Wander [wän-dər] / [won-der]: to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal: to go idly about
Not every snowmobile trip needs to be scripted to the moment and planned to precise detail. Sometimes it’s a nice change to throw away the itinerary, load up the tank with gas, strap on the saddlebags and just go wandering. Our friends at The Ontario’s Highland agreed with this idea, and invited OSM to spend a few days to truly explore the region and hit the trails without a set list of destinations, to see what hidden gems we could find. Ontario’s Highlands is the perfect region in Ontario to have an unrehearsed day and an opportunity to wander. Snowmobiling in the region will take you from the central highlands of Minden to the Ottawa Valley. When you take the time to discover the region, you will find an amazing network of old rail line trails, old logging roads, some open field running and some deep wooded, windy adventure trails.
The idea to wander came from a few discussions we had with Julie Mulligan and Kasia Wind from Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization. With no set itinerary, and to cover the region to its fullest, four days and three nights on trail would see us start in Minden, make our way over to Bancroft, then make tracks to Calabogie and then end up at Spectacle Lake Lodge before looping back to truck in trailer in Minden. While wandering through on this incredible and extensive trail network we discovered epic visual treasures; historical gems; a local artisan on a photo shoot; a race track; really good food, and most importantly, amazing people.
The drive to the region from our office near Sutton, Ontario is a very easy and short drive, as we made our starting point the Heather Lodge in Minden. As an avid snowmobiler, I can say without question that the Heather Lodge needs to be on your sledder’s bucket list. The lodge was founded back in the early 1940’s, and since 2014, has been operated by truly great people; Marie Micallef the Innkeeper, and her husband Chef James Jennings. When Marie and James took over the operations, they immediately saw the value in catering to the family of snowmobilers. They have created an absolute gem for sledders. The feel of the resort is also directed towards couples. If you want to take your better half to an intimate getaway that includes snowmobiling, then this is your lodge. The rooms are extremely comfortable and fully set up with king size beds, and an organic, cottage feel. The main building is where the magic happens, with Chef James creating some amazing meals and there is a lounge that makes you feel like you are hanging out at your friend’s cottage, complete with burning wood stove and an atmosphere that just forces you relax. The staff at the Heather Lodge is over the top friendly and will immediately make you feel at home.
After a great evening relaxing at the Heather Lodge we loaded up the snowmobiles with our saddlebags and gear, and started our tour towards Bancroft for our first overnight. To access the trails from the lodge is a simple trip down the highway, and you immediately pick up the local trail. The first thing we discovered, which is pretty rare out on the trails, was the floating snowmobile bridge located in the town of Minden. This is one of those moments that you don’t want to just shoot by, but take the time and truly appreciate the effort that goes into the sport of snowmobiling in the region. It is literally a bridge across the water that is there for you to cross – that floats. Without this engineered infrastructure, your trip through town would be a whole lot longer and harder to navigate.
After leaving the town limits of Minden, we hooked up with the B103 towards Haliburton, and stumbled across Richie Falls. This turned out to be a pretty cool place to stop, so make sure everyone is set for the four days on trail, and take in the scenery. From there we decided to take the B trail, and head up to Whitney for lunch. This is the trail that actually cuts its way through Algonquin, and as you enter the park, you get that feeling that you are an important person, because back in the day, the park would not allow any form of snowmobiling. As you pass the signs that inform you that you are “entering the park”, you really get the feeling of just how far the sport of snowmobiling has come in this region. This rider had a moment that I uttered in my helmet; I can’t believe I am actually riding through Algonquin Park!
