s because it’s cold all winter, so prepare for prolonged sub zero temperatures on your ride by dressing warm and carrying extra layers just in case. Also help your body stay warm all day by eating hearty meals, carrying high-energy snacks and drinking plenty of fluids.

Watching The Weather

The weather is wild up here–keep an eye on the weather reports! // photo by Craig Nicholson 

Each evening, keep a close eye on the forecast and trail status reports. Watch out for potentially plan-changing weather events like sudden deep freezes, unexpected snow storms or high winds that could make for a more difficult morning sled starting, slower going on the trails or even temporary trail blockages. Make sure that your next day’s trails are still showing as Green or Yellow on the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide or Go Snowmobiling app. 

Ensuring Peace of Mind

Being prepared for emergencies ensures peace of mind when you're on the trail // photo by Craig Nicholson 

Especially if your route includes longer stretches of remote trails, it would be wise to carry extra fuel, a tow rope and emergency gear just in case. Similarly, having a communications device such as SPOT X or a sat phone in your group goes a long way for your peace of mind. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you plan a successful Northeastern Ontario tour. But one last word of advice: you’re likely riding trails that aren’t as familiar to you as the ones you ride regularly, so always proceed with caution, care, and control to minimize unexpected surprises. That way, you’ll arrive comfortably at your destination each night with many great stories to share–and many exciting memories to take home!

About Craig Nicholson—The Intrepid Snowmobiler

Popularly known as The Intrepid Snowmobiler, Craig Nicholson is an International Snowmobile Hall of Fame journalist who specializes in recreational snowmobiling activities. Craig has snowmobiled in every region of Canada and many states. His one-of-a-kind tour book, “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling – The Ultimate Ride Guide”, chronicles his adventures, as does his website and Facebook page.

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