Winter Camping at MacGregor Point Provincial Park

Length of stay2 days
Visited
January 2021

MacGregor Point Provincial Park is located along the sandy shores of Lake Huron and is open year round. It offers a variety of activities depending on the season. In the winter the park is transformed into a winter wonderland and features cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating and snowmobiling. A section of the campground is even open and offers camping in 12 yurts and just under 100 electrical sites for visitors who wish to spend the night in the park.

We were among those visitors who planned to spend a night in the park. In the winter. We were a bit hesitant as we’ve never been winter camping before, except for that one time when we went camping in the Grand Canyon back in December 2015 during an (unexpected) snowstorm. We actually have a winter tent which we bought about six years ago for when we visited Iceland for three weeks. We figured we’d be okay and just pack a bunch of extra blankets, including a heated blanket and a very long extension cord. Worst care scenario we could just drive home in the middle of the night.

Day 1: It’s a Little Different Than Camping in the Summer

Ontario has been under a strict province-wide lockdown for the past few weeks. The government also recently announced a stay-at-home order, which requires people to only leave their homes for necessities. The rules of which were a bit confusing. Provincial parks remained open for day-use and winter camping. So we figured visiting MacGregor Point was still kind-of within the rules. Okay, it was more like a grey zone, but we figured it would be okay since it’s not as if we’d be interacting with anyone.

We arrived at the park just before 12:30p.m, checked in at the visitors centre to collect our permit, buy two bags of firewood and buy a park patch (we got to collect them all). We then drove to our site (#65), but it was still occupied, so we instead went to go for a hike.

MacGregor Point offers three snowshoe trails in the winter. While we packed our snowshoes, there unfortunately wasn’t much snow on the ground for us to use them. Regular hiking boots it is. We first hiked along the Lake Ridge Trail (4km, rated moderate). The trail is named after the shoreline ridge of glacial Lake Nipissing, which existed here some 5,500 years ago.

The trail loops through the forest, wetlands and abandoned fields and contains a number of storyboards that explain the history of the area, early settlement and fun facts about the forest. The trail is marked with a combination of light brown diamond shaped markers with someone who is snowshoeing and orange blazes on the trees.

As a result of the glacial effects of Lake Nipissing, former beach ridges, clay soils and the high water table made it challenging for people to settle in this area. As the glacier advanced across this area, it carried with it stones and pebbles in a mixture of clay and sand. These materials were laid down as till. Over time, the waves of Lake Nipissing washed away the smaller particles leaving behind a boulder pavement of various sized rocks resting on the remains of the till plan. Much of the path through the forest follows along this boulder pavement.

Early settlers had a hard time farming this area and only cleared enough land to feed their family and to pasture their sheep and oxen. As the farms were deserted, the fields were left to grow back in, which is why certain areas in the forest are not as mature as others. While all the buildings from early settlers have since been removed, there are other clues to the past like lilacs, apple trees and stone fence rows that remain as evidence that early settlers were here.

The path then winds through cedar lowlands. Back in the day, cedar logs were used to raise the road through the swampy area. Too bad they weren’t around now as much of the path was swampy.

The path then loops back to the parking lot. From here, we walked to the trailhead of Tower Trail (3.5km, rated easy) since this part of the road is closed during the winter. It’s a relatively short walk, maybe about 500m along the road. The trail weaves through the forest and around a wetland and features an observation tower, which provides a panoramic view of the area. There are storyboards along the trail which provide more information on the area and importance of the wetland environment.

The path first leads along a wooden boardwalk before branching off into two different directions to form a larger loop.

We turned left hoping we were still on the path. It was a bit hard to tell sometimes as this trail wasn’t marked like the previous one. But then we came across a storyboard, which was a good sign that we were still on the right path. This area of the forest is quite swampy and flooded more frequently so fewer plant species are able to survive. This made farming very challenging for the early settlers. Eventually homesteads here were all abandoned.

The path then branches off at a junction and leads to a Bird Blind, a shelter which is often used to observe wildlife, especially birds.

We turned around and walked back to the main path and continued our hike along the loop. From here the trail follows the shoreline of a wetland and leads to an observation tower and platform.

After we wrapped up our hike, we drove to our campsite to settle in for the evening. Despite the fact that it was winter, the campsites were surprisingly more secluded than expected. We set up our tent near the electrical outlet so we could plug our heated blanket in overnight. Setting up our sleeping area involved a few more steps compared to when we go summer camping. We put down yoga mats underneath our sleeping pads then piled a couple of blankets on overtop. Our sleeping bags went on next followed by a heated blanket to top if off.

We then got a fire going and heated up some soup for a late lunch. We took our camping chairs out and sat around the fire for a few hours. I’m so glad we opted for that second bag of firewood.

