Snowmobiling in the Wild
By definition, the term “wilderness” refers to an uncultivated and largely uninhabited region—one that’s largely unaffected by human activity. And for many adventure seekers, that’s exactly what makes snowmobiling in Northern Ontario the ultimate touring experience. It’s the lure of big trails, big distances, big scenery, big bragging rights, big memories—and big freedom to explore big country that’s only accessible in winter and by snowmobile. So, if you’re into super-sized adventures, snowmobiling Ontario’s wilderness country is one big decision you can be sure you won't regret.
Northern Ontario occupies a vast chunk of the Canadian Shield, where the definition of wilderness comes alive. The territory accounts for 88% of the province’s landmass, but only 6% of its population. It comprises the regions of Northeastern Ontario (Sudbury & North Bay areas, north to James Bay), Algoma Country (Sault Ste Marie & Elliot Lake areas, north to Hearst), and Northwestern Ontario (Thunder Bay & Fort Frances areas, north to Hudson Bay). Together, this Ontario wilderness country provides about 13,500 km of snowmobile trails operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC), which is 45% of the entire provincial system.
These three regions are linked by two Trans Canada routes, Highway 11 and Highway 17. Most of the population centres are clustered along these roads. They're also connected by thousands of kilometres of some of the widest, longest, and most exhilarating snowmobile trails on the planet. But with so many kilometres of trails and so small a resident population, most trails aren’t ever crowded or overused. Generally, the farther north or west you go, the fewer the towns, and the bigger the wilderness experience.
Much of Northern Ontario provides ideal wilderness country snowmobiling. Being positioned in the northerly latitudes of the province, the climate of Northern Ontario normally delivers consistent cold and reliable snow from December well into April. The sub-zero temperatures also keep trail bases frozen deep and durable, and ice crossings solid.
With the snowy season such a fact of life for so many months, it’s natural that Northerners have embraced winter with a passion. For snowmobilers, this means that virtually every town, lodging, restaurant, and gas station is snowmobile-friendly, hospitably welcoming visiting riders with arms wide open.
Being a resource-based economy from inception means Northern Ontario also has a massive network of mining and logging roads, cut lines, and utility corridors. Many of these wide, sweeping pathways now double as some of the most remarkable snowmobile trails as Northern Ontario takes advantage of its other major natural resource, abundant snow. Check out all Northern Ontario snowmobile trails on the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide.
NORTHEASTERN ONTARIO Snowmobiling
For riders from Southern Ontario and Quebec, or those entering the province through New York State (Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Thousand Islands, Ogdensburg, Seaway) or Southern Michigan (Detroit, Port Huron), Northeastern Ontario is snowmobiler's paradise. In addition to its gateway cities of Sudbury and North Bay, Northeastern Ontario lays claim to such popular destinations as New Liskeard, Kirkland Lake, Timmins, Cochrane, and Kapuskasing.
Northeastern Ontario offers almost 8,000 km of what they call “big trails,” including OFSC TOP Trunk Trails A & C. TOP Trail A essentially parallels the Highway 11 corridor with pockets of wilderness riding between North Bay and Cochrane. Its relative proximity to many towns and villages makes this riding less remote than on the TOP Trail C. TOP C heads north from Sudbury into No Man’s Land, an almost 300-km remote wilderness run to Timmins with mid-point services at Shining Tree, Mattagami, and Gogama.
Northeastern Ontario also offers eleven OFSC-Promoted Snow Tours, the most of any region in the province. These include the renowned, 303-km Abitibi Canyon Tour, gateway to backcountry riding in that canyon. There’re also multi-day saddlebag rides like the 710-km Gold Rush Tour, and the 1,645-km Northern Corridor Adventure Tour—for those who like to go the long distance. If that’s you, check out this Northeastern Ontario loop planner.
ALGOMA COUNTRY Snowmobiling
For riders from Southern Ontario and American snowmobilers crossing into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Country delivers on big milers’ dreams. Located in North Central Ontario, Algoma Country offers over 2,500 km of OFSC snowmobile trails operated by the Algoma Snow Plan Affiliation. Many of these trails are in wilderness areas near Algoma Country’s population centres. These are located along Highway 17 and TOP Trunk Trail D on the North Shore of Lake Huron between Elliot Lake and Sault Ste Marie. Algoma Country also includes one of the region’s three OFSC-Promoted Snow Tours: the 457-kilometre North Shore Loop, the northern half of which is considerably more remote with one good pit stop at Aubrey Falls.
Not far north of the Sault or Elliot Lake is where the really big wilderness adventures begin. TOP Trunk Trail D travels 644 km north from Searchmont to Hearst with services at Wawa, Dubreuilville, and Hornepayne. Algoma Country promotes this route to die-hard snowmobilers as two- to five-day epic snowmobile adventures, dubbed “½ Way There,” “¾ Way There,” and “All The Way There.” The route also provides access to Wawa’s top secret boondocking location for great backcountry riding.
NorthWest Ontario snowmobiling
Wilderness typically equates to remote trail riding at its best, and you don’t have to look any farther to find it than Northwest Ontario. Also known as Sunset Country for its position farthest west in Ontario, this rugged northern landscape is a snowmobiler’s dream come true, thanks to trails operated by the North Western Ontario Snowmobile Trails Association (NWOSTA).
Riders from Manitoba, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have enthusiastically embraced the 2,700 km of OFSC snowmobile trails in Ontario’s Northwest for many years. Americans cross into Ontario at International Falls, Baudette, or Grand Portage, while the Manitobans travel the OFSC-promoted Snow Tour known as the Gateway To Ontario Tour through Kenora.
The Northwest’s premier ride is the OFSC-Promoted Snow Tour aptly named the NWOSTA Wilderness Loop, a 916-km circle tour through some of the province’s most spectacular terrain. The tour includes some lake running, a fact of life on many trails in the water-abundant region. Popular access points to this snow tour include Kenora, Emo, Fort Frances in the west, and Atikokan in the east. While you’re near Atikokan, check out the Northwest’s third OFSC-Promoted Snow Tour, the 203-kilometre White Otter Castle Loop, named after an historic structure on its trail.
For the been-there, done-that crowd, snowmobiling North Western Ontario’s wilderness country is a must-add to the winter bucket list.