Sault Ste Marie – your gateway to Northern Ontario’s beauty. Whether you’re road tripping in Ontario, exploring the Great Lakes, visiting friends or just looking for a change of scenery, you’ll find plenty of natural wonders here. It doesn’t take long to realize why the Group of Seven were so inspired by the area, especially with a trip on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. This iconic full-day adventure is a must-do while exploring this naturally gifted area. Below you’ll find all the travel information you need to plan your trip to the Agawa Canyon.
What is the Agawa Canyon?
The Agawa Canyon is located in within the wonderous beauty of Algoma Country in Northern Ontario. It was created 1.2 billion years ago through the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates known as faulting. This movement of the Canadian Shield along with the fury of the Agawa River eroded the canyon into what we see today. For a frame of mind, the last layer of ice melted 10,000 years ago.
While it said the Agawa Canyon can be accessed by a hike, I would advise against this. Unless you’re with a local who knows the way or you’ve done trips like this before, it’s easy to become lost in the vast wilderness of Northern Ontario. The only real way to access the Agawa Canyon is by train.
Experiencing the Agawa Canyon Tour Train
Besides a not-to-be-missed excursion, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train is a day-long rail adventure that allows you to explore untouched areas of Canada’s wilderness. Hop on board as you head 183 km (114 miles) north of The Soo to the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park. You’ll admire the iconic landscapes that inspired some of the most compelling paintings from the Group of Seven. No wonder it’s one of the most popular train excursions in North America!
The Agawa Canyon Train Tour operates daily from mid-June to mid-October, leaving at 8:00am every morning. Wave goodbye to Sault Ste Marie as you rumble past the old paper mill and under the iconic international bridge. During your journey, listen as you enjoy facts and historical tidbits about the area with the GPS triggered narration on board. It won’t be long until you’re out of cell service – a true sign of the rugged wilderness!
The views begin at mile 20 as you enjoy the sights of the Bellevue Valley. Here you’ll cross a 100ft high trestle, taking you across Lake Superior’s Goulais Bay. A few miles down the road you’ll have more beautiful views of the Goulais River along with a quick glimpse of Sault Ste Marie’s classic winter destination, the Searchmont Ski Resort.
Every 5-10 miles or so along the route you’ll be in awe of the gorgeous lakes and rivers that appear. Trout Lake at Mile 57 is definitely a picture-perfect sight as the train winds through the Canadian Shield. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Mile 92 as the train crosses the Montreal River trestle. Offering amazing views in both directions, you’ll be able to see the train from end to end as it curves along the tracks. If you plan on stretching your legs inside the cabin, keep an eye on the markers outside. As soon as they hit Mile 100, head for your seat as you won’t want to miss what’s next.
At Mile 102, the train descends +500ft in 12 miles as it heads for the Agawa Canyon floor. Look to your left to see the incredible sweeping forests along with your first glimpse of Lake Superior since Mile 19. Feast your eyes on the Agawa River as it winds below, along with the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls on your right. In just a few moments your trip will be changing gears. I hope you relaxed on the train ride in because it’s time to kick things into high gear!
Exploring the Agawa Canyon
As soon as you can disembark – hit the ground running. Due to CN regulations, you have 90 minutes to explore everything within the canyon and every second counts! I’m not going to lie to you, it’s tough but possible to see it all. Ready for the challenge? Let’s GO!
Turn right and head straight for the Lookout Trail. This is the toughest of the trails and I’m a fan of getting the hard part over and done with first. While ascending 250ft above the canyon floor via 321 steps doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, I promise the views from the top are worth it. While your shutter finger will be trigger happy, take a moment to truly enjoy the view from behind your camera or cellphone. Catch your breath then head back down – we’ve still got more to see!
Right now you should have about 50-60 minutes left on the clock which will give you just enough time to tackle the rest of the canyon. Head back and follow the Talus Trail which will take you along the western side of the canyon’s base. Along the trail, you’ll find beautiful trees, babbling brooks and even a glimpse of the local wildlife if you’re lucky! Keep your eyes peeled for ruffed grouse, woodchucks and chipmunks as they scamper about in the shadows. Even on a hot day, the trail will be cool as it’s mainly shaded. You’ll be thankful for this as you speedwalk along the trail!
