Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon - HDR of Canyon

All aboard!  Ok, so maybe the conductor of the train didn’t yell this out to us but it certainly would have been appropriate given our plush red velvet, old school train car! Yes, it’s the “crack of dawn” (as Rob would say) and we’re aboard the Agawa Canyon Train that is heading about four hours north of Sault Ste. Marie to one of the best places in Canada to view the changing fall colours—the Agawa Canyon.  We’ve been planning this trip for just over a year, Rob having had a very full photography schedule last fall, we booked off the last weekend in September just to take this train ride.  Apparently, for the best of Fall colours, the last two weeks of September and the first week of October is your best bet.

The Agawa Train Company will transport you North to the canyon, drop you off for two hours of canyon exploration and will then return you safely to the “Soo” for about $85 CDN per person.  From Toronto , you are looking at a good nine

Wow, What an ominous looking day! Actually it was a clear beautiful day, but this is a HDR image, and they can look a bit dramatic sometimes.
hour drive to the “Soo” or about 5 to Sudbury , if you are the kind that needs to break it up.  Both Sudbury and Sault-Ste Marie are really well stocked with reasonably priced motel rooms.  The Agawa Train Company has links to many local hotels on its site.  We paid about $75 a night for our stay in the “Soo.” Given the drive, it’s a bit crazy for a weekend but do-able if you have an avid driver like Rob!

The pamphlets were correct—the trees are ablaze with deep reds, fiery orange and bright yellows, browns and greens.  We pass many lakes and rivers along the way and coast high over some of them along trustle bridges.  At one point, the

Agawa Canyon - The Train
bridge creates a horseshoe-like shape and we can get a goo d l ook at the other half of the train as we cross the rushing water below.  The nice thing about the older train that we’re on are the noticeably large windows and the wider aisles that (although probably not barrier-free, unfortunately) allow for a comfortable walkabout the train.  As an aside, these have to be the cleanest train washrooms I’ve ever come across as well—a good thing to have on a four hour trip!

Along the way, friendly cottagers (and locals too) will wave to you on the train as you pass by.  I’m really surprised to see so many people fishing or just standing outside of their cabins, seemingly waiting for the train to pass by.  As you look out the window, a happy voice over the speaker system will point out vistas and share important geographical and historical information about things like the names of lakes, the canyon, logging and the installation of hydro

On board, there is a full-service dining car that provides a hearty breakfast for passengers en route to the canyon and which serves a variety of lunch during the canyon stopover and on the return trip.  The train also has a snack and souvenir shop and train staff also run a canteen on the base of the canyon itself during the stopover, offering chili and soup to hungry hikers.  Though we do partake of some of the food options on the train, we decided not to eat during the stopover in order to maximize what we felt was such a short time in the canyon.

Just before our arrival at the canyon, Rob and I devised a quick plan to ensure that we get to as many of the recommended sites as possible within the two hours.  We decided that the best thing to do would be to head to the Lookout first.  In order

Agawa Canyon - Agawa Canyon Sign
to get to Lookout that promises the best view of the canyon, you have to conquer a 300 step staircase first.  Funny enough, they help you along by providing stair markers (e.g, 50, 150, 250) that let you know your progress!  Also, they’ve worked in some rest platforms for those that need a bit of a breather between flights. For the not-so-adventurous, there is an “intermediate” platform which sits about 200 stairs below the real Lookout but faces the same direction.  We vowed to get to the top, equipment and side-pack in tow!!!  Of course, Rob made it to the top and was already snapping pictures before I arrived, but I was just happy to have made it.  The climb is well worth it--- if you can handle the stairs, do it!
Agawa Canyon - Fall Colors
Agawa Canyon - Behind the train
Agawa Canyon - Waterfalls

Next, we decided to check out the collection of waterfalls that hugged the walls of the canyon—four in all.  We kept up a good hiking pace and managed to spend some downtime at each of the waterfalls.  People of all ages were enjoying the fall surroundings as we pressed along the well-groomed trails that connected each “attraction.”  By the time we had enjoyed a few moments beside the “Bride’s Veil”, we had only a few minutes left to get back to the train.  En route back to the train, the conductor decided to let out a warning whistle to help round up any passengers left on the trails.  Overall, for such a long train ride, we definitely would have appreciated an equally long stopover in the canyon.  Aside from this little point, we have nothing to complain about and are actually quite thankful that this train exists since the canyon is only accessible by train!

The Agawa Canyon Train Tour Company also offers other tours throughout the year, such as its famous Snow Train Tour and Tour of the Line.  We were pretty excited to take the train straight to the end of the tracks (up to Hearst , ON ) but since the train only leaves on certain days, it just wasn’t feasible for us given our work schedules at this time of year. If you’re looking for a bit of a longer adventure… this trip’s for you!

Agawa Canyon - Sault Ste. Marie Locks
Agawa Canyon - Sault Ste. Marie Boat in Locks
O.K, I'll admit it. When I first saw these locks, with the water squirting out, I thought they were just going to open the locks and let the water rush in. This Does Not happen. There are pressure pumps underneath that pump the water up.
I was more than a little surprised at what a tight fit it was!

While in Sault Ste. Marie, we decided to check out the local scene and took a hike on St. Mary’s Island , which is just on the other side of the “Soo Locks” (which were unfortunately were closed for the rest of the year). Though we weren’t quick enough for a picture, we did get to see a fox as we hiked along the groomed and not-so-groomed paths of the island.  After our little hike, we took a drive along the boardwalk and grabbed a bite to eat at Vincenzo’s family restaurant on Queen Street.  Since we were just a quick ride over the bridge from the US version of the “Soo,” we decided to investigate.  Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is very pretty and seems quite friendly to boot!  Their locks were open and we were lucky enough to see a ship come passing through and learn a bit about the science behind the locks.  The tiny downtown strip was so full of people enjoying the Soo’s version of Oktoberfest.  Local bands played on a main stage and local vendors had plenty to offer festival-goers. 

When we arrived back in Canada , we decided to check out Sault Ste. Marie’s Casino. Not being gamblers, we opted to spend $5 at the slots.  Well, as luck would have it, Rob ended up winning $45 dollars! So, all of a sudden we became gamblers as we sat down at the Blackjack table with our “free” money.  The dealer was amazingly nice and even offered Rob a “Summary Card” (I would call it a “cheat sheet” really) that overviewed the odds for us.  Well, with cheat sheet in hand and some helpful hints from the dealer, we ended up winning $100!  It really amazed me that the casino would be so willing to help out gamblers like that.  Of course, Rob took away my naivete by explaining that the odds are still in the casino’s favour unless you bet a lot of money at the right time, and tick to the card religiously.  We were fully satisfied with our winnings and decided to walk away while they were still ours!

Agawa Canyon - Moose on the way home

As we were on our way back down the highway towards Toronto , the landscape just blew us away.  The deep colours, the rock faces and rivers were just gorgeous. Even though I was the one driving at this point, I somehow noticed two moose off in the distance grazing in a lush meadow.  Of course, we turned around, pulled over and tried to get some pictures (they were a bit further than I had originally thought) but it was still really amazing to see them.

In the end, we were really happy that we made the crazy trek up North.  It was such a refreshing experience to see parts of our own province during such a beautiful season.

Agawa Canyon - Another shot of the canyon
Agawa Canyon - Great view on the way home
Agawa Canyon - Great view on the way home2