If someone had told me a year ago that I would go winter camping, or glamping, in this case, I would’ve said they were crazy. Up until this year, it has never crossed my mind to even attempt adventuring in the snow, and now I have done it and am actually even camping in a tent for my next two trips! Being in nature in the snow is truly magical and I now understand why so many people are doing it!
For me, this year especially has been a huge one for camping. I have been on 14 trips including this one and have loved every single one of them. But this one, was very special as it would be my first winter experience.
A few months ago I decided to talk my 70 year old mom into coming to Algonquin with me in December. She had actually put the idea into my head when we were there in August, saying several times how beautiful it must be there in the winter. I generally get some time off work so I checked the Ontario Parks website and found one yurt available for december 19-21st and booked it. The planning began and before we knew it, it was time to go!
We headed out at 6am on Saturday December 19th. It had been so mild in Niagara, we’d been wearing long sleeved shirts and spring jackets. There wasn’t even snow up north all of December, but a few days before leaving, a few centimeters had fallen and looked like it would stay through most of our visit! YAY!
We had a gorgeous sunrise and shortly after hit some white out conditions en route and sure enough, we had snow upon arrival. Not enough to snowshoe, but enough to make things white and magical. After our traditional visit to Henriettas for some yummy goodies, we arrived at our yurt, site #65 at Mew Lake in Algonquin Park and started unpacking.
I set up a tarp over the fire pit to block the wind and keep us a bit warmer. Tonight was expected to be about -7 and very very windy. As we had a site right on the water, this would be quite a bit worse, but it had been the only yurt available so we’d have to make the best of it.
Seems some things would be different than summer camping… lol
After setup we went for a walk around the campground and checked out other sites. It was so incredibly peaceful. Besides us, there were 6 other yurts, all booked, the host site at #9, who were in a trailer and 2 people tent camping. One was a hot tent, the other looked like a 3 season tent. It honestly felt like we had the whole park to ourselves and it was awesome!
We headed back to camp and made our dinner. Just some octoberfest sausages on the fire. The wind had picked up greatly since our arrival and if I’d have to guess, I’d say we were experiencing 60km wind gusts. The tarp was holding up very well as I’d set it up for these conditions, but the wind was extremely cold and sitting around the fire, was not an option tonight. Mom and I were both frozen and wind blown and at 5:40 pm, we went inside the yurt to escape the weather. I was really bummed out and disappointed, but I was learning so much from this test trip!!
We had some snacks and played dice for a few hours. Around 10pm we decided to go for a walk to the comfort station and see what was happening outside. I was really glad we did because once we left the waters edge, the wind reduced a huge amount and it was really nice to be outside walking in the snow!!!
The parking lot to the comfort station at Mew Lake is where they set up the skating rink. Outside the bathrooms were 2 hockey nets and a pile of sticks, just waiting to be used!!! but sadly there was no ice as it hadn’t been cold enough. On the far side of the proposed rink, someone had decorated a tree and it looked so pretty with the moon and the snow. We took our Christmas photo and headed back to our site to get some sleep and prepare for another awesome day tomorrow!
fyi: Your drinks stay very very cold in the winter!! My moms beer was frozen when we got back! lol
We woke up pretty early and headed out to greet the day! The lake looked like it had froze overnight and it was really cool as yesterday there were waves! Enough snow had fallen to cover my front windshield, but that was about it!
Neither of us were hungry yet, it was only 8am, so we decided to go for a drive and look for wildlife. I headed down Hwy 60 and drove down Opeongo Road. I had been here many times before, it was a very scenic drive and a place that wildlife is seen frequently.
We went a few km’s down the road and then came to a gate. I had seen some blue jays in the trees so I turned off the car and decided to check things out. As I went to the back of the car to get something from the trunk, a crowd of animals congregated behind me. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen and i felt like snow white. There were light flurries coming down, about 5 or 6 blue jays flying around us,chickadees, gray jays and sparrows and a few squirrels running around chittering!
I didn’t want to leave, but we were starting to get hungry, so I said goodbye to all my new little friends and we headed back down Hwy 60. We had one stop to make before arriving back to our site and that was East Beach. It is my favorite place to go in the park in the summer and I was dying to see it at this time of year. As usual, it didn’t disappoint me.
East beach was just a short drive to Mew Lake. We arrived back at our site and I boiled some water for hot chocolate with baileys and go ready to make some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast.
I could see there would be a few new challenges to face in the winter. I had never in my life seen a frozen egg. I didn’t even know if they were freeze-able… lol, well, I did now. It took a bit longer to cook, but it did eventually and it tasted just like the others.
