Plan an exotic winter adventure at Ontario Parks

Summer campers love Ontario Parks but many have never experienced their favourite park in winter.  Ontario Parks aims to change that. Nineteen provincial parks are open this winter season with cross-country trails to ski.  Thirteen have groomed or track-set trails. And eight of the nineteen have comfortable roofed accommodation for rent. Designated snowshoe trails are in many parks. Some have skating and tubing too. Three parks will host ski loppets. Another will host an annual snowshoe race and at least five plan to celebrate February’s Family Day weekend with special events. Below are tips to help visitors plan their own exotic park adventure this winter:

Continue reading Plan an exotic winter adventure at Ontario Parks

Ski an Ontario Parks loppet

Whether you ski for fun, race, or love a good workout, cross-country skiing is an opportunity to see Ontario Parks at their winter best. Ontario Parks’ have some of the best cross-country skiing in Canada.  Local nordic ski clubs help us to maintain many park trail networks. In Arrowhead, Sleeping Giant, and Quetico Provincial Parks, there are also annual ski loppets you can join. These have become increasingly popular with cross-country skiers. These ‘loppet’ parks also have heated roofed accommodation in the form of cabins, cottages and yurts. While the roofed accommodations often book up quickly during loppets or on weekends, mid-week bookings are still pretty easy to get, even at the last minute. If you can’t find availability, try Resorts of Ontario, which has a range of member resorts located near Ontario Parks across the province. Family Day is also a big deal at select Ontario Parks every winter. For a look at Family Day 2015, check the Park Blog events post.  A complete listing of winter events is on the Ontario Parks web site at  http://www.ontarioparks.com/events.

Continue reading Ski an Ontario Parks loppet

Tiki torch skating through the woods at Arrowhead

One of many cool things to do at this winter “amusement park” 

OK, so we’re Canadians, right? We know skating. We know it’s fun, invigorating and downright patriotic. But how many of us can say we’ve skated through the woods, at night, under the stars on an ice trail lit by tiki torch? The family memories! The selfies!

With nighttime and daytime skating Arrowhead Provincial Park, north of Huntsville, is the only provincial park with its own zamboni that grooms a 1.3 km trail to glassy perfection mid December to February. Cars line up down the highway to take part in this magical mystery tour that has struck a chord with visitors and increased winter attendance from 600 day passes five years ago to 6,000 last year.

Continue reading Tiki torch skating through the woods at Arrowhead

Christmas is for the birds at Killarney

Christmas bird counts have been a tradition that has been taking place for the past 114 years.  In 1900, A single man set out to count the number of different bird species and now these counts take place in over 2000 localities in Canada, US, Latin America and the Caribbean.  Bird Studies Canada now coordinates with all the local organizers to help make these counts possible.  This year, all counts must take place between December 14 and January 5.  Birds are counted in a 24km diameter circle; the same area is then used every year.

Continue reading Christmas is for the birds at Killarney

How to be a happy winter camper

Guest Blogger: Matt Olsen from Paddle In

 

Friday January 31, 2014 –I joined two others, packed up some sleds, rented a beautiful canvas tent and stove, and headed off into Algonquin’s interior for five adventure-filled days.

Camping in winter?  Most definitely!! Winter brings about a wonderful change in Ontario Parks and with research and proper planning, you can be a happy winter camper!

Preparation is the most important part of any backcountry trip, even more so on a winter excursion. Gear needs to be checked and re-checked. Winter camping is not the time to skimp or forget certain pieces of gear. I recently purchased a new -30 sleeping bag and when I awoke at 3 am on Sunday morning to temperatures creeping down around -25, I was very grateful for all the preparation I had done to make sure I was nice and toasty while sleeping.

Some things to consider when prepping for an overnight winter camping trip:

 

Layers! Layers upon layers!

Layering your clothing allows you to shed outer clothing quickly when you start to heat up. Believe me -pulling a sled behind you with all your gear will warm you up very quickly. To break it down even more, this is what you’ll want to equip yourself with:

Base Layer: Synthetics or Merino wool will help wick away moisture from your skin.
Middle Layer: Insulating layer designed to retain body heat. Fleece works well here.
Outer Layer: A waterproof, windproof layer.  Gore-tex products work very well.
 

Choose your adventure

We chose the beautiful rolling hills of the Western Uplands Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. While we were aware that this trail is not necessarily suited for a sled and snowshoe trip, we knew we were only traveling a few kilometres to set up base camp. That being said, make sure you pay attention to the time. We spent all day lugging sleds and looking at our surroundings, which meant we had to make a quick camp at the end of the day because it was getting dark. Luckily, we also happened to stop at one of the best areas for a campsite I have ever been on.

 

Snowshoes! 

Do you have snowshoes? You should!  As I found out early on in the trip while stopped for a snack, if you step off the trail…down you go.  While it was easy going on the snowshoes and along the hard-packed, frozen trail, anywhere else was way too deep to access with just boots. Snowshoes displace your weight evenly allowing you to stay “afloat” on the snow. They are also crucial in setting up camp. Stomp yourself down a nice area to set up your tent, let it freeze for a bit and voila you have a great place where you can walk around outside your tent with just your boots. Nothing like making a quick bathroom break in the middle of the night and finding yourself chest deep in snow in only your long johns…

 

A roof over your head

We used a wonderful SnowTrekker “hot tent” equipped with a stove. Now some people call this cheating. All I have to say is the extra weight to carry it in was easily made up by the fact that we could dry off all our clothes inside and warm up the tent each morning. WARMTH! We were astounded at how warm a small fire inside the stove could keep our tent. Some words of caution while hot tenting would be: never leave the stove unattended. You don’t want your tent filled with smoke while you are sleeping and you don’t want a fire on your hands! If it’s too cold to not run the stove, simply take turns/shifts and keep a small fire going while you drink a hot chocolate and read a book.  Small reflectors are provided with the stove that stops the snow around the stove from melting and may save any sleeping bags that get too close. Whatever tent you use, make sure you are familiar with it and that you’ve packed all its parts. Forgetting the poles after walking off into the bush would be a drag.
 
 
“What did you do for fun out there?”

My favorite question when we got home was this. “What did you do for fun out there?” I thought about this for awhile. You’re going winter camping for the experience- that is the “fun”. As for what we did each day it was simple:

Gather firewood
Snowshoe the trail and surrounding area
Eat!  Carbs, fat and protein! YUM YUM!
Relax
Did I mention getting firewood?  

Being winter, it is very easy to find dry standing dead firewood in the bush.

 

Our experience

Silence! Absolute silence. I wasn’t prepared for how quiet the trip was going to be. We heard the odd Chickadee and Gray Jay, saw lots and lots of snow stories (animal tracks) including moose, deer, and rabbit and were sung to sleep by a plethora of owls each night. The parks are beautiful in the winter I strongly recommend getting out here. That being said, I come to my final point.

 

Your experience 

You don’t have to camp to enjoy a winter experience. Not ready for an overnight stay on a hiking trail? That’s okay. There are loads of things to do instead. Winter camping isn’t something you should jump right into. Work your way up to it.

Once you feel comfortable enough make the gradual move to overnights. Spend two days or even spend five days enjoying yourself in the parks.

When we returned from the trip someone asked “why do you spend so much time outside?”  I thought about this for a moment and said “The real question would be why do you spend so much time inside?”

 

Learn more about winter in Ontario Parks: http://www.ontarioparks.com/winter/