Last winter, Ontario was all a-buzz with snow tours being promoted by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. Touted as a unique kind of rider experience, the snow tours integrated existing snowmobile trails into new branded rides that made it easier for those unfamiliar with an area to get around and have an enjoyable journey.

With four of these snow tours located in Northeastern Ontario, our Snow Goer Canada crew decided to check them out during an eight-day odyssey. So Dan Carty, Frank Crocco, Craig Irwin and Don Webb met Marsha and I at our recently renovated staging hotel, The Waterfront Inn, New Liskeard. Our plan was to ride the first two snow tours, the Gold Rush Tour and the Abitibi Canyon Loop, ending up back in New Liskeard (part of the municipality called“Temiskaming Shores”).

Our tight winter tour schedule wouldn’t allow time for us to travel by snowmobile to the remaining two snow tours,the Cartier Moose Loop and the Chiniguchi Wolf Loop,as we would have preferred. Instead,we loaded up our Triton trailers and towed the 300 kilometres between New Liskeard and Sudbury to complete this story.So here’s my take on four snow tour rides in Northeastern Ontario…

Gold Rush Tour

Anchor Towns: Temiskaming Shores, Gowganda, Timmins, Kirkland Lake

Bonus: Enhance your tour by doing some side-trips on some of District 14’s superb local trails!

Promoted as “The North’s #1 Self-Guided Tour”, the Gold Rush Tour has been in existence if not top of mind, since the 1990’s. Originally conceived as a tribute to the region’s gold mining heritage, the Gold Rush Tour has had its ups and downs, but is being revitalized as one of Northeastern Ontario’s multiday loops.

2 to 4 days: The Gold Rush Tour is a saddlebag ride along 710 kilometres of Trans Ontario Provincial (TOP) Trails. Many of its trails are on old logging or mining roads or utility corridors, which make for some mighty fine groomed riding. Snow coverage is usually abundant and typically, the Gold Rush Tour is available to ride from early January to near the end of March. Depending on trail conditions and your riding preference, circumnavigating the Gold Rush Tour can take from two to four days.



Services: The eastern and northern sections of this loop, from Temiskaming Shores to Timmins on TOP Trails A, A108 and A111C, are main snowmobiling corridors that roughly parallel Highways 11 and 101, plugging well serviced communities like Earlton, Engelhart, Kirkland Lake and Matheson into the snow tour. The southern and western sections of this circle ride cover less frequently travelled TOP Trails through slightly more remote areas. However, they are sufficiently serviced by communities such as Elk Lake, Gowganda, Shining Tree, Mattagami and Gogama. Heads up that some of the gas stations in these places accept cash only!



Navigation: Not long ago, finding the Gold Rush Tour was a challenge. Many riders had heard its name, but weren’t exactly clear as to what route it follows. As part of its on going revitalization, the exact route is now highlighted on the OFSC District 14 Trail Guide. Their website also has a highlight map, plus a total listing of all Gold Rush trails, complete with distances and the services available on route. These tools take away much of the guesswork for doing the tour, and by the time you read this, more Gold Rush Tour signs should also be placed on the trails to make navigation easier than it was for us. Ideally, riders should be able to simply follow the Gold Rush Tour signs to find their way around and hopefully that will be the case for this winter.

Abitibi Canyon Loop

Anchor Towns: Cochrane, Smooth Rock Falls

Bonus: Spend your next sledding vacation saddle-bagging the new Northern Corridor Adventure, which includes the Abitibi Canyon Loop, plus four other snow tours just as good!

The Abitibi Canyon Loop is a 300kilometre wilderness ride that circles north from the Town of Cochrane. It follows TOP A103 to a halfway point at Fraserdale, the site of a major power dam (an impressive sight where the trail crosses over top of it), built in 1933. Here, Extreme Tours (guided sled trips to Moosonee & James Bay) have a base camp with a heated trailer offering a very basic lunch, along with fuel and outhouses. Cash only.

Main Attractions: It’s always a good idea to call ahead to the base camp to make sure its open, because some sleds can’t complete this loop without gassing up there. Extra fuel is especially necessary if you take in this loop’s other two main attractions – the Abitibi Canyon and New Post Falls. Located on the west side of the power dam, the Abitibi Canyon offers about 20 klicks of deep powder riding and hill climbing that’s the closest approximation Ontario has to a “mountain” experience. New Post Falls, a few kilometres up the road from the base camp, and accessed by a goat path, is a spectacular gorge and waterfall.



Fuelling Up: If for some reason the base camp is closed (can happen very early or late in the season), many of today’s fuel-efficient sleds can make this loop on a full tank if you ride it clockwise, heading out of Cochrane to Smooth Rock Falls first for 65 klicks and topping up at the gas station there. That leaves you with about 220 kilometres (which consumed about ¾ of a tank on my Ski-Doo Renegade Adrenalin 900 ACE) to complete the loop back to Cochrane, but it’s always wise to carry extra fuel with you just in case.


