How to Access OFSC Snow Trails From Minnesota Via Atikokan
American snowmobilers take note: Canada is open for business. With tonnes of fresh snow, thousands of kilometres of trails, and amazing scenery, snowmobiling in Ontario should be on every enthusiast’s bucket list this year.
And that's especially true if you’re a Minnesotan living close to the Ontario border. We chatted with Kim Cross, president of the North Western Ontario Snowmobile Trail Association (NWOSTA), for some insight into planning your trip across the border and why the small town of Atikokan has become a destination for snowmobilers from both Canada and the US.
“It's a snowmobile-friendly community,” Cross says. “You can ride on the streets in town—you can go anywhere. The trail brings you right past the motels, fuel, and coffee shops.” The town of Atikokan also serves as an excellent base for accessing more than 30,000 km of Ontario’s marked and maintained trails.
With such a wide variety of uncongested trails, you’ll find lots to keep you interested—from wide-open lakes to historic logging roads and tight, twisting trails through the trees—the terrain is always offering up something new. “The riding’s not boring,” Cross says.
So if you’re snowmobiling to Ontario, Canada from places like Duluth, Minneapolis St. Paul, International Falls, or anywhere else in Northern Minnesota, here are the things you’ll need to know.
Before You Go
To begin, there are two steps you need to take before hopping on your sled:
1 - Apply for a Remote Area Border Crossing pass (RABC)
While there are no customs on these trails coming into Canada, you need to ensure you have proper documentation when entering the country. It’s $30 (CND) for a one-year permit, or about $23 US. The process can take a while, so be sure to apply well in advance of your trip. Once your application is approved, you’re good to go.
2 - Get an Ontario trail permit from the OFSC website
A multi-day pass (minimum two days) is $35 (CND) per day. Seasonal permits are $260 (CND) after December 2. Permits are available online only. Print the permit, place it in a clear plastic bag, and attach it to your windshield. This permit gives you access to more than 30,000 km of trails.
Where to Ride
Once you’ve got your documentation, you can plan your trip. Here’s a sample trip of three days that you can tailor to your own interests and schedule.
Day 1 / Crossing into Canada
To get to Atikokan there are several options. Riding up from Crane Lake, MN you’ll head northeast to Atikokan on the L9O1M trail—about 90 miles. You’ll have enough gas to get between the two but you’ll want to plan for a stop at Perch Lake Lodge, located 15 miles west of Atikokan. It’s a snowmobile-friendly spot with great food (the restaurant is open 11 am - 8 pm seven days a week), and lodging if you need it. If you’re riding up north of Grand Moray, from the Gunflint Lake area, you’ll head northwest to Atikokan.
Day 2 / Journey to the Past
After a good night’s rest in Atikokan and a hearty breakfast, you’ll be ready for a day of riding. A round trip to White Otter Castle will take you a full day but it’s worth the effort. This mansion, completed in 1915, is accessible only by boat, plane, or snowmobile. Take the A Trail from Atikokan, and about a half day’s ride northwest, on the northeast shores of White Otter Lake, you’ll find this incredible four-story wooden structure built by woodsman Jimmy McOuat. Local lore has it McOuat built it for a Scottish mail-order bride who never turned up. Out front you’ll find his final resting place marked by a post with a carved cross.
Day 3 / Heading back to the U.S.
When heading back to the US, you’ll need to cross the border at Crane Lake by 6 pm. US border services operate a checkpoint here. If you opt to go back through the Gunflint Lake crossing, you’ll need to arrange ahead of time to meet the border services there.
The OFSC operates two snow tours in the area. Starting from Atikokan, there's the 203 km (126 miles) White Otter Loop that will take you to the above-mentioned White Otter Castle.
For longer trips, check out the 500-plus mile NWOSTA Wilderness Loop, which you can also pick up right in Atikokan. Or just start from any of the many snowmobile-friendly communities along the loop like Fort Frances, Sioux Lookout, and Dryden, and enjoy the best the rugged Canadian Shield has to offer. With this massive loop, you’ll never ride the same trail twice.
Ontario's northwest is a bucket-list must for any adventurous snowmobiler in Minnesota. Let us know if you make the trip, we're sure you won't regret it!