Another challenge I’d learned about this weekend was cooking in the cold. I had heard that the propane freezes somewhat and doesn’t work properly, and guess what… it’s true!!! lol. The flame was so low I thought the propane bottle was empty, although I was almost positive it was a brand new bottle. I changed it regardless and then finally clued in what was happening. After breakfast we put the green bottles in the yurt to keep them warm for their next use. Then we packed our backpacks with extra mitts, hats, a lunch, some water and a few other essentials and set off on foot to visit another of our favorite places, what I call Mew Lake Falls, but honestly, I don’t know their real name?? lol
To get to the falls by Mew Lake campground, you take the trail by the recycling bins, near the giant blueberry patch. This area is where we saw a mother bear and her two cubs last summer, although many other people were there before and after we had stopped to watch them. It was very different from my Bear Encounter this year, but still very cool and I thought about it every time I pass by here.
When you reach the highland backpacking trail, you turn left. At this point you can hear the falls and very shortly after, you see the bridge that will take you into the falls area.
It was truly beautiful, and unlike in the summer, at this time of day, there was no one else here!!!
In the summer, my friends Andrea, Kim and I took our photo in the middle of where the falls now, were running forcefully down the river.
We sat for a bit enjoying the view and the serenity, and then started getting cold, so we decided it was time to move on. We took the trail back out the way we came but at the 2nd turn, where you can either go back to Mew Lake Campground, or towards the bike trail, we went right towards the bike trail. My mom stopped to read a sign I’d photographed in the summer. It was very important to me as that was the weekend i had come face to face with a bear and less than 24 hours before I had refreshed my bear knowledge in this very same spot.
One of my favourite things so far about the snow was seeing the tracks. I see lots of other peoples photos online, full of all types of animals, but I rarely see much myself when I’m out and about. Although I still wasn’t seeing the actual animal, the tracks confirmed further to me, that there is an abundance of wildlife all around!
We hiked for about three hours and came back out at the falls. It was after four and would be getting dark soon, so we headed back to our site hoping for a less windy evening. For dinner tonight I had made a pork roast with rotini, gravy and carrots. I froze it in tupperware containers, probably not necessary, but it was keeping everything cold in the cooler, which I guess was good. No ice was needed winter camping, that’s for sure! lol.
There was no cooking allowed in the yurt, so I set up the crock pot with the premade meal in it, plugged it into the hydro on the site and let the food heat up in there for about an hour, stirring it every so often. The wind was barely in existence tonight so we made a fire in the meantime and warmed ourselves with it, enjoying a few cocktails while dinner heated up. It was delicious and stick to your insides good in the cold. The dishes went into a plastic bag and were placed back in the car to be washed upon arrival back home.
We enjoyed the fire until almost 9pm, a huge difference from the previous evening when the wind was so cold and powerful. Then we headed into the yurt to put on our comfy clothes and play some dice. It was an amazing day in Algonquin!
Monday morning arrived far to soon. We woke up at 7 to slushy rain, which turned to snow eventually. It was classic christmas snow and we were both thrilled!!! The forecast was calling for rain so this was a huge treat!!! We had some of our treats from henriettas for breakfast with our hot chocolate and packed up all of our stuff.
You can see the weather changing in the live photos below, and actually hear it as well!
We were quite wet after our walk, even though the rain had changed to snow, white fluffy snow actually, our hats and jackets especially were soaked. Our hats, that I had gotten for Christmas for my mom and myself were merino wool, Made by Marlee and they were amazing. They kept our heads warm all weekend, but not too warm so they sweat. They had also gotten wet on Saturday and they dried so quickly, I was really impressed!!! Thanks Marlee for being so amazing and making us such cool winter hats!
Unfortunately, it was time to head home. The yurt was empty once again and ready for it’s next guests. Mom and I headed to Huntsville to Westside Fish and Chips for an amazingly delicious lunch. Not only was the service wonderful, but the prices are good, they were quick and the food was tasty!
With gentle snowflakes falling, we left Huntsville and watched the snow turn to rain as we headed south. My first experience winter glamping was a pass! It was definately touch and go the first night, but after seeing how much of a difference it made not to be on the water and directly in the cold wind, my mind completely changed. It was almost like backcountry camping, without a lot of the work, because the park was so empty and so serene. When my mom and I walked around the park Monday Morning, our steps were making the trail, and that was a really cool thing to me.
Now that I have a winter experience under my belt, I’m heading back to the great white north to tent camp and test out the tipi I have been working on the last few weeks! Stay tuned to see how it turns out! I personally can not wait to see what happens with it!!!
UPDATE: My Outdoor Research PL150’s are holding up well! I used them all weekend to take photos and operate my phone apps that I needed and they kept my hands fairly warm. When I was outside for prolonged periods or when the temps were a bit lower, the Kombi mitts gave me additional comfort when I needed the extra layer! Thanks for great products!!
I’d like to send a HUGE THANK YOU to Jamie and all the staff at Outdoors Oriented who have been giving me advice on winter adventuring the last few months, and for helping me to find the gear that I need to ensure I enjoy myself out there and stay warm! You guys rock!
Thanks so much for reading my rather lengthy post. I hope you enjoyed it and it inspires you to get outside! If you have any questions, or comments, or just want to say hey, please leave a comment and I will get back to you when I’m not out adventuring!
I wish everyone the happiest New Years ever! I hope to see you back here in 2016 to share lots more awesome adventures with me!
Best wishes for the new year!