Grab your snowshoes and head for Ontario Parks

Twenty-six provincial parks across the province are open this winter and many offer extensive trail networks. Some even have their own designated snowshoe trails.  Just steer clear of any groomed cross-country ski trails you may see. These are reserved for cross-country skiers and Ontario Parks’ staff and members of local cross-country ski clubs work hard to maintain them in top-notch condition. If you decide you want to break your own trail, know your limits and follow these easy winter park safety tips.  The Ontario Parks Ski Report which is updated regularly, is a good place to check for the latest park snow conditions. Many winter parks offer heated roofed accommodation too.

Here are some favourite Ontario Parks for snowshoe adventures:

Thousands visit Wasaga Beach Provincial Park every summer but few are aware of this park’s winter charms. Located 1.5 hours northwest of Toronto, Wasaga Beach is a day-use park that has a separately designated 8 kilometre marked snowshoe trail, which is in addition to its 30 kilometres of cross-country ski trails. Enjoy a peaceful snowshoe through the cedars and pines on the Beginner Snowshoe Trail, or take your snowshoeing to new heights on the Intermediate and Advanced Snowshoe Trails. The Advanced Snowshoe Trail works its way through Wasaga Beach’s amazing parabolic dunes, which affords spectacular views of beautiful Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment from atop Monument Hill. When you return from snowshoeing warm up in the Wasaga Nordic Centre where you can also rent high quality snowshoes and enjoy light snacks and hot drinks.

Mashkinonje Provincial Park, a provincially protected nature reserve near Sudbury, Ontario is a lesser-known location to enjoy snowshoeing.  The name, Mashkinonje (pronounced mas-kin-onj), is an Ojibwa word for muskellunge, a large fish inhabiting the surrounding waters of Lake Nipissing. The park which stretches from the West Bay to the West Arm of Lake Nipissing, has 30 kilometres of trails to choose from. You’ll find its Loudon Peatland Trailhead at the park entrance located off of Highway 64, 17 kilometres south of the town of Lavigne and Musky Island Road. The Friends of Mashinkonje, a local volunteer group, host seasonal park events including a guided winter snowshoe trek. The Friends can also help you source Mashinkonje trail maps .

Plan an overnight snowshoe adventure this winter

We’ve selected these parks for their quality overnight snowshoe adventures. You’ll find more at http://www.ontarioparks.com/roofedaccommodation/

Arrowhead Provincial Park has some of THE best winter activities in Ontario, including snowshoeing.  Located on Highway 11, north of the Town of Huntsville, you can rent high tech snowshoes and try Arrowhead’s designated snowshoe trail or cross-country ski its groomed trails. The park’s skate path through the woods is really cool and so is the tubing hill. Ski and skate rentals are available and tubes can be borrowed with a park permit. Six heated cabins have been added in recent years and are popular for overnight winter adventures. This YouTube video highlights Arrowhead’s winter activities.

Lots of people camp at Algonquin Provincial Park in summer but few have experienced Ontario’s oldest park in winter. Rent a heated yurt at the Mew Lake Campground and snowshoe from your yurt’s front door or try one of these suggested trails; the Algonquin Logging Museum Trail is a loop 1.3 kilometres long with a few gradual hills. It features outdoor exhibits and is marked as a beginner trail. The Peck Lake Trail at kilometre 19.2 is a 2.3 kilometre loop that circles Peck Lake. It has some steeper hills and is considered intermediate in terms of difficulty. Because there is a lake on the trail, snowshoers are cautioned to stay off the ice. The Hemlock Bluff trail at kilometre 27.2 is a 3.5 kilometre loop that takes you through some groves of very large Hemlock trees, over hills and valleys and to a cliff overlooking a lake. It is marked advanced. Algonquin also has groomed ski trails with warm up huts and its Visitor Centre is open on weekends.

With all of the lake effect snow off of Lake Huron, MacGregor Point Provincial Park offers up great snowshoeing opportunities.  The park suggests that snowshoers use the trails and campground roads throughout the closed Nipissing Campground.  Trails are easy to medium level of difficulty and distances range from 1 to 5 kilometres.  With 16 yurts in the adjacent Algonquin campground available for rent and a heated comfort station with hot showers and flush toilets nearby, outdoor winter explorations were never so comfortable!  MacGregor Point also sells snowshoes.

Silent Lake Provincial Park, near Bancroft, Ontario, converts its three kilometre Bonnie Pond Hiking Trail into a designated snowshoe trail every winter. It’s part of a big network of park trails that attract cross-country skiers as well every winter. Six winter yurts are available for rent. The icefishing is also excellent in this park. Note, however that only manual augers may be used.

Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron near Grand Bend is popular with snowshoeing families and families of skiers. The park is near Grand Bend, Ontario. Besides heated yurt rentals, the park has a camp cabin available for rent. 38 kilometres of trails provide plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing in the park. Ungroomed trails and closed campground roadways are perfect for snowshoeing and snowshoe rentals are available. A favourite is the Pinery’s Cedar Trail extension which has beautiful Lake Huron vistas.

The winter landscape in Killarney Provincial Park is as stunning in winter as it is in summer. Snowshoes can be rented through the Friends of Killarney Park and are reserved by calling the park at 705-287-2800. The Killarney page on the Ontario Parks website lists the many hiking trails in the park. The choice of trail types and distances is impressive. Heated yurts are available for rent.

Windy Lake Provincial Park lies 40 minutes north of the City of Sudbury, on scenic Hwy 144, and the edge of the Sudbury Basin.  Along with 15 kilometre of groomed and track-set cross-country ski trails, the park contains 8 kilometres of snowshoeing trails that follow the snowy ridge above Windy Lake.  The snowshoe trails are accessible right from the park’s four yurts, as are the ski trails. Being high on the edge of the Sudbury Basin, the park gets good snow, and the trails provide plenty of good views across the lake, with lots of interesting forested terrain.  More snowshoeing can be had by venturing into the “lower bowl” and along the shores of Windy Lake.  Snow shoe and ski rentals are available.

The Dawson Trail Campground in Quetico Provincial Park, has two year-round yurts for rent and an excellent network of snowshoe and ski trails a short walk from your yurt door. A trail winding its way along the French Lake shoreline is a favourite with snowshoers. Snowshoes are available through the Beaten Path Nordic Trails which also maintains an excellent network of ski trails just west of Dawson Trail campground near the town of Atikokan. Ontario Parks also maintains up to 30 km of ski trails in the park for classic and skate skiing. In addition to the yurts, there are also two cozy cabins available to rent by calling the park information line at (807) 597-2735. The park is 169 kilometres west of Thunder Bay near the Town of Atikokan.

More information on winter in Ontario Parks at www.OntarioParks.com/winter