Toast popping, cereal crunching, the smell of fresh coffee drifts across the room—this could be just another morning anywhere but it’s far from it. It’s 7 am on a brisk morning (-28°C to be exact) at Moonlight Inn & Suites, just south of Sudbury. Ahead of us is a three-day snowmobile circumnavigation of Lake Nipissing but, for now, a third cup of coffee sounds good. Anything to postpone stepping outside.
Why the Moonlight Inn & Suites? Because this is one of the best snowmobile staging locations in Ontario. The reason quickly becomes clear as you unfold a trail map: Cochrane, Manitoulin Island, the French River—all of Northeastern Ontario is at their door step. Add to this a spot for the trailer, comfortable rooms and food within walking distance and it’s a perfect start and end to our trip plans.
Day One – Destination North Bay
The morning is birch-lined trails, rushing rivers, and bridge crossings. The Ride Around Nipissing (RAN) Tour is one of Ontario’s oldest loops, officially mapped out at 400 km, and it’s a perfect weekend getaway. However we have three days at our disposal and enough side trail ideas to easily double the distance.
Lunch is at the River Valley Family Restaurant in the town of Field. A generous portion of some fine home cooking is just what we need on this cold winter day. The place oozes northern vibe with wall-to-wall wood decor. It appears there is more than just food served here—the walls are lined with photos of who’s who in the bluegrass music scene and, judging by the size of the stage, this place must be hopping on the weekends.
And some good advice: never pass up a chance to top up the gas tank—we hit the gas pump on the way out of town.
North Bay bound, the afternoon is all about long straights and grand vistas. We stretch them out with a few side trails and nobody complains.
The Ramada Pinewood Park Resort & Conference Centre (formerly known as the Clarion Resort Pinewood Park), North Bay is our accommodation for night number one. This place is so snowmobile friendly—you can park your sled by your room if you are on the ground floor. The outdoor pool is heated and the highly recommended food is some of the best in town.
Day Two – Destination Port Loring
Following the RAN route alone would make for a short day, so we head north to Bonfield for a bit of exploration. The plan works out perfectly and we pop into Powassan around noon. A scrupulous bowl of homemade soup at Kudos for me, gas for the sled in town and a bit of window shopping at Giesler Marine. Then it’s back into the forest.
Powassan to Port Loring is all turns and trees, perfectly groomed and loaded with snow—so good. It’s well into dusk before we pull up a chair to the table at Roxie’s Diner in Port Loring. A delicious meal and it’s time to put up our feet for the night. But we are not done yet—tonight’s accommodation is at Pine Grove Cottage Resort which is still 10 km away. It’s located trail-side so finding it in the dark would be no problem, but one of the locals offered to show us the way. It’s just another example of northern hospitality, and much appreciated too.
Day Three – Destination French River
Spending the night a bit off the beaten path presented us with a couple of unique experiences. First, a chance to experience a winter night’s solitude away from any urban influences—the darkness and silence is overpowering. Second, breakfast means a trip back into town so an early start is in order. When I say early, I mean sunrise-early. Fresh snow overnight and the sun rising over the horizon as we make our way across the lake—unforgettable.
Port Loring is a two-diner town. During the slower winter months they take turns serving up meals. Yesterday it was Roxie’s for dinner; this morning’s breakfast is at Jake’s Place. So typical of breakfast at a small town diner—the experience can easily flow into lunch as coffee, conversation and laughter flow freely. We linger longer than we should, considering the long day ahead of us.
Welcome to French River country. After a couple of hours playing in the forest full of fresh snow, the landscape opens up as we turn north. I love the windswept pine and rock landscape of the Georgian Bay and French River area. Sure it’s all snow covered but the feel is unmistakable—a refreshing change to the tight forest trails we have been on ’til now. Personal highlight of the day, perhaps of the whole trip, are the snowmobile dedicated bridges crossing the Pickerel and French rivers. Stunningly, spectacular feats of engineering only surpassed by the views they provide of the rivers below.
With the temperature falling faster than the fading light, the dash reads -28°C again and I can feel the cold clawing at my jacket. It’s not unusual on long days in the saddle that the home stretch turns more into work than play. Tired and cold, telling yourself, “Challenging situations make for good memories,” might keep you moving but it sure is nice to see that Moonlight Inn & Suites sign glowing in the dark.
And just like that: three days, 800 km and The Ride Around Nipissing (RAN) Tour, one of Northeastern Ontario’s oldest loops is in the books.