Adventure Travel -The Canadian Shield

Ontario riding never disappoints!
Thar be gold in them hills!

The Canadian Shield is a vast area of ancient rock underlying most of Ontario and Quebec, and it’s known for its geologic treasures. This area is rich in gold and silver deposits hidden below what is often frozen ground. When winter comes, there are also bountiful riches above ground – in the form of piles of snow and endless miles of snowmobile routes.

snowmobile trail west of Mattawa, near Ottawa River Canada
The trail west of Mattawa crosses the river of the same name just over a mile upstream from its confluence with the Ottawa River
■ Spot was good as promised
For avid riders, northeastern Ontario is a winter paradise offering outstanding opportunities. This region borders Quebec and is a prime venue with thousands of miles of trails, including those that circle the vast Algonquin Provincial Park. No matter how far you travel, there are numerous paths to enjoy, warm and welcoming pit stops along the way, and a variety of lodging options available, from rustic accommodations to deluxe.

I had the pleasure of exploring this region in mid-February with photographer Martin Lortz. We lodged at the Mattawa Adventure Camp, an eminently comfortable establishment overlooking the beautiful Ottawa River on the outskirts of the Mattawa town. The area around Mattawa is steeped in history, and the river itself was a well-traveled waterway for the legendary French voyageurs in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though it flows serenely today, during the lumbering era of the late 19th century it was a prime route for conveying logs downstream to waiting mills.

Our hosts at Mattawa Adventure Camp were Wim Smulders and his wife, Claire. The two warmly welcome guests to their riverside cabins and lodge year-round. Beyond snowmobiling, this is also a prime locale for sightseeing, biking, fishing and riding ATVs. The abandoned rail line bordering the property will soon become a recreational trail that will bring even more adventurers to their door.

Wim and Claire are a fascinating couple who come from opposite sides of the globe – he is from the Netherlands, and she is from the Philippines. They are well-traveled folks who relish in providing first-class hospitality that includes delicious breakfasts and dinners for their guests. There’s also an option for evening entertainment and fun. Wim’s hobby is karaoke, and he’s more than happy to hand the microphone to a music-minded guest or belt out a tune himself (for us, it was “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”). You can bet that when there’s a crowd, this place rocks!
Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System (VMUTS) Mattawa, Canada
The Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System (VMUTS) near Mattawa is an extensive network of trails that is open to snowmobilers in winter
■ Be your own explorer
Our first day of riding covered a portion of the Explorer’s Tour, a designated loop route with 10 marked waypoints, each with an interpretive sign explaining the significance of that location. The Mattawa Adventure Camp was near place #1, the site of an historic trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company located on the river at Explorer’s Point. Local club members Bob Morrow and Andrew Rose, our unofficial guides, were eager to show us parts of their excellent trail system, along with some of the local sights.

After skirting the edge of town, we crossed the frozen Mattawa River and headed west over a smoothly groomed trail that ran parallel to it. Our first stop was the Bird’s Eye scenic lookout, where we could see the river in the valley below and an endless expanse of forested hills beyond. Continuing further, we stopped at the historic Purdy Mine, where the sign explained the significance of the place. During World War II, the Purdy Mine was a primary source of mica (or muscovite), a mineral that had numerous military uses, particularly as a key part of plexiglass-like aircraft canopies.

The mine site has two remarkable features: a huge chasm between vertical rock faces that was left when the mica vein was extracted, and a horizontal shaft that forms a subterranean corridor extending more than 400 feet into the bedrock. This former mining tunnel is wide enough to accommodate an ATV, and at its end is a convenient chamber that’s large enough to turn around in, making it a popular attraction for adventuresome off-roaders.
Purdy Mica Mine on Explorer's Tour Canada
From the inside looking out! The historic Purdy Mica Mine is a popular stop on the Explorer’s Tour featuring a lengthy tunnel into the host rock.
■ Head for the hills
Our next destination was Antoine Mountain, one of Ontario’s premier ski resorts. Our route to the hill gave our guides the opportunity to take us over a portion of the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System (known locally as VMUTS). This web of wooded trails traverses more than 180 miles and is open all year for enjoyment of seasonal ATV, motorcycle, 4WD, mountain bike and horseback riders, as well as sledders in winter. Recreational riders come from far and wide to enjoy the VMUTS experience, making it one of the Mattawa area’s prime attractions.

