Arrowhead Provincial Park in the Winter

Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: February 2022

Arrowhead Provincial Park is located in the heart of cottage country near Huntsville. It is an extremely popular destination in the winter and offers a variety of outdoor activities and attractions including an ice skating trail, 6km of snowshoe trails and 28km of classic cross-country ski trails. It also holds Fire and Ice nights every Friday and Saturday night where the skating trail is lit with hundreds of tiki torches for an evening skate.

Day 1: Hiking in the Snow

We’ve had an exceptionally cold winter so far in southern Ontario. And this weekend was no exception. There was an extreme cold warning in effect in Huntsville and the temperature was currently -29°C (and felt like -35°C). We took our time getting ready in the morning to avoid the worst of the cold.

We arrived at Arrowhead in the early afternoon and checked in at the Park Office. Last year Ontario Parks began piloting an advance daily vehicle permit at select provincial parks, including Arrowhead. That means you can reserve a day-use permit up to five days in advance of your visit, which guarantees access. Otherwise you may be turned away if the park reaches capacity, which generally happens at Arrowhead every weekend in the winter. Luckily we had planned ahead and secured our vehicle permit for the day.

With our permit displayed on our dashboard, we drove through the park to check out the Big Bend Overlook, which is one of the best places in the province to view the inside of a glacial delta. There’s a small parking lot next to the M section of the cross-country ski trail network. We walked along the side of the groomed tracks for a couple hundred metres to reach the viewing platform.

Big Bend is a delta that was formed thousands of years ago from the melting of glaciers. The melt waters collided with Lake Algonquin and was forced to slow down and drop its load of sand and silt. Eventually the ice melted and Lake Algonquin drained away to form Lake Huron. Over 10,000 years ago, the Big East River gradually carved into this valley, exposing the sandy layers of the delta. The East River flows into Algonquin and has been eroding Big Bend around one metre each year. Over time Big Bend will become an oxbow lake and sediment will eventually fill in the old channel.

We then hit the snowshoe trails, starting with Stubb’s Falls (2km, rated easy). The trail loops through the forest and provides a nice view of the Little East River and a small waterfall. The forest looked magical as many of the branches were covered with snow. It felt like we were walking in a winter wonderland. The first stretch of the path was wide and packed down with snow. There were also a series of purple snowshoe markers to help with navigation.

The trail leads down a series of steps and crosses a bridge. There’s a short detour from the main trail that provides a close-up view of Stubb’s Falls and the bridge.

We walked back to the main path and followed the stairs up the ridge. This portion of the trail was less travelled as the path narrowed, but it was still packed down and easy to navigate.

The trail comes out to the road and intersects with the Hardwood Ridge Trail (700m, rated moderate). The path meanders through the forest and serves as a connector trail that leads to a warm-up hut. No warm-up hut was needed as the trail certainly warmed us up as it was predominantly uphill. The trail leads out to a parking lot where the park stores its firewood. But it turns out the warming hut was not in use when we visited. There were heated washrooms here though.

We turned around and walked back the way that we came. The trail ends at the road. We crossed the bridge over the river and went to check out the beach area on Arrowhead Lake. In order to get there we had to walk along part of the cross-country ski trail. We walked along the edge so as not to disturb the tracks, and followed the other footprints in the snow.

Afterwards we hiked along the Mayflower Lake Trail (1.5km to 2km, rated easy), which is located behind the Park Office. The trail hugs the shoreline of Mayflower Lake, winds through the forest and up and down a few ridges. The trail actually consists of two loops, which made navigation a bit confusing. After passing the amphitheatre, we came back out to the trailhead.

And just like that, we had finished all the snowshoe trails in Arrowhead. Since we still had a couple of hours of daylight left, we drove to Huntsville to check out some of the local attractions. We visited Lions Lookout, which overlooks Fairy Lake and provides a nice view of Huntsville. From the parking lot, it’s a short, but steep hike up to the series of overlooks.

Afterwards we drove through downtown Huntsville and went on a scavenger hunt of the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery, which features a mural collection of over 80 reproductions of famous artwork by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.

At this point we were getting hungry, so we checked into our accommodations for the night. While restaurants in Ontario just opened back up for indoor dining earlier in the week, we didn’t feel like eating out at a restaurant just yet. So instead we ordered takeout from Huntsville Brewhouse and brought it back to eat in our hotel room.

