Put me in a car, with the open road, and I may be just about the happiest guy around. My family and I went on a road trip, from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie, and we drove a 2017 Ford Flex on an adventure that included parks, beaches, bugs, science, history, and a lot of fun together in our amazing province. It was a getaway that showed off why road trips can be so much fun, and why Ontario is such an incredible place to live.
All told, including a few stops, the trip was 1,600 kilometres, and about 20 hours in the car, but we had a whole week’s worth of fun. I also love how much the trip sums up Ford’s “Go Further” tag line–because it felt like much further than just a few hours in the car.
The whole trip was part of Ford’s celebration of Canada 150, which sent us out to explore fun landmarks. Ontario is a big province, so there was lots to see, and our biggest problem was trying not to add even more adventure to the trip. It took a lot of restraint for my wife and I decide not to drive on from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa so we could see the Famous Canada Goose. In the end though, we choose relaxing time on a park beach over driving further, but it was very tempting.
The Departure & Sudbury
At the end of May we left Toronto in the afternoon and drove to Parry Sound for a pit stop before heading on to Sudbury the next day. We decided to stop for a break in Sudbury for a few hours because we had heard so much about Science North, Sudbury’s science centre, and it really was an incredible place.
Science North is filled with amazing activities for kids. There’s a butterfly conservatory, a space with live animals including a beaver, an underground tunnel, play spaces, an IMAX theatre and a planetarium, and a whole area devoted to experiments you can try. My wife and I had a lot of fun, and our daughter didn’t want to leave. I even had a little rest on a bed of nails, and we loved meeting Kashkuanashku, Science North’s new beaver friend.
However, my favorite part was the planetarium and their show “Under the Same Stars: Minwaadiziwin”. The experience blends together stories about the First People and the constellations, with videos that bring those tales to life and explain what they meant to the Anishinaabe people. The stories, just like when the people first told them hundreds of years ago, are told around the fire, and in the planetarium space it really comes to life.
The stories were magical, and moving, and they gave a whole new view on the stars and constellations. Even my three-year-old was fascinated with the stories, especially when it came to Grandmother Spider, who created the Web of Life.
After the planetarium we got back in the Flex and drove up to the Big Nickel at Dynamic Earth. It was a beautiful day, and the Nickel really is an impressive sight. (Dynamic Earth even liked my photo of the Big Nickel so much that they featured it on Twitter and as their banner image.) We didn’t have time to do anything else at Dynamic Earth, but I’m looking forward to taking my daughter back again to check it all out more (and I really want to go on the underground tour).
Back in the car and this time it was a few hours driving, with a few breaks for coffee, before we made it to Echo Bay (“far away in time”? Nope–sorry–that’s “Echo Beach”.) to see the Giant Loonie. Only, the loonie was lost!
Echo Bay was the home of artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael, who designed the loonie 30 years ago. To commemorate the design, Echo Bay dedicated their Loon Dollar Monument in 1992, but when we arrived at the end of May, the Loonie was missing. There was no sign or details about why the monument was missing, but by the looks of social media, the dollar was restored a week or two later.
Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie’s Quattro Hotel hosted us for our stay in the city, and we could not have been more impressed with the accommodations. We stayed in a 2 queen bedroom suite that had a living room, kitchenette, and big bedroom, and it was the perfect space for the three of us. Compared to a lot of hotels, Quattro was roomy and inviting, and it also has an indoor pool, and a great continental breakfast.
Over the three days we had in the city we did a lot of walking and exploring. We visited the Sault Ste. Marie Museum one morning, and had a lot of fun learning about local history.
The historic building was originally the city’s post office, but now it’s been transformed into a wonderful window into the story of the Soo. The children’s Discovery Gallery was fun, and the three of us dressed up in some of the costumes, but the highlight of the museum to me was the Skylight Gallery, which is an immersive look back at the history of the region. There’s a re-creation of a traditional Indigenous wigwam, a store front, a log cabin, and a number of artifacts and other interpretations of life in Sault Ste. Marie over the years.
We also explored around the river, including the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site on St. Marys Island where we walked the park, saw the locks in action, and even checked out the old, almost monolithic looking swing dam that used to be in place to help prevent flooding.
At the Mill Market nearby we picked up some snacks and then had a one-on-one session with the bugs and creatures from Entomica. Our daughter had a blast, held all of the bugs–including Rosy the beautiful tarantula–and really loved every minute of the experience. There were fainting bugs, stick bugs, spiders, grasshoppers, giant snails, and so much more. If you’re in the area I can’t recommend Entomica, especially if you have children, but even if you don’t.
Trans-Canada’s half-way marker & Pancake Bay
The highlight of our trip to Sault Ste. Marie though was our drive north of the city to the half-way point on the Trans-Canada Highway, and on to Pancake Bay Provincial Park.