Cross the river and follow the signs for the North and South Black Beaver Falls. Depending on the time of year, the falls could be a raging current or even a slow trickle. As my visit to the Agawa Canyon had to be pushed a day due to the tracks being washed out, both North Black Beaver Falls and South were looking fantastic!
Now you should have about 30 minutes until your departure and just enough time to save the best for last – Bridal Veil Falls. At 225m tall, this breathtaking beauty will have you mesmerized! Finish off the Talus Trail and turn right, following the Agawa River. One of the biggest perks of leaving her for last? There’s a good chance you’ll have the view all to yourself. Score! Take your time and enjoy the sound of the water as it crashes into the river below. Don’t lose track of time though – you’ve got a train to catch!
Backtrack and follow the River Trail until the second fork, then take a left. This will take you to a trail that runs parallel to the tracks (look both ways before crossing!) and will save you a bit of time as you head back to the train. If you hear the whistle blow, that’s your 10 minute warning so haul ass and hop on board! I don’t think I’ve been so excited to see a seat in my life. Soon the train will be in motion and it’s time to head back to Sault Ste Marie!
If the 4-hour train ride seemed a little long on the way in, chances are it’ll fly by on the way home as the train’s soothing motion lulls you to sleep. If the motion doesn’t do it then chances are the food baby you’ll get from grabbing a bite on the restaurant car will! It can be tough to fight the heavy eyes but I suggest a cup of coffee and enjoying the views one last time. Who knows when you’ll be back, right?!
Planning Your Agawa Tour Train Trip
Have I convinced you to hop on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train? If so, then I’m excited to help you plan your adventure! These are some of the frequently asked questions about the tour train.
Questions About the Agawa Canyon & Tour Train
This section addresses the common concerns about the train excursion. If your question is missing, please comment below and I’d be happy to update this post with an answer.
Can You Drive to the Agawa Canyon?
No, the Agawa Canyon is not accessible by car. The best you can do is drive to Sault Ste Marie where you can grab the train from the station off of Bay Street.
Where Does the Agawa Canyon Tour Train Leave From?
Currently, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train leaves from the Station Mall across from the Quality Inn Hotel & Suites on Bay Street. There is a station here and this is where you can purchase tickets if you’d prefer to not do so online.
What Time Does the Agawa Canyon Tour Train Leave?
Be prepared for an early morning as the train leaves at 8:00am sharp. I can’t stress this enough. Whether you arrive at 8:10 or 8:01am, that train is leaving without you! I recommend getting there 15 minutes early to ensure you are there with plenty of time to spare. If you’re an early riser and get there by 7:15am, you can see the train arrive – perfect for locomotive enthusiasts. Whether you do this or not, just remember that if you are late, the train will not wait!
Where Does the Agawa Canyon Train Go?
This Sault Ste Marie train leaves from Bay Street in the heart of Sault Ste Marie and takes you into Northern Ontario. You’ll follow the rails as they take you past Searchmont and into the beautiful wilderness that inspired the Group of Seven. You’ll twist and turn past incredible landscapes as you pass through Montreal Falls, Hubert and many areas in between until you come upon the Agawa Canyon Park.
How Long Is the Agawa Canyon Train Ride?
This is a full-day excursion from Sault Ste Marie. It takes approximately 4 hours to get to the Agawa Canyon by train and you have about 1.5 hours to experience the park. Yes, we all wish we had more time there but due to rules and regulations, this is not the case. If anything, it just means you’ll have to plan another visit!
Is There Anywhere to Eat?
As the tour is a full-day excursion, you might be wondering what to do for breakfast and lunch. You are welcome to pack food or get take-out from one of the fine restaurants in Sault Ste Marie in advance to take with you. However, you must bring everything back to the city that you take with you to the Agawa Canyon. There are no garbage facilities out in the middle of the wilderness!
If you’re less prepared like I am and don’t have the time nor the energy to plan ahead, not to worry. There is a canteen car on the train where you can get a bite to eat. Agawa Canyon Train food options include boxed lunches with sandwiches and salads, snacks like fruit and cookies, and beverages. What you may not realize is your ticket gives you $10 off from any of the items in the canteen car (excluding alcohol).
Are There Bathrooms in the Agawa Canyon?