There are a few drawbacks to camping in the winter, including the cold (although we were quite lucky as it hovered around 0°C for the weekend) and that the sun sets so early. Even though we had a fire going, after a few hours our toes started to feel cold. We ended up retiring to our tent at 6:45p.m. We stayed up for a couple of hours and chatted, but went to bed much earlier than usual.

Day 2: Which way to the beach?

It lightly rained and snowed throughout the night. This was probably for the best as a group of people arrived at the campground later in the evening and were quite noisy. So the sound of the rain and snow on our tent helped drone out the noise. We woke up around 8a.m. It’s always tough getting out of a warm tent first thing in the morning. Especially since it was still snowing outside. We packed up our tent and then made breakfast, which we ate in the car.

On the drive out of the park we stopped to hike along the Huron Fringe Trail (1.2km, rated easy). The trailhead is located by the Visitor Centre. The path follows along a boardwalk around the forest and wetlands, leads down to the shores of Lake Huron, circles the Visitor Centre and loops back to the parking lot.

As with the other trails in the park, there are storyboards along the path that provide more information about the flora and fauna in the area. The path then leads down to the beach and connects with the Old Shore Road Trail, which follows along the shoreline of Lake Huron. The trail offers excellent views of the beach. We followed the boardwalk around the Visitor Centre and back to the parking lot.

And just when we were about to hop in the car, a fox passed by. What a great way to wrap up our trip to MacGregor Point.

While there are some obvious drawbacks to winter camping (like the cold), we managed to have great weather and stayed warm throughout the night. The heated blanket sure helped. I’m glad we tried this, even more so because the following week the government closed winter camping as part of its stay-at-home order.

L

My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

56 thoughts on “Winter Camping at MacGregor Point Provincial Park

  1. Ab says:

    What an adventure! You two are such troopers for roughing it out in the cold. Good thing you got the extra bag of firewood.

    Camping at the Grand Canyon sounds like quite an adventure! We visited there in 2015 too (to see Britney Spears in Vegas 🤣). We didn’t camp though. We wore shorts and T-shirt. No one told us how cold it was up at the Canyon! 🙄

    Enjoy the snow this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We were incredibly lucky that we had pretty decent weather considering it was mid-January. I’m not entirely sure I could handle anything colder than -5C. And yes, glad we bought that second bag of firewood! I have such fond memories of visiting the Grand Canyon in December. It was quite the surprise to discover over a foot of snow outside our tent the next morning. It was neat to be there after a fresh snowfall. How fun to see Britney in Vegas! That must have been some show!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m finding that I don’t really leave my apartment much now that it’s winter, so we usually try to explore a new park on the weekend to force ourselves to get some fresh air and exercise. We had a snowstorm yesterday, so I’m hoping to go snowshoeing next weekend. Hopefully you’ll get out there too and go for a hike. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks, it was quite the experience to try winter camping, but we had a lot of fun. I’m glad it didn’t get too chilly overnight. The hiking trails were all very well marked and I appreciated the storyboards along the way that provided fun facts about the history of the area and surrounding vegetation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We were lucky and had a pretty mild start to the winter. The temperature dipped just below 0C overnight, which wasn’t too bad. It was definitely a lot more work to set up our tent and sleeping area, but it was nice to try something new. I would try it again, when the temperature warms up considerably though. It’s been chilly here over the past few weeks, but it hasn’t been nearly as cold as what you guys are dealing with. Yikes. Stay warm out there.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Oh yes, having access to an electrical outlet was one of the main reasons why we considered trying winter camping. It’s great because we brought an electric blanket with us, along with a very long extension cord, so we could plug it into the outlet. It worked out really well. I don’t think it was necessary considering it didn’t get too cold overnight (just below freezing), but it was nice to have after spending the day outside hiking in the cold.

      Like

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was quite the experience. We were fortunate and had pretty mild weather considering it was mid-January. Having that electric blanket inside the tent sure helped! Winter camping is not for everyone, and not sure I could have survived if it was much colder outside, but it was neat to try.

      Liked by 2 people

      • celly1989 says:

        Wow I am from the Caribbean so this is all very foreign to me so I enjoyed reading about your adventure. 18 deg C is cold for me so I don’t think you will ever catch me camping outdoors in the winter lol. Fun post thou 🙂 Thanks for sharing

        Liked by 1 person

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I never thought I’d be able to handle winter camping. While I’m a fan of the snow, I’m not the greatest at handling the cold (because I’m always cold). It’s fine when we’re moving around and going for a hike, but when you’re stationary, it can be tough to stay warm. We were lucky and the temperature hovered around freezing, which isn’t bad considering it was mid-January. I sure wish I was in the Caribbean now that it’s significantly much colder here! Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      While I don’t think winter camping is going to become something we do regularly, it was neat to try it out for a night. We were pretty lucky that it was pretty mild outside and the temperature hovered around freezing. The toughest part was getting up out of the tent in the morning!