After running the trail through the park, on the other end is the town of Whitney, and we decided it was time for lunch. Right off the trail is the Mad Musher, and seeing how that the parking lot was filled with sleds, we pretty much figured this was the place to stop. The food is really good with a home cooked feel, and is the perfect distance from breakfast to stop and refill the tank. After lunch, it was time to make our way back down the B106E towards Bancroft. This trail is really fast and a lot of fun. For the majority of this portion, you’ll find yourself on old rail line, with a few logging roads thrown in for fun. So if you’re in a hurry to get to the first night, this is where you can make up some time, and hurry your way to Bancroft. Upon arriving in Bancroft, we followed the signs to The Sword Inn, which would be our first overnight spot to stay. The motel is a great place for sledders, because you can park directly front of your room. It has a pool (should you remember to bring your bathing suit), and the trail leads directly to the parking lot. When you arrive into Bancroft, the trick is to keep an eye out for the snowmobile bridge that crosses the river, and after you pass the bridge and cross through the park, you will see the motel on your right.
After a good day out on the trails, we decided it would be a good idea to go get some cold beverages in town. So after talking to a few local patrons in the motel, it was made clear that we should head down to the newly opened Bancroft Eatery and Brew, and because we knew there would be local craft beer available, it was an easy $7.00 cab ride from the Swords Inn to the restaurant. If you ever find yourself in Bancroft, this is the place you are going to want to go to; the brew master is a genius and the food is really good.
After a great night in Bancroft, we were up by 7:00am to start making tracks to Calabogie. We knew this was a pretty big mile day, and we wanted to make sure we did not miss anything, so after enjoying the continental breakfast at the Sword Inn, we headed back out of town the way we came in; on the B106E to intersect with the E109 towards Barry’s Bay. The trail along this part was filled with really fast, sweeping wide trails, and then mixed in was awesome wooded, tight trails. This would also be a good time to discuss just how good the signage is in this region. There was never a moment during our wander through the region that we ever questioned whether or not we were going the right way. As long as you pick a destination on the map and head that way, you will never get lost. After passing through Barry’s Bay, we hooked up with the B102 towards Golden Lake. This part of the trail takes you through some really fast, wide sweeper trails and really scenic wooded trails. After arriving in Golden Lakes, we knew we had to stop at the Sands on Golden Lake for lunch. It just goes without saying that if you ever find yourself anywhere near this resort, whether for lunch, or even overnight accommodations, this is one of the premier locations for sledders to stop. The staff and owners are part of the snowmobiling community, where they realize how important we are to the local economy, and the feeling of being welcome really comes through. To get to the Sands on Golden Lake, before you get into Golden Lakes, there are signs that take you across the fully staked lake. You can either take your time and enjoy the perfect lake crossing, or throttle up and get to lunch quicker than your buddies. This is one of those crossings that will inevitably result in a full discussion on just how fast each one of your buddies sleds really are…if you know what we mean.
After lunch, we headed back across the lake to the B101A, and made our way to Eganville, which we knew was the home of the Bonnechere Cup at the ice oval track. After a quick ride, we rode up on the hill above the track and just took it all in. Some of the greatest names in snowmobile racing have graced this track, and there was no way that we were not going to stop and take it all in. Being it was Thursday, we were in luck, as they were setting up the track for the weekend. We headed down trackside, and were invited to hang for a bit, take a tour through the grandstand, and chat with some of the track officials. This is one of those moments that you might just miss if you were on a strict schedule, so we were all glad that we took the time to stop and hang for a bit. After getting our fill of oval racing history, we were back spinning tracks, and heading towards our second night’s destination at the Calabogie Peaks Resort. From Eganville, you follow the B101A, then hook up with the Top A trail to Renfrew, and then follow the signs to Calabogie. When you get into the town limits, there is a local trail that will take you to the resort. If it’s still daylight, the trick is to take the staked lake trail across the bay, which shaves time off the trip to the resort. However, if it’s dark when you get there, we suggest taking the land route.
The Calabogie Peak Resort is a ski hill resort that also realizes the benefits of catering to snowmobilers.
