First Canoe Cold Camp – Haliburton Highlands Water Trails

Last year at this time, I didn’t have the loaner canoe any longer from Backcountry Custom Canoes so I wasn’t able to do a canoe trip in the snow.  I did head out in the kayak, right up until December 1st weekend,  but only had ice on the water to deal with, no snow, so this would be a first for me.

I had planned to do a few more canoe trips this season before ice in.  With my colitis in a flare the last few weeks, and not being well additionally from the oil fumes in my house causing extreme nausea for almost 2 weeks, things just hadn’t been working out too well to plan a trip.   But the weekend of November 9th was looking promising and so I began to figure out where to go.

I had been wanting to visit a lake 2 portages in from Tim Lake in Algonquin for a few months now and I was pretty sure this was finally going to happen this weekend.  I wasn’t aware of how to get a permit at this time of year as the Kearney office is closed and did a bit of research into it. I found out that there is a special phone number posted at the Kearney office to call and get your permit by phone the day of the trip.  I got the number from a lovely lady at the East Gate office and saved it to my phone, anxious to check out this area I’d been wanting to see for a bit now.

A few days before the weekend, alerts started popping up on my computer which I have set with The Weather Network for a few of my prime camping locations.  Saturday, November 10th, a band of snow squalls were expected in the area along with high winds making visibility difficult.  The rate of snow expected was 2-5cm’s per hour.  Wow! That’s crazy.  I immediately began looking at the forecasts for a few other locations that I had in mind as backups. McCrae Lake was one of them and the winds there were even worse.  McCrae was always a good option for me, especially at this time of year. It’s a half hour drive from home, at this time of year it’s barely used and so much nicer than in the summer, I had never done a solo canoe trip there and it was a great area with only one small portage from the parking area to the lake and another around a waterfall.  Both were very short and easy.  With the winds even worse there than the Tim Lake area, however, that was out too.


I revised the plan once again looking towards good old faithful Haliburton Highland Water Trails.  It was always a safe place for me and this time would be no different.  I emailed the park office and asked some questions to find out about a site I’d been thinking of going to as a backup.  I had actually also planned to do a different site there, then the one I ended up doing, changing plans once again due to the weather.

On Friday morning I woke up early for work and checked the hourly for the area I planned to go to.  The forecast for tonight, Friday night, was really good and the forecast for Saturday morning was good also.  The winds were fairly low and the temperature was forecast to be a low of -10 with the windchill Friday night, -16 with the windchill Saturday night. Also Saturday the winds were expected to rise to gusts of 49km/hour late Saturday morning and early afternoon.  But early Saturday morning, they were much more manageable.  The best time to go would be tonight!  The only problem was, I wasn’t packed! LOL

It was only 6am, I worked at 7 and my backpack was half packed as it usually is during paddling season.  Most of my usual gear was close by and by 6:30, I had pretty much packed everything I needed and then some.  I packed extra clothing for the car and for the tent as backup, I packed extra chargers for the phone, my beacon, lots of hot pockets, 2 nalgenes (one to use as a hot water bottle, an actual hot water bottle, extra socks, my big furry russian hat to sleep in, etc etc.

Thursday night I had spent 5 hours cooking up winter camping food. I made 2 stews, one chicken and one beef. (Videos to be uploaded this winter on Camper Christina Cooks!)  I decided on chicken and packed a ziplock bag of it to heat up. I brought warm food and cold food, in case the wind was bad and I wasn’t able to use the stove, or didn’t want to and just felt like eating a muffin or a sandwich and before I knew it, I was totally packed with time to spare.

I headed home at lunch to get the canoe and put it on the car and would head out right after work at 3pm. With the drive being only 1 hour and 15 minutes, I would get to the put in by 4:15 and have 45 minutes to get to the site before sunset, a good hour and a bit before it got dark.

The site I ended up booking Friday was possibly one of the easiest campsites I`ve ever booked.  The put in was about 4-5 km`s down a single lane backroad so there was no highway traffic and it was still pretty remote, however, it was super easy to get to.  The site was less than a 5 minute paddle in and to ensure total safety, it also had a trail by land that I could use to walk out in case the winds ended up being worse than forecast in the morning and I got stuck on the site.  I was only a 5 minute paddle and a 10 minute walk to my vehicle in case I got cold, or in trouble in any way and needed a dry heated space and I had found a solution for every issue I could think of.  I even brought extra food in case for some reason my car wouldn`t start and I got stuck there for a while.  The area even had cell service.  I couldn`t have planned a better spot for the weather expected and felt totally confident when I headed to the put in after work Friday, excited for my very first canoe cold camping trip!

