Pinery Provincial Park in the Winter

Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: January 2022

Pinery Provincial Park is located along the sandy shores of Lake Huron. It is open year-round and is reputed to be one of the best places in Ontario to watch the sunset. It also protects the largest remaining tract of Oak Savanna and one of the longest freshwater coastal dune ecosystems in Ontario. In the winter, Pinery offers 38 km of cross-country skiing, two trails for snowshoeing, an outdoor skating rink and a hill for tobogganing.

Day 1: Hiking in the Snow

There was an extreme cold warning in effect in southwestern Ontario. It was -18°C (and felt like -27°C with the wind chill), but it was supposed to warm up later in the afternoon. Needless to say, we weren’t in a huge rush to get ready in the morning.

We arrived at Pinery shortly after lunch and decided to hit the trails for some winter hiking. We first hiked along the Cedar Trail (2.3km loop, rated easy), which is located near the Visitor Centre. The trail weaves through one of the rarest habitats of Oak Savanna in North America. The path is marked with twelve numbered posts, but the numbers were a bit too hard to read with all the snow. We had no concerns about getting lost though as the trail was pretty packed down.

Mid-way through the trail branches off at the Cedar Trail Extension (1km one-way), which leads to the shore of Lake Huron. According to the winter map of the park, this trail is closed in the winter, but since there were quite a few footprints in the snow, we decided to give it a whirl. Worst case scenario we could just turn around if it became too challenging. The trail weaves through the forest and contains several stairways. Despite all the snow, the wooden steps weren’t too slippery. It helped that the temperatures have consistently remained below freezing, so the snow hasn’t had much of a chance to melt and then refreeze.

After crossing the road, we followed a few more boardwalks through the snowy sand dunes to the shoreline of Lake Huron. While we’ve never been to the Arctic before, we imagine it would look something like this. There were some interesting ice formations along the beach. We followed the footprints onto part of the ice as that gave us some reassurance, but we didn’t venture too far just in case.

We turned around and walked back the way we came to return to the Cedar Trail. We then completed the rest of the loop through the forest. Towards the end of the loop, the trail branches off for a short scenic overlook of the water.

After eating some lunch in the car, we drove to the Heritage Trail (2.5km loop, rated easy). The trail weaves through a rare Oak Savanna habitat. The trail also features a viewing platform that overlooks the Old Ausable Channel. Despite the chilly temperature, it wasn’t too bad once we got moving. It also helped that it wasn’t windy and that the sun came out.

On the drive out of the park, we passed a sign for the Sassafras Trail (1km loop). While this trail was not marked on the winter map, we saw footprints in the snow and decided to hike along it since it was short. The path winds through a sassafras and oak forest. The first half of the loop wasn’t too bad, but then we took a wrong turn at the junction and ended up on the cross-country ski trail. There weren’t too many footprints along the trail and it was hard work trudging through the loose snow on the side of the path. We turned around as we didn’t want to ruin the cross-country ski tracks.

On the way back to the road, we came across the main trail again and found the turnoff for the scenic overlook. We climbed up a series of wooden steps to the top of the ridge. There’s a viewing platform at the edge of the ridge that provided a nice view of the surrounding area. Much of the views were obstructed by trees though, but at least there were no leaves on them.

We turned around and walked back to the junction. From there it’s a short stretch back to the trailhead and parking area. Since we still had a couple of hours of daylight left, we drove to Goderich to check out the town and the Goderich Lighthouse. We parked near the shoreline to first look out on the water. It was overcast and lightly snowing. We then walked up the many flights of stairs to reach the lighthouse. The Goderich Lighthouse was built in 1847 and is the oldest Canadian coastal light station on the Lake Huron shoreline. After taking a few pictures, we turned around and walked back the way we came.

We then drove back to Grand Bend where we planned to spend the night. Along the drive the clouds cleared and the sun was just starting to set. We made it just in time to the Grand Bend Lighthouse to watch the sunset.

With the sun below the horizon, it was starting to get colder outside so we hopped back in the car and drove to our accommodations. We ordered pizza for dinner.

Day 2: Cross-Country Skiing

We returned to the Pinery the next morning to do some cross-country skiing. It was milder outside (only -14°C), but overcast. We took our time getting ready since the Park Store didn’t open until 9a.m. The park rents skis (and snowshoes) on weekends and holidays for 1 hour, 3 hours and the full day. We went with the middle option.

There are five cross-country ski trails at Pinery that vary in length and difficulty. While all the trails were open, they weren’t groomed. We started off at the Ausable Trail (4.7 km, rated as medium difficulty). The trail loops through an oak-pine forest and includes some hilly sections. The trail is well signed and even contains a map of the trail system at each 1 kilometre mark.

It’s been awhile since we’ve been cross-country skiing. The last time was prior to the pandemic, so we were a bit rusty. It took us a bit of practice to get our snow legs back and it was more challenging than usual since the trails weren’t groomed. But it felt good to get some fresh air and exercise.

The trail map indicated that there was a warming hut towards the three quarter mark of the trail. The term hut was a bit misleading as this really just consisted of a picnic table near a fit pit with some wood stored under a tarp. I guess it’s up to the skiers to start the fire and keep it going?

