Discover ice volcanoes and wintering waterfowl at Presqu’ile this winter!

Guest Blogger: David Bree
Sr. Natural Heritage Education Leader
 Presqu’ile Provincial Park

When thinking of visiting parks, most people picture swimming at the beach, walking sun-dabbled forest trails or perhaps just relaxing in front of the tent or trailer while the BBQ warms up.  These are all decidedly summery, warm-weather activities, and only a part of a park’s story.  You need to experience the other seasons to really get to know your favourite park.  While winter camping may not be for everyone (some of our parks offer great winter-camping experiences) anyone can appreciate a day visit to a park in winter.

Although campgrounds in Presqu’ile Provincial Park close at Thanksgiving, the park is open to day-use all year, with car access right to Lake Ontario.  Winter, in many ways, is the most dramatic season at the park as the lake and sky above offer an endlessly changing face.  Water may be blue, green, gray or some unnamed combination of these colours.  It may be mirror-flat or have 3-metre waves rolling into shore.  No matter the violence of the lake, winter waterfowl, such as Long-tailed Ducks, will be bobbing amongst the waves, seemingly unconcerned with either the freezing temperatures or the crashing waves.

Long-tailed duck spotted off the shore of Presqu’ile Provincial Park.

Fresh snow provides its own fascination.  In addition to providing the stuff of traditional winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or building snowmen, it also provides nature with a parchment to record its stories on.  Creatures almost never seen, leave their tracks behind to be read; a Meadow Vole coming above the snow for a few dangerous metres to investigate a food source before disappearing back into a snowy tunnel; a Fisher patrolling the shoreline, hoping for a meal; small birds hopping around the grass heads poking above the snow, with only some chaff scattered to indicate theseeds that were consumed.  Occasionally something very dramatic can be found: a fox chasing a hare, or a depression, flanked by the trace of wingtips where an owl crashed into the snow to try and get at that Meadow Vole.  These stories are ephemeral however, gone with the next melt, strong wind, or snowfall, a clean canvas for the next chapter.


But it is the shoreline that continues to draw me back.  Lake Ontario almost never freezes over, and where there is open water there will be wildlife in the form of ducks, gulls, or maybe I’ll finally spot that elusive Fisher!  Even though the lake doesn’t freeze over, there can still be ice.  Ice floes sparkling in the sun with rafts of Goldeneye and Scaup diving between them is a sight that never fails to inspire me.  And sometimes, when conditions are just right – we get volcanoes!  When it gets cold enough, ice starts building up along the shoreline as an ice shelf.  If the temperature, wind direction and wave height is right, the gentling sloping limestone just offshore funnels waves under the ice shelf and up through it at a weak point.  This results in a blowhole type phenomenon, with icy water spewing up into the air through the ice.  This water falls back down and freezes, eventually building up a cone through which the water continues to erupt.  A volcano! An ice volcano!  But ice volcanoes can be shorter-lived than snow tracks.  The ice shelf builds out or the waves decrease and the water can no longer make it up and through the volcano.  It goes extinct, no longer spouting water.  While live volcanoes can be hard to see, Presqu’ile’s winter shoreline is often ringed by an icy field of extinct volcanoes, their hollow cones pointing to the winter sky, waiting to erupt again.

Ice Volcano observed along the shore of Presqu’ile Provincial Park (Photo Credit: D. Tyerman).


Whether you are lucky enough to find a live volcano or a Fisher track, Presqu’ile’s winter landscape will hold some exciting discovery for those that seek to know her winter face.


Planning your visit:

  • Overwintering waterfowl: can be seen throughout the winter
  • Ice Volcanoes:  best seen in February
  • Skiing and tracking: Conditions vary.  Contact park office for conditions: 613 475-4324
Please note:
Cleanup from the recent winter weather events is still ongoing.  Please use caution when driving and walking around the park.