Written by Jim Bamboulis
Being based in Toronto has its advantages. No matter what you want to do, see and experience, it’s a great base and in the middle of everything. In the winter, a favourite pastime of mine is to drive north, to rugged Canadian Shield country. A magical place where the air is crisp and clean, the ancient rock is snow-covered and, waterfalls freeze in motion. North, to Muskoka, home to Arrowhead Provincial Park. A place that’s three hours north of Toronto, beautiful in the summer and stunning in the winter.
Arrowhead – a Provincial Park 3 hours north of Toronto
During the warmer months, Arrowhead is a beach haven, a hidden oasis. In the fall, its rolling hills bring out the best of the season, with full and vibrant colours on display, at every turn. But it’s in the winter that this park, in my opinion, really shines. In fact, Arrowhead has become such an amazing winter destination, there are lineups to get in and experience what the park has to offer. These are only five of many reasons why.
Brand New Visitor Centre + Picnic Pavilion
A state of the art structure was designed to accommodate not only the growing number of visitors to Arrowhead, but Ontario Parks lead architect Matthew Harvey and the Ontario Parks Environmental Design Team took their vision on another level: to create a space that was also environmentally sound and responsible.
With LED lighting throughout, the windows are both bird friendly and energy-efficient with triple glazed low-e glazing and argon gas between the glass panes. The gorgeous fireplace was donated by the Huntsville Ski Club and Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club while the mantle is made from a Douglas fir stop log recycled from Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry dams. Truly a beautiful building where guests can rent skis, skates and snowshoes and step inside to warm up near the fireplace!
Hiking (without the bugs)
If hiking in the summer is your jam, then you know the necessary evil that comes with it – bugs and bug spray. Hiking in the winter might be a colder experience, but depending on what day you decide to go, it’s actually preferable. Arrowhead has 15 kilometers worth of trails that range from easy to moderate and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to complete.
At seven kilometers long, the Beaver Meadow Trail is the longest one and winds its way past Porcupine Bluffs along a huge ancient lake. With some luck, you may see Great Blue Heron, moose, otter and of course, beavers. The Homesteaders Trail takes about an hour to hike, taking you through some rugged terrain with remnants of abandoned farm fields dating back to the 19th century, while the Stubb’s Falls Trail is an easy 45-minute trail where the reward is seeing the Little East River rush down a rock chute. Perfect for having a snack while you experience the rush of the water. Meanwhile, near the Roe Campground parking lot, Big Bend Lookout is another popular trail that gives you easy access to a gorgeous panoramic view of the meandering Muskoka landscape!
Sure, summer camping is great but here, winter camping is just as enjoyable. There are roofed accommodations including, one room camp cabins with rustic interiors that come with high-quality mattresses, a kitchenette, mini-fridge, dining table, and chairs. Outside, you can enjoy a gas BBQ and picnic table if you’re adventurous enough to eat your meals in colder conditions. All 11 cabins are a short walk to a comfort station and water tap.
Uber Amazing Skiing and Snowshoeing Trails for all skill levels
There’s no shortage of ski and snowshoe trails that will get (and keep) your heart rate going! With 33 kilometres of cross-country ski trails that cater to every skill level, it’s truly a perfect place for everyone including solo travelers looking for solo time, couples who want to challenge each other, and families who make a day of it on the graceful slopes.
Arrowhead is such a ski haven that staff offer programs for kids as young as four years old. The BunnyRabbits Program introduces young, aspiring x-country skiers to not only an organized ski program but more importantly, a consistently fun and active lifestyle as well as an appreciation of the natural, outdoor environment. Program materials include a ski toque, and skill award stickers. Sessions are led by a team of 2 coaches and include games, challenges and discovery activities in the ski playground on the ski trails.
The JackRabbit Program is for six-nine year olds who participate in learning more about classic and skate skiing techniques, improving upon agility, balance, coordination and speed, all while having fun and staying active in a supportive environment.
Legendary Fire + Ice Skating Trail
Considered to be a “fairy tale skate through the Canadian forest”, the skating trail at Arrowhead has been recognized as one of the 19 stunning natural ice skating rinks around the world by Travel+Leisure. Opened in 2012, it’s a 1.3-kilometre trail that winds its way through the snow-covered forest, quickly becoming a winter must-do. Fire + Ice Nights go down on select Saturday nights throughout the winter and feature tiki torches actually lighting up the trail as you skate. Magical stuff for sure!
For more info about the epic Arrowhead, check this link. 2019 is the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks! Take advantage of as many parks as you can throughout the province, no matter how cold or hot it may be.
The question now is – when will you go?
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.
Happy travels, y’all.