Winter camping or ice fishing anyone? North, south parks have it all

Imagine a couple newly in love ditching their trip down south to sleep in a yurt in northern Ontario and snowshoe the week away while communing with nature.

That is exactly what one young couple did a few years ago after deciding to winter camp at Windy Lake, north of Sudbury. With the wood stove to keep them warm at the chalet and a whole lot of wanderlust to help them snowshoe through the park, the couple had a blast. And why not?

Silent Lake Provincial Park

A north south treaty

If you and yours are looking for ways to commune with nature this winter, why not make a pact to head to one of the many northern or southern provincial parks that are open in the winter?

You can snowshoe, cross-country ski (both Nordic and skate-style), ice fish, enjoy the northern lights and camp in a yurt, newly-built log cabin (with microwave, coffee maker, outdoor BBQ and beds for five) or a tent (some winter campers plug in a heater at electrical sites).

Windy Lake and Silent Lake are both open

Windy Lake, north of Sudbury, offers a true northern winter camping experience while Silent Lake, near Bancroft, appeals to more southerly campers. Both parks offer much the same amenities and experiences, with a few slight differences, including wildlife and Northern Lights viewing and differing lengths and types of cross country ski trails.

The choice is really up to you – whether or not you want a more remote camping experience or one that is a bit closer to larger centres.

Windy Lake Provincial Park

Either way, both Windy Lake and Silent Lake are worth checking out. Be sure to check with the park before you book your trip to check on conditions.  In addition, check out the Ski Report for snow conditions.

  • Exceptional accommodations – Both parks offer yurts.  Silent Lake offers both rustic yurts with wood stoves and more luxurious ones with electric heating and outdoor BBQ.  Windy Lake offers electrically heated yurts which you can ski, walk or snowshoe too as the campground roads are transferred into ski trails.  Park staff will assist with bringing gear in if possible at Windy Lake.  Both parks include a sleigh with your yurt rental to haul your gear.  For more information on yurts go to the roofed accommodation section of the Ontario Parks website.
  • Beginner to advanced ski trails with ski rentals and lessons – Both parks offer exceptional cross-country skiing and Nordic or skate-style skiing (Windy Lake), each rated from beginner to advanced. Silent Lake features 20 km of groomed trails, and some additional trails through the backcountry for experienced skiers. At Windy Lake, three trails totalling 15km are groomed and maintained by the Onaping Falls Ski Club, which also offers lessons and ski rentals. Check their Facebook page for updates.
  • Snowshoeing – Both parks offer outstanding snowshoeing. You can bring your own snowshoes or rent a pair from the park office at Windy Lake.
  • Catch of the day ice fishing – Both parks offer ice fishing. You can bring your own ice hut or rent one of the new ice fishing kits at Windy Lake, complete with its own ice auger and pop-up canopy. Be sure to ask about winter fishing limits and ice conditions at both parks before arriving.  An online copy of the Fishing Regulations is also available.
  • Après ski – the Onaping Falls Ski Club at Windy Lake also operates a lovely heated ski chalet with a small canteen on weekends. There you can warm up until your next foray out on the trails or before you retire to your yurt for dinner.
  • Heated Privies – Need we say more?  Available at Windy Lake. Silent Lake offers a winterized comfort station with hot and cold running water and showers.
  • Stargazing – the Northern Lights at Windy Lake offer the best show in town. Just sit on the deck of your yurt to enjoy them or pitch a chair in a clearing. Silent Lake may also have a dance or two depending on the weather.

No matter which way you cut it, Ontario is a blast in the winter if you have the right mindset, clothing and gear. Park staff advise visitors to bring extra mitts, hats, gloves, pants and perhaps even a jacket for drying off otherwise your visit could be hampered by wet, damp clothing. And be sure to check with park staff for the difficult level of the skiing or snowshoe trails you want to tackle. Some are half-day trails and best suited to advanced skiers.

For more information, check the Windy Lake website, the Silent Lake website and the Onaping Falls Ski Club Facebook page. You can also book your accommodations through the Ontario Parks reservation website or phone the reservation line at 1-888-668-7275.

Don’t forget to follow Silent Lake on Twitter @SilentLakePP.