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.