Life

How to explore the great outdoors at Ontario Parks this winter

QMI Agency writer Jim Fox.

By Jim Fox, Special to Postmedia Network

Skiers stay warm in a yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park. (Ontario Parks photo)

Skiers stay warm in a yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park. (Ontario Parks photo)

Once winter weather finally arrives and sticks around, Ontario provincial parks are ready for the challenge.

“Summer campers love Ontario Parks, but many have never experienced their favourite park in winter,” said Lori Waldbrook, senior marketing specialist.

Nineteen provincial parks are open with cross-country ski trails while 13 have groomed or track-set trails and eight offer comfortable roofed accommodation.

There are designated snowshoe trails in many parks and some have skating and tubing, too. Three parks will host ski loppets, another will have an annual snowshoe race and at least five plan to mark Family Day weekend next month with special events.

Here are tips to help visitors plan their own exotic park adventure this winter as suggested by Waldbrook and publicist Judy Hammond.

Roofed accommodations

Algonquin, Arrowhead, Killarney, MacGregor Point, Pinery, Quetico, Silent Lake, Sleeping Giant and Windy Lake provincial parks all have winter roofed accommodation and excellent ski trails.

Rent a heated yurt (tent-like structure), cabin, cottage or even a park lodge suitable for a group of friends or a family reunion. If you plan to book a rental, reserve early or try mid-week for the best availability in southern Ontario.

For a truly exotic adventure, fly to Thunder Bay or Sudbury, pick up a car rental and visit Sleeping Giant, Quetico, Windy Lake or Killarney parks in northern Ontario. All four are noted for plentiful snow, choice of roofed accommodation and spectacular trails with good conditions lasting well into late winter.

Cross-country skiing

The Ontario Parks Ski Report has an interactive map showing the locations of the winter parks with groomed ski trails. Trail conditions are updated regularly and there are links to each park’s amenities and local weather forecasts.

For visitors wanting to cross-country ski but don’t have the equipment, rentals are available from Arrowhead, where there’s also a tubing hill, Pinery and Wasaga Beach parks. Cross-country ski loppets are fun to join and are planned at Arrowhead, Sleeping Giant and Quetico parks.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, Cross Country Canada says a loppet is a “great gathering of skiers who ski on a specifically groomed trail either classic (diagonal stride) or free (skating technique) of various distances.”

Snowshoe adventures

Snowshoeing is called the world’s fastest-growing winter sport. Hikers, walkers, backcountry adventurers and even runners are discovering snowshoeing at Ontario Parks. Frontenac park, north of Kingston, will host its annual 6.5-kilometre Dion Frontenac Snowshoe Race on Jan. 18 (weather-permitting). Snowshoe rentals are available at Arrowhead, Pinery, Wasaga Beach and Killarney parks.

Skating Ontario Parks

Skating is one of the coolest winter pursuits, gliding through the woods on a pair of blades. Every winter, park staff flood campground loops at Arrowhead and MacGregor Point to create ice trails for skating. Visitors can organize a skating party and warming fires are available for toasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

Arrowhead has “Fire and Ice” skating through the woods every Saturday now through to the end of February in the East River campground. That’s for skating by tiki torch and there’s also cross- country skiing beside the skating trail as well.

“People just love it and it’s just so incredibly stunning, especially at night, to skate through the woods by fire light,” said John Leadston, assistant park superintendent.

Lighted skating is also available on weekends at MacGregor Point and overnight stays can be arranged there in a yurt or in an Arrowhead cabin. Algonquin, Pinery and Bronte Creek also have outdoor rinks. Skate rentals are available at Arrowhead and Bronte Creek.

Spotting winter wildlife

Winter can be a great time for wildlife viewing in the mornings especially after a light dusting of snow that’s great for spotting animal tracks. Wolf tracks are often visible on snow-covered lakes while birds are easier to hear in the quiet of the season.

Need to know

For more information about an Ontario Parks’ winter getaway: ontarioparks.com/winter.


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