An ATV paradise at Ontario's meeting place
The place where the Mattawa and Ottawa rivers join has always been an important meeting place, from the time of the First Nations, to the development of the Trans Canada Railways, right up to modern times. But while traders and furriers once met here to make deals and send news of settlements around Ontario, Mattawa has since become an off-roaders paradise where good friends meet to share great times out in the wild goodness of Mother Nature.
I recently had the great fortune to spend a couple of days on the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System (VMUTS) in Mattawa – one of the most advanced multi-use trail system in this part of the world – with some new friends. While the four wheeled part of our crew headed out with a great variety of rides, including a Honda 420 Fourtrax, a Honda 500 Foreman, a brand new Can-Am Commander 800 and one of Honda’s Big Red MUV’s, the two-wheelers that joined us rode big KTMs, a race-ready Honda CRF and a couple of smaller Yamahas.
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We’d arranged to all meet at the Moosehead Estate in Mattawa, conveniently close to one of the easiest access points to the VMUTS and our base camp for our two-day trip into the wilderness.
During our stay Mel and Mark, owners and operators, of this storied venue made an impressive display. The jovial hosts were more than happy to recount the history of this massive summer home, and Mel prepared all of the meals for us from scratch.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a foodie, with a healthy appreciation for everything from the greasiest fast food to the most nuanced gourmet meal. I can say without hesitation that Mel’s cooking was among the best I’ve ever had. Such obvious care went into each meal – to say that it was great fuel for our two days of unrestrained riding doesn’t do it service. These meals fuelled more than just our bodies, but our spirits and minds as we talked at the giant dining table late into the evening.
Their son Max is also a staple at this manor estate, and made quite an impression on our group, even offering us a tour of the estate and showing off the old bell that was saved during their extensive renovations. Mel and Mark have put an incredible amount of love and care into their restoration of the place, and it really shows.
The history of the Moosehead Estate is steeped in Ontario’s past. It was the summer home for the Timmins family, who ran both the LaRose mine in Cobalt, and the Hollinger Mine in the town of their namesake, Timmins, Ontario. These were the largest silver and gold mines in the world at one point. Mattawa was their halfway point between Montreal and the far North and it’s easy to see why some of the richest men in the history of the nation chose this as the spot for their summer home.
The view from the enormous window in the cozy living room, the summer porch or the hot tub at the front of the house is picture perfect, with the sun setting directly between the two mountain ranges that crisscross the water.
Setting out each morning from fitful rests and with full bellies, we were able to comfortably unload our quads and get to the trailhead on peaceful gravel roads. After a very quick two-minute ride, we set into the wild ruggedness of the Laurentian Mountains and the waterways that flow all around them on the VMUTS.
The terrain we encountered over the next two days kept me so entertained that I hardly noticed how wonderfully sore I was from all the bouncing around. The four quads in our group made easy work of the heavy rocks at the start of our trip, leading into some flat sand and mud, which deteriorated into some deep ruts that gave us an exciting challenge right out of the gate, before taking us on a steep incline up bald rock faces to an incredible scenic vista at Bird’s Eye View.
It’s hard to put into perspective how vast the vista is from Bird’s Eye – suffice to say there are mountains all around you, extending for miles in every direction, framed with a rolling peaceful valley. If your day started late, this would be the ideal locale for a picnic lunch, with plenty of level flat area at the top for larger groups to park.
It occurred to me as we all stood out on the platform to take in the view just how much work it takes to keep this trail system maintained, and what an incredible job has been done of it. Throughout the day we passed well-maintained facilities that would suit every type of trail rider, on almost any type of off-road vehicle.
After enjoying the view and catching out breath, we headed further out into the trails, passing through another rocky and sandy area. Thankfully it has rained a little the day before and the dust stayed pretty calm. The red Hondas gobbled up the trails with stoic capability, and in the right hands, a good dash of playfulness. We rode past (and occasionally over) creeks, rivers, waterfalls, beaver dams and ravines.
Easily one of the most stunning trails on the route was the power line trail, also known as Trail 12. Because of the immense power line towers, the forest has been cut back a good thirty feet on either side, giving a view unlike any other in this otherwise thickly forested area. A ribbon of sandy trail cuts its way up the side of an incredibly steep incline. At the top the same ribbon of dirt bobs and weaves its way over hill and dale for miles of pure riding enjoyment.
After bouncing around on this trail with the two red quads, I switched over to the big yellow Can-Am Commander. This is an incredible machine, with a strong focus on the sportier side of side-by-side riding. There was nothing we threw at this machine that it couldn’t handle, and it easily kept pace with the group. We pushed it more than a few times, just to see how far it would go, and still haven’t been able to mark the limit of its capabilities. The storage area was really well thought out, as the still-intact screen on my iPad proves.
On the second day we rode to an abandoned Mica mine. The twisting ride through the forest over rocky terrain kept us all on our toes, with a little bit of water thrown in for good measure. The mine itself was cool and dark, and when we arrived in the cavern we could see the thousands of bits of shiny Mica glistening as we passed our flashlights over them. The real treat was the crevasse right beside the mine, braced against collapse with two giant timbers. A small pool of half-frozen water sat at the bottom, and the trees growing over the top of this massive crack in the rock made for an incredible spot to stop and stare in awe.
Heading back to the main trail, we in the big yellow Commander got separated from the group, but the signage was so good that even though it would have been great fun to get lost, we just couldn’t manage to. We took our time getting back, stopping for a few snapshots here and there, hamming it up for the camera on occasion. We’d be hard pressed to make it look like we were having a better time.
As we arrived back at the Moosehead Estate, everyone in the group agreed that the trails at VMUTS offered plenty of entertainment for a weekend trip. While the challenges we faced, and the time spent in the embrace of the wilderness fed our bodies and souls, it was the camaraderie of the shared experience that was most apparent at the end of our second day. We washed off our gear and rides, loaded them into the trailers, thanked our gracious hosts, shook hands and said our goodbyes we all left with aching muscles and good feelings. I know I’ll be back on these trails again soon.
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