Motorcycle Adventures In Northeastern Ontario
Excitement, serenity and beauty in this undiscovered gem
Almost every year I make a motorcycle pilgrimage up from the U.S. to Canada, and the reason is simple – unbeatable riding. The Eastern United States has some incredible riding, to be sure. There’s the famous Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina, and also the state-straddling Blue Ridge Parkway. Even in my home state of Ohio we have the infamous and snaky Triple Nickel OH 555. Yet as incredible as each of these roads are, there is a wildness, an openness, and ever-surprising element to Canada, in this case specifically Ontario, that can’t be beat.
Let me explain further before you readers from the States call me a traitor and try to revoke my passport. Just across that invisible border north in Ontario there is riding comparable to the roads I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but not just that. On my trip this year I found roads also comparable to those in the western United States. Roads you think you could only find in the Redwoods or Moab or Colorado. Roads that transcend highways to dirt trails.
On this year’s trip I set out from Toronto switching back and forth with my riding partner on two different BMW adventure motorcycles, an F800GS and a G650GS. The bike type is important here because it allowed for both on-road and off-road riding. This gave us twice the road options and twice the fun. This was my first time in Ontario where I got to let a bike off the pavement leash and get a little dirty.
Toronto is an exciting multi-cultural metropolis, but my goal was to get out of it as fast as possible and do some real open-road riding. One thing to know about riding around the Great Lakes area is the weather is entirely unpredictable and only a fool doesn’t bring rain gear and layers. We ended up getting doused by sheets of rain in fairly heavy weekend traffic for about 200 miles on our way up to North Bay via ON-400 north and ON-11 north. This is the toll you pay the boatman to get up to paradise.
The next day we headed north roughly 90 miles to Temiskaming on ON-11. This is when the roads started opening up, the weather started clearing, and the traffic started subsiding. You get your first taste of the thousands of lakes and lush scenery in Ontario on this easy rider stretch. This stretch goes by pretty quickly, but there are several surprises waiting for you once you reach Temiskaming Shores.
The Temiskaming area holds more than 250 miles of trails, and having brought adventure motorcycles, we were grinning ear to ear upon arrival. We unloaded at the hotel, picked the first dirt road we saw and started getting dirty. Where the asphalt ends the adventure begins. There is such an abundance of well-kept dirt trails I cannot recommend a single one, but I can tell you there are few feelings like riding through the Canadian wilderness on a dirt trail. This was the riding I was waiting for.
When we were done playing in the mud, we took a ride around part of the massive Lake Temiskaming and worked our way through some campgrounds and down some dirt roads to get to Devil’s Rock. After a short hike into the forest you will find a striking cliff face hanging a few hundred yards above the lake. This is Devil’s Rock and the big payoff, definitely a place you won’t want to miss.
The next day would prove to be my favorite day of road riding on the trip. Heading ever further north, we began finding ourselves on some pretty desolate and amazing roads. Once you’re north of Temiskaming you really need to start getting gas every chance you get, especially since you’re going to want to take the side roads. You’re going to hit points where you won’t see gas for more than 60 miles, so, depending on the size of your bike’s fuel tank, it might be smart to carry spare fuel with you. I tied two small jerry cans to my saddlebags so I could ride without worry in the middle of nowhere.
With a strong petrol game intact, we hit King’s Highway 65 north and got to gobbling up some of our first really solid straightaways. After getting a chance to open our bikes up a bit and letting them run loose, we hit Highway 66 and headed east. On 66 we got a nice change of pace with an ever so tasty heavy dose of twisties (think Tail of the Dragon). If I had to give that length of Highway 66 a nickname, I would call it “The Lean.” I’m not sure if all the curves were necessary or if the highway planner was just drunk, but I have no complaints.
Off 66 we hit Highway 672 north. This might have been my favorite road of the trip and it shoots straight through an area known as the Esker Lakes Provincial Park. This is where you will basically stop seeing people, cars, or, really, civilization altogether. You will, however, see bears, so make sure to have someone keep an eye out if you stop to take pictures. We got chased away from our camera tripod by a nosey bear and had to watch from a distance to wait to retrieve it after he left.
Highway 672 has it all: massive straightaways down hills, hooking curves, well-kept bridges over bustling streams, and incredible lush scenery around every corner and over every horizon. This is the stuff moto dreams are made of. One concern to note, though, on this empty road is that some of the turns can be a little slick and sandy since it doesn’t get much traffic. I’m guilty of getting a little greedy and coming into a few corners a little hotter than I liked. Luckily the BMW’s ABS had the prompt responses I needed.
After we peeled ourselves off 672 we headed north on 101 and then west on Highway 11, which put us back into some civilization. We hit beautiful lakes, passed giant roadside lumberjack statues, cruised by giant old steam-powered trains, and were welcomed into Cochrane where we bunked down for the night. At this point we knew we were officially north because there is a polar bear habitat here.
