For many people, the first word that comes to mind when you mention winter camping is “why?”. Really, why would anyone want to sleep outside in the freezing cold when they can sleep in a nice warm bed inside? It’s a good question, but fans of winter camping will give you a ton of reasons why they love it.
It brings you closer to nature, for starters. Winter camping allows you to go deep into the woods and to reach many places that are inaccessible in the summer months. It also gives you a front row seat to see the amazing variety of bird and wildlife that survives in our harsh winters. Many hard-core winter campers are keen photographers who love to capture those undisturbed scenes on camera.
Then there’s the relaxation factor. You truly are secluded and removed from the chaos of every day life, so it’s a great way to relax and unwind. There’s something so serene about watching falling snowflakes or waking up to a vast expanse of snow. Then there are the hard-core campers who do it for the sheer excitement. “They want to be able to say ‘I did it’,” says Sheila Weibe, spokesperson for Ontario Parks. “It makes them feel like a voyageur.”
There are 11 provincial parks that offer winter camping in Ontario, including MacGregor Point, Algonquin, Frontenac and Arrowhead. Within those parks, there are three options for winter camping, although not all three may be available in each park. Wintry outdoor options include trailer/tent camping, heated yurts and cabins, and the real thing: interior or backcountry camping.
Yurts and cabins (also referred to as roofed accommodations) have comfort stations, which include running hot water, flush toilets and showers. They help take the rough edges out of roughing it. MacGregor Point Provincial Park has yurts that are equipped with electric heat plus an electric outlet plus a table and chairs (late night movies on the tablet, anyone?). Outside, you get a fire pit to build that lovely bonfire, a kitchen shelter, picnic tables and a propane barbeque with a side burner. Weibe herself has tried the yurts and notes, “They’re quite comfortable. You can ski right up to your yurt and inside you just flick a light switch on and there’s light.”
Those who camp with trailers enjoy a slightly higher comfort level but it won’t provide you the full experience that interior camping will. Weibe says that’s most often enjoyed by people willing to snowshoe far into the bush. A key to surviving interior camping is having the right equipment, explains Weibe, and it is really important to be able to change out of wet or sweaty clothes when it’s freezing outside. Weibe says to really enjoy it you have to plan every detail. “You have to be prepared to handle many situations, including possible emergencies,” she advises.
The parks each have their own dates when the winter season begins, so be sure to check the website before going. Each park also has its own process for winter backcountry camping. For example, some of the summer sites aren’t open during the winter, while other parks use completely different access points so they can control traffic patterns.
If you need any more reasons to consider winter camping, research has shown that it’s beneficial for your brain to sleep in cooler temperatures. Alternatively, it’s supposed to be great for romance – that is if you need any more of an excuse to cuddle up.
WINTER SPORTS ACTIVITIES AT CAMP
19 Ontario Parks offer cross-country ski trails with 450+ km of trails (some with warm up shelters) with about half groomed or track-set.
Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available at Arrowhead, Pinery, Wasaga Beach and Windy Lake.
Skating is available at Algonquin (Mew Lake), Bronte Creek and Pinery on large outdoor rinks. There are unique skate trails along campground roads at MacGregor Point and Arrowhead.
Couples Resort, Algonquin
by Denise Davy