I’ve come to accept that a love of snow is either deeply embedded in your DNA or it’s not. Rarely is someone indifferent to the white stuff. I, for one, am brazen in my love of snow and all the trappings of winter. Toss me a pair of snowshoes or strap me into newly-waxed cross-country skis and I morph into the kid that’s in all of us. Sometimes I get that inner glow simply by parking my butt in a snow bank. Outdoor playtime in winter unleashes a playfulness in adults that’s good for the soul – and the physique.
Some of those nearest and dearest to me haven’t always shared this wintry passion. Not all of my friends have applauded my yearly Shakespeare riff at the first snowfall of the season: “And now, dear friends, is the winter of our content.” Nowhere are our differing views about winter more dramatically played out than on Instagram. I recently re-posted a quote by movie critic Roger Ebert, “The very fact of snow is such an amazement,” which elicited an immediate response from a winter-dissing follower containing a twist on the famous Simon & Garfunkel lyrics, “Hello darkness my old friend. Why are you here, it’s only 4 p.m.” Okay, griping about the reduced daylight in winter is perhaps valid.
But I have witnessed the conversion of friends who’ve learned to love winter simply by getting outside and experiencing the joys of snow, which is sometimes hard to do if you’re a city dweller living under the fickle whims of an urban micro-climate where we don’t get a proper dusting of snow on a daily basis.
That’s why we have parks. National parks. Provincial parks. Conservation areas.
Two years ago, I witnessed one of my hiking friends, Sandra, undergo a winter-love conversion on a day trip to Arrowhead Provincial Park. An avid spring and summer hiker, Sandra hesitated when I invited her to join a bunch of us who were planning to escape the city (I live in Toronto) and immerse ourselves in snow country. By day’s end, she was smitten with winter!
Arrowhead: a winter playground for adults and kids alike
For the uninitiated, Arrowhead Provincial Park, 11 kilometres north of Huntsville, Ontario in the heart of Muskoka, is one of the most accessible (and well-equipped) Ontario parks for enthusiasts who want to fully embrace (or at least try out) a mix out of winter activities. There are 28 kilometres of classic cross-country ski trails and 16 kilometres of skate ski trails. Snowshoers can choose from eight kilometres of marked trails. There’s a tubing hill (tubes supplied) for those seeking a quick dose of adrenaline. And, in addition to the ice-fishing and winter-bird-watching in the 1,230-hectare provincial park, there’s the increasingly popular 1.3-kilometre skating trail that winds its way through the campground. Park staff now host the “Fire and Ice Nights” series. Imagine skating through a forest along a torch-lit skating trail on a winter’s night. (Click here to check for specific dates.)
And, of course, there’s the scenery throughout Arrowhead Provincial Park. The Big Ben Lookout was the turning point for my friend Sandra, who was besotted with the panoramic views of the meandering Big East River (with its gradually forming oxbow lake) and exposed delta covered in snow. These wintry vistas sealed the deal for my friend: “So this is what this winter stuff is all about.”
That “winter stuff” – the snow-covered landscape, spotting animal tracks in the snow, the escape from the city, the endorphin-filled outdoor exercise – is what spurs snow-lovers to head outside when the temperature drops.
The key to embracing winter is finding an activity that speaks to you. Because visitors at Arrowhead Provincial Park can rent skis, snowshoes and skates, it’s easy fairly easy to discover what outdoor activities you most enjoy. That day Sandra and I skied the relatively easy trail to the Big Ben Lookout and then worked our way up to the slightly more challenging Hardwood Hill. After lunch, we swapped skis for snowshoes and spent a couple hours on the scenic Stubb’s Falls Trail. We even waited our turn to go tubing. (Who says adults don’t squeal like kids?) And then we wrapped up our day on the long, winding skate trail. (A tip: If you plan on ice-skating, do so as earlier in the day as possible to get the best skating conditions.)
Brand new visitor centre
The newly-opened, energy-efficient Visitor Centre, which is a boon to winter visitors who now number about 54,700, is the game-changer at Arrowhead Provincial Park this season. The beautifully designed centre, which I checked out the week it officially opened in December, has a spacious lounge with fireplace, a warm-up area, a newly-streamlined gear rental set-up (skis, skates and snowshoes) that reduces waiting time, and there’s also space for recreation skills training.
Stay the night
I’ve overnighted at Arrowhead in summer but before winter is over I plan on booking one of their 10 rustic winterized camp cabins. They’re heated and include the basic amenities of a microwave, mini-fridge and the must-have coffee maker. Weekends fill up early so consider a weeknight stay if that’s an option.
Hop the bus! If you don’t want to drive rural roads in winter or don’t have a car, the not-for-profit Park Bus (which is committed to sustainability in its group trips) offers day excursions from various Toronto locations.
If you’re not yet a lover of snow, try some of the winter activities at Arrowhead Provincial Park. We’ll convert you in the drop of a snowflake.