Saturday, March 4, 2017

Family Day in Algonquin Park

We made an effort this year to get to Algonquin Park's Winter in the Wild held on the Family day weekend. We didn't decide to go until quite recently so there weren't any yurts available. Instead we booked a room just outside the park. We arrived on Friday night and were very excited to see more and more snow on the ground as we headed north.

Saturday we took in a number of the Winter in the Wild activities. The first was a great talk by one of the park staff about bears. He talked about bears, their habitat, their habits, etc. but he also talked about the research going on in the park about the bears. He showed some amazing pictures showing how the park staff attach collars to the bears so they can be studied. Listening to the talk make me wish I was a biologist so that I could do some of this cool sounding research.

Following the talk we had lunch in the Visitor Centre and checked out the viewing platform. It was a great view. There were a huge number of evening grosbeaks enjoying the bird feeders. We also saw some woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and ravens.

Beautiful View

View from the Visitor Centre
Our next stop was the Spruce Bog Trail for a guided bird hike. The weather was amazing, we saw a lot of birds (including ravens, crows, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and gray jays) at the beginning of the hike and the guide was a wealth of knowledge. We haven't done many guided hikes recently. It was so great to have an expert travelling with us.

One of the Spruce Bog

Ice Formation
Following the hike there were some winter camping demonstrations at Mew Lake so naturally we headed to the campground to check it out. I was amazed by what we saw. There were far more people camping in the campground than I would have imagined. We saw such a variety of winter accommodations. We saw regular tents, tent trailers, campers, a tipi and a good number of hot tents. We visited and toured a number of the tents and also had the chance to meet some of the great outdoor people that we follow online. We talked about winter camping and the amazing community that springs up at MewLake in the winter. It was incredible. A huge thanks to The Camping Family for giving us the scoop on winter camping at Mew Lake. I'm sure we will be back. Also a big thanks to Camper Christina for showing us her homemade tipi.

After checking out the accommodations we headed to the BBQ hosted by Friends Of Algonquin Park. We bought some burgers and hot dogs then made our way to the campfire to eat and roast marshmallows. It had been an action packed day and the youngest among us were exhausted so we skipped the fireside talk and night hike (hopefully we'll make it next time). Instead we headed made our way back to our lodging.

When we got back to our room we began talking about what the next day might look like. We all decided that it would be best to ski in the morning before the snow got too slushy (the forecast high was 9°C). The plan was to ski the Leaf Lake Trail, get an early start, ski to Dee's cabin for lunch and then ski back. Once the kids were in bed it occurred to me that I didn't remember seeing the ski boots in our room. I went and checked the van but they weren't there either. I would have to wait until morning to do a thorough search of our room, but I was feeling pretty confident that we had left the boots at home. Sure enough that's exactly what happened. I was very disappointed at myself for forgetting the boots but eventually realized that it just meant we'd have to come back next year.

Needless to say we changed the plan. We opted to skate at the Mew Lake rink in the morning since the ice was likely to be slushy later in the day. We had a great time. It wasn't very crowded, everyone we did see was very friendly. Our kids were laughing, giggling and just having a great time.

Super Excited to be Skating

Round and Round She Goes

Going Solo

Break Time
Once we finished skating we headed over to the camp fire and ate lunch. It was such a beautiful day we were happy to be taking our time eating and soaking up the sun. We had a couple of campers stop by to chat with us which was great. We asked a lot of questions and there were all great at promoting winter camping.
Lunch by the Fire
With our bellies full and our bodies rested we decided to head back to the Spruce Bog Traill. We hiked to the bird feeder then followed a small path that meandered through the woods. There were a number of suet ball setup along the path and the gray jays would move back and forth between the feeders. They really didn't seem to mind that we were there.

Gray Jay Enjoying  a Snack
After a full day outside it was time to head back to our room, have a bite to eat and get a good night's sleep.