I arrived at the put in at 4:35, getting stuck behind several snow plows, 2 school buses and a few people who shouldn`t be driving in the snow. You know those people I mean!  But I still had lots of time.  I looked across the calm quiet bay and could actually see the campsite location easily.  I was even closer than I thought.

I ran into my first unexpected problem when I went to take the canoe off the car.  My straps were kind of um, well, frozen. LOL.  The snow had hit them while driving and then melted I guess and then refroze into large balls over and through the knots I`d tied.  I had to remove my gloves to carefully unweave the knots, then had to use quite a bit of force to pull the straps through the clasps which were now much thicker due to the ice on them.  It was a bit of a struggle, but I finally got them all off.  Usually I leave them on the car, but I feared I would never get them back on tomorrow when I went to leave so I put them all inside the vehicle and hoped they would defrost a little bit.

The weather was perfect!  It was cold, but not too cold.  The temperature had been hovering around zero all day and the snow had been falling since this morning.   Because it had rained previously, the snow was sticking to the trees in that way that makes everything look like a winter wonderland ad it was simply magnificent. I was so happy I was here.  I had changed my location 4 times and the date once, but it had been totally worth it to avoid cancelling the trip.

The put in had a little creek running down to it which was pretty and sounded so lovely.  I sloshed through the water without a care as I had on my rubber boots and knew my feet would stay perfectly dry and warm.  I loaded up the canoe, taking my time as even though I was somewhat racing the clock, the site was in view, I had brought my extra awesome UST lantern which was super bright and  knew I had so many safety backups in place, there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

I closed my eyes for a moment and breathed in the crisp cool air, smelling the snow and feeling the flakes hit my face.  It was fall, but winter was already here.  I got into the canoe, able to see the bottom. I had put in here once before and knew the water was also very shallow to the site, another bonus about the location.

Even with taking photos and a short video, it took me less than 5 minutes to get to the site. I pulled up to the rocks being extra careful to watch my step.  They were not even slightly slippery but you never know.

I got out and noticed some ice had formed on the ribs of the canoe. I was unsure if it was there from the paddle or not?  It was more likely they were from the drive in.  I unloaded the canoe and took a peek around checking out the site.

It was only 5pm. I was surprised I had taken my time, dealt with frozen straps and made a few videos and only a half hour had passed since I arrived at the put in.  Sadly, however, it would be getting dark very soon so I got to work.

I set up the tent in the flatest spot I could find, but it was still on a bit of a slant.  I found one other spot that would’ve been a bit better but it was was up into the site, had no tree cover ( protection from the snow) and was way too far from the privy, so I opted to do the slip slide a little and be in a bit of a more suitable location.

I pulled the canoe up and tied it to a tree in anticipation of the wind, just in case it got a little crazier than expected, I wanted to ensure my boat didn’t turn into a kite.  I would have a way out regardless, but that didn’t mean I should be careless.  I scouted for some wood and got a fire going. Found a place to hang my food and got that set up and that was all the time I had before it got very very dark at 5:30pm!! hahaha.  This time of the year is the worst!

I got my cooking gear out and set up the stove.  I pulled out the bag of chicken stew, excited to eat it and have something new. When I taste tested it, quite a few times when I was making it, it was really yummy and seemed filling.  It was early and I needed to have something stick to my insides and keep me warm through the night and I thought this would be good for that. We would see?

I brought a good amount of the stew but only put about 1/2 of it into the pot.  I didn’t want to have privy issues tonight and have to leave my tent too much. It was not only expected to snow throughout the night, but also rain for a few hours which was always the worst when you had to run out to the privy at 3am.

I was amazed at how fast the stew heated up and in not time I was spooning the deliciousness into my mouth.  It was so good and I was glad I’d made the effort to make up a bunch of meals just for times like these.  I ate quickly to keep it from getting cold and had steam coming from my mouth.  Things I were aware of were happening, but I hadn’t seen them for some long, I would just have to get used to them all over again.

After dinner I cleaned up the little bit of mess I’d made heating up my dinner and then got the fire going.  I had found a bit of dry wood and there had been some wood in the fire pit that wasn’t too wet and eventually with 2 fire sticks, it caught.  There was also a stash of wood beside a tree under a pile of brush that looked like someone had hid there.  I only used 2 pieces as I didn’t want to steal someone else’s wood in case they were coming back to use it.  I went to the lake and filled up my pot with ice cold water and put it on the fire to boil.

I sat enjoying the deafening silence that is accompanied by winter camping.  It’s a good deafening silence and one I’d missed.  The fire was nice but I wasn’t dying for the warmth. I was well dressed and as it was only -3 with the windchill at the moment, it wasn’t very cold at all. I hadn’t even worn my gloves, other than for the paddle over to the site and my hands were perfectly fine without them.

