Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter in the Wild in Algonquin Park

We attended Winter in the Wild last year and loved it so much that we decided we needed to return. Last year we stayed at a motel just outside the East Gate. It was nice, but we really wanted to stay in the park for the full experience. It's a totally different trip when you stay in the park.

This year's Winter in the Wild, at Algonquin Park, would be our second outing in our hot tent. We were really looking forward to it. We were a little disappointed as we left Thursday morning that it was foggy, rainy and generally very wet. That said, by the time we reached the East Gate of the park the rain was behind us and the rest of the day proved to be quite nice. We stopped in at the Visitor Centre for some lunch and a peak out the viewing deck then headed for the campground. When we arrived at Mew Lake the campground was fairly empty. We set up the tent then spent some time getting the interior of the tent set up. I think we're getting a little faster at this process and the kids are getting to be very helpful.

Tent Setup on a Huge Site
Once we were setup we split some wood so that we could get the fire going. After the chores were done we walked around the campground and checked things out. The skating rink was closed due to the warm temperatures as they were hoping to preserve the ice for the weekend. We headed back to have some chicken pot pie then clean up. We got some glow sticks out for the kids. They had fun playing with them as we walked through the campground. There weren't any clouds in the sky so the star gazing was incredible.

I think we're getting a little better at managing the fire in the wood stove but we could use a some more practice. I woke up every few hours, mostly because my nose was cold. I would roll out of bed throw more wood on the fire then, invariably, would have to go to the bathroom. The hike to the comfort station under the stars was always worth getting out of bed for. I figure I got a lot of exercise this way.

In the morning we cooked some cinnamon buns and bacon. On our last trip our daughter commented about how this wasn't exactly a healthy breakfast, but that didn't stop her from eating it this time. It takes a long time to cook bacon on a wood stove and dealing with all the grease is a bit of a pain. Next time I think we'll cook the bacon ahead of time and freeze it so that it just has to be heated.

Flooding the Rink With the Algonquin Zamboni
The plan for the morning was to head to the Fen Lake Ski Trail located at the West Gate of the park. We loaded up all the skis and headed out. When we arrived at the West Gate we discovered that the trails were closed due to the icy conditions (remember all the rain from the day before). This was the first time we've stopped at the west gate. We almost always come in from the East Gate so this was the first time that we saw the famous sign.

West Gate
After a quick trip into the gatehouse to purchase some badges we loaded up the van and headed back to our site. We stopped along the way to have a look at the cool looking ice formations along the highway.

Frozen Waterfall Along Highway 60

Ice Formations Along Highway 60
When we got back to our site we grabbed the skates and walked to the rink. We generally don't skate much so I thought this would be a quick thirty minute outing. As it turns out the kids loved it. They liked that they could skate or that they could grab a hockey stick and skate around with a puck. We played together and we played with some of the other kids. Things were going great until the puck I fired a little too hard at the net hit our son in the knee. He was done skating for the time being but his injury proved to be short lived.  He and Sarah headed back to the tent to prepare lunch while the girls (and I) were happy to continue skating. We stayed until well past when we might normally have had lunch and even then it was hard to get the girls off the ice.

First Time With a Stick on the Ice 

Official Puck Dropper

Looking for a Pass...

...and Waiting for a Return Pass

I've Got This

After lunch we walked to the airfield following the Old Rail Bike Trail. It's too bad the trail was so icy. It would have made for a great ski. It's flat but I think the kids would have enjoyed it.

On the Beaten Path and Off the Beaten Path

Who Needs Snowshoes

I expected that upon our return the kids would be too tired to do anything physical. Was I ever wrong. As soon as we got back all they wanted to do was skate some more. We grabbed our skates and headed back to the rink. One of the boys that we played with in the morning was still out on the ice having a great time.  Everyone out on the ice seemed so happy. I couldn't believe how much better our kids were getting at skating and moving a puck around. When we first stepped on the ice our four year old didn't want to skate without holding somebody's hand. Now, she was happily skating on her own and doing her own thing. We stayed into the early evening.

The campground had slowly been filling up over the course of the day. I was amazed to see just how many sites were already taken. Based on today's arrivals I was guessing that there wouldn't be many empty sites Saturday night.

Saturday was Algonquin's Winter in the Wild Festival. We were hoping to do a hike in the morning and then catch a presentation. We slept in a bit and took our time cooking up some pancakes. By the time we were finished and had cleaned up we didn't really have time for a hike. Instead we loaded up the car and headed to the Visitor Centre to see Marian & Hailey Sonntag do a presentation on Essentials to Beginning Winter Camping. They did a great job with their presentation. They are both so passionate about being outside and really want others to experience the joy of getting out in the winter. It was great of them to share their knowledge with us.

Getting the Rink Ready

Presentation by Marian & Hailey Sonntag

Following the presentation we headed back to our site for lunch and more skating. We were at the rink for the entire afternoon. The rink was quite busy due to Winter in the Wild but the skaters and hockey players managed to share the ice beautifully. It was so nice to be outside all day getting some fresh air along with a ton of exercise.

We grabbed some burgers and hot dogs at the the barbeque put on by the Friends of Algonquin Park then headed for the camp fire where we took in a presentation on wolves which included a hike out to the Old Airfield for a wolf howl. It was very cool to hear the naturalists call. We did hear something way off in the distance. I thought it was an owl but the naturalist said it may have been a wolf way off in the distance.

Sunday morning we hiked the 2.3 km Peck Lake Trail. It was a perfect day for a hike. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. The kids did a great job. The promise of snacks at certain trail markers was a good incentive for them to keep going.

Icy Section of the Trail

Post 4: The Snacking Post


Big Tree 
Photo Opportunity


Wood Pecker Hole

It was such a beautiful day that we had lunch outside. We had some soup and cooked some cornbread over the fire. Any guesses on where the kids wanted to go after lunch? If you said the rink, you were right. Our son and I spent the afternoon skating up and down the rink passing and shooting the puck. We tried to get our daughters in on the action but they were happy just skating with the puck or digging pucks out of the net. I feel like we all got so much better at skating and moving the puck around.

Moving the Puck

Break Time

Going to the Net

Having a Blast

Coming in for a Shot

Is Ice Chair Pushing an Olympic Event? If So These Girls Are Ready!

The Rink to Ourselves
At about 4:00 I tried to get the kids off the ice so that we could try out the skiing on the Old Railway Bike Trail. They were having no part of it. They were happy on the ice and weren't getting off. Sarah stayed with the kids while I got my skis and headed around the Old Airfield. The sun had softened the snow enough to make the skiing quite enjoyable. I went for a short ski then made my way back to the rink. When I arrived at the rink we pried the kids off the ice so that we could eat. What a great day!

Great Afternoon for Some Skiing

The Old Airfield 
Monday was another beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the temperature was climbing. We packed up a few things as we were getting breakfast ready, then ate. After eating we began packing things away. The kids were very helpful. Once we were all packed up we thanked the wardens for all their hard work over the weekend and told them that we would be back for more winter fun.

We had hoped to do a hike on the way out but as we were leaving the campground the rain started to come down so we headed for the Visitor Centre where we had lunch.

This trip was a great experience for us. We had the chance to see so many winter camping setups. It was incredible how full the campground was. I think I only counted eight empty sites (in the electrical portion of the campground) on Saturday night.  I was also blown away the amazing community of super friendly people. Everyone said "hi" as they walked past. People were happy to tell you about their setups and share tips and tricks and in the evening there was always a happy crowd gathered around a fire sharing stories of both winter and summer camping adventures. It was truly amazing community to experience.

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