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Driving to Northern Ontario: Easier Than It Used To Be

Going up north

I have fond memories of sitting in the backseat of my parent’s ’84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, with a bright orange, plastic cooler separating me from my younger brother (so that we wouldn’t have World War III happen), and driving “north” to a cottage or to a campsite.

Back then there were fewer cars on the road, and less cottage-bound traffic leading north to Parry Sound, Gravenhurst and the Muskokas. The roads north of Barrie were also smaller – only two lanes with the occasional passing lane.

During the recent Labour Day weekend, Frank and I decided on doing a road trip “up north”. Our route included Huntsville, North Bay, then along the north shore of Lake Nipissing to Sudbury, with a final stop in Parry Sound.

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Cottage on Lake Nipissing

“Northern Ontario” Is Closer Than You Think

Driving to Northern Ontario is easier than one may think. What surprised me was how developed the roads were leading up to and past Huntsville. Back in 1984, these roads were one lane with the occasional passing lane. Now, they are separated highways, expanded in most areas with two lanes. It makes for a more relaxed trip.

Our evening drive up to Huntsville was so much easier for the expanded road. No need to make dangerous passes on a dark road or being part of a conga line of cars. It’s one of the things that many people who head to cottages on Friday night dread.

Making for amazing driving is the rugged landscape of the Canadian Shield. Rocky outcroppings are everywhere all the way up to North Bay. By Lake Nipissing you pass fields, farms and the occasional forest. The Nipissing Nation’s lands, west of North Bay through to Sturgeon Falls hug the shores of Lake Nipissing. These aren’t crowded lands, but you see the occasional hamlet or small town that offers a coffee shop or convenience store for a pit stop.

Our road trip also took us to more familiar territory in Sudbury, where we explored Science North and the Dynamic Earth as well as a tour of the downtown core. You notice that this city is all about the mining. People are hard-working here and take the time to be friendly.

Driving to Northern Ontario - Killarney Provincial Park

Quintessential Killarney Provincial Park scenery

While near Sudbury, we visited Killarney Provincial Park. It was my first visit, inspired by the many gorgeous paintings by the Group of Seven. The road into the park is simple but long. It’s about 70 km (45 minutes drive), but it takes you past small lakes, bogs, forest and rock outcroppings. An early morning drive here is mostly a solitary one making you feel like you own the road.

Getting away from the urban sprawl of Toronto and the surrounding area to see Ontario’s “near north” is an eye opener. The air is fresher, the people more relaxed in their approach to life, and the landscape rugged yet soothing at the same time.

And of course, it’s now so much easier to get to experience this countryside, thanks to the better roads!

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Hermit’s Bay in Sudbury, just outside of Science North – nature nestled in a very industrial city.


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