When ATV.com asks me to write an article about Elliot Lake – Ontario’s Greatest ATV Destination – from the eyes of a local – where do I start? I suppose I could talk about the unbelievable scenery, thousands of lakes, abundant wildlife and seemingly endless trails. But, let’s face it, this is Northern Ontario and it’s like that all over. I mean, this place is incredible. So what really sets Elliot Lake apart in this land of pure awesomeness?
What better way to get inspiration than on the quad? I bail out of work a little early, hop on the ATV and go for a ride. In about 45 minutes, I find myself at Dunlop Lake Lodge for an early dinner. I grab some wings and a Caesar salad (both of which the Lodge is famous for), chat with the owners and a few local cottagers and head out to a little “secret” speckle trout lake. A few casts and I land a small one that I throw back (I know…I’m terrible at fish stories). On the way home, I fill the tank at the gas station so I’m ready for the next trip. Then I remember that the kids need some apples and bread for their lunches the next day. So I swing by the grocery store, grab a few things and head home by 7 o’clock. Not a bad Tuesday evening eh? Although the rest of the family is eating apples for dinner…
But wait! I was supposed to be thinking about the article. I have to figure out what sets Elliot Lake apart from all the other amazing destinations in Northern Ontario. And then I realize I just experienced it for myself.
I’ve spent four hours on the trails where I had dinner, caught a fish, filled up with gas, grabbed groceries and experienced the greatest scenery in the world. Time well spent.
Elliot Lake hasn’t done anything incredibly unique to create that convenience. Elliot Lake was built quickly as a planned community on a very defined footprint. So there is a distinct point around the entire city where urban ends and forest begins. No sprawl. No sporadic homes. No farms. Just crown land and loads of forest, lakes and fun. And we have to mention the snowmobile club. They are outstanding. I mean, we have no issue with snow around here. There’s piles of the stuff. The biggest risk in winter is swamps and creeks where you can quickly lose a snowmobile or, even easier, a groomer. The snowmobile club has virtually eliminated these crossings with literally hundreds of bridges and culverts. And who benefits? Snowmobilers of course. But when their turn ends and tires hit the trail, ATVers benefit too. It’s almost like this place was designed around the off-road vehicle.
I often hear people say that Elliot Lake “reinvented itself” into an ATV destination. I’m not sure I agree. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve always been an ATV community. I mean think about it. In the 70s and 80s, Elliot Lake was a town of almost 30,000 people that were primarily young, hardworking men and women making a very good living in the mines. What do you think they did with their spare time and money? They bought toys of course! And those toys needed trails to ride on and places to ride to. It was a natural evolution into an outstanding trail riding area.
So we didn’t necessarily reinvent. We were finally discovered is all. Granted, it did take some hard work and some partnerships to put us on the map.
In the late 90’s, the Elliot Lake ATV Club and the Elliot Lake Snowbirds Snowmobile Club worked hand in hand to establish a cohesive and complete network of trails. This was a partnership largely unheard of in that day as snowmobile and ATV clubs often worked at odds and protected what was “theirs”. Not in Elliot Lake. With some guidance from the City of Elliot Lake, both clubs worked together to develop a trail system that would allow users in all seasons to have an abundance of safe, accessible riding options very close to the city. Elliot Lake became the signature site for ATV Ontario and was the Province’s shining example of how to develop a tourism based ATV system. The City of Elliot Lake was one of the first to adopt ATV friendly by-laws that would allow riders to access their homes and businesses from the trails and community volunteers and business owners began to promote Elliot Lake to the world.
And never forget – Elliot Lake has the convenience and services of a city. I’ve been to great riding towns only to learn that I couldn’t find an open restaurant after dark or local parts could only be purchased from some guy’s backyard garage. We may not be an open all night kind of place, but if you didn’t pass by FireSide Classic Grill or Swiss Chalet along the trail, you can always order a pizza or hit up McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s to get you through the night. Either way, you won’t starve. And parts and repairs are readily available at Canadian Tire any day of the week or at Elliot Equipment (Polaris) or NAPA Powersports (BRP, Honda) as well as GR Enterprises during the week. You can even ATV to the Beer Store to load up on refreshments for the evening ahead. You’re never stuck and everything is right on the trail.
I’ve heard some comparisons to the Hatfield McCoy trails in the United States. Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been, so I can’t really say if I agree or not. But I did look them up and, honestly, they look pretty sweet. From what I can tell, the main differences between the two areas is that Elliot Lake’s trails are integrated into the community and they don’t get nearly as much traffic.