It took a while for the water to get hot enough on the fire for my hot water bottle and nalgene but eventually it got there. I filled them up and at 7pm, I headed into the tent.  The plan was to listen to the snow while I got warm and cozy in my sleeping bag and read a book or played some games on my phone.  As I hadn’t collected much firewood, and I didn’t want to use someone else’s reserves, there was no point just sitting outside in the dark in the snow, so I went in.

I stayed up for quite a while surprisingly, just doing random things.  Around 10:30 I finally got settled to sleep and that’s when I started hearing the noise.  At first, I thought a bear was running towards my tent. It was so loud and actually sounded like a horse galloping through the forest. It was no my imgaination at all and whatever it was, was loud.  I clapped my hands loudly and yelled “GO AWAY BEAR!!! GO AWAY NOW ! GET OUT OF HERE!!!”  and it got quiet.

Hmm, did I scare it or was there nothing there?  I laid back down and tried again but the sound repeated itself over and over, sometimes every few minutes, sometimes with 15-20 minutes in between.  It didn’t take me long to realize what it was after the initial misdiagnosis.  The snow was very wet and heavy and every time the wind blew it sounded like someone was running across the tops of the trees knocking the snow down like dominoes, creating the effect of someone or something running across the ground.  It was amazing and something I have never heard.  In addition to that, every so often, usually just as I was starting to fall asleep, i would hear a bit PSSSHHHHHH on the side of the tent. It sounded like someone was outside throwing iceballs and snow balls at my tent.  It was going to be a long night!

Eventually, I fell asleep but I was woken up a lot and didn’t sleep well at all.  I did my best and at least I was nice and toasty warm which was always my major concern cold camping.  At 4:30 I got up as the winds had picked up and were very loud.  I could only hear evidence of it however, not see it, as in the tent wasn’t blowing around or anything like that.  I went outside to use the privy and moved the canoe, securing it to both ends instead of just the one.  I kept thinking about it in my sleep and I needed the least amount of distractions possible so I could actually acquire some rest.

Taken the next morning of the tie up at 4:30am.

I woke up around 6:45am and noticed it was already light out.  The snow was good for some things!  I was excited to see what mother nature had accomplished through the night and went out to survey the site.  Before I got out of the tent, I had to hit it on all sides and at the top  to knock down the huge chunks of snow that had fallen on it through the night.  There was a lot.

The view was quite pretty and I did a walk about to check things out.  Everything looked fine. The canoe was covered in snow and ice but hadn’t budged and most of my other gear was all inside the tent with me.

I went back in the tent to devise a plan and check the hourly forecast.  The wind at the moment was very calm and it wasn’t supposed to be last I checked at 4:30am.  The forecast agreed with  what I was seeing at present. The wind gusts were way down and appeared they would stay that way for the next hour and a half or so.  Then they would almost double and continue to increase until mid afternoon.  TIME TO GO!


I had packed a muffin to eat in case I didn’t want to boil water and make oatmeal which is what I’d brought. The thing was, I really shouldn’t be eating oatmeal right now due to my colitis flare as it’s fiberous and I didn’t want any issues so I munched on the cinnamon muffin I’d brought while I quickly packed up the tent and my gear.

I had to hurry which wasn’t easy in the snow.  Packing up and doing any task in the cold and snow was always more difficult.  As I had no portage though and only a short walk to the car from the take out, I decided to just do things quickly and not properly.  I had brought a bunch of extra plastic bags, as I usually do, and just began stuffing things into them.  I was heading home and would have to unpack and dry most of my gear anyways, so it didn’t really matter how it was packed.  This made things go much more quickly.

I went down to shore with my gear and untied the canoe.  I put a few things in it to keep it from flying away but the wind really was fairly calm at the moment.  I put the canoe into the water, put my big pack in it and off I went paddling to the take out.  During the night I had anticipated that I would have to carry everything out and portage the canoe along the trail, so I was really excited that I got the opportunity to actually paddle out and avoid that.

It was snowing quite a bit and it was so beautiful!  The bay where the take out was, was even calmer than the lake so I had a bit of time to set up the camera and take a few videos of me paddling in the snow.  (Keep in mind I am in absolutely no danger here, the water is calm and shallow and I can actually see my vehicle from where I am paddling.)

After a few minutes, I docked the canoe on shore and began to unpack my gear, happy I was back safely and totally outsmarted the wind, but sad the trip was almost over already.

