Ontario Northern Route of the Trans-Canada Highway #11

What to See and Do on Ontario’s Northern Route

This route connects Ontario’s important northern mining towns on a thousand kilometre drive across the Precambian Shield. The highway gently climbs and falls on glacier-scoured rocks, lakes that are water that filled depressions carved into those rocks, and never-ending Boreal Forest that has developed in just the last 10,000 years since the Ice Age ended and the glaciers receded. You get to see  four of the most magnificent lakes in Canada: Lake Nipigon, Lake Superior, Rainy Lake, and Lake of the Woods.

Trans-Canada Northern Route across Ontario Highway 11

The Quebec Portion of the Northern Route (AutoRoute 15, 117)

This Northern Route of the TransCanada runs from the island/city of  Montreal initially on AutoRoute 15  or AutoRoute 117 through the Laurentians  towns like Saint Jovite, Mont Treblant,  and Mont Laurier. AutoRoute 117 runs from downtown Montreal, and meanders through many communities and has lots of traffic lights, but the 4-laned AutoRoute 15 is an expressway rough the North Shore Montreal suburbs into the Laurentian communities and runs up to Sainte Agathe-des-Monts.  The route then continues on AutoRoute 117 north from the Laurentians through the LaVarendrye Wildlife Reserve into Northern Quebec. The Northern Route then continues into Canada’s “mining belt” with cities like Val d’Or. From there is contenues to Kirkland Lake via ontario Highway 66 , where it connects to Ontario’s Highway 11 and contines west past Hearst and Nipigon, where it joins the Trans-Canada main route to Thunder Bay.

Yonge Street and Highway #11 “The Longest Street in the World”

Ontario’s Highway 11 has claimed to be “the longest street in the World” for starting  at Toronto’s waterfront, running up Yonge Street through Barrie, Ontario’s cottage country (including Orillia, Huntsville, and Gravenhurst), to North Bay (where it crosses the Main Route of the Trans-Canada Highway). The Trans-Canada North continues to Kirkland Lake and arches around to Nipigon and Thunder Bay before continuing west to Fort Frances and Rainy River (two towns on the US border with the state of  Minnesota), for a total running length of 1,896 km, which Guinness Book of Records recognized Yonge St as the “Longest Street in the World”.

(1998  highway changes and relabelings  between Toronto and Barrie may threaten that record).


Near-North Muskoka Cottatge Country

The heart of  Ontario’s cottage country  runs through the Muskokas  starting at Orillia (just west of Highway 400), and then in quick succession, the communities of Severn BridgeSevern Bridge, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Burk’s Falls, South River, and Powassan to North Bay. As yo umake that drive you pass by the may scenic lakes, and from Huntsville a very good entrance into the scenic Algonquin Provincial Park.

The Ontario Northern Route #11

The officially designated Northern Route begins where#11 crosses the Main Trans-Canada at North Bay. From this point the Northern Route arches abouve Lake Superior through a chain of northern Ontario mining towns, that because of their strategic importance to American(and Canadian) weapons manufacture during World War II were quickly conected by road . These towns were already connected by rail lines built in the late 1880s and early 1900s. These town include Temagami, Cobalt, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Kirkland Lake  (where it connects to the Quebec Northern Route from Montreal and the Laurentians (introduced above), and then continues to Matheson, Iroquois Falls, Cochrane, Kapuskasing (today, best known for its wintertime cold-weather testing for the car manufacturers), and then Hearst, Longlac, Geraldton, Beardmore before  bending sharply south to avoid Lake Nipigon and then crossing the Nipigon River into Nipigon.

Northern Route #11 near Hearst

Northern Route #11 near Hearst

Between Nipigon and Thunder Bay, the Main Route #17 and the Northern Route #11 share the same roadway. It is currently being “twinned”. This began with the Thunder Bay Expressway, meant to bypass the urban areas of Thunder Bay to speed through traffic. The 4-lane Expressway arches around the west end of the city, and has since been continued east. The portion betwen  Ouimet  and the Dorion East Loop  has recently been completed (2023),  leaving about 35 km of the 110 km from Thunder Bay untwinned to Nipigon.

The Rainy River Extension Highway #11

From Thunder Bay, travewllers can cotinue northwest on the #17 to Dryden and Kenora, or west of the #11 to Fort Frances and Rainy River (which now runs SOUTH of the Main Route). From Fort Frances, travellers  head west a bit to Emo, and then head north on Highway 71 past Nestor Falls and Sioux Narrrows  to reconnect with the main Trans-Canada Route #17 at Kenora. Highway #17 is 490 km between Kenora and THunder Bay, and the Highway 11 & 71 route is 560 km. Highway 11 continues west from Emo (junction with Highway 71) for another 50 km to the town of Rainy River, where there is a border crossing with Baudette, Minnesota.

Map of Highway 11, Northern Route of Trans-Canada in Onytario


This route along #11 was actually completed much earlier than the Highway 17 main route of the Trans-Canada. During World War II the strategic metals being mined in  northern Ontario accelerated road-building (just like that war accelerated the construction of the Alaska Highway).

This northern route is much less travelled than #17, so travellers should heed “last gas for XX km” signs, and gas up at any major community they pass through

Towns and Cities along the Trans-Canada Northern Route, Highway #11

Trans-Canada Highway Locales to search for  businessess, attractions, accommodations for your Northern Route #11 Roadtrip

Visit Barrie, Ontario


Rock cut on Highway 17A - Kenora Bypass

Northern Ontario

Sault Ste Marie-International bridge-sliver

Sault Ste Marie

Visit Sudbury, Ontario


Visit Thunder Bay, Ontario

Thunder Bay