Regardless of whether you actually like winter or not, no one can deny how beautiful things look covered in a fresh blanket of snow. As I write this, I am snuggled in front of the fire in a cozy cabin at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in the Haliburton Highlands. It’s snowing outside and I can’t wait to see what kind of winter wonderland I will be greeted with in the morning.
You see, I love winter. I get excited for the first snowfall. And the second. And the third. And even the 50th. As long as it’s not in May. It should never snow in May.
I also get excited for the change in activities and experiences from the previous three seasons. Even though I may be exploring some of the same locations, I’m experiencing them in a whole different way – indoors and outdoors. And the Ottawa Valley has a pretty amazing collection of winter experiences. No matter what type of Wanderer you are there is something for you.
As paddlers, we are on the water a lot. Sometimes even during winter if we can find open water! But what I love about the frozen lakes and rivers is the opportunity to strap on a pair of skates. We are blessed with an abundance of lakes and rivers (over 900) so there is no shortage of opportunities for pond hockey or skate dates. A new addition to the winter skating opportunities is a 1.5km skate trail located just outside of Pembroke in Laurentian Valley. Although I didn’t have an opportunity to get there last winter, it’s on this winter’s bucket list.
My husband and I are what you call “slednecks”. We love to snowmobile. There’s nothing better than zipping through the forest along abandoned logging roads or single track trail over classic Canadian Shield. With over 2,500 kms of groomed OFSC trails throughout the area that connect to other regions of Ontario’s Highlands and beyond, there is no shortage of sledding to do. Personally, I love packing up for a weekend sled trip. You ride all day exploring the backcountry and neighbouring communities and then tuck in to a cozy hotel, lodge or lakeside cabin for the night.
If you are looking for a multi-day ride, the RAP (Round Algonquin Park) Tour is an 850 km self-guided tour around Algonquin Provincial Park. Known as the Grand Daddy of snowmobiling tours in Ontario, it is a ride that every sledder should have on their bucket list. Snowmobile-friendly accommodators and eateries dot the trails along the entire way so you know you will be treated right.
Wandering Tip: Mark your calendar for the Bonnechere Cup taking place February 15-17, 2019 to catch the best in ice oval racing.
When we aren’t sledding, we’ll be on our snowshoes wandering what normally would be hiking or walking trails at any other time of the year. I love being out on the trails in winter because you get a completely different perspective. You can see further into the forest without any leaves on the trees and the change in terrain is so much more obvious.
Shaw Woods is one of our favourite spots to go. The trails vary in difficulty and length and all have excellent interpretive signage along the way. It’s also dog-friendly which, for our four-legged fur baby is a bonus. Other excellent spots for snowshoeing, as well as cross-country and skate skiing, and even fat biking, include Opeongo Hills Nordic Ski Club, Forest Lea Trails and Silver Spoon Trails.
If you prefer to ski vertically, then the Valley has you covered there as well. Calabogie Peaks Resort is home to Ontario’s highest public vertical at 780 ft (take that Blue Mountain!) and also offers snow parks complete with rails, moguls and a ski/board cross track. As a full service resort, you can also enjoy après-ski activities at Black Donald’s Pub and Canthooks Fine Dining Restaurant, not to mention relaxing in the outdoor hot tub. Yes please. If you are looking to refuel between runs, stop in at the Top Hut located at the top of Dickson Mountain.
Wandering Tip: Be sure to sample the Bees Skis honey blonde ale made from the resort’s own honey.
Other area ski hills to round out the mix include Mount Pakenham and Mount Martin. But I would be remiss if I left out Mount Molson – the little mountain that could with the world’s shortest downhill at 120 vertical feet. True story.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for winter adventures. Bring on the snow!