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.