Today’s post comes from Quetico Superintendent Trevor Gibb.
Quetico Provincial Park is primarily known for its world class backcountry canoeing opportunities.
However, once the lakes freeze and snow blankets the forest, the park transforms into a wilderness winter wonderland.
The park’s Dawson Trail Campground is road accessible, and in the winter, it becomes the jumping off point for many of Quetico’s winter activities.
While a number of parks throughout the province offer winter activities, Quetico is lucky enough to have one of the longest seasons. In a typical year, there is snow cover from mid-November to early April. That’s almost six months to make the most of winter!
Decided you want to plan a winter adventure at Quetico?
Here are 10 wintertime activities, as recommended by Quetico’s Superintendent.
1. Strap on some snowshoes and hike to Pickerel Lake
Begin this full day adventure at the head of the skate skiing trail near the Chippewa Campground.
Strap on your snowshoes, and follow the groomed skate cross-country ski trail until you reach the trailhead for the Whiskey Jack and Pines Trails near the Ojibwa Campground.
Hop onto the trail system and navigate to the Pines Trail.
Make sure to use the footbridge when crossing Baptism Creek to access the Pines Trail. Do not walk over the frozen creek.
From here, follow the ungroomed Pines Trail until it reaches the east end of Pickerel Lake. At the end of the trail, you will be rewarded by an old growth stand of Red Pine trees and a fine spot for lunch with a spectacular view of Pickerel Lake, one of the largest lakes in Quetico.
To return, retrace your steps back to the campground on the freshly packed snowshoe track that you made for yourself!
The trip to Pickerel Lake and back by snowshoe is approximately 15 km and takes about six hours to complete.
Bring lots of high energy snacks and liquids to stay hydrated, and dress in adequate layers so you can stay warm while stopped and cool while exerting yourself on the trail (here are some other essentials you might want in your pack).
2. Snowshoe the French Falls Trail
This is a less demanding snowshoe adventure that takes you to a small frozen waterfall on the French River.
Start your journey at the French Portage trailhead. There is a large plowed parking area there and a year-round vault toilet across the road. Once you are all geared up, hit the trail heading east following the French Portage Trail until it joins the French Falls Trail.
A frozen waterfall is at the end of the trail and the small valley at the base of the falls makes for a great rest stop before you turn around and retrace your steps to the parking area.
This snowshoe hike is 6 km and takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
Much of this snowshoe hike follows groomed ski trail.
Don’t worry about snowshoeing on the groomed ski trails, Quetico’s trails are multi use. Just do your best to stay to the side of the trail so you don’t damage the ski tracks.
3. Wax up your cross-country skis
There are 15 km of maintained ski trails at Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground.
All trails are set for classic skiing and include 3 km of campground roads groomed for skate skiing.
Wondering about conditions? Park staff update the online Ski Report regularly, or give the park a call (Monday-Friday) at 807-597-2735.
For those seeking winter solitude, try classic skiing the Camp 111 Trail. It’s a longer ski loop, but often the only tracks in front of you are those made by the local wildlife.
Take care not to trip in the giant Moose prints that are often left on this trail.
4. Try a cozy winter getaway in a rustic cabin
There are three rustic cabins for rent at Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground, each offering its own unique experience.
All are perfect as a warm and cozy base of operations for a multi-day winter adventure.
The Ojibwa Cabin is located on the shore of French Lake in the Ojibwa Campground. In the winter, the only way to access this rustic cabin is to ski or snowshoe in. From the parking area, it is an easy 2 km on groomed ski trail.
The park provides a cargo sled to help you to move your food and gear to the cabin. If you really want to get away from it all this winter, this is the spot for you. The cabin is wonderfully secluded. Start skiing or snowshoeing on the park’s networks of trails right from your doorstep.
Nestled into the forest on its own pathway, the Art Studio Winter Retreat also offers solitude and beautiful lakeside views. To access this cabin, you only have to walk or snowshoe 100 m from the parking area.
