Be careful what you wish for, they say. That’s what I was thinking after spending over an hour stuck in a traffic jam, all courtesy of the lake effect snow storm. All winter, I’ve been complaining about the lack of winter: no snow, no skiing opportunities, no beautiful enchanted forest. And here we were, less than thirty minutes away from our weekend destination, Allegany State Park, with nothing else to do but watch the snow coat our car until all we could see was faint blinking of the police vehicle up ahead. After an hour of willing the cars in front of us to move, I decided to get outside and take a walk. It was definitely magical: large flakes of snow falling softly, blanketing the world around. I walked to the front of the line, chatted with fellow stranded travellers, learned that two trucks had ended up in a ditch earlier that day bringing all the traffic to a standstill. Eventually, the mess was cleared up and we started moving but it felt like dog-sledding or even just walking would have been faster. The world around was completely white, with only rear lights of the truck in front guiding us ahead. I wanted winter, and I got it.
By the time we arrived in the park, it was close to one in the morning. Luckily, there is always a security guard on duty so getting a key to the cabin wasn’t a problem. That was one of those moments when I really appreciated glamping: no tent to set up, just roll out sleeping bags and go to bed.
It was our fourth trip to Allegany State Park. We discovered it three years ago when we realized that we’d missed the reservation date for Ontario Parks and all roofed accommodations had been booked. With over 160 winterized cabins at Allegany, there is always one available even last minute. So it has become our fall-back location for when we forget to book our winter trips, which happens quite often. But it is also a great park to visit in the winter. I am sure it’s great in other seasons, too (I would imagine it looks fabulous in the fall with all its hardwood forests), but we’ve only seen it under the cover of snow so far.
Previously, we stayed at the Congdon and Sugarbush Loops. This year we booked a cabin at the Summit Loop to be closer to the Art Roscoe Nordic Centre. Unlike the other cabins, the one at Summit had three rooms: two bedrooms and a kitchen/dining room. It also had electric heating instead of gas. I was a bit concerned it would be cold because we’d had mixed experiences with electric heating at Ontario Parks yurts. But it was very nice and cozy inside, much warmer than our cabin last year. Like all cabins in Allegany, this one had a refrigerator, a wooden table (perfect for our Settlers of Catan set-up) with two benches, an area for food prep and an electric stove. The stove, I must say, was one of my favourite features, because cooking outside when it was -20 wouldn’t have been much fun. Here are some pictures of the cabin inside and out. As you can see, most of the table is covered in Settlers of Catan, since the game stretched over two days. Outside, the cabin had a porch (must be nice to drink coffee here in the morning when it’s slightly warmer) and a fire ring, somewhere under the snow. We made our own and had a romantic Valentine’s night out. But let me backtrack a little.
After such a late arrival, we were hoping to get some extra sleep in the morning, but our son had other plans. With a geocache only 400 metres away, he couldn’t wait any longer to go looking for it. Some time around 9, he started the process of waking us up: he would come into our room every five minutes and announce the exact time (that’s how I know it was every five minutes). After a while, we gave up all attempts to go back to sleep, got out of bed, made some breakfast, put on layers of clothing and stepped into the cold. The temperature was hovering around -20 with a wind chill of somewhere close to -30. But compared to northern Ontario and Quebec where temperatures dropped to 40 below zero, it was practically tropical weather. Plus it was beautiful with all the snow and sun, so no complains.
As we made our way to the geocache, we would occasionally find ourselves wrapped up in white snowy clouds whipped up the wind. Luckily, this whole endeavour was successful: the geocache was located and recorded. (Now that our son got a GPS unit as an early birthday present, our geocache finding rate has grown considerably.)
We retraced our way back to the cabin, and then drove to the office to register. After that, we took a trip to the grocery store in nearby Salamanca to buy milk, veggies and fire wood, things we couldn’t bring with us across the border. On the way back, we stopped to find three more geocaches, including a travel bug, which is a little trinket that can be moved from cache to cache. This one aims to cover the longest distance possible before making its way back home to Kissimmee, Florida.
After a nice lunch, we put on more layers and set out on a walk looking for more, you got it, geocaches. By then, the sun had slipped behind the clouds and it started snowing. On the plus side, the wind had died and it felt warmer.
Our lucky morning streak must have ended because we couldn’t locate any more geocaches. We decided they must have been buried under the snow and we needed to come back some other time of the year. We still got a nice walk.
We visited the Stone Tower during our search. It was built for observation purposes in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Unfortunately, with all the snow we couldn’t observe much.
By then, it was getting dark so we returned to the cabin, made veggie burgers and spent the evening playing our favourite game.
The next morning, our wake-up procedure was slightly different. Our son stormed into the room announcing that he’d managed to freeze some soap bubbles. You’d think blowing bubbles is a summer activity but it is just as much fun in the winter. The bubbles that don’t pop turn into tiny frozen spheres. So, of course, I had to get out of bed and take pictures of his bubbles. And then we repeated the whole thing in the evening.
It was the most perfect winter day.
After all those weekends of hoping for a ski-friendly weather, we could finally strap on a pair of skis and venture into the woods. The forest was magical, sparkling as if someone had spilled glitter dust all over it.
We decided to take on the Patterson Trail. It was marked as “more difficult” but on the way there it felt almost too easy. We were just gliding through the forest, stopping from time to time to snap some pictures and drink hot tea. It wasn’t until we turned back, that we fully appreciated the difficulty level. Our return trip was an uphill climb all the way back, not too steep but a good workout nonetheless.
The last day of the trip always rolls in unexpectedly. You know it’s coming but always hope it won’t be for a while. This time we finished packing surprisingly early so we decided to spend the day looking for geocaches. Our son identified five that were not too far away. We started with the covered bridge where we actually met the owner of the cache. We then proceeded to the Butterfly Meadow, which had no butterflies but lots of snow.
Our final destination was the Osgood Trail with three caches hidden along the way. It was quite a hike, winding uphill for the first half, then descending back to its starting point. That’s when I fully appreciated all the benefits of geocaching. If it hadn’t been for those caches, we would be hard pressed to find a convincing reason to get our son to go on that hike. Now he was leading the way.
The forest in Allegany is mostly hardwood, and while I can identify a lot of trees by their leaves, I am not so good with the bark. It was still an interesting experience studying the trunks, each one spotting a different pattern, grooves and ridges etched in like wrinkles.
Another interesting Allegany feature is its rocks. They have perfectly flat, level tops and come in clusters known as “rock cities.”
Our final geocache score of the day was five, including a tracker, which is another variation of a travel bug. This one aims to climb as many tall mountains as possible. Good thing we are going to California this year!
So there you have it – a perfect winter trip that ended, according to tradition, with a delicious fish & chips dinner at John’s Restaurant in Niagara Falls, ON.