Choices: High milers can do this entire loop in as a day ride out of Cochrane, staying at the Best Western Swan Castle as we did. However, those that want to spend more time playing in the canyon or to ride the loop at a more leisurely pace might want to cap their day’s trail ride at 220 kilometres by riding the loop counterclockwise and staying over in Smooth Rock Falls instead of going back to Cochrane that same day.

I’ve snowmobiled the Abitibi Canyon Loop on several different occasions and it’s always been impeccably groomed and very well signed. Now that the route is also abundantly marked with “Abitibi Canyon Loop” signs, snowmobilers can simply sit back and enjoy a mind-blowing ride on stellar trails!



Cartier Moose Loop & Chinguchi Wolf loop

Anchor Town: Sudbury

Bonus: Make a long weekend out of it by riding Sudbury’s three excellent day loops.

Sudbury put itself back on the snowmobile map big time with the debut of the Cartier and Chinguchi Loops – and its new found prominence is solidified with the addition of a third ride, the Rainbow Elk Loop, which I haven’t had the pleasure of riding yet.

Gateway Hub: The concept is simple. Now that the 4laning of Highway 400 is almost complete, the drive to Sudbury is a breeze. So why not make it a gateway hub where riders can easily trailer in for a long weekend and ride two or three different day loops, while staying at the same hotel each night? No need to carry saddlebags, and Sudbury has enough variety of restaurants, nightlife and attractions to more than fill any non-sledding hours and desires.

I was very impressed with the overall quantity and quality of trail signage throughout the Sudbury area trail system – far better than many other places, and the grooming was second to none. Yes, it can get a little scratchy around the city proper from lots of sled traffic. There are also a few major roads to cross, but that’s a very small price to pay, because once out of town, it’s one fabulous trail after another.



Lodging & Staging: The only catch is that for a city its size, there aren’t many trail accessible lodgings in the city proper. Fortunately, one good one is all a sledder needs and the Moonlight Inn & Suites fits that bill. It’s located at the east end of the city on Highway 17 near Sudbury’s Royal Distributing location. It’s also very conveniently positioned at the juncture of the three snow tours, with easy and direct snowmobile access to each one.

Another alternative is to stay at an in-town hotel that isn’t trail accessible and trailer out to a nearby staging area like the Sudbury Trail Plan office on the east side of the city near Garson. There’s also good parking and direct trail access behind the Town of Hanmer Tim Horton’s on Old Highway 69 north of Sudbury, but neither of these options is as handy as the Moonlight Inn & Suites.

Chiniguchi: At 223 kilometres around, the Chinguchi Wolf Loop is positioned northeast of Sudbury. Essentially, its TOP Trails circle the largest area water body, Wanapitei Lake. They are also adjacent to the Wolf Lake Forest Reserve, the world’s largest old growth red pine forest. One highlight of the Chiniguchi Wolf Loop is the scenic lookout at the top of Wolf Mountain, accessed by Local Trail 76. At 503 metres, it’s the region’s highest trail accessible elevation. Except for the north section of the loop, there are several locations on route for fuel and food, including Sportsmans Lodge Wilderness Resort on the east side. The west side of this loop shares some trail with the Cartier Moose Loop where it passes close to towns like Capreol and Hanmer.



Cartier: The 254kilometre Cartier Moose Loop is located northwest of Sudbury and shares some sections of its east side trails with the Chiniguchi Wolf Loop. That’s why in some places, you’ll spot signs for both tours on the same post. It’s easy to make good time on this loop’s TOP Trails as they wind through the Laurentian Highlands. On its west side, the Cartier Loop has only one stop for fuel and food at Windy Lake Lodge. Just a quick note that my distances are longer than what’s stated on the District 12 trail guide because our odometer readings also included getting to and from the loop from our staging point.

New Snow Tour: Although we didn’t ride it, the Rainbow Elk Loop is the latest addition to the Sudbury snow tour family. It’s the longest of the three rides. At 325 kilometres, it extends southwest from Sudbury all the way to Espanola. Unlike the Cartier and Chiniguchi Loops, the Rainbow Elk Loop involves some lake running toward its southern end, albeit on clearly marked and staked trails.

Taken together, these three circle rides make Sudbury a must-visit destination for snowmobilers looking for a memorable long weekend sledding getaway. From the Greater Toronto Area, we arrived in the city in less than four hours – not bad when there’s over 800 kilometres of exceptional loop riding to be had!

Special thanks to Donna MacLeod, Jamie McIntyre and Claude Aumont for assistance with this tour. Craig’s tours are made possible by BRP (SkiDoo), Gateway Powersport, FXR Racing, Split Rail Skis, Triton Trailers, and Woody’s Traction Products.

Craig Nicholson is the author of “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling — Your Ultimate Ride Guide”. His snowmobile writing also appears in many newspapers, magazines and websites. He also hosts “The Intrepid Snowmobiler on Radio” and appears on Snowmobiler Television. For more info, visit www.intrepidsnowmobiler.com 

 


This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Snow Goer Canada Magazine. Be sure to get all the latest snowmobile news in your hands by subscribing today. If you missed an issue on the stands, or would like a copy of the issue this article was featured in, back issues are also available. Snow Goer Canada Magazine gift subscriptions are also available.

 

 

 

 

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