Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: January 2023
Windy Lake Provincial Park is located northwest of Sudbury and is open year-round. In the winter, Windy Lake offers a variety of activities including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. It also has roofed accommodations available for a comfortable and cozy camping experience.
We managed to book one of the rustic cabins at Windy Lake for the end of January. It was a bit of a rough drive to get there as we encountered some heavy snow and wind just before Sudbury. By the time we arrived at the park, it was just after 10p.m. I had called the park office in advance to let them know that we’d be arriving after hours and they indicated that they’d leave the key to the cabin under the lid of the BBQ.
There are two rustic cabins at the park, both are located near the shore of Windy Lake by the group camping area. The access road to the cabins is located beside the park entrance to the left. The road was in pretty decent shape, except for near the shoreline where the wind had created some deep snowdrifts. We initially parked at the overflow parking area and walked in to assess the conditions. It wasn’t fun. We walked back to the car and decided to just give it a go. Worst case scenario we’d have to use the shovel outside the cabin if we got stuck. And of course we got stuck, but it wasn’t too bad. It was much better than making multiple trips through the snowdrifts to haul our gear in.
The cabin consists of a single room with an enclosed front porch. It can sleep up to six people and comes equipped with a queen bed and a double bunk bed. It also has a table with two chairs and two benches, lighting, a propane fireplace and a small kitchenette with a mini fridge, microwave, kettle and coffee maker. We just had to bring our sleeping bags, pillows, food and water for the weekend.
In case you’re wondering what the washroom situation is like, there are two heated vault toilets located a couple hundred metres away from the rustic cabins. There is no running water, but there is lighting inside. And as far as vault toilets go, they were pretty decent. According to the pamphlet that was left for us inside our cabin, we could also use the flush toilets in the nearby ski chalet.
The cabin was already pretty warm when we arrived. We unrolled our sleeping bags and got ready for bed.
Day 1: Cross-Country Skiing
We woke up to a beautiful day of blue skies and sun. It’s been a bit of a drab and dreary winter so far in southern Ontario and this was the first time in nearly two weeks since we’ve had clear skies. In the daylight we were able to more fully appreciate the beautiful scenery, including a nice view of Windy Lake.
Given all the snow, we were a bit concerned that we’d be stuck at the cabin, but the snowplow came by just before 9a.m to clear the road. So after eating a late breakfast, we headed to the park office to officially check-in. We then drove across the road to the ski chalet. The park has partnered with the Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club, which maintains over 15 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski trails. We picked up our trail pass and got fitted for rentals (they accept cash only).
Most of the trails originate at the ski chalet. We started off nice and easy with one of the beginner trails to warm-up. The trail loops through the campground where the four yurts are located, along with the snowshoeing trail. It was quite chilly outside, so we were eager to get moving. The tracks were already set, the trails groomed and we were ready to go.
Once we looped back to the chalet, we headed in the other direction, which required having to take off our skies to cross the road. From here there are three trails to choose from: beginner, intermediate and advanced. We were looking for more of a challenge, but haven’t quite gotten used to our cross-country skis yet, so we landed on the intermediate trail. There were a few interconnecting paths, but we followed the blue arrows to where we needed to go.
The intermediate trail is also known as the Devon Kershaw Trail (5.2km). It was named in honour of Devon Kershaw, an Olympic cross-country skier who grew up in Sudbury and learned to ski at the Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club. It was marked with blue arrows and there was a sign at every kilometre to help keep track of how much distance we’ve covered.
The trail got down to business right away with a hill to climb up. The trail then meanders through the snowy forest. The path is wide and there is one set of groomed tracks for cross-country skiing on the right. There were a few hilly sections with two really steep hills, but thankfully there was a warning sign ahead so we could brace ourselves and keep our fingers crossed that we didn’t wipe out, which only partially worked.
The trail connects with the advanced trail (marked with red arrows) for a short stretch before looping back to the beginning. We took off our skis to cross the road and followed the rest of the beginner trail through the other side of the park, which passes the summer entrance and park sign. It leads back to the chalet.
At this point it was just past 1p.m and we were getting hungry. We decided to return our rentals as the chalet closes at 3p.m anyway, which wouldn’t give us much time to squeeze in another trail. We picked up our boots, which were sitting right by the fireplace so they were toasty warm. We then drove back to our cabin to eat a late lunch, make a cup of tea and take a break.
We headed out later in the afternoon to snowshoe along the Transition Trail (3km round trip, rated easy), the only trail in Windy Lake. We parked at the chalet and walked along the path to the yurts, which follows the cross-country ski trail. The trailhead is located by site #31 (the last yurt).
The snow was well compacted along the trail for the first stretch. It gets down to business right away with a steep climb up a ridge. The trail then heads down the ridge before winding back up the ridge. This made us seriously question the “easy” rating of this trail. The footprints in the snow stopped before the second serious uphill, perhaps a warning sign for us to turn around. But we forged ahead through the fresh snow, climbing up (then down) a few more steep sections.
The only “easy” thing about this trail was that it was easy to navigate. The trail is well-signed with yellow markers on the trees. The path leads to the rim of a huge crater made by a meteorite that impacted the earth nearly 2 billion years ago. Being up high meant that we could catch a glimpse of the surrounding area, including Windy Lake, through the trees.
And what comes up must come down. At the bench, we headed back towards the campground. Here the path was signed with blue markers. Once we looped back to the campground, we retraced our steps to the chalet. By the time we wrapped up our hike, the sun was low in the sky and it was starting to feel chillier outside.
We returned to the cabin to make some dinner on the BBQ and fried up some burgers and veggie kabobs.
The temperature was expected to plunge to -20°C overnight, so we were thankful our cabin was toasty warm.
Day 2: Winter Hiking
We must have been exhausted from all the outdoor activities from yesterday because we slept in later than usual. After eating a late breakfast, we packed up and headed out. We checked out of the cabin at 9:30a.m and returned our key at the Park Office. We stopped at the chalet to refill our water bottles and to use the heated washrooms.
We initially planned to go to the A.Y. Jackson Lookout, located 10 minutes from Windy Lake, except the parking lot was full of snow. Instead we went to Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, which is located in Sudbury and offers a variety of different trails. We parked at P2, which is located on South Bay Road just over the hill from PI, to hike the Mount Ramsey Trail (3km loop) and Beaver Pond Trail (3km loop) to form a larger loop.
From the parking lot, we first hiked a few hundred metres along the Beaver Pond Trail (signed with red markers), which leads over a wide boardwalk to the forest. At the junction, there was a sign with a turnoff for Mount Ramsey Trail (signed with red markers). We turned left and started to follow the yellow markers deeper through the forest.
The trail features two lookouts, the first overlooks Ramsey Lake and the second provides another panoramic view of the surrounding area. In case you’re not feeling the trail, there’s even a shortcut just before the first lookout. Despite all the snow, the trail was in pretty good condition so we continued onwards. It was also noticeably colder this morning and windy (-12°C felt like -18°C with the wind chill), so we were thankful for the uphills that led to the two scenic lookouts.
The trail connects again with the Beaver Pond Trail, which features a scenic lookout of the wetlands where we first began our hike. The path also intersects with a couple of other trails, but we continued following the red markers.
We wrapped up our hike in the early afternoon and hopped back in the car, thankful to be out of the wind. It was then time to head home. While it was a bit of a drive to get to Sudbury, we had a wonderful weekend enjoying the snow and some of the winter activities in the area.