The next day of riding consisted of our most northern route and our most adventurous. Once again we headed west on Highway 11, but a short distance later we caught what was essentially a logging road 634 north towards a town called Fraserdale. I wouldn’t really call Fraserdale a town as it only consists of a massive hydroelectric dam, and by all appearances, an abandoned railway station. If you head this route, which I hope you do, you will need some extra petrol cans. It’s 45 miles to Fraserdale and there are no gas stations, only long gorgeous roads with huge dark green forest looming on both sides. We called this stretch of 634 north “The Hall of Trees.” In 75 km I saw maybe 2-3 logging trucks and nothing else. It was glorious.
Once you get to Fraserdale you have options. The paved road comes to an intersection and you have three choices. If you go right there is an unbelievably huge dam just a kilometer to the east and you can ride right over the top of it. If you head left you can ride some pretty fun and funky dirt roads a few kilometers to an abandoned railway station.
But the major payoff is heading north, and this is territory only suitable for bikes designed for going off-road. The road heading north on 634 immediately becomes dirt and gravel, and you will hit a private road with public access that will loop you through nothing but straight untouched Canadian wilderness and bring you back down west 125 miles later on Highway 11 in Kapuskasing. It’s roughly a 190-mile loop with no gas stations and largely no other human beings in sight. I will warn you that while this is unreal riding it is incredibly technical due to large amounts of deep gravel and unkempt dirt roads.
If you intend on hitting this technical route, you must have some knobby tires, which we didn’t have. It’s not the type of place you want to risk going sideways and you’re almost 60 miles from any sort of help. We didn’t have knobbies, so we regrettably had to turn back after about 15 miles and head back south on 634 to Smooth Rock Falls. This is true adventure territory, the kind of place riders go to areas like Moab and Colorado to find.
Once back in Smooth Rock Falls we gassed up and continued west on 11 past a quirky UFO monument in the town of Moonbeam. We landed for the night in Kapuskasing for some much-needed rest.
The next morning we officially started heading south on our loop and put some heavy miles on the bike. We headed back east a bit to Driftwood and took south 655 through Timmins. We went a short stint west on 101 and caught the 144 south for some wide-open lovely long smooth highway riding through beautiful scenery past endless lakes.
Towns will become scarce after Timmins, so if you take this route I highly suggest you get some gas at the intersection of Highway 144 and Highway 560 to ensure you can make it down to Sudbury. Just before we got to Sudbury we pulled over and checked out the Onaping Falls. It was a beautiful set of waterfalls and a nice spot to pull over, stretch out, and get some bloodflow back in our numb parts.
After staying the night at Sudbury we continued southwest on Highway 17 (one of my favorites in Canada) and then went directly south on Highway 6. This is just outright twisty gorgeous lake riding. Every turn is another impeccable lake to ride around, and there are numerous turns. We then twisted our way down to South Baymouth to catch the ferry to Tobermory.
If you plan to take the ferry, I recommend making reservations and giving yourself plenty of time to make it there early. I also suggest taking a later ferry so you have several hours to explore Manitoulin Island. Manitoulin Island is laid out simple enough and full of visitor centers that you can’t get lost, but you should try your best. This island has rolling hills, hidden twisties, surprising waterfalls, abundant natural scenery, and enough Lake Huron-side riding to keep you drooling for hours. Once you get a taste for the riding on the island, you actually develop a panic, because you’re trying to get as much of it in as possible and still catch the ferry.
The Chi-Cheemaun Ferry is a very relaxing experience and moto-friendly, as motorcycle riders are always first on and first off the ferry. Both ports have great local spots to get some tasty food and refuel. It’s roughly a two-hour boat ride. The scenes of Lake Huron from the boat are pretty serene, and if you get a chair on the deck, don’t be afraid to pass out and get some rest.
Once off the ferry we kept on 6 south down the rocky cliffs of the Bruce Peninsula and hunkered down for the evening in Wiarton. The next morning we were in our final stretch back to Toronto from whence we came. Heading out out of the Arctic Watershed and back into civilization, any gas worries have vanished. Riding 10 south toward Toronto provides some nice views of extensive green farmland and colossal wind turbines.
Canada is full of surprises. I’ve done it on a cruiser, but going back on an adventure bike and hitting those dirt roads and off-road trails really took it to another level. For me this was a trip about how great riding can get even better. I hit everything I could imagine on this route in seven days. I hit long straight lumber roads through walls of trees, twisties galore, rolling hills, coastline and lakes, dirt/sand/gravel roads, and unparalleled wilderness. Bypassed everything from multiple bears to roadside UFOs.
This was definitely another Canadian ride for the books. If you’re in the Eastern U.S. and you’re looking for some true motorcycle adventure, you don’t always have to look west. Some of the best riding, no matter what type you’re looking for, is an easy stroll across the border to the north.