Between VMUTS and the ski resort, we followed Morrow over hill and dale, including a wonderful stretch of single-track trail that was a sheer delight. Before long, we were in the shadow of Antoine Mountain, parking our sleds and walking over to the chalet for a mid-afternoon lunch. It was Family Day – an Ontario holiday – and the place was bustling.

Over lunch, we had the opportunity to chat with Sarina Goad, the community engagement and social media manager of the family-owned property. The ski resort operated as a club facility for nearly 70 years before closing in 2000 and then being acquired, refurbished and reopened in early 2014.

“We love our snowmobile visitors,” said Goad. There are plans to offer a “ride and dine” dinner package for snowmobilers in the future, making Antoine Mountain even more of a go-to destination.

After the meal, we made our way back to town and rode east a dozen miles to the Mattawa Golf and Ski Resort. There we were greeted by owner Mike Martel, who provided us with steaming coffee and hot chocolate. Just off the main trail, the resort is well-located for Round Algonquin Park (RAP) Tour riders, who can enjoy both meals and lodging on the property. We headed back to the Adventure Camp as the sun was setting, and it wasn’t long after we arrived that Wim and Claire were serving us a delicious dinner topped off with blueberry pie a la mode.
Polaris Rush 800 Antoine Mountain, Ontario, Canada
Antoine Mountain is one of the oldest ski hills in Ontario and snowmobilers are welcome to visit its chalet.
■ Clock was ticking!
Our riding plans for the second day were scaled back because of an approaching warm front forecast to bring rain. Early morning radar confirmed what was coming but offered us hope for several hours of riding, so we set out east toward the hamlet of Deux-Rivières. Our route ran parallel to the Ottawa River, but we didn’t get a glimpse of it until we arrived at our destination, Antler’s Kingfisher Lodge, which is located along the waterway.

With the weather approaching, we headed back to Mattawa. Ominous dark clouds were ahead, and once we were beneath, the rain began. Fortunately, it was light and we reached the Mattawa Golf Club to dry out and enjoy a hearty lunch before returning to the Mattawa Adventure Camp. Though the unusually warm weather put a slight damper on our plans, we logged 200 miles on the wonderfully groomed trails. We also got a good look at what makes the Mattawa area one of Northeastern Ontario’s top snowmobiling regions. It’s well worth a visit!
snowmobile trail near Mattawa, Canada
Want mileage? Try the RAP tour!
The prime snowmobilers’ attraction in this region of Northeastern Ontario is the legendary RAP Tour, a 500+ mile route around gigantic Algonquin Provincial Park (RAP stands for “Round Algonquin Park”). Depending on conditions and your appetite for mileage, this circuit can be comfortably enjoyed in 3-5 days, making it a memorable excursion for those who love to ride. The designated route includes numerous fuel, food and lodging stops to make the experience a pleasure for long-distance riders.

Mattawa and Deux-Rivières are on the north side of the great park, where the Mattawa Adventure Camp, Mattawa Golf and Ski Resort and Antler’s Kingfisher Lodge are among the accommodation options available. The RAP Tour was established in the mid-1990s after a collaborative multi-year effort, and according to Doug Antler – one of many people who was instrumental in creating the Tour – interest in riding the loop is as strong as ever.

“From the start, we set out to make the RAP Tour an outstanding snowmobile experience,” said Antler. “It really has become one of the premier rides in all of Canada. It took a sustained effort by some very determined individuals, dozens of business owners, numerous snowmobile clubs and the OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) to establish the route, and its popularity is a testimony to their vision and their hard work over many years.”
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