Well, it needs to be said that we found the hidden gem when it comes to adventure snowmobiling and it's right here in Ontario. It was like finding the ‘Holy Grail’. Imagine a week in Disneyland without the line-ups. That’s what Ontario's Northwest is like to an avid snowmobiler. It’s like you were the only ones on the trail and literally owned them.
When we loaded the truck and trailer to commence our voyage, we really didn't know what was in store for us. Like most of our snowmobile trips though, we knew one thing was for sure: we were going to have fun, see some amazing scenery and meet some great people. Our 1,500 kilometre trip proved just that.
We arrived at Atikokan’s Quetico Centre on the first night where we would start our 'little' adventure. The staff here is really snowmobile friendly and most welcoming. Quetico Centre is nestled on Lake Quetico and offers beautiful views of the lake that can be seen from your room. The rooms are dorm-type accommodations, with ample storage for your gear bags and helmets. Hot meals are provided, with food quality that any restaurant would be proud to serve and for your enjoyment afterwards, there’s a 'fully stocked' games room.
ATIKOKAN TO IGNACE
Starting out, we met in town with Barry Duhamel, and Burleigh and Cyndy Ellek who are volunteers with the Atikokan SnoHo Snowmobile Club. They rode with us for most of the day and it was easy to see why you can go on such high mileage trips. Fuel is not a problem here nor is finding smooth trails to run on. The folks here take a lot of pride in having their trails in tip top condition.
The Day 1 first stretch was just great riding. Signs are complete and the views are supreme. You get to experience all types of trails. The forest access roads and hydro lines let you utilize the horses under your hood and at the same time, allow you to test your riding skills. You always have to remember where you’re snowmobiling as the moment you step off the groomed trail in these parts of the province, you end up being waist deep in powder. Just ask one of our test riders, Blackjack Blakoe. He said he had to be careful in not letting one of his skis go off the trail ‘cause he didn’t want to have to depend on one of his buds to help him back on the trail. It was that deep and there was that much snow. The next type of trail we found ourselves on was the double-track, twisty stuff that sure did test our riding ability and it was nothing but F.U.N. The forests here were so thick, you felt like you were playing a Star Wars video game trying to get your blaster to the centre of the Death Star.
IGNACE TO SIOUX LOOKOUT TO DRYDEN
After lunch, we met up with District 17 Governor Dianna Ayotte and her two trusty body-guards, Ron Lemmon and Ron Bennett who took us on some more unbelievable trails they wanted us to experience. They were wide and smooth with signs that always informed you of a corner or possible cautions. If you’re planning on taking this trip, we suggest timing your trip to arrive in Ignace for lunch as that will give you time to hit the trail that takes you to the top of the lookout offering you a view that explains why it’s called Sioux Lookout. Check out www.ontariosnowmobiler.com to find out the whole story behind the name. We found out this was the very spot where the Sioux waited to ambush the Iroquois. We could almost hear the beating of drums.
On our way to Dryden, we met up with Charlie Cockle, the Vice President of the Dryden PowerToboggan Club. Charlie took the lead and led us into Dryden where we stayed at the Best Western Motor Inn. During dinner, he asked us how many snowmobilers we saw over the course of the day. Looking back at the day, it dawned on us there was no traffic and to our astonishment, we replied: "Other than the people we’ve been riding with, we only saw ONE other snowmobiler!" He wasn't surprised. We kept thinking about the fantastic trails that we rode today and knew they were waiting there again for us tomorrow…..just for us!
You had better like lake riding because this is one of the best parts of the northwestern Ontario lakes system and the directional stakes on these lakes seem to go on forever. You have to be careful and watch out for the ice roads, a concept foreign to most central Ontario riders. There are roads that criss-cross on some of the larger lakes and the Clubs install stop signs on the lake to warn you to stop before hitting the ice road’s plowed shoulders. A very nice touch and we appreciated their concern for everyone’s safety.