On our final day we packed up and decided to snowshoe the Logging Museum Trial. What a great trail. There was a lot to see and tons of information about logging in the area. We will have to return in the summer to see the museum itself and the displays that are not accessible in the winter. The weather was great, though the temperature was much more seasonal with a bit of a breeze. There were a ton of chickadees around the parking lot so we gave them a snack before we headed out. Some of us decided to snowshoe along the well worn path and others decided to walk (or on occasion run) the path.
Snack Time
Running Free
Checking Out Giant Woodpecker Holes
Small Lake Along the Trail
Alligator Paddle Wheel

Checking Out the Alligator
Log Chute
After the hike we were ready for lunch. We had spotted some picnic tables on the other side of the snowbank across the parking lot so we beat a path through the snow to a table. Although it was a bit cool with the breeze the snowbank offered a good wind break and the sun warmed us up nicely. While we were having lunch the a pair of gray jays thought they'd see what we were eating. They were very interested. One landed on the table and plucked a small piece of bread off one of the kids' plates.

Lunchtime Visitor

Friendly, Feathered and a Bit Heavy
Such Beautiful Birds
Seasonal Bird Feeder
We built a snowman and left some seeds for the chickadees. Then we packed up and headed for home. We had such an amazing weekend. The weather was outstanding and it was great to be able to spend most of the weekend outside. We will certainly be back...hopefully in a tent of some sort.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Winter Weekend at Home

We often wander great distances to find adventure, but sometimes it can be found right in our own backyard...literally.

Last week we had the first snow that we'd had in a while. Friday night we received about 7 cm of snow. I didn't think much about it given that the high for Saturday was forecast to be 5°C. We took care of our Saturday morning errands and came home and our son was so keen to build a quinzee that we could sleep in. Fortunately, the forecast had changed and the high was now only supposed to be 1°C. So we decided to go for it.

We scraped the ground clean of snow and piled it into a large pile then let it settle for a few hours.

Giant Pile of Snow
Then came the hard part of digging out the quinzee. I worked on the inside while our son worked at moving all of the snow out of the doorway. It was tough at first since there was so little room for the shovel, but it seemed to get easier as we went. Before long the quinzee was dug out and we were soaked, both from the inside and the outside. I'm not sure how we'd manage all our wet gear if we were out in the woods.

All Dug Out
We headed inside for a warm meal and some dry clothes. We dug out our warmest pyjamas, a pair of sleeping bags each and a bottle of hot water to throw in our sleeping bags. Before heading out our son said to me "If we survive, we'll be able to go winter camping". I hope he realizes that I had no intention of not surviving. Once setup we were both too warm. We peeled back a layer or two and turned in. The temperature outside dropped to -10°C but we were quite comfortable in the quinzee. We woke up around 6:30 and headed in for a pancake breakfast. Our outing was a successful one and we are ready to give it a try in the wild.

It snowed all day on Sunday and the puddles had been around as a result of the rain, freezing rain and thawing from before were now buried and frozen solid. The kids decided to shovel them off and slide around them on their boots. They were having a great time so I suggested they get their skates out. So they did.

Just the Right Size

Rink-side Seating

Having a Blast

It's All About Balance
So much fun right in our own backyard! We were so grateful that winter decided to make an appearance. We all seem to enjoy winter so much more where there's snow.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

We Found Winter at Arrowhead!

If you're a fan of snowy winters and live in southern Ontario, this likely has not been much of a fun winter for you. We've had a lot of rain and freezing rain this winter along with some mild temperatures. Recently we decided to set out to find winter by booking a cabin at Arrowhead Provincial Park for the middle of the week. We had such a blast there last winter we thought we'd go back.

We couldn't have asked for better weather. The Ice Skating Trail reopened the day before we arrived and there was lots of snow for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The temperature was below zero every day we were there and as it seems to do every time we go, it snowed every day. The first couple of days brought a couple of centimetres each and on our last day we must have received close to 10 cm. All of the extra snow meant that the tubing hill opened on our last day.

Snowshoeing at Mayflower Lake

Time for a Rest

Mayflower Lake Trail

Short Loop or Long Loop?

Taking a Break at the Amphitheatre

Resting on the Way Back

Walking Hemlock Ridge

Happy Together

Hurray for Winter!

