I realized I had taken the range of outdoor adventures around my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for granted when I was tasked with producing a local adventure map for the area by the Central Algoma Freshwater Coalition (CAFC), an environmental non-profit based in Bruce Mines (a small community about 60 km east of the Soo).
A triage situation rapidly emerged as I started brainstorming with the group’s president, Chuck Miller, an avid cyclist, naturalist, and paddler who knows the region’s backroads and waterways better than just about anyone else.
The CAFC’s mandate is to encourage environmental awareness along Lake Huron’s North Channel from Echo Bay to Iron Bridge, including St. Joseph Island and many other villages and small towns in a landscape that’s equal parts cottage country, Crown land forests, and agricultural fields.
We whittled down Miller’s abundant notes, eventually settling on a short list of the area’s best outdoor adventures, including cycling, canoeing and kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking, skiing, and birdwatching. With that, I set out exploring. Here are some favourites for all seasons of the year.
Hit the snowy trail: The tall pines and spruce of the Kirkwood Forest, located north of the Trans-Canada Highway and west of Highway 129 near the town of Thessalon, are the result of efforts to reclaim agricultural lands about a century ago. Snowshoeing or backcountry skiing on the Voyageur Trail is a great way to experience these open woodlands atop a blanket of snow.
Try a ski loppet: St. Joseph Island is Ontario’s top producer of maple syrup. Get a head start on sap season by participating in the Maple Syrup Stampede, a recreational cross-country ski loppet held each February at Mountainview Centennial Park on Highway 548 in Jocelyn Township. Ski trails are groomed at the park throughout the winter and open for hiking at other times of year.
Go birding: Central Algoma has plenty of great destinations for birdwatching, especially in migration seasons of spring and fall. One of the best is located at Pumpkin Point, near the eastern end of the St. Marys River in Laird Township. A bird-viewing platform overlooks vast wetlands, perfect for spotting waterfowl and shorebirds, and nearby forests provide songbird habitat. Over 200 species have been recorded at this location.
Bike a country road: The backroads of St. Joseph Island are among the first in the area to become bare for spring cycling. A great warm-up ride goes from the village of Hilton Beach east to Big Point Park on Lake Huron.
Go sea kayaking: The North Channel of Lake Huron is often overlooked as a sea kayak destination. But stunning smooth rock, pine-clad islands at the mouth of the Mississagi River rival anything on Georgian Bay. The public boat launch at Beherriell Park, near Iron Bridge, is the best spot for experienced paddlers to access the North Channel.
Explore by bike: You’ll find an overwhelming array of cycling options on quiet Central Algoma roads, many of which include sections of the long-distance Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. Ride 39 km between the communities of Desbarats to Bruce Mines on mostly gravel roads, passing traditional farms, sawmills and farm fields that provide habitat for eastern bluebirds and bobolinks. Desbarats features a vibrant farmer’s market and you’ll find ice cream and coffee shops in Bruce Mines.
See the fall colours: The Sylvan Valley is a mix of hills and farm fields, arcing between Echo Bay and Bruce Mines on the Highway 638 corridor. An abundance of mature maples and oaks set the hills afire with reds and golds, contrasting with the deep green of hemlock and pine. This quiet highway makes for excellent road cycling. A moderately difficult 35 km loop starts and ends at Rydal Bank Park, revealing exceptional fall scenery and offering a picnic spot on Old Mill Beach Park on Rock Lake.
Hike part of the Trans Canada Trail: One of the best hikes on the Voyageur Trail (which bisects all of Central Algoma as part of the Trans-Canada Trail) follows the Mississagi River. Access this 8 km route from Melwel Road and follow the ups and downs of the river’s shores to Tally Ho Park, near Iron Bridge.
You can download the map and full list here and start planning your outdoor adventures now.