      Liked by 2 people

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had all the right gear for winter camping, so we figured we might as well try it for the experience. We have a winter tent and our sleeping bags are rated for a minimum of -7C. It also helped that we brought an electric blanket, which was nice. I would be willing to go winter camping again, assuming it wasn’t too cold outside!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks. Winter camping has always been something that I’ve wanted to try, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it. It’s not as if there are many options in terms of a weekend getaway these days. The park was surprisingly busier than expected and there were a number of people, mostly in RVS, that were winter camping as well. When I booked our campsite, there was only a handful of site left. Who would have thought?

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. We were lucky and had really great weather. The temperature hovered around freezing, which isn’t bad considering it was mid-January. It seemed like a lot of work to pack and set up our tent just for one night, but it was nice to try it. I would go again, once it warms up a bit though. And yes, it’s always a bonus to spot some wildlife!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s neat being able to return to a place in a different season for a totally different experience. And yes, we had great timing for when we visited MacGregor Point, both in terms of having wonderful weather and getting in before they revised the rules for the stay-at-home order. Seeing the fox was just an added bonus. We’ve had such great luck at spotting wildlife at Ontario’s parks, especially when we visited Northern Ontario. Can’t wait to go back this summer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Camping in the rain is the worst. I’d rather camp when it’s cold than when it’s raining. We were lucky that it wasn’t too cold outside, it dipped to just below freezing overnight, which isn’t bad. We brought lots of extra blankets, including an electric blanket and managed to stay nice and toasty. The only issue was getting up out of bed in the morning!

      Like

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was quite the experience to try winter camping. It seemed like a lot of work just for one night, but we managed to stay warm and had a great time. Seeing the fox as we were leaving was such a great way to end the trip. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Like

  2. ourcrossings says:

    Wow, that’s a proper adventure. Winter camping is one of those things I haven’t tried yet – your tent certainly looks cosy and warm! Is there still plenty of snow in and around Toronto? Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I was a bit hesitant to go winter camping because of the cold, but it wasn’t too bad. We were lucky and had such nice weather where it wasn’t too cold or windy. Sitting by the campfire after a day of hiking was really nice. It also helped that we had an electric blanket inside the tent. We have since received a lot more snow and had a snowstorm a few days ago. I am loving it. Have a wonderful weekend. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. carolinehelbig says:

    The inside of your tent looks so cosy and the electric blanket is a great idea. This was a good way to get your toes wet (or should I say cold) with winter camping. I like the winter beach scene; the muted colours and serenity are beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I definitely packed more blankets than was necessary, but I figure it’s better to bring more than not enough. It helped that we had fabulous weather for winter camping and the temperature hovered around freezing. Not bad. It’s been neat visiting more parks in the winter. The landscape looks so different covered in snow and ice. Plus, there aren’t too many other people around, which is always a bonus.

      Like

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks, it was quite the experience to try winter camping. It was more work to set up our tent and we had to bring a lot more stuff (warmer clothes, more blankets), but it was neat to try. We were lucky and had such fabulous weather considering it was mid-January and managed to stay nice and toasty throughout the night. It was a bit of a struggle to get out of our tent the next morning though!

      Like

  4. Mainechica.com says:

    How exciting!! I’m glad you survived winter camping!! I love the electric blanket idea, if only all camp sites had electricity!! Here in Maine most camp sites close for the winter but that’s neat you have some up your way!! Enjoy the rest of the winter!! -mainechica

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Travel options have been (and continue to be) limited, so it was nice to get away for the weekend and try something new, like winter camping. It was quite the experience. I’m glad we had access to that electrical outlet as it was awesome having a heated blanket for some extra warmth. There’s quite a few parks in Ontario that remain open all year-round, which is kind of nice. I would definitely try winter camping again. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I usually try to reserve a site in the radio-free zone (if offered) for that very reason. I figured the campground would be pretty quiet considering it was winter and most people would likely be hanging out inside of their RV. Apparently not.

      Like

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      This was the perfect place to try winter camping in Ontario for the first time. While camping in the winter does have some obvious drawbacks (mostly the cold), we were lucky and had pretty mild weather. I would come back to MacGregor Point, maybe in the summer though just to see how different the landscape looks. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      Like

  5. Book Club Mom says:

    I love when I see a fox run by! Especially when they have bushy tails like that one. We have a lot around where we live, but they look smaller than that. As you can see, I’m catching up on some of your earlier posts. 🙂

    Like

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