We loaded our skis back in the car and drove to the Park Store to get to the trailhead for the Chickadee Trail (4.8km, rated easy). There are actually two options for this trail, including a shortcut (3.2km, rated easy). Since we only had one hour left of our ski rentals, we opted for the shorter route. The first stretch of the trail follows along the river.

The path then cuts through the Riverside Campground and loops back around the park road. The snow was very powdery, but there were some grooves in the snow to help us glide along. The trail branches off in a few places, but the Chickadee Trail was well signed.

Once we returned back to the Park Store, we dropped off our skies. It was then time to head back home.


55 thoughts on “Pinery Provincial Park in the Winter

    • Ab says:

      … and I remember how beautiful the Sandy beach and the water were at golden hour and sunset. The boardwalk steps down the beach was also quite lovely.

      It’s always interesting to see s park in a different season such as the cold dead of winter. Cross country skiing looks like so much fun!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I used to go camping at Pinery every summer with my family. It was neat to return in the winter to see how different the landscape looks when it’s covered in snow. It looks like a totally different place. The ice formations along the beach were beautiful. I’m glad the timing worked out well and we were able to catch the sunset at Grand Bend. Cross-country skiing is such a great workout and it’s a lot of fun. I would highly recommend it.

      • Ab says:

        I’ve done snowshoeing before. I’ve also gone downhill skiing just once in my life. I imagine cross country as more relaxing and less injury prone. 😆

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I’ve tried downhill skiing before when I was younger, but didn’t have the best experience. I fell and struggled to get back up, which pretty much traumatized me from ever wanting to try it again. I’ll stick with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing which are much slower and you feel more in control.

      • Ab says:

        My one time downhill skiing was similar and discouraged me from trying again. Sledding is the way to go for me. 😆

  1. kagould17 says:

    Wow, that’ll frost your Friday, even on a Thursday. The words, cold majesty come to mind. I can imagine how nice the sunsets would eb form there in any season. I loved the sign about No Lifeguards, surrounded by snow and ice. Yeh, no lifeguards, ’cause they all froze to death. Thanks for sharing Linda. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had a colder than average winter here in Ontario, which meant that the snow stayed around so we could do some snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The other benefit of the cold was that it tends to keep the crowds away, which is just how we like it. I’m glad the timing worked out and we were able to watch the sunset over the frozen landscape. Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend. Linda

  2. Little Miss Traveller says:

    What a splendid trip to the provincial park Linda. We can ski downhill and one Easter when we were in Lapland we’d been enjoying the gentle downhill slopes through the trees but decided to have a go at cross country skiing without first having a lesson! It all looked so easy but it’s such a different technique and hard to master. It was fine on the flat bits but otherwise I kept falling over and got some huge bruises where I landed on the back of the skis. Needless to say, we swopped back to downhill after that but I’d like to learn one day, maybe in Canada! Lovely post as always!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. It’s funny how cross-country skiing is a totally different experience and exercise compared to downhill skiing. The first time we tried cross-country skiing was a complete disaster. We ended up taking lessons the second time, which helped immensely. I would like to try downhill skiing again. I’ve only been once, and that was when I was a kid. Perhaps next year.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. All the more reason to get outdoors in the winter! The ice formations along the lake were so fascinating. I still remember your post about the dangers of shelf ice!! Good thing we didn’t venture too far from the frozen shore.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The frozen lake looked beautiful with all the interesting formations along the shoreline. Snowmobiles are not permitted at most provincial parks in Ontario. We did see a few snowmobile tracks along the drive as we were nearing the park though.

  3. wetanddustyroads says:

    It looks so much different than your summer pictures … but still, it’s so beautiful! You have really amazing pictures here Linda – I do like the lighthouse in the snow and those of the frozen lake … and what stunning pictures of the sunset! Cross-country skiing (not something we know), but it looks like a lot of fun!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s amazing how much the landscape transforms throughout the different seasons. Even though we have to deal with the cold during the winter, at least the snowy scenery is beautiful. The ice formations along the lake were so interesting. Cross-country skiing is a great way to see more of the landscape as we’re able to cover more distance than by just hiking or snowshoeing in the snow. It’s much more challenging though, but it’s a good full body workout.

  4. leightontravels says:

    Lovely post, Linda! I’ve never tried or even been curious about cross-country skiing before reading your article, but I would kinda like to give it a go now. The sunset is gorgeous, as are the photos of Lake Huron covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. That ‘warming hut’ was an utter disappointment though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy the snowy scenery as we’re able to cover more distance than by just hiking in the snow. It’s also a great form of exercise as you’re using so many different muscles. The warming hut was such a let down. Perhaps it would have been better if we visited later in the season when the trails were groomed. Oh well, at least this way we had the park mostly all to ourselves.

  5. Diana says:

    Beautiful! I love the contrast of the blue skies and snow covered landscape. Excellent sunset photos too. The ice patterns on Lake Huron are very weird.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad we made it to the lighthouse just in time to watch the sunset. It looked so pretty, especially with all the interesting ice formations along the frozen shoreline.

