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Trip Report A short trip to Northern Ontario

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Just a short (I hope) trip report of my recent trip to Northern Ontario.

The primary purpose of this trip was to do the Agawa Canyon Train Tour.

The Agawa Canyon is a scenic area north of Sault Ste. Marie and accessed only by train .

The Algoma Central Railway runs daily train tours from the Sault (Canadian side) for most of the year. The fall colour tour is probably the most popular but we decided on doing a late summer one because it fit our schedule better.

Note: It is also possible to go through the Canyon on the "regular" train from the Sault to Hearst. However ONLY the Tour train actually stops and allows you to get off in the canyon.

More about the tour later. First our journey north from Toronto.

We decided that rather than drive all the way to the Sault in one day - possible but a heck of a long drive (I would estimate at least 8 hours). Instead we took 2 days and stayed in Sudbury overnight. Sudbury is a 4-5 hour drive from Toronto (depending on stops etc).
We took our time and stopped at a nice rest area near Parry Sound for a picnic lunch.

We arrived in Sudbury around mid-afternoon. We had decided to just book a cheap motel that had decent reviews - the Sudbury Inn on Lorne St. It was quite adequate for our needs but be aware that it is not in the nicest area (opposite the train tracks and backing onto a grubby alley). However the area is perfectly safe, only a 3 minute drive from downtown and very easy to get back to the highway from.

The motel itself was just fine and cheaper than a lot of similar motels. The Front Desk staff were very friendly and helpful. The room was absolutely spotless! The beds were OK but clearly not as comfortable as our bed at home. The bathroom had been very tastefully recently renovated. A continental type breakfast was included and it was quite sufficient for our needs. Bottom line - would we stay there again? Sure - for a night. For longer we would probably look for a better location.

Food: That night we ate at a nearby restaurant - Ali Baba - middle Eastern food.
The food was good and very attractively presented. The waitress was great. Not a fancy place but good healthy food.

Before dinner we drove over to Bell Park on Ramsey Lake (about a 5 minute drive) and had a lovely walk along the lake - very pleasant.

A few comments re: Sudbury. First - I was born and raised in Sudbury and had not been back for a number of years. I was pleasantly surprised. Lots more trees than when I was growing up. Nice park areas. Decent beaches (in Bell Park) close to downtown. Interesting attractions. Interesting restaurants. Nice friendly vibe. We decided that we would go back at some point and spend a couple there.


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    A Short Trip to Northern Ontario continued

    And spend a couple of days there.

    Driving to the Sault from Sudbury:

    This turned out to be a very good experience largely due to our stop at Elliot Lake.

    Elliot Lake is about 40K north of the highway and well-worth a stop. It was another pleasant surprise. The town is friendly and attractive. The surrounding area is simply gorgeous. The lake right in downtown Elliot Lake has 2 lovely beaches where we had a great swim. And there are tons of good hiking trails. We drove up to the old fire tower lookout - fantastic view and just a short drive from the town. This is another area that we decided we would like to come back to.

    Because of our stop in Elliot Lake, we did not arrive in the Sault until about 5PM (It's actually only about 300K from Sudbury so we could have done it a lot faster.)

    After the relative liveliness of Sudbury and Elliot Lake the Sault was a bit of a letdown. I think new border crossing regulations may have hit the area hard. The downtown streets were very empty. This is a real pity because actually there is a lot to do in the Sault and the people were lovely.

    Our hotel was the Holiday Inn Express and it was very good - large clean rooms with comfortable beds and a nice included breakfast. The pool was a decent size and the pool area attractive.

    We ate dinner at Muio's and really enjoyed it. This place is a simple family-type restaurant, well-located for the downtown hotels. The food is not fancy but it is good homemade-style cooking and portions are huge and the waitresses are excellent. I had the Lake Trout dinner - really good. My DH got all nostalgic for his youth and picked the Hot Hamburger - which he loved.

    We spent a total of 3 nights in the Sault and our train trip was not until the 3rd day. So we did a few other things in the area.

    We had really wanted to do a drive north of Lake Superior but that day the weather truly sucked - pouring rain and fog - so we did not get far. We drove as far as Batchawana Bay which looked like it was probably lovely through all the rain. Oh well sometimes the weather is just not on your side.
    One highlight of the drive. We stopped at Chippewa Falls to take pictures of the falls and get a coffee at the little Restaurant + Convenience store. I highly recommend stopping there if you are driving the Trans Canada north of Superior. The coffee was good, the waitress was great and the atmosphere was friendly. AND best all - the Blueberry pie - YUMMY! Real wild blueberries and almost as good as my mother used to make.