The Log Cabin has the quintessential cabin in the woods vibe.
And the name isn’t just a name. This cabin is a real traditional log cabin. Combining a wood stove to keep things warm and rustic log furniture, this is the perfect place to dry out and relax after a day of exploring.
Did you know each of Quetico’s rustic cabins come equipped with two sets of snowshoes, so you and a friend can get out easily explore the trails and campgrounds?
5. Brave the cold crisp night and go stargazing
Quetico has beautiful natural night skies free of light pollution. Winter’s early, crisp nights are perfect for admiring the night sky.
To recognize and preserve the park’s natural night skies, Quetico is in the process of applying to be an International Dark Sky Park.
Each of our rustic cabins has easy access to the lakeshore, where you have an unobstructed view of the stars overhead.
If you’re lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights dancing over French Lake or hear the call of a Barred Owl in the distance.
The whole experience of stargazing in the middle of the winter at Quetico is truly magical.
6. Go backcountry winter camping
Load your gear onto a sled, strap on your snowshoes, and trek into Quetico’s wilderness.
Backcountry camping permits can be obtained at the self-serve kiosks at any of the park’s entry stations and at the Nym Lake parking area.
The best spots to park your vehicle and access the backcountry in the winter are at the Dawson Trail Campground and the Nym Lake public landing.
Weather and ice conditions can be variable, and it is your responsibility to ensure that you travel safely in the backcountry. Winter camping in Quetico’s backcountry requires a high level of experience.
7. Catch a delicious trout
Quetico is known for some of the best Lake Trout fishing in all of Ontario.
After the winter fishing season opens on January 1, Lake Trout can be caught through the ice on French Lake, Pickerel Lake, and Batchewaung Lake.
Each lake can be accessed by a day trip on snowshoes.
Remember these special regulations when ice fishing in Quetico:
- anglers must use artificial lures and barbless hooks only
- power augers are not permitted
- mechanized travel is not permitted in the backcountry of Quetico. Anglers must travel to their fishing spot on snowshoes or skis
Silver jigging spoons and white tube jigs are popular lures for wintertime trout.
If you try ice fishing in Quetico this winter, remember to check for safe ice conditions.
Ice safety is your responsibility.
8. Look for winter birds of the boreal forest
The cheery song of the Pine Grosbeak can brighten up any winter day in Quetico.
Keep your eyes and ears open.
A colorful medley of winter birds can be observed throughout park in winter.
The ski and snowshoe trails at the Dawson Trail Campground are a great place to look for winter birds of the boreal such as:
- Boreal and Black-capped Chickadee
- Pine Grosbeak
- Evening Grosbeak
- Great Gray Owl
- Ruffed Grouse
- Spruce Grouse
- Canada Jay
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Pine Siskin
- Common Redpoll
- American Goldfinch
- Northern Shrike
9. Cozy in and read a good book
Each of Quetico’s rustic cabins are equipped with a comfy couch, an important piece of equipment if your plans for a winter escape include kicking back and reading a good book.
In the Log Cabin, listen to the crackling of the wood stove and peer out the window at the snow gently falling as you read a book and enjoy a cup of tea.
Not every winter activity at Quetico has to happen outside. If we had it our way, #11 on this list would be playing a board game in a cozy rustic cabin!
10. Get to know the wildlife
They’re always there, but we rarely get to see them.
Once the snow flies, the animals that remain active during the winter leave their telltale tracks in the snow, making it a great time to get to know who is in the neighborhood!
Challenge yourself to identify which tracks belong to which animal when you’re out exploring the Dawson Trail Campground area.
Moose and wolf tracks are easy, but can you tell the difference between mink, otter, and Pine Marten tracks?
Make the most of winter and plan your Quetico adventure today!
Reserve a rustic cabin online or call the park at 807-597-2735 (Monday-Friday) for information about backcountry camping and day use.
Quetico Provincial Park is located 1.5 hours west of Thunder Bay on Highway 11.