Ontario Snowmobiling Safari - Part 2

Explore Ontario's Trails

My awe at the immense majesty of the playground at my doorstep was second only to amazement at the Ontario snowmobile trails. My only grooming experience was with sled dogs, but now I was almost floating over snow flattened smoother than most highways. Compared to my haphazard off trail excursions, the steering and handling of my sled became effortless. I quickly realized that Ontario snowmobile trail grooming had the same effect as dragging a ski slope or passing a Zamboni over ice: Mother Nature's irregularities convert into a seamless white carpet of comfort for great snowmobile conditions. Grooming is undertaken by industrial equipment costing upwards of $200,000 per unit you haven't been properly initiated until one of these slow-moving behemoths blocks your snowmobile trail!

Eye Opening Ride

For the first time, I stopped fighting my sled and sat back to enjoy a flawless ride on snowmobile trails in Ontario. Brian led us onto adjacent lakes, where I eagerly explored other cottage paradises, formerly only names on my topo map. I discovered a keen sense of the terrain, space and wilderness in which my own finite cottage world plays so insignificant a part. It was even more fascinating than the quick flyover I made one summer with an acrobatic pilot, loop-de-loops and all.

After this eye-opening debut, I joined thousands of cottagers who winter on their sleds. I escape my lake confines at every chance, riding groomed trails that criss-cross cottage country. They are part of Ontario's 32,000-kilometre network, the world's longest contiguous recreational trail system, stretching from Quebec to the Manitoba border. Most trails are well marked, wide as your driveway, and largely invisible to the public eye. Except for road crossings and town interfaces, they are hidden back in the boonies. Which accounts for their popularity and allure with outdoor enthusiasts. Active snowmobilers are already hooked, but what about cottagers who don't own a snowmobile or haven't visited their lake in the winter? What about sled owners who are tempted but don't know how to start trail riding.

Try It Yourself

There are four easy ways to try it (sled owners, skip to option three). If you have access to winterized lodging, borrowing a sled to ride-along is the least expensive option. Most snowmobilers and some dealers are eager to introduce novices to their sport and delight in rediscovering the magic through virgin eyes. But don't impose and offer to pay for damage incurred.

Alternatively, rent. According to Dan Arcand of Muskoka Sports & Recreation, you'll need a valid driver's licence. Rental fees average about $299 (weekday) or $575 (weekend) for a touring snowmobile capable of seating two adults. Taxes are extra, but prices include insurance and a trail permit. Most outlets also rent snowmobile apparel, but for insurance reasons, not kiddie cabooses. With obligatory damage deposits, confirm your maximum liability at the outset. Arcand recommends advance reservations in for prime weekends. A third option is to visit trail accessible resorts offering snowmobiles. Or bring your own. Resort snowmobiling is becoming increasingly popular because it combines full service facilities with exciting adventures. Sounds perfect for families wanting to try winter on for size!

Finally, guided tour companies offer all-inclusive packages with rentals on request. Short tours can cost less than $200 - $400 depending on duration and location, but are frequently restricted to ages 16 and older. Muskoka Sports and Recreation offers 1 ½ hour, half-day, full day and dinner sledding tours. For larger groups, most operators will customize a tour for you.

Sled owner or not, before touring on your own, contact a marina, sled dealer, tourism office, or the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs to buy a Trail Permit, get a trail map and an events calendar. Club activities like poker runs, family fun days and Snowaramas (charity rides for kids with physical disabilities) make for enjoyable family outings.

Snowmobiling Tourism Contacts:

Contributing partners for this Ontario snowmobiling site about great Ontario snowmobile trails and snowmobile conditions include: Intrepid Snowmobiler, Murphy Insurance, Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, Ontario Tourism, Snow Goer Media, Supertrax Media.

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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