Unsuspecting vistiors are regularly surprised by distances in Northern Ontario. One reason is the Ontario road map. Typically printed double-sided: on one side, one inch of Southern Ontario generally represents 18 kilometers (11 miles); while on the Northern side double the coverage (40km or 25 miles) is packed into the same space.
Here, the two major thin lines traverse this immense space in about 1,800 km (1,125 miles) turn out to be highways – 11 and 17 – that connect Barrie on the northern fringes of Toronto with Kenora or Rainy River near the Manitoba border.
Dubbing all this “a vast, uncharted wilderness” is tempting, but not quite true, as three fairly major cities, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, and numerous small towns dot the highways. The region’s also well-charted by lumbering companies, mine operators, lodge owners and bush pilots who fly-in hunters, fishermen and essential workers and supplies.
Nevertheless Northern Ontario certainly has an abundance of wild, untamed beauty that appeals to all who enjoy the outdoors and swapping the cacophony of city life for the soft sigh of wind in the pines, or replacing the dazzle of urban neon with the sight of a million stars in the dark night sky.
In summer, historic canoe routes (such as the French River), wilderness camping and hiking beckon (in Killarney Park), while the winter landscape brims with ice-climbing (Orient Bay, near Nipigon), cross-country skiing (near Thunder Bay) and snowmobiling on some of the Canada’s most extensive trail systems (between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie).
Or, if you are planning to just pass through Northern Ontario, then look at our itineraries which get first take you through Central Ontario from Barrie to Sudbury – Along the Eastern Shores of Georgian Bay, and then onward through Northern Ontario from Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay; and then from Thunder Bay to Kenora. Ideally allow at least three days for this 20hour/1800km journey between Toronto’s northern fringes and the Manitoba border.
Finally, be sure to take advantage of the unique small towns en-route for fuel and fun rest stops – as distances are deceptively long. And don’t forget to pack bug spray (against black flies and mosquitoes) between May and September, especially if you are camping. Both precautions will help ensure you get the very best from this amazing part of Canada.