A few years ago, we discovered how awesome it is to experience winter in an Ontario park. It started with staying in a yurt in Killarney. Then we opted for more luxurious accommodations and stayed in a cabin at Arrowhead. In 2016, we decided to officially check-off four seasons of camping in Algonquin Park with four days in a yurt at Mew Lake Campground.
With each trip, we have learned something new. And with each trip we have had amazing experiences. Camping at Mew Lake on Family Day Weekend, 2016 was no exception. In fact, that year was really special. We were active participants in Algonquin at the lowest recorded temperatures in history! Yup. We were winter camping in -42 at Mew.
This is what we learned in Algonquin Park that year:
· A yurt on a lake can be a cold, cold, place. With the heat turned on full blast, our indoor temperature didn’t go above 14 Celsius all weekend. The view was beautiful and we loved the site. But with the wind coming across the open lake combined with record-low temperatures, the poor little heater simply could not compete. We actually made a run into town and bought two extra space heaters.
· A yurt can only handle so much power. It does not have enough power to run two extra space heaters, and the lights and the yurt heater.
· You can not boil a kettle while the lights are on and both the yurt heater and space heater are running. See above.
· A hot tent is warmer than a yurt.
· Did I mention it was cold? On Sunday, February 14, 2016 the Algonquin Park temperature of -42.2°C broke the old record of -38.9°C, set in 1970.
We also learned that what happens in one Ontario Park, doesn’t always happen in other Ontario Parks. The yurts at Mew Lake do not include propane barbecues in the winter. This came as a bit of a shock as they are provided in Killarney and Arrowhead. Almost all of our dinners were prepared to be cooked on the BBQ. Did this faze us? Not really. Alex does most of our camp cooking over a fire pit in the summer, so that’s what he did that weekend. But it was so cold outside, cooking our steaks over an open fire took a lot longer than it normally would in warmer seasons. Perhaps the biggest lesson here is to NOT make assumptions. From now on, we will double-check what is available with a yurt in the winter at other parks.
Despite (or maybe because of it) the cold, and aside from the little BBQ surprise, we had more than one incredible experience being together, outside as a family. It started with the fox…
This beautiful beast showed-up on our site shortly after we arrived, and mooched around for some time. We were amazed that she was so bold, coming so close at one point that I probably could have stroked her brilliant red coat. While seeing an Algonquin fox this way was incredible, it was also sad. She has clearly become habituated to humans in the park. And we suspect that campers before us have fed her. This wild creature was begging for food much the way a family dog would at dinner time. A day or so later, a second fox came around looking for handouts as well. We suspect that the pair are mates, working their scam together on soft-hearted campers. Did we feed them? No. What we did was guard our steaks grilling over the fire to make sure the foxes didn’t snatch them while they cooked!
Our friendly campground foxes weren’t the only wildlife we encountered. We didn’t see any moose this time. But we did enjoy feeding chickadees and watching blue and gray jays. And we even saw two huge turkey’s meandering their way along a rocky ridge close to the highway.
Winter camping at Algonquin Park really is a big thing. We were amazed at how many people were at Mew, camping in tents, hot tents, trailers and yurts. We were thrilled to meet the Sonntag family – a great family who have been following Sometimes Eventful for a while. You can check out their adventures on Facebook right here: The Camping Family A few of my other blogging and social media friends were also in the park, but we weren’t able to meet. Next time, I think we’ll have to arrange a special meet-up party!
We spent all day Saturday of our long weekend in Algonquin taking part in the annual Winter in the Wild festival – a great event designed to encourage people to experience Algonquin in all it’s beauty in the winter. We joined a snowshoe hike led by park naturalists, listened to a talk about snowshoes, visited hot tents, went inside an igloo and experienced something that is as much a part of Algonquin as paddling its lakes in the warmer weather. We went on a wolf howl.
In the dark of night as temperatures dipped to unbelievable lows, a small group of us walked through the darkness to a nearby field, led by a park naturalist and researcher. They howled at the wolves. The wolves howled back. And it was absolutely stunning. This was our first ever organized wolf howl, and we were not disappointed. We later found out that in the five years that the wolf howls have happened at the Winter in the Wild festival, this was the first time Algonquin’s iconic animals actually howled back.
Of all the things we did that weekend, Emma, Alex and I rank the wolf howl as the best part of the trip.
Our weekend also included a hike up the Lookout Trail and snowshoeing part of the Mizzy Lake. Both trails were beautiful with the sun and snow. We were particularly happy to discover that Mizzy Lake is actually easier to hike on snowshoes in winter than slogg through the mud and roots and rocks that make up the trail in other seasons.
When we weren’t hiking, snowshoeing or watching wildlife, we spent our time around the yurt. Cold, bright days are perfect for creating a small ice rink on a frozen lake for skating.
And cold, dark nights with no electronic distractions are perfect for playing rounds of cards, and then going out to lie on the frozen lake and look up at the clearest sky and brightest stars you have ever seen.
Most of our friends think we are a bit crazy for heading out on a camping trip in the depths of a Canadian winter. Some even ask why we do it. The answer is this:
The chickadees and jays.
The frozen lake.
The sound of blades on ice.
The wolves howling.