Day 2: Cross-Country Skiing

We planned to return to Arrowhead to check out the cross-country ski trails. It was milder outside (only -13°C), but overcast. We took our time getting ready since the park’s rental office for outdoor equipment, including cross-country skis, snowshoes and skates, didn’t open until 9a.m.

There are eight classic cross-country ski trails in Arrowhead that are groomed and vary in length and difficulty. We started off at the Arrowhead Lake Trail (5.1km, rated moderate), which is located close to the Visitor Centre and rental store.

The trail loops around the shore of Arrowhead Lake and connects with a few other trails. The trails are signed based on distance to lettered and numbered points, which can be referenced on the map posted at each junction. Each trail sign shows the letter or number of where you are, with smaller signs indicating the direction and distance to the next marked point.

We planned to make a detour to ski along the Beaver Pond Trail (5km, rated moderate), except we came at it from the wrong way from junction E instead of junction F. After skiing about a third of the way, we decided to turn back since the path was narrow and we were worried about the downhills and crashing into other skiers.

We continued along the Arrowhead Lake Trail and admired the views of the shoreline and rolling hills in the background. Once we reached junction G we made a detour to ski along the Roe Trail (2km, rated easy), which loops through one of the campgrounds. It was a bit busy on the connector path, but once we were on the actual trail, it wasn’t too bad.

Once we looped back to the trailhead, it was a short stretch along the Bunny Trail (0.3km, rated easy) to return to the Visitor Centre. The Bunny Trail was easily the busiest section as there were many groups of beginners who were taking a lesson on how to cross-country or skate ski.

Even though we had rented our cross-country skis until 4:30p.m, we returned them a few hours early as we were exhausted. We were eager to head home to get some rest and relaxation for the remainder of the weekend.


66 thoughts on “Arrowhead Provincial Park in the Winter

  1. Ab says:

    Arrowhead Park is still on our bucket list. That Big Bend lookout is almost iconic to Ontario Parks.

    I forgot about those stretches of insanely cold winter weather… just four months ago! The snowshoeing and cross country trails looked awesome. And doing the tiki torch skating trails at night is still on our must do list one of these days!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The fabulous thing about Arrowhead is that it’s great to visit regardless of the season. I love that they have really embraced winter and I was impressed with how many different winter activities the park offers. I tried to book tickets for the Fire and Ice night, but they sold out within the first few minutes of when the reservation window opened. I would love to do the night skate with the tiki torches too. It seems like it would be such a memorable experience. Maybe next winter we’ll have better luck.

      • Ab says:

        It seems like Arrowhead has inspired other parks to do Fire and Ice night events in winter. I’ve seen a few others. Hopefully that frees up demand and crowds from their skating trail next year and we can get a spot too!

  2. kagould17 says:

    What an absolutely gorgeous park all dressed in winter white. I can see why it would be busy. A great idea to have an advance purchase pass. Thanks for sharing Linda. Happy Tuesday. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The forest looked like a magical winter wonderland with all that powdery snow. It was kind of nice being able to reserve our day-use pass in advance. That way we could take our time getting ready in the morning and try to avoid the worst of the cold. Turns out there’s no avoiding the cold. It sure helps to stay active when spending time outdoors though! Thanks for reading. Take care. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! I felt like a true Canadian venturing out in the snow when it was that cold outside. The one benefit to the cold is that it tends to keep the crowds away. Thankfully it wasn’t very windy, so it wasn’t too bad once we got moving around.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Despite the cold, hiking through the forest felt magical with all that snow. Good thing it’s so pretty otherwise I would have a tough time motivating myself to go outside in the winter.

      • John says:

        I remember it well, walking through a forest that’s almost dead silent. The trees very gently swaying as bits of snow fall from the trees. An occasional call from a bird. Peaceful. ❤️

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      If that fluffy white snow wasn’t so pretty, it would be tough to venture outdoors in the dead of winter. The one benefit of the cold is that it tends to keep the crowds (and bugs) away. It’s a nice way to experience a quieter side of a place. Plus the snowy scenery just looks so beautiful.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. The winter is actually one of my favourite seasons. I love how it’s usually so quiet and the landscape looks very pretty when it’s covered in snow. We typically go cross-country skiing a few times a year. It’s such a good workout and it’s a great way to cover more distance than if we were hiking through the snow. It is definitely more tiring though!

  3. Bama says:

    I find the photos where the sun is peeking through those snow-covered tree branches on a sunny day particularly enchanting — it’s something I associate with movie scenes (Christmas movies to be precise).