Home of the Calabogie 500 Hill Drag Race, the resort is an absolute dream haven for sledders that have spent a day out on the trails. It features 3 restaurants/pubs that offer some of the best food you will find on a snowmobile trail, as well as an indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub. The rooms are upscale and very comfortable, and the Canthooks Restaurant is the perfect place to belly up to the bar and enjoy some local craft beverages with fellow sledders. The overall feeling at the Calabogie Peaks is that you are among friends, and everyone has a story to tell about sledding in the region.
After a great night at the Calabogie Peaks Resort, we had breakfast and were spinning tracks by 9:30am, to make our way to Spectacle Lake. This morning would take us back out the trail we came in from Calabogie, then connect with the A trail north, and then with the local trail 114, as that would take us to the east side of the B trail. The decision to take this route was a result of the discussions the night before in the bar, when everyone was talking about the bridge to Quebec, off the B101Q, so we figured we should go have a look. The bridge connects the B trail from Pembroke, and offers a safe route across the Ottawa River, in order to connect to the trail system in Quebec. This bridge, if you find yourself in the region, should be on your bucket list, as it is again, one of those moments that you realize just how serious snowmobiling is taken in the region. This is not a small little bridge that takes you over a creek; it is a serious feat of engineering that makes you proud to be a part of this sport.
After the bridge to Quebec, we headed out back towards Pembroke along the B trail, and this is where you are going to make up some time on this part of the tour. The B trail along the top is seriously fast and straight. (And, may we suggest you stop at Millers Corners to top up the gas tanks…you will thank us for that tip). After passing through Pembroke, we continued on the B trail, and made our way directly to Spectacle Lake Lodge. The signage to get there is top notch, and you will have no trouble finding the place.
The Spectacle Lake Lodge is a staple for anyone who snowmobiles in this region, and has been in operation for over 25 years, catering to sledders since 1989. Sharron Mahussier, the owner, knows exactly what sledders need, and has created a sledders compound, filled with like-minded enthusiasts that by the end of the evening, will be chatting with everyone around the resort. From hanging around the bar, or chilling in the hot tub, when you spend a night at Spectacle, you quickly realize that this resort is filled with good people just like you, who like to snowmobile, enjoy good food and late night beverages around a bonfire, sharing their experiences of the day out on the trails. We tip our helmets to Sharron and her staff for being such an integral part of the sport in the region, and creating such an amazing sledder’s haven.
Unfortunately, this was our go-home-day, so we needed to make our way back to Minden from Spectacle Lake Lodge to our truck and trailer. There are a few great trails that will take you back to the Haliburton Area, so we decided that from Spectacle, we’d hook back up with the B Trail east, and make our way back to the Algonquin Trail, because we all agreed that if this was our last day in the region, we might as well go out with a blast. The B Trail from Spectacle to the park has some of the most scenic Hydro Lines that you will encounter on this trip. You can see miles down the trail along the cut line, and in the morning crisp air, this turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the trip. If you get at it early, the trip back can be done in plenty of time to get you to your truck and trailer in daylight, and give you plenty of time to load the trailer and get where you need to be by the evening.
Ontario’s Highlands has it all. After spending four days and three nights in the region, you’ll see everything from fast rail lines and amazing old logging trails, to tight wooded trails and epic hydro line, tree cut trails. It will, for sure, meet all your expectations as an avid sledder. We would suggest that you do it the way we did, and take the time to wander. When you plan your trip, you could make a few shorter days, in order to take in all that you can see out on the trails. The region is completely setup for saddlebag trips, with top-notch signage and multiple options on different loops that never make you feel like you are out of touch with civilization. The Ontario’s Highlands caters to snowmobilers, and it’s the people that you meet while out there that make it all worthwhile. Hope to see you On Snow soon!
On Snow Ride Guide:
This entire trip can be done with OFSC District 6 Trail Map.
To plan your trip in Ontario’s Highlands: www.comewander.ca
146 Hastings St N
Calabogie Peaks Resort
30 Barrett Chute Rd
Spectacle Lake Lodge
202 Spectacle Lake Rd
South Algonquin, ON