By: Jim Bamboulis
Yes, winter is the perfect time to be lethargic and whine about how cold it is. Then after complaining a bit, you check Netflix and open up another bag of cheesy Doritos – then another one – this time the spicy cheesy Doritos.
But here’s the thing – winter is the PERFECT time to get in the car, take a road trip, get outside and breathe in some fresh, crisp air. It’s also a great time to get the heart pumping. You could get another gym membership or you could get your heart pumping with these five outdoor activities. Not only will these gems make you feel great but you won’t even feel like you’re exercising.
The tires are oversized and the rims are bigger. Call it a bicycle on roids.
Originally invented and designed to make cycling on snow and sand easier, fat biking has become somewhat of an obsession for many across North America. And we’re not talking about just from passionate cycling enthusiasts. We’re talking about the general public, including families and young kids.
The fact that there’s a Global Fat Bike Day says a lot. Locally, fat biking has become popular over the past few years in the Muskoka region of Ontario and increasingly in the Toronto area. There are a few shops that sell them in the city starting at around $600 but if you don’t want to spend that kind of money and want to just give it a try close to home, your best bet is to hit Hardwood Ski and Bike in Oro-Medonte, just north of Barrie (map).
You can rent a fat bike at a very affordable rate, take to the trails and feel like you’re riding on air. You’ll have a smooth, comfortable and fun ride all without noticing that you’re breaking a sweat. Just remember, bike etiquette is important!
Just think about it. No bugs and no humidity. Just fresh, crisp air and serenity. Winter camping may have its share of challenges but the advantages and reasons why you should do it far outweigh anything else.
You get to enjoy and appreciate your favourite park in a completely different way. And being outdoors in the middle of nature in the off-season, sorta speak, can be invigorating for the soul. If you’re a seasoned camper, then setting up your own tent and campsite is no problem. But for those who aren’t big or experienced campers and still want to enjoy the experience of winter camping, then you’re in luck!
There are several Provincial Parks that offer Yurts and Camp Cabins for overnight accommodations. Yurts come equipped with winterized comfort stations which includes heat, hot water, flush toilets and showers.
No matter what direction out of Toronto, there’s a place to reserve and winter camp. Click on each link for information about full amenities available at each park and fees involved.
East of Toronto:
Frontenac Provincial Park
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
I don’t always do horse-drawn carriage rides but when I do, I prefer them in the winter. This activity is perfect for couples and families and allows you to opportunity to enjoy the beauty of winter in a relaxed, comfortable and peaceful way.
If you’re going north of Toronto, hit Back of Beyond Equine Centre near Huntsville. It offers sleigh rides that take you through scenic woodland trails. The ride itself is about 40 minutes long but packages are available. Evening sleigh rides are also available and give you an opportunity to enjoy it while under a (hopefully) clear, star-filled sky. For more information about the rides and fees involved, click on the company website.
If you want to head west, drive to St. Jacobs (map), a little more than 1 hour from Toronto. A prominent Mennonite community with a famous farmers market, this country location provides the perfect backdrop to a serene outdoor winter adventure. For information about the sleigh rides and fees involved, click on the St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours website.
In my opinion, snowshoeing is one of the most underrated and under appreciated winter activities out there. But it’s quickly gaining popularity everywhere there’s snow. In fact, several US schools have incorporated snowshoeing into their physical education classes to combat obesity.
Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years. They are incredibly useful when it comes to walking on deep snow, making it easier to reach backcountry terrain. If you’re trying it for the first time, it’s best to hit trails that have already been ‘broken’ in, that is a trail that has already been softened or smoothed over. Believe me, it’s enough of a workout to snowshoe much less be a trailblazer, ‘stamping’ several feet of snow to clear the way.
After getting a brief breakdown about how to strap on the shoes, turn around, ascend and descend a hill, you’re ready to go. Snowshoeing is easier on your feet and turns a familiar hike into fresh, new adventure. And trust me, your body will feel some muscle pain the next day.
There’s no shortage of snowshoeing facilities within driving distance of Toronto. For the most comprehensive breakdown of where to find snowshoe trail near you, refer to Ontario Trails. If there’s a snowshoe trail out there, these guys know about it.
Dog sledding isn’t just for those training for the Iditarod. This outdoor adventure is available for everyone across many parts of Canada, including within driving distance of Toronto. It’s adrenaline filled and when combined with the sincere love and appreciation for the dogs doing a lot of the hard work, it’s an activity that you’ll love.
Most of the dog sledding facilities are located north and east of Toronto. And there are several to choose from. Haliburton Forest offers sledding along groomed trails that run along countless lakes and through thick forest and rolling hills. Further north in Huntsville, North Ridge Ranch has 50 Alaskan Huskies that lead you through some of the most breathtaking terrain in Central Ontario. In Algonquin Park, three companies including, Voyageur Quest, Wilderness Adventures and Snow Forest Adventures offer 1-day or multi-day dog sledding trips you won’t soon forget.
One more well-known dog sledding company located in Haliburton is Winderdance. They offer everything from 2 and 3 hour tours to multi-day and moonlit runs. No matter what time of day and for how long you decide to go for, the remote, picturesque beauty of the landscape will invigorate you mind, body and soul.
There you have it! 5 outdoor activities that you should do this winter. Now put down those chips!
Of course, you should always consult a doctor before doing anything strenuous. Common sense, people.
Happy travels everyone!