Family Day & Valentine getaways at Ontario Parks

February is a popular month to visit Ontario Parks. Five provincial parks plan Family Day events and affordable Valentine getaways in roofed accommodation at many parks are also a big draw. Valentine’s Day and Family Day are on the same holiday weekend this year, February 13-16. While holiday weekend accommodation is already booked, mid-week dates are still available. A total of twenty-six parks across Ontario are open this winter. Eight have roofed accommodation for rent. Nineteen have groomed ski trails and snowshoeing and several offer skating, tobogganing and tubing. The Ontario Parks Ski Report has the latest trail conditions. This Park Blog snowshoe post includes parks with designated trails.  For more on Family Day events and Valentine getaways, please see below.

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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.

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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:

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November is for storm watching at Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks on the Great Lakes are for storm watching.  November is when the fiercest storms often occur. One of the worst was the Great Storm of 1913. The massive November gale lasted three days, sank 19 ships, stranded 19 more and killed 244 mariners. More recently Hurricane Sandy packed a punch when it hit a cold front over the Great Lakes in October 2012.  Lake Huron winds were clocked at 119 kilometres an hour (74 miles per hour) and waves grew to seven metres (23 feet) high.  Ontario Parks are known for their storm watching vistas on the Great Lakes.  These four parks located on the Great Lakes even have cozy roofed accommodation for stormy nights:

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RV camping in late fall

RV travellers love fall at Ontario Parks even after Canadian Thanksgiving (second Monday in October). Some even camp in winter. Park staff affectionately call these campers ‘winter warriors’ since staying warm and maintaining the water systems in your RV in Ontario winter temperatures is a challenge.  These four Ontario Parks are your best bet for late fall camping in an RV. Know that trailer fill stations for water are normally closed later in the season, based on weather.  However, three parks have campgrounds offering electrical service, and comfort stations with hot showers that are open year round. The fourth, Killarney Provincial Park, does not have electrical service.  The park also closes its comfort stations and turns off its water systems following the Canadian Thanksgiving, but the bathrooms outside of the main office remain open along with a tap so campers can access water to fill large jugs. Don’t forget that you need a park permit to camp in any season at Ontario Parks. More detailed RV information is on the Ontario Parks web site.

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Sporting events at Ontario Parks

All kinds of sporting events are held at Ontario Parks every year. Trail runs, road races, triathlons, cycling events, cross-country ski events, and even a hiker’s challenge. At least one of the running events is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

Check the Ontario Parks’ calendar of events for listings.  New events are added all the time.  Friends volunteer organizations plan many of the sporting events and often have event information on their websites.

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Learning from extinction

Alexander Wilson wrote that “while visiting friends in New England, sitting in the kitchen suddenly the sky became dark, there was no light in the room, and a rumbling noise grew louder, I was certain it was a tornado”. When his friends saw how frightened he was, they exclaimed, “Oh, it’s only the pigeons flying overhead”.

With fossil records dating back to 100,000 years before present and once believed to be the most abundant land bird in North America, with a population of 3-5 billion, how does the passenger pigeon become extinct within 40 years of decline? 

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Just passing through: head to The Pinery to see and hear migrating tundra swans

Photo Credit: Alf Rider

How cool would it be to close your eyes and hear thousands of birds yodeling en masse as they lift off in search of their next feeding ground? 

“You’ll never forget it, once you experience it,” says The Pinery’s natural heritage educator Alistair Mackenzie.

If you head to The Pinery Provincial Park (about 230 km southwest of Toronto) over the next few weeks, you might just see and hear up to 60,000 tundra swans passing through on their way to their Arctic breeding ground.  Starting from their southern winter home in Chesapeake Bay and moving north, the swans are in a race against time to reach their final breeding ground at Hudson Bay.  But don’t wait—the swans will likely be gone by the last week of March or first week of April.  And if there’s too much snow, they may overfly The Pinery altogether or stop in smaller numbers. Continue reading Just passing through: head to The Pinery to see and hear migrating tundra swans

What are we doing this weekend?

Guest Blogger: Matt Olsen from Paddle In


“What are we doing this weekend?”  

 A question posed to me by my three year old daughter on a cold and blustery January afternoon.  It’s a simple enough question but at the time, for the life of me, I had no answer.  I don’t quite remember what I ended up answering her but I believe it was along the lines of, “we’ll see.”  That question stuck with me and I promised myself that for the rest of the year I’d have an answer for her.  So as 2013 progressed, it became a year full of preparing, learning and most importantly, a year full of camping under the stars in some of Ontario’s most beautiful provincial parks.

Out on the trails at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park (Photo Credit: Paddle In).

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