Friendly Chickadees

Table for Two

So Many Chickadees

Family Skate

One Stride at a Time
Staying at the cabins at Arrowhead Provincial Park provided us with an amazing winter location. The scenery was spectacular, the activities were plentiful and the company couldn't be beat. The time away allowed us to really connect as a family. The distractions of work, school, extra curricular activities, jobs around the house, etc. all faded away for a few days. The only important things for those days were being together and being outside. We can't wait to do it again.

What are your favourite winter destinations?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Skiing the SJAM Winter Trail and Gatineau Park

We recently made a trip to Ottawa so that we could enjoy a bit of winter with family. Our first stop in the city (second if you include the rest stop) was to the new Sir John A. MacDonald (SJAM) Winter Trail. I'd read a lot about this trail and couldn't believe that a multi-use pathway that was groomed regularly by volunteers existed right in the city (map). How amazing would it be to live in Ottawa and be able to take advantage of the the trail? Wouldn't it be cool if you could ski to work? We had to check it. 
Excited to be Trying Out the SJAM Trail

We parked at Island Park Drive. The map doesn't show a parking lot, but there was one that was plowed. Although it was cold, with a bitter wind the day we visited we still had a great time. The trail was well groomed and there were a ton of people out. Lots of parents were there introducing their children to skiing. The trail was a flurry of activity. There were beginner skiers, expert skiers (both classic and skate), snowshoers, fat bikers  fat-bikers fat bikes and even some walkers. All of this is available free of charge but you can make a donation here (it's worth it). It was incredible. What a great way to get people active in the winter.

Cruising Along the SJAM Trail

Heading Under the Parkway
 We spent about an hour on the trail before our toes started getting cold. I find it amazing to see how much the kids are improving each time we go out. Their technique is getting better, they can go further and best of all...they're just happy being outside.

We packed up our things and went to visit some family. During the visit we planned what the next day would look like. We all wanted to go skiing in Gatineau Park. The park is an amazing collection of cross-country ski trails (over 200 km). To say it's a cross-country skier's paradise would be an understatement.

We thought it would be a ton of fun to park at P10, ski the Fortune Lake Parkway to Keogan Cabin, have lunch then ski back. Round trip would be about 7 km. We weren't sure how the younger members of our group would fare and the forecast was for cold temperatures again. Rather than trying to push it we decided to do an easier route. We started with a stop at the visitor centre to purchase our tickets. It was here that we discovered that kids under the age of 13 are FREE. What a great deal!

So Much Snow
 We headed to P8 and skied the northern section of the Gatineau Parkway. Everyone had a great time and when we got tired it was easy to turn around and head back to the parking lot.

We're Off

Time for Some Assistance

Beautiful Scenery

Having a Great Time

Camp Fortune in the Distance
 We headed back to visitor centre for lunch. They have a great lunch room with a bunch of picnic style tables for visitors. We had lunch then the kids went off to explore the exhibits while a few of the adults decided to try a more challenging trail. We parked at P7 and began the long climb up trail 30. It probably took up close to 20 minutes to do the climb up to trail 1, a distance of only 1 km. It was a great workout and the view from the lookout was great. We skied along trail 1 all the way to Keogan Cabin. It was a neat cabin with lots of tables and a wood stove. It would make a great lunch stop. Perhaps next year we'll have to bring the kids (taking a different route of course). We didn't stay long so that we could get back to the parking lot before the sun set. The return trip seemed a lot faster as a result of the huge downhill section at the end. The trip was a good workout full of beautiful scenery.

Going Up

View from the Lookout
Getting Late in the Day
 We were hoping to take the kids for a quick ski along the SJAM trail the following day but the morning temperature was -20°C. Despite the cold I ducked out early-ish for a quick trip along the trail. It was cold but once I was moving I didn't really notice. The views were breathtaking and I didn't see another person on the trail until I had reached the halfway point of my trip. What a great way to start the day.

Early Morning on the SJAM Trail

Looking Out Over the River
We had such a great visit to the nation's capital. We're so grateful for both of these natural spaces located so close to the city and the volunteers and staff who make them possible.

We're already planning our next winter outing. Where will your winter adventures take you?