Chasing winter: Our weekend at Windy Lake Provincial Park

The winter in Toronto has been a bit of a disappointment so far. It is a matter of opinion, of course. Some people are quite happy with milder than usual temperatures and almost complete lack of snow. Not me, though. Apart from sporadic bursts of season-appropriate weather, we seem to have been stuck in an eternal November loop as if the winter has forgotten how to do winter. So a couple of weekends ago we decided to chase it and headed up north to Windy Lake Provincial Park.

snowshoes in front of a yurt at Windy Lake Provincial Park

Our pursuit of winter took us to Windy Lake Provincial Park

It’s our fourth year coming here, and the park always delivers on winter delights. When we got out of the car late Friday night, I was awed by the mounds of snow. It was hard to believe that all this snowy bounty could exist in the same universe as the gray streets of Toronto with an occasional lump of what was once snow – now lying hardened and dirty by the side of the road, oozing sadness and disappointment.

Windy Lake provincial park in the winter

Unlike Toronto, where snow is in short supply, Windy Lake never fails to deliver on winter delights

Late night arrivals aren’t fun, especially in the winter when there is a ten minute walk to the yurt. But that’s the only way to get the most out of the weekend. Luckily, it wasn’t too cold. Winter, it seems, has been treading lightly even up here.

We quickly piled our gear and food into the two sleds left for us by the park staff and headed to our home for the next two nights.

There are four yurts in the park, all about 7-10 minutes away from the parking lot. Recently, the park added two cabins right by the lake. We stayed in one of them last year and very much enjoyed the view of the lake with our morning coffee.

This year, all we could book was a yurt so a walk it was. Not that I mind that part. I actually prefer not to have the car nearby – makes for a far more relaxing experience. And after a five-hour drive, the walk was quite refreshing.

yurt at Windy Lake Provincial Park

The fact that the yurts are walk-ins makes for a relaxing stay

The yurt greeted us with the revving fury of an airplane about to take off. An electric heater is one thing that makes me hesitant to book an old yurt at Ontario Parks. It is loud and not very effective, constantly yo-yoing between hot, dry air and a refreshing chill. The nights were punctuated with the heater turning on and off, occasionally competing with a train passing by. Yet, even with all this cacophony of noises, I had some of the most restful sleeps in weeks.

winter view from yurt 31 at Windy Lake Provincial Park

Waking up to a view like this makes up for any inconveniences, like a noisy electric heater

Throughout January, I felt like I’d been gradually letting busyness and sadness claim me. I abandoned lunchtime walks, and we only managed one Saturday microadventure during the entire month. I needed a break from the city, from my overwhelming thoughts and tangled feelings. I needed space, silence and stillness. And while the yurt wasn’t exactly silent, Windy Lake provided the stillness of the forest frozen in a deep slumber, dreams of spring rushing through its branches. It showered me with snow that softened the edges and quietened the mind. Here, I could plunge into the white nothingness and disappear for a day.

lone tree against snow covered Windy Lake

I couldn’t get enough of the white silence

On Saturday, we woke up to more snow coming down. Our plans for the weekend were simple: walking slowly and breathing deeply. We always enjoy skiing at Windy Lake. This time, however, our older son came along, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. And since he is not a big fan of skiing, we decided to accommodate his wishes and stick to snowshoeing.

snowshoeing at Windy Lake Provincial Park

All ready for our snowshoe expedition

The Transition Trail conveniently started right near our yurt and that’s where we began our day, after coffee and good breakfast, of course. It wasn’t our first time on the trail but the forest always changes if you pay attention. This time, it was all brown and white stripes, with occasional green peaking through.

Transition trail at Windy Lake Provincial Park

The Transition Trail started right next to our yurt so that’s where we spent part of our day

birches in the winter at Windy Lake Provincial Park

Speckled birch trees

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

It wasn’t our first time hiking the Transition Trail but the forest always looks different if you look closely

forest in the winter at Windy Lake Provincial Park

Stripy forest

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

Once we got to the lake, it lived up to its name so we couldn’t stay long and headed back up to our yurt, campfire, a delicious dinner and endless rounds of 7 Wonders.

Windy Lake in the winter

True to its name, the lake was windy so we couldn’t stay long

playing snowballs

playing snowballs

playing snowballs

You are never too old for a snowball fight

campfire near the yurt at Windy Lake in the winter

Campfire and snow go well together

Sunday arrived way too early. We slept in, then took our time packing. We started the campfire (we had to use up the firewood after all) and just sat there sipping coffee and listening to the snow fall.

Although “fall” may not be the right word. It was more of a gradual decent to the ground as if the air suddenly became denser and required some effort to move through or the white cotton was too light for gravity to pull it down. Snowflakes slowly waltzed down in tiny clumps, paused before touching the ground as if considering whether to go back up, then finally landed with a soft thump and disappeared into the white silence.

snow on the moss

snow on a branch

Our blissful morning was interrupted by the arrival of park staff who came to clean the yurt for the next visitors. So we quickly threw everything into the sleds and headed to the parking lot.

pulling sleds at Windy Lake Provincial Park

Time to go back

We weren’t ready to go home just yet so after loading our gear into the car, we decided to tackle another trail. This one was across the road from the park, part of the trail system maintained by the Onaping Falls Nordic Ski Club. The trail was about four kilometres long with a lookout somewhere halfway. Calling it a lookout, to be honest, is a bit of a stretch. I can see what they were going for: We did have to climb up to get to the midpoint and we could see a sliver of Windy Lake just above the treeline but the view was mostly blocked by the trees. The trail, however, was fun and made us work up quite a sweat. The journey, so to say, was more exciting than the destination.

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

Another trail before we head home to Toronto

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

There wasn’t much to see from the lookout but the trail was fun

snowshoeing at Windy Lake provincial park

snowshoeing at Windy Lake Provincial Park

The snow had stopped by then, and the results of its efforts were all around. The trees were all decked in white, snow balancing on the thinnest of branches in gravity defying acts. I wondered: was it love that held these snowflakes together or were they afraid to fall and disappear?

Windy Lake provincial park in the winter

tree trunk covered in snow

trees covered in snow

snow balancing on a tree branch

forest in the winter

forest in the winter

forest in the winter

We took our time wandering through this winter wonderland but eventually it was time to head back. We didn’t leave empty handed, though, and packed a bit of winter with us. As I write this post, the view outside my apartment is being repainted by snow. Can you hear it fall?

Read more about our adventures at Windy Lake:

Winter adventures at Windy Lake or how to do winter right in three easy steps (with video)

Escape into solitude or winter yurting at Windy Lake

Our last winter trip of the season at Windy Lake

Learn more about roofed accommodations at Ontario Parks and beyond:

Don’t hibernate this winter: Your guide to roofed accommodations in and around Ontario

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