I took a few pictures of the canoe and then went to start the car. I put the straps on the dash so they could unfreeze and become pliable as they were very brittle and I was afraid they would just snap. This falls into the category of things you don’t think of happening, but prepared for it anyways.  LOL

Once the car was running, the straps melting and the snow sliding off the windows, I continued to my tasks at hand.

I put all my gear into the back of the car first so I could then close the trunk and leave it closed as the straps go through there and I can’t use it once the canoe is on the car.  Then I got the canoe.

It was a little tricky getting the canoe on the car as it was parked on a bit of a slant and the rack was frozen and slippery but after some extra effort I got it on, straps all nice and tight and canoe secured.  It was now snowing a lot more and the wind had began to pick up.  I think I had gotten out just in time, but again, I had other options, they just would’ve been more work for me, so I was happy with the one I was granted.

After performing a 10 point turn to get my vehicle pointing in the correct direction to head out, I took my time driving down the snowy single lane road towards the exit.  It was so pretty out, I had to stop several times to take some photos and just admire the beauty the snow had created.  What an awesome adventure, albeit, it was short, but super sweet!

I hope you enjoyed my post and will head to my youtube channel to check out the video that goes with this write up.  If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please leave a message.

Please note that paddling in early November can be fatal if you are not experienced and properly prepared with many options to get dry and warm yourself up,  if an accident does occur.  I take my safety very seriously and do not wish for anyone to head out in poor weather conditions without the proper knowledge, training and experience. For further details on my preparations for this trip, please see below.

Happy Winter Camping!

Camper Christina



When paddling in cold weather there are so many factors you need to think about. On my recent trip paddling in the snow, a quick and easy one nighter, my route was changed three times to consider the weather and ensure I was safe. The trip I did was not the one I wanted to do, but the one that was best for the weather at hand.

My revised campsite was less than a five minute paddle in. My vehicle was at one end to warm me, and the option to make a fire was at the other. If it was unsafe to Paddle, I also had the option to hike out of my campsite, less than a 10 minute walk to my vehicle. In addition, I have taken lots of courses for paddling and first aid, learning not only how to deal with issues and regularly practicing them, but learning how to avoid them. I also have over 15 years of paddling experience.

Paddling in the shoulder season can be very dangerous, even fatal. You need to be aware of every option and have several back up plans in place in case something does go wrong. Not only bringing extra warm dry clothes for the trip, but also keeping a set in the vehicle, keeping your phone charged with back up battery power, carrying a backup signalling device and other signalling devices as well, letting people know where you are, checking in with them at timed intervals, continuously watching the weather and checking the forecast, having extra food in case you get stuck somewhere, having more than one option to get warm and a few options to make fire. These are just some of the things I do to prepare for a trip, even just an easy one nighter.

No matter the season, I head into every adventure with several backup options in place and safety is always top of mind. That being said, if something does happen to me while I’m out doing what I love, then to me, that’s how it was meant to be and I’m prepared for that to and would have no regrets leaving this world doing what brings me true joy.

Sometimes people see a pretty picture that I took and that is all they see. I want you to know that there is a lot that goes into that picture and nothing I do is done carelessly or without a great deal of thought and planning behind it. Every outing I go on is orchestrated with extreme detail, keeping every outcome in mind.

Safety is something I take very seriously and I do not encourage anyone to head out at this time of year without the proper experience, knowledge and preparedness. If you have any hesitation about what you’re about to do, you probably shouldn’t do it. I have complete confidence in my abilities, in my gear and in the things that I do, that is the only reason that I do them. Please be safe out there.


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  1. wendy burnham November 20, 2018 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    I think what would concern me most is the risk of tipping in such cold water. Hypothermia would set in very quickly. I do not yet have total confidence in the stability of my new Swift pack boat. Otherwise I would love to try camping in the snow. Well done Christina.

    • Christina November 20, 2018 at 7:41 pm - Reply

      Thanks Wendy. It is definitely a concern at this time of year. I have taken this boat on a tonne of adventures this year, in big wavy water and all over and have the utmost confidence in it. Plus, I was only a 3 minute paddle to the campsite with a warm vehicle right there if I did dump but as I have no fear of that at all, I took the risk. Some say I shouldn’t do that, but I’m totally okay with it. I just like to make sure that others know it’s not for everyone and I do have a huge amount of experience and do not take it lightly. When you are ready, you will know but always have lots and lots and lots of backup plans in place. Glad you liked the post. 🙂

  2. Brian Spencer November 21, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Hi Christina: Thanks for the memories. Dan & Macwen are two of my favourite spots I spent 7 days there in September on 2 separate trips. As soon as I started reading this narrative site 4 @ Dan came to mind. We all have lots to learn about the winter camping changes to the environment. Thanks for reminding me. Brian 78

    • Christina November 21, 2018 at 9:15 am - Reply

      Thanks so much Brian. I am glad to bring you some memories. 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time to check out my blog and your commement! Cheers!

