Best sledding trails

Some of the province’s best snowmobile trails are in this area. If you’re looking for a wintry getaway without going far from the cottage, check out the Round Algonquin Park trail, or try something different with the world’s largest private trail system, located in Haliburton Forest.

Before heading out, of course, you will need a trail permit. Ontario has a fantastic trail network, which is maintained and groomed mainly by volunteers from the local snowmobiling clubs. The trail permit helps pay the costs the run the trails.

In years past, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) has offered a permit-free weekend on Family Day. This year, that event was held the first weekend in February, so permits are needed if you’re heading out this weekend.

If you’re not sure you want to commit to a season of riding – or maybe you don’t even have a snowmobile, and want to give it a try – then Haliburton Forest is definitely the place to start.

It’s an enormous wooded reserve, located east of Dorset. It’s a fascinating place year-round, a 100,000-acre reserve that’s a leader in sustainable forestry, wolf research, eco-tourism, and a whole range of other activities. There are cabins for rent and, in winter, a snowmobile trail network that ranked as one of the ten best in North America.

Because it’s privately owned, they have their own permit system — $49 a day for riders, and $10 a day for passengers. To maintain trail quality, a limited number of permits are issued, so booking ahead is recommended.

Snowmobiles are also available to rent, giving complete newbies a chance to try the sport. And if you’re into trying new things, while you’re there you can also sign up to try a different kind of trail riding on a dogsled tour. The Forest has a kennel of 100 or so huskies, and visitors can go on a short run or a full-day ride through the woods.

Once you’ve discovered a taste for snowmobiling, of course, you’re probably going to want to explore. That’s where the OFSC trails network really comes into its own. You can get on a trail anywhere and ride halfway across the province.

Trails in this area are a destination for many snowmobilers, and central Ontario is consistently ranked as one of the best snowmobiling areas anywhere.

The Round Algonquin Park trail, or RAP Tour, is one of the most famous and beloved loop trails. It takes three or four days to go all the way around the park, offering an enormous array of scenery along the way. There are plenty of places to stay, eat, and buy fuel – this trail draws thousands of sledders each year. Signage is good, and there are lots of side loops if you’re looking to extend the trip by a day or three.

Of course, you can also just do parts of the loop, and turn it into a shorter there-and-back run, or a self-directed loop. That’s one of the beauties of the trail network, is that it’s extremely flexible.

For shorter rides, the Seguin Trail gets the nod from Northern Ontario Travel as one of the best places to ride this year. It’s an extremely popular trail, connecting Parry Sound to Algonquin Park. It’s a great weekend trip, or it can simply form part of a day’s riding from anywhere in Muskoka.

Be sure to check out the interactive trails map for condition updates. At this writing, most of the trails in the province are open, even those in extreme southwest thanks to a series of storms that have hammered central and southern Ontario. The cold weather earlier in the year means the ice is good and thick, so conditions are excellent.

Posted in Around Muskoka.