Ontario Parks for outdoor lovers

A couple of weeks ago, Ontario Parks posted winter camping opportunities. This week, we look at park activities to get you outside and energized. For more ideas, you can search Ontario Parks by services, activities and seasons here.

Citizen science

One of the longest running Citizen Science Surveys in the world takes place December 14th, 2011 at Killarney Provincial Park. The annual Christmas Bird Count teams people new to birding with experienced birders to inventory the winter birds of Killarney. From sunrise to sunset, knowledgeable guides lead small groups by snowshoe to look for birds along Killarney’s 20 kilometres of tracked trails. Bring snowshoes, a lunch and warm beverage. A potluck dinner completes your day. Killarney yurts provide cozy roofed accommodation for the fortunate few who book ahead. The Friends of Killarney will host its annual Winter Activity Days in 2012 (date TBC). For more events click here.

Did you know that 20 parks stretching from eastern Ontario to northwestern Ontario have a total of 451 kilometres of nordic ski and snowshoe trails open in winter? Some like Arrowhead, Wasaga Beach and the Pinery even rent ski and snowshoe equipment.

A nordic challenge

Last year, Ontario Youth Winter Games were held at Arrowhead Provincial Park. The event reinforced this park’s nordic reputation. Located north of Huntsville off of Highway 11, Arrowhead’s grooming standards have steadily improved over the years and its classic and skate trails are highly rated in Ontario. The Muskoka Loppet, an annual tradition, will be hosted by the Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club on Sunday, January 22, 2012 The Loppet is open to anyone who skis or snowshoes. There are 15 and 30 km nordic events for experienced skiers, 3 and 9 km individual and relay snowshoe events and a 5km classic race for kids and social skiers. Register online and find more Loppet information here. Arrowhead’s fully equipped pro shop rents skis, snowshoes and skates. Hot chocolate and snacks are available too. Besides an outdoor rink, this park has a great tubing hill. Inner tubes are supplied free of charge with a park permit.

A friends’ escape

The park with the greatest number of winter trails is Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, east of Thunder Bay. Winter tends to last longer in this part of Ontario. The 34th annual Sleeping Giant Loppet will be held March 3, 2012. It attracts recreational cross country skiers and top racers ranging in age from 5-80 years. The park has 50 km of trails and magnificent winter views of “the Giant” but that’s not the only reason to visit. Five winterized cabins offer the perfect getaway for groups of friends. Air Canada, Westjet and Porter Airlines fly to Thunder Bay Airport. Car rentals are available at the airport for the hour drive to the park.

A race of a different kind

Did you know that Frontenac Provincial Park hosts a snowshoe race every year? Race day in 2012 is in early January (TBC). Expect a little bit of everything on the backcountry course. Detailed maps, course descriptions and a preview video are on the organizer’s site. Frontenac hosts interesting workshops year- round. A winter camping workshop runs January 15. A former Olympian will lead a snowshoe workshop on February 19th. Different styles of snowshoes, harnesses and snowshoeing techniques will be covered and there will be a guided afternoon snowshoe hike. Cost is the price of a daily park permit. Pre-registration is required by calling 613-376-3489.