Adventure Travel: Missinaibi Expedition Tour

Unlike some parts of North America, we had a great start to the 2017/2018 season! Canada, especially Northern Ontario has some of the most consistent snow anywhere.
Unlike some parts of North America, we had a great start to the 2017/2018 season! Canada, especially Northern Ontario has some of the most consistent snow anywhere.

Northern Ontario is one of the first areas to open its trails to snowmobilers and the last ones in the province to close them down. With almost guaranteed ideal conditions, my good friend and I prepared ourselves for the seven-hour drive north from the Greater Toronto area to Cochrane, Ontario (535 miles from Buffalo NY).

■ When all you want to do is ride
Hitting the road by early morning had us rolling into the Best Western Swan Castle Inn shortly after noon. We checked in and jumped on the sleds to hit the trails for a quick 200km (120 miles) around the Cochrane area. For those of you that are familiar with Northern Ontario snowmobile trails, you can cover a lot of ground in a brief period as the trails are wide and well-manicured with little traffic. After a long drive and a few hours on the trails, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and loosened up in the hotel’s new steam room before calling it a day.

Sunny skies greeted us the next morning, but that usually means frigid temperatures come along with it. The thermometer was sitting at -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) and it wasn’t supposed to warm up until the following day. After breakfast at the hotel, we fired up the sleds and went on our way to Hearst, which is about a 290km (180 mi.) run across the main “A” trail. Pulling into the town of Kapuskasing, we topped-off the sleds and grabbed some lunch.

As we left Kapuskasing we continued to cruise down the beautifully groomed “A” trail until we came into the town of Mattice. Here we dropped down onto the lower half of the Missinaibi Expedition Tour on club trail L155. The first part of this trail I consider very fast, if you really want to use your snowmobile’s horsepower, this is often where you give ‘er – obviously abiding by trail laws and etiquette though.

After coming to an intersection, we continued down the L155 trail that runs parallel to a 10km (6 mi.) section that is perfect for some off-trail riding through open meadows. Being early season, the snow wasn’t crazy deep but still soft enough that you could get yourself stuck if you let off the throttle. We boondocked the rest of our way into the town of Hearst before hooking back up with the “A” trail which took us towards the hotel.

We arrived at the Village Inn & Suites mid-afternoon and were greeted by the owner who welcomed us to the relaxed feel of this friendly and independently owned motel. Ryan and I were shown to one of the rooms in the new 10,000 square foot addition. There is an adjacent gas station by the hotel, which is close to local restaurants and a local grocery store. After a quick chat about the Hearst area with the folks at the hotel, we had enough time to head back out on the trails for a few more miles before the end of the day.
■ In the heart of the great white north
Blasting north out of Hearst, we picked up the L163 club trail that would take us on a 90km (55 mi.) counter clockwise round trip around Fushimi Lake Provincial Park. Most of the trails in the Hearst area are made up of old logging roads and rail lines from when it was a vital sawmill town. Hearst is still a huge lumber and mill town today, as are many of the small towns in Northern Ontario. We had fantastic riding as fresh snow had fallen the previous night. We noticed that within the past 24 hours there were definitely some moose in the area. Multiple moose tracks were everywhere, and it wasn’t long before we came up over a hill to see a giant bull standing in the middle of the trail. Although he didn’t stick around long enough for a photo op, it is always great to see these massive beasts in their natural habitat.

After a 240-mile day, the sleds were put to sleep for the night. The Villa Inn & Suites offers a complimentary shuttle down to the local pub where hand-made pizza, wings and a few pints were in order to finish up the night. Nothing makes you feel more Canadian than watching a hockey game on the big screen with the locals as you enjoy some home-cooked food.
The next morning came quickly, and we were back on the sleds for an early start to the day. The sun was starting to make its way over the top of the tree line as we made our way up the L159 trail to complete the top half of the Missinaibi Expedition Tour. The groomer had been out overnight so we were treated to first tracks and warmth of the sun as we carved our way through the snow-covered pine trees. It was no surprise that we came across plenty of hunting stands that were trailside along this route. Hearst is a popular hunting area for both moose and wolves, which is evident from the number of tracks that can be seen in the snow.

Hooking up with the L161, it was a quick 15km (9 mi.) before we hit trail L153. This is a beautiful section of trail that runs parallel to the Missinaibi River as you head south towards the main “A” trail. Even though this is only a 40km (25 mi.) stretch it was a terrific way to end the loop. The Missinaibi River is 755km (469 mi.) in length and is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in Ontario. This was the main route between Lake Superior and James Bay during the fur trading days in the previous century.

We cannot overstate the wonderful time we had while visiting the Northern Ontario town of Hearst! Of the town’s residents, 95% have a French speaking heritage and they are lively people! Snowmobilers are welcomed with the kind of genuine hospitality that you can expect in any small Canadian town. We are already looking forward to returning to Hearst and riding the Missinaibi Expedition Tour again.
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