We love our Saturday microadventures. They are a great way to recharge at the end of the week, explore new places nearby, plus they don’t require a lot of planning. Sometimes, though, the need arises for a more intensive reboot, which means it’s time to plan a camping trip.
A few weeks ago, as I was browsing the Ontario Parks reservation site, I saw a yurt available at Silent Lake Provincial Park. It was a stroke of luck since roofed accommodations for winter usually get booked months in advance. We visited Silent Lake a couple of times before, including for my birthday last summer, but never in the winter, so it was a great opportunity to see it in a different light.
Unlike the yurts we stayed at in the past, this one didn’t have electricity. There was a wood stove instead of the usual electrical heater. When I called the park about the check-in procedures (something they ask you to do when you book the site), the ranger warned me that there was a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the yurt and sleds were provided for transporting gear. This wasn’t new as a lot of parks have similar arrangements in the winter. It did mean, however, that it was in our best interests to arrive earlier rather than later so we would have enough time to transport our gear, start the fire and warm up the yurt. We began packing Thursday night, but even with all the advance preparations, we weren’t able to leave until 7 p.m. on Friday. We arrived at Silent Lake around 10. Needless to say, it was already dark. Good thing we had our flashlights close by. Another group came right after us and they were very surprised to learn that their yurt was a walk-in, plus they were strangely upset about the presence of snow.
It took us about two hours to move our stuff, split some wood (wood is provided in a large blue bin right on the site, an ax and newspapers are included too) and warm up the yurt. We had some minor hitches along the way, like not closing the stove door properly so smoke was escaping inside the yurt and our smoke detector wasn’t happy about it (it was good to know that it was working properly, though). Eventually we figured it all out and fell asleep to a beautiful golden glow in the yurt. Now, in spite of all the work required to operate a wood stove and inconveniences it entails (like having to wake up regularly throughout the night to add more wood), it was a way more pleasant experience than using an electric heater.
When we stepped outside the next morning, we felt almost blinded by the light. It was a warm sunny day so we had breakfast outside. The yurt had a BBQ with a side burner for cooking and a picnic table.
After breakfast we set out on a walk. Our goal was a lone geocache hidden along the Lakeshore Trail. Silent Lake has over 19 km of skiing trails but they were already closed because of warm weather. There is also a 3km snowshoe trail with snowshoe rentals available at the park office. We decided to skip snowshoes, which was a mistake as there was still a lot of snow on the ground.
There was also water and icy bits along the way so some of us had pretty wet feet by the time we finished our hike. Also the geocache refused to reveal itself but we got some pretty views of the frozen Silent Lake along the way.
Upon our return, we quickly changed into dry boots and socks looking forward to an evening of great food, campfire and Settlers of Catan.
The next morning, it was time to pack and head back, always the least favourite part of the trip. And with the beginning of the daylight saving time, we felt like a whole hour of camping time was stolen from us. So we stalled, slowly enjoyed our coffee, tea and sunshine, then took our time packing.
Finally, as we were ready to leave, we noticed chickadees and nuthatches swooping around. We searched our remaining food supplies for some seeds and nuts and the next thing we knew as hour was gone watching the birds.
Eventually, we ran out of nuts so it was time to leave, especially because we had to pick up my friend who’d been spending the weekend at her sister’s place in Maynooth, about 30 minutes away from Silent Lake. (You’ve met my friend before on our trip to Scarborough Bluffs and that time we went looking for trees in High Park, also on that memorable Christmas hike at Mono Cliffs, which, according to her, was about 20% too much adventures).
We also had a few more things to do before heading out, like find a couple of geocaches. We quickly located one right across the park entrance. Emboldened by our success, we decided to venture further into the woods but the GPS unit became uncooperative and refused to update the information. After about 30 minutes of going in circles, ripped pants (mine) and a badly scraped thigh (also mine), we decided to call it quits.
We also stopped by the day use area before leaving the park, mainly to use the comfort station located there, but also to have another look at the lake. Canoes were chained to the rack, waiting for the lake to cast off its frozen armour, longing to get reunited with the water. I could feel the longing too.
Our traditional post-camping fish and chips had to be cancelled as there was lunch waiting for us in Maynooth. The meal my friend and her sister prepared for us was definitely worth breaking the tradition for. The part we all enjoyed the most was spending time with my friend’s 11-months-old niece.
But the most memorable part of the trip was a frantic search for a bathroom for my friend on our way back home. It ended up in the woods by the side of the road, which, according to her, was a very bonding experience. It wasn’t our most “exciting” bathroom moment (there is another one that I haven’t got a chance to write about, which involves a port-a-potty at Silver Creek Conservation Area), but definitely the top-five material.