  3. Drew Czernik November 21, 2018 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Great story as always Christina. I haven’t done a cold trip yet but it’s definitely on the list. This seems like a good model for a first time out, so thanks for that!

    • Christina November 26, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

      Hey Drew! So good to hear from you. Thanks so much for checking out the post and taking the time to comment. You have not canoed in the snow? I find this extremely hard to believe!!! Get on it Mister! 🙂 LOL

      • Drew November 27, 2018 at 4:24 pm - Reply

        I had a day trip planned this year that would have crossed canoeing in the snow off the list, but unfortunately my daughter got strep throat the night before I was going to go and that ended that trip. (I have padded in the snow in May, but that wasn’t intentional:)

        • Christina November 28, 2018 at 9:41 am - Reply

          You still have lots of time. The lakes aren’t frozen yet and it is snowing quite a bit. Get that sucker checked off!!! 🙂 But please be safe!

  4. Megan Koetzle November 23, 2018 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Hi Christina! Wow, loved hearing how much you prepare for your trips! I recently got into canoe tripping and have been toying with the idea of doing some winter camping, but have been a little scared about ensuring I prepare enough to keep warm. I wouldn’t be brave enough to attempt canoeing at this time of year, but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing your experience.

    • Christina November 26, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Megan. It is not something I take lightly and it has taken a long time, a lot of training and experience to get to this point. i wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they were in the same situation. As for winter camping, test it out first somewhere safe. Go to a campground where there is hydro and you can plug in a space heater and you can test out your gear safely. Some people even do it in their own backyards. The only way you will know, is if you give it a try, but I would never suggest doing it somewhere far away from others the first few times at least. Having lots of backup plans, a warm car, a shelter, your house, a space heater, etc etc etc, will give you more confidence to try it the first time. Once you do, you may fall in love with it, just warning you. 🙂 But again, it’s taken me many many many years to get to this point. Not saying it will take that long for you, but anything worth doing, takes some time to get into. I hope you keep me posted and I hear from you again. Always think, what’s the worst that can happen, and then answer all those questions, once you do, you will feel more confident and might be ready to give it a go. 🙂 Cheers!

      • Megan Koetzle November 27, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

        Thanks so much for the tips! I’m looking at planning a winter camping trip with one of my friends and have decided we will start with a cabin camping trip to see what that is like before doing tent camping. Your pointers are definitely helpful as we are now planning lots of backup plans and such to ensure that it goes well. I’ve actually started a blog of my own where I plan to write about this trip to share how it goes. Thanks again!

        • Christina November 27, 2018 at 3:45 pm - Reply

          That’s so awesome! Congrats on planning your first winter outing. Mine was in a yurt so not too far off. Look at me now! hahaha. I hope it all goes well. Somewhere on here I have a post just on winter tips and tricks. Might help you a bit further. Best wishes!

  5. Eileen November 29, 2018 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Another awesome post my friend ! Sharing your knowledge & expertise is what makes your posts so special ! Keep up the good work & keep on paddling !

    • Christina December 3, 2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you my friend! Hope you are well! 🙂

  6. Emma December 9, 2018 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Christina!
    Really love reading your sharing. It’s nice!
    I’m a beginner camper and know little about camp gears including camping tent.
    Could I ask you which tent you’ve used? and the snow in?
    I’ve just searched not much and I’ve found this page –
    Looking forward to her your recommendations.
    Thank you for your help!

    • Christina December 11, 2018 at 10:28 am - Reply

      HI Emma, Thanks so much for your comment and for checking out my blog. I currently own about 9 tents and they are used based on what type of camping I am doing with them. If you are just going car camping (camping at an organized campground where you park your car at your campsite and don’t carry your gear in) any tent will do. I wouldn’t spend a huge amount of money on a tent for that purpose. For car camping I use a tent I purchased on sale at Canadian tire. I wouldn’t get the cheapest tent but a good name such as Coleman, Broadstone or Woods should be suitable. I would also recommend spraying it with a water proofing spray but I would first test it out in your backyard to ensure you like it so you can return it if there are any issues while it is still considered new. For backcountry camping, canoe tripping, winter camping, the tents are all different. I own about 9 tents so to list them would be a bit timely, especially as none of them may suit you depending on what you want to use it for. Let me know if I can help further and what type of camping you are doing, if not car/campground camping. Cheers!

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