  6. travelling_han says:

    It’s a winter wonderland – I love the photos where all you can see to the horizon is snow. Over Lake Huron it looks like the waves have been frozen in motion!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The frozen landscape looked fascinating along the Lake Huron shoreline. It’s crazy how much different the beach looked in the winter compared to the other seasons. It was well worth venturing out in the cold to see.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m glad we made it to the lighthouse just in time to watch the sunset. It looked magical next to the frozen shoreline. We were ready to head back to accommodations afterwards to get out of the cold.

  7. NortheastAllie says:

    The trails around Lake Huron look spectacular. The Goderich Lighthouse looks so elegant, and it is neat that it has the history of being the oldest Canadian light station, thank you for sharing this!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We’ve been to the Pinery a few times before, but this was our first time visiting in the winter. The landscape looked so different when it’s covered in snow. The winter hiking here was excellent. It was neat to drive through a few of the nearby towns afterwards to get out of the cold and check out the sights. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of the weekend. Linda

  8. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! Amazing and so beautiful! Love ligthhouse! All white, wonderful! Thank’s for share, Linda.
    Have a great time! Hope you are ok, keep well.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m such a fan of lighthouses and I love how each one has a unique shape and size. Despite the cold, we had a wonderful time in the snow. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Take care. Linda

      • elvira797mx says:

        You are welcome, Linda. Wow! Thats great!
        Sounds amazing, drink a hor chocolate with ginger, cinnamon and a little touch of pepper.
        Thank’s a lot! You as well.
        Take care.

  9. Josy A says:

    This is totally how I imagine the arctic looking too! It is always soooo strange to see lakes frozen like this when they are so flipping massive! Are you tempted to come back and see it in the summer now?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I actually used to come camping here every summer with my family, but this was my first time visiting in the winter. It’s pretty incredible how the landscape transforms in the winter, especially along the shoreline with all the interesting ice formations and snow mounds. It felt like we were on a totally different planet in some ways.

  10. Butterflybliss says:

    I loved reading this post and seeing the beauty you captured. Living in SW Florida we don’t see any snow, so you’re water pictures were my absolute favorite.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. The ice formations along the frozen shore were beautiful. We had an unusually cold and snowy winter here in Ontario, which was great for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. We are thinking about going somewhere warm next winter though to temporarily escape from the cold.

  11. Bama says:

    As a person who grew up in a tropical country, I always see snow with a sense of fascination. But I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of living in a corner of the Earth where the temperatures can drop below zero for months. Below 10 is already super cold for me! It’s nice to see others’ adventures exploring places that are blanketed in thick snow, though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Winter typically has a bad reputation because of the cold and all the snow. But there’s a lot of fun winter activities like snowshoeing, skating and cross-country skiing that can help keep you warm and active. Wearing the right clothing is super important too. The snowy scenery is really beautiful. And the best part about being outdoors in the winter is that there’s generally less people around.

  12. salsaworldtraveler says:

    Thanks for taking on the challenge of winter camping and sharing the sights of Pinery. As you imagined, the views along the shore are reminiscent of the Arctic Ocean at Utqiaġvik, Alaska.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We used to go camping at the Pinery every summer with my family, so it was neat to visit in the winter to see how different the landscape looks. The frozen shoreline looked so fascinating with all the various ice formations. I would love to visit Alaska someday, probably not in the middle of winter though!!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The nice thing about visiting in the winter is that it’s typically less busy. We practically had the trails all to ourselves. The hiking is more challenging with all the snow and ice, but it helped keep us warm.

  13. rkrontheroad says:

    The cross country skiing looked like fun! I haven’t done it in years. Following those stairways down to the water, which is completely covered with ice and snow, almost looks comical.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We used to go cross-country skiing quite regularly before the pandemic, but this was our first time back on skis in a couple of years. I felt like Bambi on ice in the beginning, but once we warmed up, it wasn’t so bad. The frozen shoreline looked so strange yet beautiful. I wouldn’t want to be out here when it’s windy though as I imagine it would be miserable.

  14. BrittnyLee says:

    The lighthouse photos are lovely. I love how the suns beams merge with the horizon to make such beautiful colors. Winter sunsets can be incredible. That’s impressive that you hiked in those frigid temperatures. We do that, too. Usually, it’s Matt, Jake and myself haha 🤣. No one else will, understandably. We can’t sit and let a day pass though. Walking in the cold is rejuvenating sometimes.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! I’m glad we made it to the beach just in time to watch the sunset. The colours of the sky, especially against the frozen shore looked beautiful. It’s always hard to motivate myself to get outside in the winter, but once we get moving around, it’s not too bad. Agreed, being out in the cold can sometimes feel refreshing.

  15. Third Culture Kid says:

    I have imagined the Arctic looking like this too! Water freezes in many surprising ways! Love the lighthouse btw. I don’t think I have ever seen a photo of one with snow and an icy body of water around it

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. Frozen water is very fascinating and I love all the interesting formations and patterns. I’m glad we made it to Grand Bend just in time to watch the sunset over the icy shoreline. It sure was chilly though so we didn’t linger long.

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