Ontario Adventure to Moosonee
A guided tour far off the beaten track
Story by Craig Nicholson, The Intrepid Snowmobiler, Photography by Craig Nicholson, Dec 30, 2010
Ontario snowmobiling is primarily about riding groomed trails. You can go ride over 34,000 kilometres (21,000 miles) of marked, mapped and maintained trails in Ontario, but if you want to try something totally different, plan a trip to Moosonee.
Located on the southwest shore of James Bay, Moosonee began as an outpost for the Hudson Bay Company in 1637 and is now a thriving, albeit remote community. This tour covers five distinct experiences: groomed trails, powder riding, river running, sight seeing, and boondocking. Where else in Central Canada can you do all of that in one tour, plus get a close up view of the northern lights?
Your Moosonee tour launches from Fraserdale, a hydro outpost about 150 kilometres (100 miles) north of Cochrane on TOP (Trans Ontario Provincial) Trail A103 in OFSC District 15. This is the northern-most point of the trail system operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, and where your Moosonee guide, Extreme Tours, has its base camp, with food and fuel. From here, you’ll be riding north into the wilderness, so a guide is absolutely essential.
Extreme Tours’ Bill Froud and his guides are avid snowmobilers, experienced and personable riding companions. They are well organized, well equipped and qualified for any situation that may arise. They’ve been running Moosonee tours since early 2000 and know what it takes to give their clients great value on every tour. With them taking care any of worries, you can ride with total peace of mind and do nothing but enjoy your backcountry adventure of a lifetime!
After arriving in Cochrane by trailer or sled (you need your own sled for the Moosonee tour), a great place to stay over the night before and after is the Best Western Swan Castle Inn. This establishment is very snowmobile-friendly and has worked with Extreme Tours over the years. It’s trail accessible, located right downtown and there’s plenty of parking and a secure compound for your sleds.
You’ll make an earlier start your first morning, riding north to Fraserdale on your own. Bill and Mark will meet you at the base camp and from there, it’s off into the Great White North — next stop, Onakawna, where William Tozer has a half-way camp with lodging, food and fuel for your stayover. William is a guide based in Moosonee who knows the Abitibi and Moose Rivers like the back of his hand. This is a very good thing, because the last 100 kilometres (66 miles) or so into Moosonee are river running on ice and snow.
After arriving in Moosonee next day, you’ll have lunch and ride about the historic town of Moose Factory and out onto James Bay to the edge of the ice pack, where frigid salt water smashes and sprays. Then it’s back to Onakawna for the night.
Day three of your Moosonee tour is a full day’s ride back to Cochrane, about 360 kilometres (238 miles). Along the way, less experienced riders can take a different route back to Fraserdale with their guide. Meanwhile, experienced riders are free to go boondocking in the Abitibi Canyon. For those unfamiliar with “boondocking”, it’s a mountain riding term meaning something like “playing around aggressively over hill and dale” — mostly with your heart in your throat! If I hadn’t seen Abitibi Canyon for myself, I would have been sceptical that anything resembling mountain riding existed in Ontario, much less in the Northeast, a region not renown for its precipitous terrain.
The Abitibi Canyon is a topographic anomaly laced with steep hills, deep valleys and oodles of powder snow. It’s almost as if the Disney people had recreated a reasonable facsimile of mountains for flatlanders wanting to test their hill climbing, side hilling and rapid descent skills — except this excitement is free!
The trail has several scary drop-offs and steep climbs, and passes through enough challenging hills to keep most adrenalin junkies fixed for several hours. The only way to know for sure that you haven’t suddenly been transported to the Rockies is the absence of mountain peaks towering in the background. Otherwise, the Abitibi Canyon offers some of the best ‘mountain riding’ in Eastern Canada!
Whatever your return route of choice, by the time you get back to Cochrane, you’ll be exhilarated and satiated. But I bet by next morning, you’ll be itching to ride again, and if so, there’s no better place than on the “World’s #1 Trails” groomed by Cochrane’s Polar Bear Rider Snowmobile Club.
For the been-there-done-that crowd, a journey to James Bay is the cat’s meow — and adds a unique element of excitement to riding the Northern Corridor area. No doubt about it: the trek to Moosonee will be one of your most unforgettable Ontario snowmobiling memories. So book your tour today!