    Thanks to the crappy weather we were back in the Sault by 1PM - so we decided to look for rainy day stuff to do. There are actually a LOT of good choices.

    We went to the Bush Plane Museum - EXCELLENT - lots of exhibits including film presentions and hands-on stuff AND some very interesting planes. Kids especially older ones into planes would LOVE this place. If you go to only one museum in the Sault I really recommend this one.

    We also went the Ermitinger-Clergue (sp?) Historic Museum - which consists of two interesting historic buildings and is only a minute walk from the Bush Plane Museum. The docents are well-informed and will be only to happy to give you all kinds of details. Worth combining with the Bush Plane Museum.

    There are lots of other "inside" things to do in the Sault but we just did not have the time. I highly recommend that anyone going there to take the train try to stay an extra day or two to see some of this stuff. The Sault has gone all out to provide things for visitors to do.


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    The Agawa Canyon Train Tour:

    This was the whole point of our trip and it did not disappoint us.

    The train:
    recently refurbished - the cars are in good condition - although perhaps a better indicator of how to flush the toilets is needed (or perhaps I am just a little slow about these things - I did figure it out pretty quickly). Because the train was only about 1/2 full, we had AMPLE room - my husband and I had a 4 seat configuration to ourselves.
    You are assigned a coach but not a specific seat - so being there when the train boards (about 1/2 hour before it leaves) is a good idea. After we had boarded a crew member informed us that if we wanted to stretch out and get more room, we could switch cars - since they all had plenty of room. I recommend (if you can) taking the train on a weekday because I believe they are less busy than the weekends - so you are more likely to get stretch-out room.

    The train has a dining car and snack bar and bar. You are allowed to bring on your own food but not alcohol. Sit-down breakfast and lunch are offered. We opted to just get a couple of sandwiches and eat at our seats. The sandwiches were good and freshly made (You put in your order and they make it up for you). Box lunches can also be made up for you if you want to have a real picnic at the canyon.

    The Staff - very friendly and quick to answer any questions.

    The Tour - very professional and well-done. There is a recorded commentary which gives some history and points out highlights. You are also advised of any upcoming scenic points of interest. There is also an engineer-cam at the front of the train which is played on video screens - I liked that.

    The scenery - lots of lovely views - lakes, cliffs and best of all when vistas opened up (a couple of really great views towards Lake Superior).

    The Canyon - really quite lovely. You stop there for about 1.5 hours. There are lots of scenic trails (along the river, up to waterfalls and best of all up to the top of the canyon). There are picnic tables if you just want to relax. I took the Canyon Lookout Trail (300 steps pretty much nearly straight up - NOT for the very unfit). The reward - gorgeous views into the canyon. I did the climb up slowly and carefully but I could do it (heart condition and bad knees) - so you don't need to be in great shape - just not completely unfit. My husband (Mr. Fitness) did the Canyon Lookout trail AND the 2 waterfall trails (His review - the first waterfall was really worth it, the 2nd one - not very impressive). If you think you can only manage one trail (remember - the train leaves ON-TIME) I recommend the Canyon Lookout Trail.

    Overall Impression: We really enjoyed this Tour BUT we love trains and scenery. It is NOT suitable for small children who will be bored (It takes all day). Some older children who enjoyed trains and loved the trails seemed to have a pretty good time. Most of our fellow passengers were like us - middle-aged. It is not suitable for those who need to be really active or are easily bored. People who appreciate trains, lovely scenery and some time in the bush without having to rough it will enjoy the tour.

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    Semiramis- I was born in Sudbury too- but left when I was just a few months old. My father worked for International Nickel I believe.

    Have only been back once many years ago and hear they have done much to improve the looks of the city.

    I grew up in Saskatchewan - am going back for a visit on Tues for 2 weeks

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    Sunbum1944: my father and most of my brothers worked for INCO - typical Sudbury jobs. There really is a lot more green since I was young and thanks to the super-stack people elsewhere are enjoying the air pollution (I had a chronic sulphur dioxide cough as a child). I also noticed that they now discretely hide the slag pouring (I actually missed that).

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    Thanks for your report. Brings back happy memories. I was pregnant with my second child when we went, so that must make it 1971. In those days we couldn't afford much of a holiday except camping in an old canvas topped tent trailer, so the train trip was a bit of a splurge. I still love trains, and camping, and the 'near north' of Ontario.

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