Northern Ontario covers 90% of the area of Ontario, but has only 6% of its population; about 730,000 people.
Sparse and natural, the area is known for its outdoors activities and rugged inhabitants. Distances are large in Northern Ontario – it's 1600 km (1000 miles) from North Bay to the Manitoba border.
Cities, towns and districts
With the exception of the Greater Sudbury municipality, all of northern Ontario's land is divided into districts. These districts include vast tracts of sparsely-populated territory where public services are provided by the government of Ontario.
Sparsely-populated Kenora District covers 407,213 km² (almost 38 percent of the province's land area), extending north to Hudson's Bay and including most of the Ontario-Manitoba border. This area is in the Central time zone.
This district covers most of northwestern Lake Superior, the westernmost Canadian territory in the Great Lakes region.
- Greenstone (Geraldton, Longlac)
- Red Rock
- Schreiber, the northernmost point on Lake Superior
- Terrace Bay
- Thunder Bay
- Hearst was founded 1913 as a rail town, 208 km west of Cochrane
- Iroquois Falls
- Moosonee is the railhead of the Ontario Northland Railway on Hudson's Bay
This is mining country, near the Ontario-Quebec border.
- Kirkland Lake, a mining town, is home to the Hockey Heritage North museum.
- Temiskaming Shores
Algoma District is at the eastern end of Lake Superior, where it borders Michigan at Sault Ste. Marie.
- Blind River, on the north channel of Lake Huron
- Elliot Lake
- Sault Ste. Marie
- White River (Ontario) is the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh in literary tourism
- Espanola is the seat of Sudbury District, a wide area surrounding (but not including) Greater Sudbury.
Perry Sound District
- Manitoulin Island is the world's largest freshwater island.
- Blue Lake Provincial Park
- Lake Superior Provincial Park - The Agawa Pictographs
- Quetico Provincial Park
- St. Joseph Island
Ontario is Canada's most populous province, with nearly 40 percent of the country's population, but most of Ontario's thirteen and a half million people live in southern, beaten-path communities along the Windsor-Quebec corridor.
This leaves the rest of the province very sparsely populated, with Northern Ontario's few people spread across a vast area which spans two time zones. Don't expect to drive across all of Northern Ontario in a day; it's 1,000 mi (1,600 km) of Trans-Canada Highway from North Bay to the Manitoba border and a few communities (mostly on native lands around Hudson Bay) have no intercity road access at all.
There are several small francophone communities in Northern Ontario, but English speaking travellers shouldn't encounter any issues with language since most of those living in these communities are bilingual (English-French). There are also many communities that speak mainly Cree, though there are usually English speakers there as well.
Air Canada Express provides daily service from Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA) to North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Thunder Bay from Toronto (Thunder Bay also served from Winnipeg, Manitoba). Westjet flies to Thunder Bay from Toronto. Bearskin Airlines (based in Thunder Bay) provides services to various smaller communities in Northern Ontario, including Red Lake, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Kenora from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Porter Airlines flies to Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie from Toronto City Island Airport (YTZ IATA).
The 2 main routes through Northern Ontario are Highways #11 and #17. They diverge at North Bay with Hwy. 11 going north and Hwy. 17 going west to Sault Ste. Marie then north from there. Both highways continue westward toward Manitoba, with a few points where there is only one road. The Trans-Canada Highway distance from North Bay to the Manitoba border is approximately 1650km (1050mi).
ViaRail provides service from Toronto to Sudbury and continues through Northern Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba and westward. Sudbury is the only major city in Northern Ontario ViaRail operates to. While the former Ontario Northland passenger rail service from Toronto to North Bay and Cochrane, Ontario has been replaced by a bus, there is passenger rail service from Cochrane to Moosonee on the Polar Bear Express. Algoma Central Railway operates from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst on alternate days.
Greyhound provides service to Northern Ontario from Toronto and Winnipeg, Manitoba along highways #11 and #17. Ontario Northland coach service routes are from Toronto to Hearst, Ontario along the Hwy #11 corridor as well as Hwy #69 and #144 to Sudbury and Timmins. Excel Bus Lines runs along Highway 105 to the communitites of Red Lake and Ear Falls. Caribou Coach based in Thunder Bay, services from Hearst to Fort Frances.
Car rental services are available in most of the larger centres, including Kenora, Red Lake, Thunder Bay, Nipigon, Terrace Bay, Marathon, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins, and North Bay.
Ontario Northland operates the Polar Bear Express railway between Cochrane and Moosonee, on the Hudson Bay shore, hauling mostly locals (the railroad is the only method of overland access for many isolated Northern communities) and freight, plus some tourists. This train is one of the few remaining in North America that lets you flag it down to get picked up. Northbound trains leave Cochrane at 9AM five days a week, arriving in Moosonee at 2:20PM. Going the other way, trains depart Moosonee at 5PM and return to Cochrane at 11:30PM.
- Aguasabon Falls, Terrace Bay, Ontario
- Ouimet Canyon, Dorion, Ontario
Camping: Northern Ontario has a lot of provincial parks, some for day use only and others that have camping facilities. There are 3 large ones accessible by highways: Quetico Provincial Park; Lake Superior Provincial Park and Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. There is one national park: Pukaskwa (pronounced puck-a-saw) which offers day use and overnight facilities. No motorized boats are allowed to be used in the park except those that access the park from Lake Superior.
Train excursions: Algoma Central Railway operates the Agawa Canyon Tour train departing from Sault Ste. Marie going north to Agawa Canyon and returning the same day.
Black flies and mosquitoes are abundant throughout Northern Ontario. To protect yourself when camping or hiking, wear long sleeve shirts (white or brightly colored), thick socks, and long pants (tuck the pants into the socks) and apply insect repellent containing DEET. A mosquito net can be nicer than applying repellent to one's face. Also some type of bug netting in your tent is advised. Flies are most active at dawn and dusk between mid June and late July.
Winter driving in the North can be treacherous, given the inclement winters here. Be prepared to adjust or cancel travel plans should the weather conditions require it.