That makes for great and very convenient riding. I can ride pretty much wherever I want from my front door. And, if I feel like exploring a little farther from home, there’s some great trails outside the city that I like to trailer to. These same benefits make it a great tourism destination. In fact, I think we may have invented the phrase Park ’N’ Ride right here in Elliot Lake. That’s what riding here is. You unload the bikes, park the vehicles and ride until it’s time to load up and head back home. Restaurants, gas, parts stores, grocery stores and even the beer store are all right on the trail. Need a quick coffee? It’s not out of the ordinary to see an ATV at the Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s drive-thru – both, of course, right on the trail…When you ride in Elliot Lake – you’re appreciated. After all, we’re ATVers too. We really do know and love our off road vehicles and we appreciate visitors that we see in town and on the trails.
So where do locals ride? Well…pretty much wherever we want. There’s trails everywhere around here. If I had to choose just one area, I could spend days exploring the marked and unmarked trails at the west end of Elliot Lake. The ATV map calls this the Baker’s Bay Run or Portage Loop. I like to start along the power line just north of town and head west towards Gullbeak Lake along Cyr’s Boreal Run (the red trail). There’s piles of trails between Gullbeak Lake, Norse Lake and Matinenda Lake. You can play around there for days and always find something new.
If you’d rather stay a little closer to the marked trails, take the trail between Elliot Lake and Quimby Lake. It’s a great place for a scenic break with bridges and waterfalls and you’re always fairly close to the City. The May Lake Loop is also a great day ride with some wicked cliffs – great as a backdrop for your vacation photo.
Of course, if you’re traveling here, you’ll have to stay somewhere. Lucky for you, there’s lots of options that are…you guessed it…right on the trail…
In the city, the Hampton Inn is right on the highway through town. Parking is easy and access to the trails is even easier. If you want to camp, the City also operates Westview Park Campground right in the City. You’ll often see campers set up to watch the nightly sunset spectacular show over Elliot Lake. It’s a Northern Ontario experience that never gets old.
Just north of the city, you’ll find local favourite hotspot – Dunlop Lake Lodge. They offer motel style rooms as well as cabins and even lakefront trailers for rent. What really sets Dunlop apart is the home-style atmosphere. You feel like you’ve been welcomed into their home when you visit. And, of course, they have a trail to the door and are at the northern edge of Elliot Lake’s ATV trail network. They also have oodles of backcountry trails and great fishing from their door.
If you’ve never heard of Laurentian Lodge, then you may be living under a rock. This place is easily regarded as one of the most picturesque lodges in Ontario. It’s nestled into a little slice if heaven on a waterfall between two lakes with a log cabin dining room and all kinds of accommodations. It’s not really accessible by trail from Elliot Lake in the summer (the snowmobile trail is just a little too rugged at the moment), but I hear there’s plans to improve that. Not to worry though, since the trails and logging roads in that part of Elliot Lake will take you on more adventures than you likely have time for with the luxury only offered by Laurentian Lodge at the end of every day.
The trails and roads north of Laurentian Lodge are nothing to sneeze at. I’m sure they’d measure in the millions of kilometres if they were ever laid out in a straight line. Whether you ride from Laurentian or trailer up for a day of riding, you’ll find endless opportunities to explore at the north end of highway 638.
Elliot Lake has an excellent mix of marked trails all within a short distance of the city centre. So you always have that safe, close to home feeling even though you’re in the middle of the forest. But there’s all kinds of trails off the marked paths, so grab a fishing and hunting map at the Elliot Lake Trading Post. It’ll help you explore some of the back country trails that us locals spend a lifetime on.
Of course, there’s a cost to everything – especially great trails. Riders are encouraged to buy a trail permit to help offset trail maintenance costs. They can be purchased at the Ontario Federation of ATV Clubs (O.F.A.T.V.) by selecting Elliot Lake to send your dollars to our trails.
If you do find yourself in our neck of the woods, I’m certain you’ll find the scenery you expect from Northern Ontario all in a convenient, inviting package. You won’t be disappointed. If I see you on the trails, I’m sure I’ll stop to greet you just like the locals do. I may even show you where that “secret” speckle trout lake is.
Bring a map…always. There are lots of trails and taking a wrong turn can happen. You’ll find outdoor maps and lots of local knowledge at the Elliot Lake Trading Post. The local ATV club is also planning on a revised ATV trail map for spring of 2023.
Pack gas. It’s easy to get carried away and really put on the miles. Gas stations are conveniently located in town. Not in the bush. Make sure you have what you need or bring a little extra.
Pack snacks and water. Restaurants aren’t around every corner out there. You can wreck a day if you’re starving and have to quit half way down an awesome trail just to fill the tank.
Pack a fishing pole. There are lakes everywhere. You’ll kick yourself when you get to the shoreline and realize you could easily take a break and catch a few trout.
Lead photo by the City of Elliot Lake