Snowmobiling Ontario’s Almaguin Highlands
As you travel north along Highway 11, past Ontario's most renowned cottage country, aka Muskoka, the landscape stretching as far as the eye can see are The Almaquin Highlands. A region encompassing 8000 square km (3000 square miles) of forest and lakes, primed for the outdoor adventurer. During the winter season, that adventure often consists of an engine's rumble along a perfectly groomed snowmobile trail. Some would say the Almaquin Highlands has some of the best snowmobiling in Ontario.
Location, location, location, the old proverb definitely applies here. Yes, we can mention the easy and reliable access along Highway 11, only two and a half hours north of the GTA. The plentiful truck and trailer friendly staging areas, the local snowmobiling clubs steeler grooming efforts, and the miles of trail. But there is one location fact which in the minds of snowmobilers, tops all of the above, snow. Located downwind from the Georgian Bay, Almaguin is smackdown in what is referred to as the snow belt and is the happy recipient of 300cm of snow each winter.
As mentioned above, when you plan to visit for a day or a few, you will find accommodation and staging options throughout the region. On this late February visit, we opted for the centrally located town of Sundridge and the Caswell Resort. The historic hotel provides comfortable rooms, a pool, food on site, choice of a room or cabin and, of course, the trail at your door.
Ok, Almaguin, let's see what you got. With breakfast out of the way, time to suit up as our group slowly trickles in. Today's crew consists of a mix of locals and visitors of varying experience. We have the once in a while sledders, the local hardcore and even some part-time locals via Great Britain. So stock on the snowmobiling Almaguin that they find it worthy of spending the winters here just for that reason.
I qualify myself as an advanced, once in a while participant, so, while I do own a helmet and snowmobiling outfit, a sled I do not. Not a problem; the good folks at Eagle Lake Narrows Country Store are happy to set me up. They have been renting sleds and introducing people to snowmobiling for 20 years. You can head out and explore the area on your own or take part in a half or full-day tour, and today we partake in the later.
We make our way across Bernard Lake past an assortment of colourful fishing huts and into the forest we go. This morning's destination is the Ice Caves on the east end of Dewfish Lake at the edge of Algonquin Park. A favourite spot with locals and visitors alike.
Lunch is at Edgewater Park Lodge; here, we experience the familiar Ontario snowmobiling scene where sleds outnumber cars in the parking lot. Inside, the vibe of snowmobilers buzzing on their day's adventures matches nicely with the delicious food. After lunch, it's more trails and more smiles. We relive the day's highlights and plan for tomorrow over a meal and drink back at Caswell Resort. What a day; good ride, good food and good company, happy to say sleep came easy, and the morning came fast.
Day two brings more of the same but better. Overnight, mother nature resupplied the trail system with about 18 cm of fresh snow. Our group shrinks to a few, and today we head out on our own. With the combination of local knowledge, the OFSC Interactive Trail Guide and trailside maps, we spend the morning grinning in the confines of our helmets as we explore the snow-filled forest winter wonderland. Fresh snow over groomed trail is as good as snowmobiling gets, and this morning is one for the memory books.
The town of South River is perfect for a visit to South River Brewing Company (formerly Highland Brew Company), for some locally crafted refreshments for the post-ride celebrations. Then it's back at it.
Up to now, we have been exploring the trails on the east side of Highway 11. A tunnel under the highway provides access to a whole new playground. From here, you can ride north to the edge of Lake Nippissing, west to Parry Sound or south to Magnetawan. Those destinations will have to wait for another time, not to worry; there is plenty of trail on hand to keep us occupied for the rest of the day.
All good things eventually have to come to an end. All that is left to do is make my way back to Toronto. Did I mention the easy access along Highway 11? Yep, the snowstorm that made for such a fantastic day is a non-issue for the drive home. Thanks to the plowing crews, thumbs up.
Snowmobilers have simple needs, and the Almaguin Highlands is happy to oblige. Lots of snow, a long season, excellent trails and easy access. The best part is you don't have to go very far to experience what just might be some of the best snowmobiling in Ontario.
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