By Conor Mihell
Cradled by the ancient mountains of the Canadian Shield and surrounded by freshwater seas, locals have always known the community of Sault Ste. Marie (pop. 70,000) to be an epicentre of outdoor adventure. Exceptionally snowy winters support vast networks of groomed cross-country ski trails, an incredible array of backcountry ski and snowshoe options, and a vibrant fat-biking scene. “The Soo” has emerged as a one of the best winter sports hubs between Quebec and the Rockies. This three-day itinerary is jam-packed for adventure travellers keen to play in the snow.
Stokely Creek Lodge located just off the Trans-Canada Highway, a mere half-hour drive north of Sault Ste. Marie, is a beloved destination for American cross-country ski enthusiasts who return year after year. Increasingly, Canadians are discovering Stokely’s distinctly Scandinavian charms: Warm and cozy accommodations and vast quantities of homemade meals, served family-style in a bright dining area. It’s your base for night one. But first, you should sample some of the 100-plus kilometres of Nordic ski and snowshoe trails and vast wilderness terrain for which Stokely is most famous. Classic skiers can tackle the King Mountain Run, a challenging 12-kilometre trail of climbs and flowing descents. For an invigorating 15-kilometre skate-ski, link the Peterson, Sayer Lake and Evans Lake trails, culminating with the never-ending Jackrabbit and Home Run hills. Soothe your muscles afterward with a pre-dinner sauna.
Last winter, a fickle freshwater phenomenon ranked Sault Ste. Marie amongst the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go”—one of only two Canadian destinations on a global list. In mid-winter, wavy conditions followed by a deep-freeze sculpts the rugged Lake Superior coastline into cathedrals of blue ice. The ice caves and arches are especially pronounced around Pancake and Mica bays. Stokely Creek Lodge offers guided day trips to the best ice caves, including transportation, crampon-equipped snowshoes and a packed lunch. After a magical day, you may regret departing the lodge for a night in town, but more adventures await in Sault Ste. Marie.
Get a glimpse (and become envious) of the winter sports available right on the doorstep of residents of Sault Ste. Marie with a morning fat-bike ride on flowing, groomed trails at Crimson Ridge in the city’s west end. Rentals are available at Vélorution. Then, experience some of Ontario’s finest Nordic skiing at the Hiawatha Highlands, which maintains 45 kilometres of trails groomed for skating and classic. Kick and glide on the beginner friendly Pinder network or ramp up the intensity with a skate-ski on the hilly Crystal Creek trails. The Red Pine trails are a happy medium and boast towering snow-covered conifers.
Getting Here and Where to Stay and Eat
Skip the day-long drive from Toronto or Ottawa and fly Air Canada or Porter to the Sault Ste. Marie International Airport. You could easily spend a week at Stokely Creek Lodge (rooms and chalets from $155 per person, meals included). Mix it up with a stay in town at the Water Tower Inn ($135 and up) or Quattro ($119 and up). With a vibrant Italian population, Sault Ste. Marie is well-known for its handmade pizza and pastas. Check out Giovanni’s for an authentic meal. Downtown, Outspoken and Northern Superior Brewing are great places to quench your thirst with a microbrew. Start your day at the aptly named Breakfast Pig.
This article was sponsored by Sault Ste. Marie