It’s a bit surprising to realize, but the Trans-Canada Highway is just over 7820 kilometres, and over 2330 kilometres of the highway is in Ontario. Because of that, the half-way point on the highway is actually in Ontario, and we took a break to check it out.
The marker itself is a simple, small plaque on the side of the road, and it’s a great spot to take a driving break. What many people wouldn’t know though is that there’s a nice walk through the woods right beside the parking lot, and a small water fall. It’s a great spot to take a break, and stretch your legs, especially if you’re on a long road trip.
A little further on the road you can also stop for art, carved sculptures, and snacks at Agawa Crafts and Canadian Carver, which are actually two of three charming stores along the side of the road in Pancake Bay. For campers, cottagers, or anyone on a longer trip, this is another great stop on the way up the highway, and on a nice day it’s a great place to stop for ice cream if you need a little sugar stop.
Not far from the stores is the Pancake Bay Provincial Park, which is where we stopped to enjoy the sand, the views, the lake, and watch two families of Canadian Geese lead their young ones along the surf. At the end of May the park was warm but windy, and nearly completely empty, so it was like having the beach all to ourselves. We collected bits of driftwood, my daughter played endlessly in the sand, and it was just about the most perfect afternoon I could imagine.
The last stop we made before driving back to Sault Ste. Marie, and leaving for Muskoka the next day, was to drive a little further up the highway to a tiny beach my wife and I had discovered five years ago on a road trip up to Thunder Bay. Across from the beach is a tiny little island, and it’s just a scenic, picturesque spot that sums up some of my favorite things about the area around Sault Ste. Marie. It’s a rugged, beautiful, and serene area that can take your breath away.
One of my favorite drives pretty much anywhere in Ontario is that stretch of road leading up from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay because it is so rugged, rocky, and you get these stunning glimpses of the lake throughout the drive. For anyone looking for a road trip in Ontario, this is a spectacular drive that passes by a number of beautiful locations, including Lake Superior Provincial Park, Pukaskwa National Park, and Neys Provincial Park. It takes over 7 hours to drive between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, and there are numerous spots along the route worthy of a stop. If you’re a camper, I’d recommend making the trek for Sleeping Giant Provincial Park alone as it’s one of the most beautiful places in the province.
Checking the odometer before we turned back around, it was 12 hours of driving in the Ford Flex, and 798 kilometres to get to this point. Not too bad, especially considering our three-year-old who had perfect patience throughout the entire trip.
The morning after our trip to Pancake Bay we packed up the Ford Flex with all our little treasures from the stops along the way, and started the five hour drive to the Touchstone Resort on Lake Muskoka.
The drive was easy and uneventful, and we were excited because we don’t often stay in Muskoka, and the resort was really beautiful. Located a short drive from the town of Port Carling, Touchstone Resort has a little bit of everything. There’s a restaurant, spa, beach, infinity pool, and condo-style hotel rooms that offer full kitchens with decks and BBQs.
We pretty much did a bit of everything too. My wife and I had wonderful, relaxing massages at the spa, the three of us went down to the beach for a walk, my daughter and I went into the infinity pool for a splash, we had a campfire and ate toasted marshmallows, and then we had supper at the Touchstone Grill. Later on we even had dessert sent up to our room, and we sat by the fireplace, looked out over the lake, and then soaked up the atmosphere in the space, which really felt like a rustic but high-end lodge.
The Ford Flex
For starters, the Flex is a roomy crossover, but it handles comfortably and easily. Because of all that room, the back seat doesn’t feel cramped, even on a long trip, and there’s loads of room in the trunk for anything you need on a road trip. If you don’t need the whole trunk space, you can even bring along two more passengers thanks to the extra row of seating.
I also love a good skylight, and the moonroof and multipanel Vista Roof really lets the light into the Flex, with a view of all the greenery up above as you’re driving.
But my favorite features on the Flex have to be the adaptive cruise control, and active park assist.
Adaptive cruise control means that you can set a driving speed, but the car will maintain a safe distance when there are cars in front of you. So you can cruise at 80 kilometres and hour, but if you close in on another vehicle in front of you, the Flex will automatically slow down and leave a gap between you and the next car. It’s a satisfying system that not only makes cruise control safer, but also makes long drives more comfortable for the driver.
The active park assist means that the Flex can essentially parallel park on its own, taking the work out of finding parking just about anywhere.
And to top it all off, especially for the gadget-heavy people like me, the Ford Flex even has a standard electrical plug in the back seat so you can charge your devices on the go.
Thanks to Ford Canada, Quattro Hotel, Entomica, and Touchstone Resort for the incredible family adventure. It was a road trip we’ll be talking about for a long time.