Today’s post comes from Ken Jones at @ken_jones.outdoors.
January can feel like the best month of the year to stay inside where it’s warm and dry. That said, it can also be one of the quietest, most beautiful and tranquil times to explore the outdoors.
This past weekend, my fiancée and I had the opportunity to camp at Algonquin Provincial Park in all of its winter-y glory.
In the winter, Algonquin offers front-country camping at the Mew Lake Campground.
If you have the proper equipment, you can also camp in the backcountry in the winter, as long as you stay off official summer sites.
There are a ton of trails and lookouts that you can get to by snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing. In fact, the park had just had a great dumping of snow, so everything was pristine, covered in fluffy snow.
The forecast was calling for temperatures of -30°C, so we knew that while we’d see some beautiful scenery, most importantly, we’d have to stay warm.
For us, exploring in the winter is a great way to get outside and shake off the winter blahs, but there is some necessary planning involved.
Arguably the most important preparation that goes into a successful winter trip is packing the clothing you’ll need to stay warm.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the most important piece of clothing isn’t going to be your heavy winter jacket. Instead, it’s going to be the layers that you wear.
Layers are important in the winter because you can moderate your temperature better when wearing a number of thinner layers rather than few thick layers. This means that you can prevent yourself from sweating while on the trails, which can cause a chill.
As for food, we recommend packing snacks that are good even if they get cold. Granola bars are a favourite of ours, along with beef jerky. Soup or freeze-dried meals that you can rehydrate are always a great option.
To warm these, we typically bring a small propane stove, or a stick stove for a small, controlled fire that can be easily extinguished when we’re done.
Next, it’s imperative that you pack enough water to stay hydrated while you’re out on the trails. We typically carry about 4.5 L of water for the two of us during day hikes. Then, we take the opportunity to refill later in the day.
On this trip to Algonquin, we took the opportunity to hike a couple of the shorter trails in the park. First, we hiked the Spruce Bog Trail. This is a really good trail for all ages and skill levels.
It’s mostly flat, and hikers have the opportunity to walk through spruce forests, along a boardwalk through the bog, and around a small pond.
One reason that many people hike the Spruce Bog Trail is for the birds. They’re always very active and make for some great photos. The day we were there, we saw quite a few Canada Jays and Black-capped Chickadees.
The second hike we did, this time with snowshoes, was the Algonquin Logging Museum Trail. This trail offers a unique experience to both hike and learn in the park.
Throughout the trail, the history of logging in Algonquin is explained and demonstrated with historic buildings, equipment, and more.
To get the most from your trip to the Logging Museum, consider getting the trail guide. During the winter months, you can pick up the trail guide at the Visitor Centre or East and West Gates.
After a day on the trails, we headed to Mew Lake Campground where we would be staying the night. We saw a few other groups staying in yurts, and a couple groups staying in trailers. We stayed in our new hot tent, a canvas tent that allows for a stove to keep the tent warm.
Mew Lake Campground comes complete with a skating rink for both free skating and the occasional game of hockey…how Canadian!
After checking in with the campground hosts, we set up camp. This required processing our firewood into smaller pieces to fit inside our stove.
Then, we settled in for the night, which started with getting dinner cooked up.
We tend to pack food that is already frozen. For this trip, we packed a container of broccoli cheddar soup, which we heated up on our stove. We also packed some meat and cheese, and made a camping version of a charcuterie board.
After dinner, we settled into our sleeping bags, and spent some time talking and reading with our headlamps. It was definitely a great first night out in our hot tent.
In the morning, we packed up camp and headed out of the park, knowing that we’d be back in a couple of weeks.