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s amazing how much different the snowy scenery looks on a sunny day compared to when it’s overcast and cloudy. It does look very enchanting when the sun is out. I love how it makes the snow sparkles and shine. If it weren’t so pretty it would be super tough to convince myself to spend time outdoors in the cold!

  4. Thattamma C.G Menon says:

    Most paradise place can see all photos and gorgeous photography for a beautiful winter view 🌷🙏♥️
    So clearly written tha places information and the mist 🌫 marvellous 👍🏻😊thank you so much for
    Sharing this video and grace wishes 🌷🙏♥️👌🌷

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Arrowhead has really embraced winter and it’s amazing that they offer so many different winter activities. There’s a bit of something here for everyone. Despite the cold, we had a wonderful weekend playing in the snow.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We’ve been making more of an effort to spend time outdoors in the winter. It helps to do something active like hiking or cross-country skiing to stay warm. All that snow does look beautiful, especially when the sun is shining.

  5. annemariedemyen says:

    It is nice that your parks have open facilities in the winter. I don’t think I would get far in those temps but it was great seeing your photos and reading of your visit.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. There’s quite a few provincial parks in Ontario that stay open all year round and offer a range of winter activities. It’s a great way to get people outdoors. I’m typically not a fan of the cold, but if we’re moving around and it’s not too windy, it’s not so bad. Thankfully we don’t have to think about the cold or the snow anytime soon!

  6. michellecj333 says:

    Wow – this is some gorgeous scenery! We didn’t see but a light dusting of the white stuff down here this year- and it’s so beautiful! Also fun that you have a Huntsville! We have one about 2 hours north of here 🙂
    Loved reading about these hikes !

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We had an unusually cold and snowy winter this year, which was great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. That’s funny that you have a Huntsville where you live as well. The Huntsville in Ontario is prime cottage country and is lovely to visit regardless of the season.

  7. Linda K says:

    What a beautiful blog! You are so lucky to live close to so many spectacular parks for both summer and winter exploring. The snow really transforms it into such a peaceful setting.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks, you are too kind. I do feel fortunate that we have so many provincial parks and green spaces nearby. Our parks have become much more popular during the pandemic, so it’s been nice to explore some of them in the winter during the quiet season. The snow really does transform the forest. Even though it’s cold, at least it’s beautiful.

      • Linda K says:

        It’s been the same thing here since the pandemic. Some of our more popular parks had to start a ticketing kind of system where you had to preregister to use them. It’s great to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, but can get a bit frustrating when it’s so crowded.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Our parks started piloting a similar system last year where you can reserve a day-use permit up to five days before your visit, which will guarantee you a parking spot. Otherwise, you might get turned around if a park reaches capacity. It’s been a pretty good way to deal with overcrowding. I guess it’s working pretty well as they’ve recently expanded the pilot to cover more parks. Agreed, it’s been great to see more people enjoying the parks, but I can’t handle the crowds. It’s also been frustrating to see much more trash on the trails these days.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s funny because we weren’t even planning to go to the Lions Lookout, but we had some extra time so figured why not. I’m glad we did as the views overlooking the lake were beautiful.

  8. ourcrossings says:

    Wow, such beautiful winter photos, Linda! I love what happens to the land when the snow falls! And I love how snow and ice have surprising power to transform a landscape, how the snow falls and drifts and blurs the edges of things, distorts shapes, and turns frozen ponds into snowy plains. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! We used to never go hiking in the winter, but now I find it very enjoyable. With the right clothing (and company), it can be such a magical experience with all the fresh snow covering the landscape. While it was cold outside, at least it wasn’t windy. Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend. Linda

  9. Oh, the Places We See says:

    Love this exquisite scenery, and I admire you for trekking through the snow on your adventure. You’re brave to do so! The tip on getting a parking permit is a good one. I’d hate to get there and be turned away. Stay warm!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The forest looked so magical covered in snow. It was a bit chilly, but once we got moving around, it wasn’t too bad. Being able to reserve our spot in advance was kind of nice. That way we could take our time getting ready and didn’t have to rush out the door first thing in the morning to try to beat the crowds. The pilot program has since been expanded, which means a lot of other people must have enjoyed it as well.

