Ontario's provincial parks aren't just for summer camp fires, swimming, and long, late sunsets. They're also a great place to enjoy snowy magic. From bird watching to cross-country skiing to ice skating, there's plenty of day to overnight fun to be had.
Windy Lake Provincial Park
Windy Lake Provincial Park offers photogenic Canadian Shield scenery a short distance from Sudbury, making it a wonderful and convenient winter family destination. The park offers professional-calibre snowshoeing and skiing trails, and facilities include a heated ski chalet. The 15 kilometres of trails are specially maintained for both classic and skate skiing, so there is something for all levels of experience. Although the creature comforts of Sudbury are a short drive away, there is no need to leave the park for there are four heated yurts for rental right on the ski trails and the comfort stations are open.
Windy Lake is by far the best place for the family to try their luck at ice fishing. The hassle-free Ice Fishing Package includes rental of all the equipment necessary to fish all day. Not only is the fishing gear provided, but the package includes a sled that transforms into a fish hut with seating. Park staff will transport your gear to a prime fishing location and get you set up for the day—how pampered is that! The end goal is a catch of Lake Trout or Whitefish, either species a delicious finale to a day in the great outdoors.
MacGregor Point Provincial Park
Some of Ontario’s most precious natural resources are the small remnants of natural Great Lakes shoreline. MacGregor Point protects a long, beautiful stretch of windswept beaches and serene silver maple swamps that have an otherworldly feel to them. Wildlife abounds here, partly due to the efforts of Ducks Unlimited to provide habitat for waterfowl.
MacGregor Point has one of Ontario’s most appealing outdoor skating experiences. A 400-metre skating oval winds through the forest to provide an experience that is thrillingly…Canadian. This unique, if you can call it that, is lit-up at night for an evening in the outdoors. The Friends of MacGregor Point provide a wonderful Family Day Weekend program of family events. The park has 11 kilometres of groomed, track-set trails. Many kilometres of unplowed park roads are not groomed but are favourite spots for both skiiers and snowshoers.
For accommodation, there are sixteen yurts and the comfort station is heated all winter. MacGregor is becoming popular for its on-site trailer storage. You can camp all winter in your own trailer without having to move it from your campsite. Some of the winter sites have access to a heated comfort station.
Arrowhead Provincial Park
Many parks in Ontario began as summer tourism destinations, and added winter facilities as demand grew. But, in our opinion, Arrowhead has winter at the core of its appeal. Nature has blessed Arrowhead with many riches, such as rugged hills covered with forests of Muskoka hardwoods. The highlight is the Big East River cascading over the boulders of Stubb’s Falls—a great find for shutterbugs in every season. Park staff show winter visitors an all-around excellent time, with an extraordinary tobogganing experience, skating, and trails for skiing, snowshoeing and walking.
Total exhilaration is guaranteed when you test your courage on the toboggan run. A section of steep campground roadway is groomed and iced to create a run with high banks on one side and a walkway for returning uphill on the other side. Choose a very rapid descent on long plastic strips or a slightly more sedate and comfortable ride on a huge inner-tube (equipment supplied by the park). On weekends there is a concession, and at all times there is an open fire pit for preparing hot snackes.
The trails—33 kilometres of them—are groomed for classic or skate skiing and there are two warm-up huts. The Annual Muskoka Loppet is just one of a full slate of skiing challenges for all levels of ability and ages. Walkers and snowshoers have their own trails, which is a boon to both skiiers and walkers. There is also a rink for al fresco skating in a forested setting. There are ski and skate rentals.
There is winter camping throughout the park, as well as six deluxe yurts and cabins available for rent.
Silent Lake Provincial Park
Silent Lake is gem waiting to be discovered, a pristine landscape with a far-north feel located close enough to our southern cities for weekend trips. Outdoor enthusiasts come here for trails along sparkling pink-granite outcrops, pine-sheltered shorelines and hilltop look-outs. The landscape is little changed with human development since the area was early purchased as a private lodge. Modern day managers retain the tranquil wilderness appeal by a ban on snowmobiles and other noise-makers.
There are winter camping sites in the campgrounds and in the backcountry. For more comfort, there are heated yurts, comfort stations, and cabins for rent. Forty kilometres of groomed ski trails that are suitable for all skill levels, there are separate snowshoe trails, and there is rentals of skis and snowshoes. Visitors try their luck at ice fishing (no gas-powered augers allowed).
Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin. Is there a name dearer to the hearts of Ontarians? Algonquin is to expansive—larger than some countries—and offers such a tantalizing array of year-round outdoors experience that is it justifiably the subject of dozens of publications. The spectacular Algonquin Visitor Centre is open on winter weekends and daily during the March break, and no one should leave the park without a half-day spent here. The diorama displays—lifelike depictions of daily life in various park habitats. There are interactive exhibits for children, and a daily wildlife sightings board.
Algonquin has three ski trail networks that total over 70 kilometres of trails, of varying difficulty and length and there are facilities for both classic and skate styles. Snowshoeing enthusiasts can go virtually anywhere within the park except on cross-country ski trails. If you prefer a set trail, you might try one of the short walking trails along the Highway 60 corridor or one of the two longer backpacking trails. Private operators offer exciting dog sledding opportunities in the park. If you’ve never experienced dog sledding, it really is a must-do in Ontario. It is a unique combination of speed, power, and outdoor thrills and yet is perfectly safe for those who normally shy away from speedy winter pursuits.
Algonquin’s hospitality extends to winter camping and winterized comfort stations, and there are also heated yurts for rental.
Killarney Provincial Park
A visit to Killarney Provincial Park is like stepping into a Group of Seven painting—all wind-twisted pine, craggy shoreline and bare hills that undulate to the horizon. Dozens of lakes are encircled by sparkling white granite of the La Cloche Mountains. The park is very inviting for winter adventures; situationed in central Ontario and yet a world away from modernity.
The George Lake Campground is open year round and in addition to winter camping there are six heated yurts. For the intrepid explorer, there are both ski-in and backcountry campsites. Although the park gates are closed, sleds are provided so you can easily access the regular campsites in the park. The campground comfort station is closed during winter but there are heated washrooms beside the park office.
There are over 30 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski trails, and the opportunities for back country snowshoeing are breathtaking. There are winter warm-up huts along the trails, and this makes it easier to see parts of this glorious landscape inaccessible during the summer.
Pinery Provincial Park
Southern Ontario’s largest park, the Pinery, is best known for lofty, tree-topped sand dunes, a sweet piece of uncrowded beach on an otherwise busy Lake Huron shoreline. What many people don’t realize is that Pinery Provincial Park is home to one of Ontario’s rarest habitats, oak savannah, a visitor centre with excellent displays on natural and local history, and an equally good nature-oriented shop. For the winter visitor, this Park has excellent facilities for skiing, tobogganing, and skating.
To the delight of both skiiers and snowshoers, there are designated snowshoe trails, and over 30 kilometres of groomed cross-country skiing. There is a toboggan hill that is lit at night, a weekend chalet/concession. There is a skating rink, too.
While there are unserviced and electrical campsites for rent, the Pinery also offers fully-equipped and heated yurts, cabins and “soft-sided” shelters for rent. The comfort stations are open and operating all winter.
Part II of this series can be found here.