By: Mike Jacobs
The Eastern Ontario Trails Alliance is 2,600 kilometres of backcountry trails in the heart of the Canadian Shield, and for the last 20 years they’ve been maintained to rigorously high standards—making now the best time for the long-distance ATV rider to plan a bucket list trip.
The densely forested trails of EOTA offer something different than most boreal environs in Canada; the rock faces of the Canadian Shield that reach from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean gives the trails a completely different feel—here the rivers, streams, and lakes poke through cliffs and rock faces. The region that the EOTA makes its home is known as Ontario’s Highlands for a reason—the hills and valleys that run all over the trail system only serve to increase the thrill of riding here. There’s plenty of forest and lakes, but there’s also wide open farmland.
However, for the long-distance rider, the most important part of the EOTA are the central trunks, that were built on rail trails. This makes moving from one section of the system to the others much easier than any other system in Canada. But there are also hundreds of miles of logging and colonization roads that run off the central trail system in every direction, so the same ground is never re-tread.
The EOTA is one of the few systems in North America where you can do 150 kilometres a day, for a week, and never see the same ground twice. Most of us die-hards know rail trails can be a bit dull; there are more challenging trails throughout the entire system on the local trail systems that the EOTA connects to. There are self-guided tour loops on their website TheTrail.ca. There are also a number of all-in-one deals that group accommodations and services together.
Riders looking to explore the full reaches of the system over multiple days can saddle back from Belleville to Pembroke and all points in between. The cities here love ATVers, and you’ll find that accommodations are welcoming—providing power washers for the end of a long day’s ride, and knowledge of where to find gas, repair shops, and places to buy extra gear should anything fail along the way.
This area is also known for its ATV events, if you want to include one in your ride. See the complete list of ATV events in Ontario here.
You’ll find that the EOTA is one of the easiest-to-navigate systems, due to the prevalence of excellent signage throughout—this signage is thanks to your permit dollars. The EOTA printed map and permits are both available on their website and are essential to navigating, especially if you’re spending lots of days out on the complex system and want to find the next place to stay, gas up, or eat. With the printed map, you’re not likely to get lost—unless you’re really trying. Permit purchases range for $150 for an annual membership, $75 for one week, or $20 for a day.
Given the diversity of the trail system here, and the fact that most of it is multi-use, you may choose to add camping, fishing, paddling, or hiking to your trip as well.
So, if you’re a long-distance ATV rider, and looking for somewhere to explore widely, without restriction, for days at a time, the EOTA is likely Ontario’s best bet. Order your free trail map today and start making some plans—you’ll find out pretty quickly why this is Ontario’s bucket list ATV ride.