Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: February 2019
In light of a recent snow storm (or rather storms), we decided to take advantage of the abundance of fresh snow and head up north to spend our Family Day long weekend here in Ontario. We visited Arrowhead Provincial Park and the neighbouring Algonquin Provincial Park, which both boast of hosting a variety of winter activities, including: skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Day 1: Arrowhead Provincial Park
We left Toronto at around 9:30a.m and drove up through Huntsville to Arrowhead Provincial Park. This park offers an abundance of winter adventures. One of its main draws is a 1.3km ice skating trail that loops through the forest. The skating rink opens at 11a.m. Since the park often reaches capacity on weekends, we aimed to arrive around opening time to ensure a parking spot.
We forked over $20 for an all-day entrance pass and then drove to the visitor’s centre to park and rent skates. From the visitor’s centre it’s about a 5-10 minute walk down to the skating rink. There are various benches and picnic tables to lace up and cubby holes to put your boots in. There were even two fire pits near the rink to keep warm post-skate.
The rink itself is pretty legit. The ice was surprisingly smooth and the trail relatively flat. There are some downhill sections (where you just glide down without even having to move) and some uphill sections (which help warm you up and get the blood flowing). The other fantastic feature of this rink is that it is all one-way, which helps space out the crowds and prevent accidents from happening.
We spent about an hour here and completed five laps around the loop. We then traded our skates in for our boots and headed back to the visitor’s centre to return our skates. We then grabbed our snowshoes from the car.
There are over 6km of marked snowshoe trails in Arrowhead. We first snowshoed along Stubb’s Fall Trail (2km roundtrip, rated easy). The entrance to the trail is located nearby the skating rink. The trail runs parallel to Little Easter River through a pinewood forest. The first part of the trail was along a wide relatively flat path. Once you near the falls, you have to take your snowshoes off to go down the metal steps and cross the bridge to the other side of the river. From here, you can return the way you came or continue down a more moderate path that loops back to the start of the trail. We opted for the latter for a change of scenery.
By the time we finished up, the park was noticeably quieter. We drove to the other side to snowshoe along Mayflower Lake Trail (2km roundtrip, rated moderate). There are actually two versions of this trail: a long loop and a shorter loop (that knocks off 500m from the hike). We opted for the longer loop around the lake. This trail was fantastic and less travelled compared to our earlier hike. We didn’t encounter a single hiker while on this trail.
By the time we finished up it was around 5p.m. We checked in at our hotel, showered, and then headed out to Boston Pizza for dinner.
Day 2: Algonquin Provincial Park
We went to bed at an embarrassingly early time last night. So this morning we woke up bright and early ready for another day outside in the snow. After eating some breakfast, we headed out for the day. Except it was absolutely freezing outside: -21°C (felt like -28°C with the windchill). We wussed-out and returned to our warm hotel room decided to wait an hour or two for it to warm up outside.
There is an abundance of winter activities along the Highway 60 Corridor of Algonquin Provincial Park. We initially planned to go cross-country skiing in Algonquin Park, but due to bad timing on our part, were unable to rent any. Instead we went snowshoeing.
The day was noticeably warmer by the time we were ready to start our first hike along Track and Tower (7.5km roundtrip, rated difficult), but it was still pretty chilly.
This was (hands down) our favourite trail that we snowshoed along this weekend. The path weaves through pinewood and hardwood forests and provides a variety of scenic viewpoints overlooking lakes, ponds, and rivers. There are 13 marked checkpoints scattered along the trail. But let’s be real, there were countless other good viewpoints that were unmarked.
There is this one particularly scenic spot located across a bridge where all the mist from the river froze to some of the nearby branches and rocks. It created this picturesque landscape in this wintry wonderland.
Around midway through the hike there is a turnoff to see a lookout over Cache Lake. Now, the trek up the lookout may seem a bit daunting in the winter. There are these three large sets of stairs. But because of all the snow piled up, it created this shear steep and icy ramp up. We clung to the railings for dear life.
The lookout is located a few hundred metres from the top of the stairs. The hike up was well worth the effort.
Sure, the views were fantastic, but the best part of this detour was the decent down. Or rather, the slide down! We took off our snowshoes and shimmied and slid on our buts down all three sets of stairs. So much fun!
The remainder of the hike was as scenic and fun as the first half. We were starting to get hungry and tired towards the last couple of kilometres though. We were definitely feeling the weight of our snowshoes.
We ate some fruit, crackers and nuts when we returned to our car before embarking on our next hike. We initially planned to hike Hardwood Lookout, but the parking situation was a little confusing. What we thought was the parking lot, wasn’t actually, it was some little road where a few vehicles were parked along. But, turns out this was for some backcountry hike. And we nearly got stuck in a snow bank getting out (largely because a car at the end pretty much blocked much of the road).
Instead we pulled off to hike along Peck Lake (2.3km roundtrip, rated moderate), which was located nearby Hardwood Lookout. The trail hugs the shoreline and offers sweeping views of the snow-covered lake and surrounding trees. It was especially scenic as the sun was starting to set.
After finishing our hike we returned to our hotel to change and shower. We then headed back into Huntsville to grab dinner and drinks at the Lake of Bays Brewing Company. We had to wait about 20-30 minutes for a table, but it’s not like we had much us to do tonight.
On the way back to our hotel, we were pulled over by the cops as part of their roadside safety program to randomly test drivers’ sobriety. K, who was driving, admitted to drinking one drink (plus a few sips of my cider) during dinner. Despite having a drink, K’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.00 (0 milligrams of alcohol in 100mL of blood) according to the results from the breathalyzer. This certainly added more excitement to our night!
Day 3: Algonquin Provincial Park Part Deux
We woke up bright and early, checked out of our hotel, and drove all the way back to Algonquin Provincial Park for another day of fun in the snow. Thankfully the sun was shining and it wasn’t nearly as cold as yesterday.
We started our morning off snowshoeing along the Hemlock Bluff Trail (3.5km roundtrip, rated moderate). The trail winds through the forest and provides sweeping views of Jack Lake.
From there we checked out Mew Lake Campground, which offers 131 sites and is open all year round. We were surprised to see so many people winter camping. While we enjoy the great outdoors, sleeping in a tent in below freezing temperatures seems too intense. Even for us. Especially since the night before the temperature plummeted to -22°C.
Afterwards we hiked along Pine River (2.3km roundtrip, rated moderate). This was probably the easiest trail we hiked along with our snowshoes in Algonquin. The trail is relatively flat and is nestled in between tall pines. The forest looked particularly picturesque with all the snow.
We wrapped up our hike around lunch time, packed our snowshoes away, and headed back towards Toronto.