Embracing Adventure in Almaguin: A Journey Outside of the Comfort Zone

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Embracing Adventure in Almaguin: A Journey Outside of the Comfort Zone

September 28th, 2023 by Sarah Cooke

I have lived in the Almaguin Highlands for just over three years and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to explore in the region. Having grown up in Orangeville, a more urban area, I really enjoy getting lost down an Almaguin backroad where I’ve discovered the most enchanting places.

Lately, I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone and seeking adventures off the beaten path. When the opportunity arose to spend an entire weekend exploring my favorite place in the entire world, I jumped on it.

So, what is one to do when looking to embrace adventure? Well, teaming up with Missing Link Adventure Tours – MLAT for short – and Santosha Farms seemed like a natural first step.

The drive off the highway was scenic, and we drove past the magnificent outcropping of Pegg’s Mountain, after which the road we traveled was named.

I could feel the stress of the workweek melt away as my adventure partner and I pulled into the property, our lodge for the weekend, named LINNK, was lit up warmly, the fire was crackling in the backyard, and Rob and Julia, our hosts, were on hand to welcome us.

The LINNK is situated on an old Finnish homestead on the traditional lands of the Anishinabek and Mississauga First Nations in Robinson Huron Treaty Territory. The lodge itself is sourced from refinished and environmentally sustainable trappings, and you can’t help but feel at peace when you walk through the door.

The dinner at the LINNK bordered on heavenly as Rob and Julia served my friend and me delicious organic vegetables from Santosha Farms. An arugula and mustard leaf salad with apples, cashews, blue cheese, and a mustard dressing sated this salad enthusiast's hunger, and corn on the cob with flower butter was a superb appetizer.

However, when it came to the main course, baked cabbage with smoked mustard, fresh carrots, Mediterranean-style red and green tomatoes, and a quinoa tabbouleh – and I can’t forget the ginger maple butter – my taste buds were practically singing. Whoever said vegetables can’t be filling needs to book a weekend at the LINNK.

Good wine, good food, and conversation are part of the Almaguin experience, and of course, we capped the evening off with a small fire and a beautiful gaze at the Milky Way.

We decided to have an earlier night because in the morning, it was time to hit the bike trail around the property and an afternoon of boating on Eagle Lake.

After a delicious pancake breakfast made by Julia, we were ready to hit the bike trails on Missing Link Adventure Tour’s Fat Bikes. I had always wanted to try a fat bike, and today was the day. Rob gave us a route, and we were off.

Monarch butterflies danced along the trail as we set off across the field near Santosha Farms on our way into the bush. Fat bikes are the monster trucks of the bike world, according to Missing Link’s bike aficionado Rob Edmonstone, and he was not wrong because the bike easily went over roots and logs as we traversed the bush.

I felt like a kid again as we weaved through the trails, a mix of forest and field. The zipping sound of the tires combined with the crackling of fallen leaves on the ground created a nostalgic soundtrack. The dew on the grass allowed for some sweet drifting opportunities and was a high-octane start to the day that left me pondering what other cycling adventures could be had.

We took a break from shredding the trails for an amazing farm-to-table lunch, featuring an array of vibrantly colored dishes, including curried lentils with wild rice, gazpacho, homemade iced tea, and a beet salad topped with edible flowers — all of which unlocked the dopamine receptors in my brain.

After the good eats, we hopped on the fat bikes and pedaled back to the LINNK so we could head out for the boat adventure portion of the weekend.

We met our tour guide and local lake expert Scott Hubbert of Scotty’s Lake Tours at the boat launch in Mikisew Provincial Park – a hidden gem of Northern Ontario perched on Eagle Lake.

Country music and Hubbert’s easy grin welcomed us to his bright green pontoon boat, which he rebuilt himself. We were on a fishing mission – a fish mish’ if you will, but we didn’t catch any bass. What we did catch was a spectacular view of the islands speckled across Eagle Lake, amidst the beginning of fall colours.

Ever the chill boat host, Hubbert navigated the waters to prime bass locations, but the brisk afternoon sun kept the fish at bay. Nonetheless, one doesn’t need to catch a fish to have a great time on a boat, and our captain made for good conversation. If you’ve never been out on Eagle Lake, I strongly recommend it, as its rocky outcroppings and windswept pines embody the northern Ontario vibes you’re looking for.

On the way to have dinner, we travelled through the Village of South River and were tempted when we saw Outdoor Adventures ATV’s new location, and the breadth of shopping opportunities in Sundridge, which planted seeds for future adventures to come.

We rolled up to the Pulled Smokehouse and Welcome Centre in Burk’s Falls for some sandwiches. A creature of delicious habit, I opted for the smash burger. If you know, you know. But for those who don’t know, the Pulled Smokehouse’s smash burger is a cheesy, garlic aioli delight between two brioche buns. My adventure partner grabbed a sandwich called The Colonel – crispy chicken breast topped with bacon, mango relish, and arugula. He said his soul left his body. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Dinner by the Magnetawan River called for another attempt at fishing down at the docks in Burk’s Falls. I am sad to report I once again caught only snags, but don’t let that deter you; there are some big catches to be had here.

To bring a close to an amazing day, it was back to the LINNK for a fire and stargazing. Nothing beats a good fire, and Edmonstone was so kind as to leave us a wicked stack of wood and some good tinder. As I watched the embers burn, I contemplated how stepping out of my comfort zone during this weekend opened my soul to what I enjoy doing in life. Spending time in Almaguin allows me the opportunity for such adventures on a regular basis.

While I could stay out watching a campfire all night, sleep was necessary because Day 2 brought the real outside-the-comfort-zone adventure: canoeing.

Sunday morning was peaceful in Almaguin, but after a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with delicious Santosha Farm veggies, I was ready to hit the water.

I headed out to Kearney, one of Almaguin’s access points to Algonquin Park, to pick up our canoe supplies. Bonnie Rickward at Canoe Algonquin was surprised we showed up in the rain but I assured her that a little rain wouldn’t stop us.

My friend and I grabbed our lifejackets, paddles and headed over to the dock. The rain had begun to drizzle but we were determined to make our trek out to Perry Lake. After we pushed off into the waterways of Hassard Lake, we were greeted by the song of a loon.
Raindrops danced beside us as we dipped our paddles into lily-pad-laced waters; the canoe skimmed along and we waved hello to a family of Canadian geese, a.k.a., cobra chickens – today, they let us pass.
Naturally, I had brought along the ol’ fishing pole because how could I get skunked three days in a row? The conditions were perfect! But alas, my dreams of becoming Almaguin’s next greatest angler were deterred until the next adventure.

We didn’t make it to the off-shoot river of Perry Lake, the rain began to come down heavily. But despite soggy sweaters, our hearts were full of the laughter shared paddling through the rain. I have been to many of the lakes here but there is still more to be discovered; I have been to many of the towns that make up Almaguin, and there’s still so much I have yet to see. I can’t think of a better place that continues to challenge me to step outside my comfort zone.

The natural northern Ontario beauty of the area evokes a sense of boldness and joy that, for me, is priceless. Combined with the community-oriented business owners, you just can’t beat it. There are so many adventures and opportunities to be had in Almaguin; you just need to get out and explore.