Many GTA residents have only a hazy clue about what lies beyond cottage country. Tourism promoters are ever eager to lure Southern Ontarians further into the north, and one draw that is getting new attention is the changing of the leaves. Each fall thousands head north by car to take in the foliage, but what if you don’t want to travel that way?
A big secret being kept from us southerners is the number of passenger rail routes throughout this province — including the Algoma Central and Ontario Northland Railways, for example. Both lines offer year-round service out of Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay respectively, as well as leaf-peeping day trips during fall. However, if you want to book trips during the peak colour season, now’s the time to plan it.
For those wanting to really indulge a love of wilderness and trains, there are ways to pass many hours enjoying both. I was invited on a five-day package tour last fall that included a ride from Toronto to Sudbury aboard the world-famous transcontinental “Canadian” route as well as the isolated “Lake Superior” service. These two trains run by VIA Rail Canada could not be more distinct. The Canadian, which heads all the way to Vancouver, is a super-long collection of dining cars, sleepers and domed observation coaches.
The second consists of two or three self-propelled rail cars; the type of vehicle that used to link many smaller destinations across North America. This wee train departs downtown Sudbury three times a week.
Rail Travel Tours offers the “Superior Colours of Ontario” package once a year at the very end of September, and tickets are available only until July 27. For me, it was a rare opportunity to take one of the hidden routes of the Canadian passenger rail network, one that terminates about 500 kilometers west of Sudbury in tiny White River, Ontario.
Like other trains in Canada’s north, the Lake Superior still exists because it’s the only way to access certain remote settlements. Hunters, hikers and paddlers also use this train to enter a forgotten frontier; into regions not crisscrossed by roads.
If you want to read more about my long-distance foliage trip, plus some travel tips, go to eddrass.com. For details about booking, visit www.railtraveltours.comor call 1-866-704-3528.
Unlike road travel, going by train offers a unique vantage point — there are no driveways, billboards or gas stations between you and the wilderness.