  10. alisendopf says:

    Okay, I’m just going to say it – gorgeous track ski setting, and NO hiker boot prints ruining it 🙂

    Don’t you just find that a layer of fresh snow turns everything absolutely magically beautiful? I really do love the snow. Funny how I can miss it when my mountains are still snowed in right now? Sigh…

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cross-country ski tracks at Arrowhead were very nicely groomed. We typically try to hit the trails first thing in the morning before they get messy from people falling, skate skiing, or snowshoeing on or near the tracks. Agreed, having a fresh snowfall is great for the tracks and just makes the forest look so enchanting.

      We are actually heading out west in just under two weeks are going a road trip through many of the Canadian national parks in the Rockies. I’m a bit concerned about the trail conditions and keep checking the status of the trails. I’ve heard the snow has been a bit slow to melt this year. Double sigh …

      • alisendopf says:

        Oh yes, LOTS of snow here right now. AND we just had a massive rain storm that came down as snow in the higher elevations. Highwood Pass is closed for avalanche danger. In mid-June….Crazy.

        Yes, keep track of trail conditions on the official Parks (National and K Country) sites. You can also ask me any questions. My fb page is pretty active with the latest conditions.

        Also, if you wanted to do something more challenging, I can act as your ‘guide’ to get you safely up something. I know you are an accomplished hiker so I’m sure you’ll be fine, and you’ve been out here lots 🙂

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Oh goodie, so it’ll be snow plus ice with all the recent rain! I’ve been checking the trail conditions every day, and have seen some improvements. The great thing is that there’s just so many trails to choose from that I doubt we’d run out of options or ideas.

        I might just take you up on your offer! Even though we hike a lot, we don’t really deal with changes in elevation in Ontario. My legs will be in for a good workout!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Apologies for not responding sooner. I took a bit of a break from WP during our holidays and didn’t read your message until now. We had a wonderful road trip through the Canadian Rockies and had fabulous weather for being outdoors. We weren’t able to hike all the trails we wanted to because of the snow (and not having enough time), but as you said, there’s so much to do that it wasn’t hard to keep us busy.

      • alisendopf says:

        No problem Linda. As you can see, I’ve been too busy to post or comment until today! I spent a week mountaineering, and I take off Monday for a 7 day backpack trip through Banff. So much to write about. I know what I’ll be doing this fall.

        Sounds like your trip was a massive success. So happy for you both. Yes, lots of snow this year, but that pushed the animals down lower so you got a good show. People will think everyone gets wildlife sightings like you did. Well done!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        There never seems to be enough time!! I hope you had a wonderful mountaineering trip and that you’ll find some time to write about your adventures. Best of luck with your backpacking trip through Banff. Hopefully that’ll be a great way to avoid the crowds. And yes, the one benefit of all the snow was that we saw an incredible amount of wildlife!

  11. wetanddustyroads says:

    I’m not sure I will survive -29°C 👀. But it surely looks magical – your photos are beautiful (especially love that one of the sun shining through the snow covered tree). Haha 😁, I would have been the one on the Bunny Trail!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks!! The best part about winter is how pretty the scenery looks with all that snow. The downside is the cold. Thankfully it wasn’t very windy. Once we bundled up and got going on the trails, it wasn’t too bad. It was kind of fun watching all the beginners on the Bunny Trail! It brought flashbacks of when we first learned to cross-country ski. What a disaster. Haha.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The forest looked very enchanting with all that fresh snow. The snowy scenery definitely provided a great distraction from the cold. All that hiking and cross-country skiing was also a great way to keep us warm.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        At least the snow helps to cushion the fall. It was a bit of a disaster the first time we tried to cross-country ski. We decided to skip the lessons because we figured it would be super simple. You’re just gliding on the snow, right? How hard could it be? Needless to say, the next time we went we signed up for the lessons. Cross-country skiing really is a lot of a fun. And it’s a great workout!

      • BrittnyLee says:

        I could imagine. You’re using muscles in a very focused and localized way. My sister told me how much of a workout snow boarding is and I could believe it! That’s awesome you can ski. Maybe I will have to try lessons some day 🙂

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I’m not a fan of heights or going fast, so cross-country skiing is more my style. I like the slower pace so I can enjoy my surroundings and just soak it all in. Thankfully we don’t need to think about snow or winter anytime soon though!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! Good thing the snow is so pretty otherwise it would be tough to motivate myself to go outside in the cold. The outdoor gallery was such a neat idea and it’s a great way to appreciate art and to see its connection with nature. If it weren’t so cold, I would have liked to find them all.

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