You won’t find the typical flush toilets but yes, there are. The bathroom facilities run on a Clivus Multrum system which is environmentally friendly. They produce fertilizer which is actually used for the flowers in the park so do not throw garbage in them.
Insider Tips for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train
Experiencing this incredible Ontario adventure first hand, these insider tips on how to make the most of your trip.
Arrive Early So You Have First Dibs on Seat Selection
This is key as you’ll want to sit on the right side, facing the hotels on Bay Street and away from the waterfront. The best views are on the right side (when facing the head of the train). Chances are you’ll be so excited you won’t be able to sleep so you’ll be catching the views on the way in. You’ll be zonked from the early morning in combination with exploring the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park so don’t be surprised if you pass out on the way back to The Soo!
Even though the cars are assigned, you are still free to roam the train during the trip. For the best views during your adventure, coach 4 offers them on the way to the canyon while coach 1 offers them on the way back. You may be able to snag a seat in either of these if the train is not full, but I suggest asking before doing so.
Eat Your Meals on the Train
Whether you eat from the dining car or pack your own food, I suggest eating on the train. As you only have 90 minutes actually in the park, you’ll want to make each one count and explore as much as possible!
Bring Your Belongings With You in the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park
While you are assigned a car on your ticket, seats themselves are not. Bring your belongings with when you disembark. The tour train staff turn the seats around while you’re exploring the park to prepare for departure, so belongings on the floor are in danger of being stepped on or broken. Add that to the fact that people love changing seats… your belongings are safest with you.
When is the Best Time to Take the Agawa Canyon Tour Train?
Autumn is the peak season for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, meaning more people in the wilderness park. While it’s a trip of a lifetime with the fall foliage, consider taking this trip in the summer to avoid crowds. I don’t know about you but I prefer my nature with as few people as possible! My ideal time would be an Agawa Canyon snow train but alas, that has not been available for years now.
If you wish to visit with the fall foliage, typically the last two weeks of September and the first week of October are best for leaf-peeping. This is not guaranteed though and dependent on the weather and seasonal trends. Agawa Canyon Train prices also vary by season so check their website for any discounts that may be available.
Any Tips for Saving Money on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train?
With autumn being peak season, it also means the Agawa Canyon Tour Train is more expensive. As of 2020, adult tickets for the train are $100 per person and increase to $123 per person in the peak season. Dates vary every year but peak season begins around the middle of September. For 2020, peak season begins September 19th.
What to Do After the Agawa Canyon
While many visit Sault Ste Marie solely for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train experience, the city has plenty more to offer. It would be a sin not to spend a day or two exploring! Unsure of what to do? Here are a few suggestions:
- Learn about some of the city’s history. There are a number of fascinating museums and historical sites throughout the city. I highly recommend paying a visit to the Canadian Bushplane Museum as well as the Ermatinger Clergue Site.
- Watch boats as they bypass the St Mary’s Rapids via the Sault Ste Marie Canal National Historic Site.
- Get outside and take a walk! The Hub Trail takes you along the city’s waterfront and offers some spectacular views of the International Bridge as well as Sault Ste Marie, Michigan at sunset. If you’re looking for something a little more natural, you can head a little north of the city to Kinsmen Park in the Hiawatha Highlands.
- Enjoy a meal at some of the amazing restaurants in Sault Ste Marie. You don’t want to miss the incredible eats that await you at The Breakfast Pig. Grab a coffee and some of the best cheesecake of your life at Scott Coffee Co. The best burger I’ve ever sunk my teeth into can be found at Chummy’s Bar and Grill on the Bachewana First Nation Rankin Reserve. That’s just a few to start! Let’s just say if you leave Sault Ste Marie hungry… you did it wrong.
This quick summary will easily keep you busy for at least two or three days! Check out the map of Sault Ste Marie below for even more inspiration of things to do in the city.
Ready for this Northern Ontario Train Tour?
This adventure is something that everyone should experience at least once while exploring Ontario. Whether or not you come to Sault Ste Marie just for this Algoma train tour, the city has plenty more to offer. With great eateries, plenty of waterfalls and Lake Superior at its doorstep, I’d consider extending your stay to take advantage of the multi-night packages. Check out these hotels near the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.