When I meet people while visiting other countries, it inevitably comes up that we are from Canada. What follows is usually a comment in the direction of “Oh, Canada! It’s so beautiful… but it is too cold for me there; how do you do it?” I don’t remember how I’ve answered in the moment, but I was thinking about this recently; not only the question of how do we survive our increasingly Polar Vortex-filled winters, but to go beyond that and ask, “How to we thrive? How do we actually enjoy this season that seems to last for half of the calendar year?”
Here is what I came up with: by fully embracing it — especially since having kids! If we holed up inside for six months with our two little boys, it would get bonkers (for all of us!). So instead, we get the right gear, we bundle up, and we get outside. We throw snow, we toboggan, and we build snowmen…a lot of them. In December, we do every Christmas-themed-everything – sleigh rides, Christmas tree farms, Christmas markets, Unsilent Night, all of it. And to start off 2019, we took things next level and we went winter camping at Arrowhead Provincial Park.
Arrowhead has embraced winter even more than we have. I think a lot of people assume that provincial and national parks are for camping in the summer, hiking in the fall, and then laying dormant while we all wait for spring to save us. It could be argued though, that Arrowhead may be at its best in winter. There is just SO much to do there! Ready? Here’s the run down – Arrowhead is home to more than 33 km (that’s 20 miles, for our American friends!) of groomed cross-country ski trails. The park rents skis and poles — both traditional skis, as well as the newer skate skis (think shorter, stubbier, less likely to trip up beginners).
Likely unfamiliar to you, as it was to us (unless you are reading this from Scandinavia), is skijoring, which is most easily explained as a sort of mix between dog sledding and cross-country skiing. So in lieu of the sled, it’s you on skis, harnessed up and being helped along by your furry friend. If your interest is piqued, read more about skijoring here. (And if you’ve tried it, let us know how it was!) If that’s not for you, head to the tubing hill, free tubes included! For the nervous parents out there, know that you tube down one side of the hill, and then walk back up parallel to the run, with a large snow bank dividing the walkers from the tubers, which means that the activity never turns into human bowling. Win!
But the very coolest (no pun intended) activity at the park in my books, is the 1.3 km ice skating trail through the forest. That’s right…skating AMONGST THE TREES. Trust me, it is every bit as magical as it sounds. You can bring your own skates, or you can rent them there, your choice. The regular plowing and flooding creates the perfect snowbanks to line the trail, and on some nights they even light torches along the sides for their “Fire and Ice” evenings.
Heavy snow hanging on the branches, crackling fires at warming stations along the trail, the sound of your blades carving the ice, and the friendly faces of fellow skaters taking it all in makes for a quintessentially Canadian experience, if there ever was one. Jessica wants to know why The Bachelor hasn’t filmed a date there yet, and she’s got a very solid point.
So we packed up our boys, filled the Defender with a ridiculous amount of cold weather clothes and gear, and set off north to spend a few nights in one of Arrowhead’s ten rustic rental cabins. We arrived midday after stopping for a few breaks and much needed coffee (shout out to Oliver’s Coffee!), and after checking in at the park gate, we parked the Defender right beside what I want to call the ‘sled depot’ where the park has provided the campers with heavy duty toboggans to haul your belongings back and forth to your cabin. This keeps the serene setting of the cabins quiet from vehicle noise, and really adds to the experience.
The cabins themselves are perfect – finished in wood, inside and out, well heated, a little kitchenette corner and two beds (one queen, and a double/single bunkbed). We brought our own Pack n’ Play for Tom and there was plenty of floor space to accommodate it. A screened-in porch became a home for all our outdoor gear. They also have a small deck with a BBQ and a nice fire pit a few steps away, complete with seating. You can cook on either – camper’s choice.
The cabins don’t have running water or a toilet (this is still branded as ‘camping’ after all), but the comfort facilities are just a short jaunt away, with toasty shower rooms, plenty of private bathrooms, and a kitchen sink wash up station too. So, after settling into our cabin, we layered the boys up and got back outside to explore the park. Arrowhead just completed a brand new Visitor’s Centre this past December, and it is there that you can collect your rentals (skis, snowshoes and skates), use another set of washrooms, grab a snack, or warm up next to a roaring fire while you take in the panoramic views of the park through their bird-friendly windows.
We did all of the above, and then headed out for our first snowshoe hike of the day. It felt good to be outside, and it seemed like anyone else we passed felt the same. Lots of smiles and quiet greetings. It felt like we were somewhere special, and a part of something special, and it filled me with gratitude for all we have. The boys just mostly ate snow. To each their own.
So we hiked, and we skated, and we cozied up in our cabin, and then we did it all over again the next day, all the while Jessica and I would mention to one another every little while, “Isn’t this great?” and it really was.
A big thanks to the team up at Arrowhead for welcoming us up for a few nights! We are very appreciative of the stay and the experience; it wasn’t our first time up to the park, and it definitely won’t be our last! Click here for more park details or here to book your own cabin.
How do you get through your winter? Any favourite activities or places you swear by? Sound off below, we’d love to hear about them!
*This time around, our stay at Arrowhead was sponsored, but my thoughts on our time up there are all mine!