Story by Craig Nicholson. 

Photos by Martin Lortz for Ontario Tourism. 

When searching for the best snow conditions, snowmobil­ers should bear in mind three factors…elevation, latitude and lake effect. Elevation refers to how high it is. Latitude to how far north it is. And lake effect to how much snow it gets from proximity to a large water body. While no South­ern Ontario location scores perfect for all three factors, the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Region does better than most. 

Ontario’s Highlands is so-named because it encom­passes the Algonquin, Haliburton and Madawaska High­lands (elevation). These are positioned between the Kawartha Lakes and Algonquin Park and run from Halibur­ton in the west to the Ottawa River in the east. With overall elevations in the 500-metre plus range, this high country sits as far north in Southern Ontario as you can get (lati­tude) and is also close enough to the lee of Georgian Bay to catch some of the snow it generates (lake effect). 

Cognizant of these factors, our Snow Goer crew – Johnny Biasi, Craig Biasi, Frank Crocco, Brent Murphy, Don Webb and I (along with professional photographer, Martin Lortz, and Snowmobiler Television host, Phil Molto) – headed to the town of Bancroft, ideally situated in the heart of these snowy highlands. Bancroft & District is a popular snowmo­biling mecca – typically one of those snowbelt destinations that gets snow when others in Southern Ontario don’t, and tends to keep it longer too. 

Bancroft’s Big Advantages 

Proximity: Besides reliable snow from elevation, latitude and lake effect, Bancroft has several other key attributes that make it an ideal staging hub for snowmobiling. Not least of these is its location at the juncture of Highways 28 and 62, an hour’s drive north of the 401 and less than two hours from eastern periphery of the Greater Toronto Area. This nearness means snowmobilers can easily trailer into Ban-croft after work for a two or three-day weekend of sledding and still be home for dinner Sunday night. 

More Trail Options: Another key attribute is that Bancroft is snowmobile-central. It’s the meeting point for two strong OFSC districts (2 & 6), where the grooming op­erations of the Old Hastings Snow Riders, Maple Leaf Snow Skimmers and Paudash Trail Blazers converge. So from Bancroft, snowmobilers can choose to ride three dif­ferent trail systems, each with more than enough trails for a great day’s ride. 

That’s because Bancroft was founded in the mid-1800’s for the mining and lumber industries and is surrounded by a legacy of old logging and resource roads and rail lines. These historic corridors form an incomparable network of excellent snowmobile trails each winter. In particular, the Hastings Heritage Trail is a 156-kilometre rail trail that runs north from Glen Ross to Lake St Peter and enables easy snowmobile access to Bancroft and District trails. 

Services & Amenities: Then there’s Bancroft itself. What used to be a somewhat sleepy rural village nestled beside the York River has transformed into a vibrant, small town with a permanent population of about 3,500. But that total swells by thousands when the cottagers arrive to summer on the dozens of beautiful area lakes. This helps account for why Bancroft & District offers 27 restaurants (including two Tim Hortons and a McDonald's), many big stores (Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, Shopper’s Drug, IDA) and even a 24/7 Foodland. Consequently, visiting snowmobil­ers can .nd everything needed to make your stay more com­fortable and enjoyable, including service at either of the town’s Polaris or Ski-Doo dealers. 

Snowmobile-Friendly: Moreover, Bancroft is a town that welcomes snowmobiling…many residents are sledders themselves, so snowmobilers are not taken for granted or ignored. In fact, Bancroft is so snowmobile friendly that it even built a snowmobile bridge across the York so riders can access services more easily from the Hastings Heritage Trail that runs right through town. And being snowmobile-friendly is also why we stayed at the Bancroft Inn & Suites, family owned and operated by avid snowmobilers Tammy & Curtis Martin (see Where Stayed and Ate). Located north of town near the Hastings Heritage Trail, the Bancroft Inn & Suites became our staging hotel for three stellar days of Bancroft & District snowmobiling… 



Day 1 - Bon Echo Loop (OFSC District 2) 

As one of the Snow Tours promoted by the Ontario Federation of Snow­mobile Clubs (OFSC) this winter, the Bon Echo Loop runs south and east of Bancroft to the Mazinaw area of Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Re­gion. We rode this 232-kilometre tour clockwise out of Bancroft, racking up a total of 257 kilometres (including a total of 25 kilometres between Bancroft and the of.cial loop route). I recommend doing the Bon Echo Loop clockwise from Bancroft because that puts the last 50 kilo-metres or so at the end of the day on TOP Trail E106 & TOP B106E (Hastings Heritage Trail), so if you’re running late or tired, it’s very easy going back to the Bancroft Inn & Suites. 

The Bon Echo Loop was well signed (with both trail and loop logo signs) and well groomed as a premier Snow Tour should be. It also provided an outstanding variety of trails from forest access and logging roads to rail lines and utility corridors. Loop fuel is available in McArthur Mills, Den­bigh, Cloyne and Glimour. For more info, www.district2ofsc.ca/trails_tourloops.php. 

 



Day 2 - Madawaska Highland Loop (OFSC District 6) 

Starting about 40 kilometres north of Bancroft, the Madawaska Highlands Loop is listed officially at about 180 kilometres and includes (counter clockwise) Lake St Peter, Combermere, Barry’s Bay and Whitney. Our door-to­door ride of this loop from the Ban-croft Inn & Suites racked up 290 kilometres total. After completing the loop itself, we decided not to ride back to Bancroft on TOP B106E (Hastings Heritage Trail) and instead added some extra distance by dropping into town on Club Trails 178 & 179. 

The Madawaska Highlands Loop was easy to follow from the trail signs. TOP B from Barry’s Bay to Whitney is a scenic rail trail along the Madawaska River. Be sure to catch two panoramic lookouts on route  – one just off TOP E109 south of Barry’s Bay and the other on Club Trail 159 south of TOP B west of Barry’s Bay. Loop fuel is available at Lake St Peter,  Combermere,  Barry’s Bay, Madawaska and Whitney. For more info, www.snowcountryscsa.ca/trails-and-permits/tours/.


Day 3 - Southwestern Loops (OFSC Districts 2 & 6)

“Southwestern  Loops” is a name I made up to describe this day’s ride, be- cause we headed south  and west from Bancroft and  there are two unofficial and  one  official  loop   options. De- pending on  your  time,  you  can ride 150 (unofficial) kilometres  as we did to  Tory Hill  and  Wilberforce  (fuel),  then  back  up  toward  Lake St Peter (fuel) on TOP E109. Or you can ride a longer  unofficial  loop  into  the  Hal- iburton area  and  then  up  TOP E to Whitney (fuel) and south  to Bancroft. But if you want to ride another good promoted OFSC loop that’s as official as it gets, check out the Hastings High- land Tour, a 240-kilometre ride south  from  Bancroft that  we unfortunately didn’t have time to do. www.district2ofsc.ca/trails_tourloops.php.



Whatever your sledding choices out of Bancroft, you’ll come as close to a guaranteed good ride as you’ll find in Southern Ontario. And  with  all  the 
added  value  that  Bancroft  brings  to your  snowmobile experience,  you’re sure  to  be  making   plans  to  return again for another weekend getaway be- fore you’ve even finished your Bancroft first ride!

Special thanks to Claude Aumont (OTMPC), Greg Webb (Bancroft  & District Chamber of Commerce), Nicole Whiting and Kasia Wind (Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization),  Tammy Martin, and Tom & Charlene Nulty for assistance with this tour. Craig’s tours are made possible by BRP (Ski-Doo), 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 September 2015 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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