DRYDEN TO KENORA
When we started our second day of riding, Charlie was ready to hit the trails and had his own guest rider, his sister Donna, who spent the next six hours riding with us and keeping us in line while we rode to Kenora. Riding the seemingly endless pipeline trails and frozen lakes was truly amazing. A word of caution though; take it easy going over the hills on the pipe-line as a few of them made our stomachs feel like we were riding the Mindbuster Roller Coaster at Canada’s Wonderland. Go easy here as this is where you could get some pretty serious hang-time if you came to the top of the hill too fast.
KENORA TO SIOUX NARROWS TO EMO TO FORT FRANCES
It was too early to stop so we journeyed on to Nester Falls to fuel up and then on to Emo. Our day was getting late and the OSM crew was getting a little concerned the gas stations would be closing. Fuel is not a problem but the hours of operation may dictate just how far you can go. Dave Goodman, one of our guides wasn’t worried one bit and come to think of it, nor were any of his crew. Just us! As we pulled into Emo, the gas station was closed and so was the entire town and it was only 9:00 pm on a Thursday night. Dave pulled right into the Arctic Cat dealer, who also sells fuel. He told us to line up, walked to the front door, opened it up, came back and then started fueling the sleds. It wasn’t until later that he owned up to owning the dealership and that provided us with another comfort level on this trip! Sometimes it really helps to ride with folks like Dave.
After filling up the sleds, we forged on to Fort Frances and the Super 8 Motel. The beds were calling our names. After settling in for the night, we totaled the number of sleds we saw on the trails so far. Twelve total, eight of which were anglers on Lake of the Woods.
FORT FRANCIS TO MINE CENTRE TO PERCH LAKE TO ATIKOKAN BACK TO QUETICO CENTRE
Our final day consisted of riding from Fort Frances back to Atikokan. We traveled on numerous lakes and watched as the kilometres piled up. The groomed lake trails are first class and the stakes helped us keep on track. We were amazed when we got off the lakes and onto the forest access roads at how awesome these trails were. They just kept going and going and going and were so wide, four transports could sit side-by-side on this groomed trail. We hated leaving it!
After 120 kilometres of access road riding, we made our way to Perch Lake Lodge for lunch. What a great stop! This place should have had a ‘must stop here’ sign as it’s noted for its great food, lodging and even better stories on the wild, wild, northwest. We could have stayed for days listening to Tom Marr spin his tales about logging roads, log runs, the White Otter Castle, local folks, and some of their fun escapades. It was a terrific place for us to reflect on our entire trip and on the numerous people we met in the three days of sledding here.
After finishing lunch, we said goodbye to the last of our new friends Tom and Lorna Marr and of course our guide Fred Denis. We continued on back to the truck and trailer at Quetico Centre, where we loaded up and hollered "Wagons, East!"
By far, this trip proved to us there is so much riding in Northwestern Ontario, we wished we could have had an extra few days. In future, we hope to visit Red Lake and Ear Falls, north of Kenora and the White Otter Castle close to Atikokan. This would have just added a bit more to an already amazing ride. If we hadn’t ridden these trails, we wouldn’t have believed just how beautiful this part of the Province is in the winter. It is truly a winter paradise!
We wouldn’t suggest riding in this area without getting someone to guide you. Don’t be afraid to call the local clubs because these folks love showing off their beautiful trails.
The hidden gem in the title of this article becomes apparent when you consider this is a playground for sledders that is comparable to going to Disneyland and not having to wait in line for the sugar mountain ride. Adventurism and the feeling you are one of the few visiting snowmobilers that have explored these trails and knowing you have what it takes, makes this trip even more enjoyable. If you are a novice snowmobiler and want to take this trip, call and arrange for a guide from the snowmobile clubs in the area. Even experienced riders will benefit from having someone with them who is familiar with the trails and terrain. Once you’ve decided on traveling the trails in northwestern Ontario, get ready for one of the best trail systems you will ever ride in your life.