There is often a moment at the end of a trip when the packing is done, I get whatever firewood we have left and start the fire. That’s my small attempt to soak up the last of the camping magic along with some smoke and to postpone the moment of returning to the world of glass and concrete. Don’t get me wrong: city life has its charms. Occasionally, though, the traffic, the noise, and, most importantly, constant presence of people becomes too much. That’s why moments like these are a necessity. An escape into solitude. An opportunity to recharge.
On February 2nd, in a true Groundhog Day tradition, we were back on the road heading to Arrowhead Provincial Park, again. In many ways it felt like a repeat of our last trip: it was late, it was snowing, and our cabin was a mirror image of the previous one, except for a table lamp, coat hooks and a different Group of Seven reproduction above the door. There was another big difference, of course. Our older son couldn’t join us so it was just the three of us.
Big Bend decked in white
Spring is officially here. And even if the temperatures took a bit of a plunge this week, the signs of nature awakening are definitely in the air. Winter, however, didn’t go away without a fight staging a magnificent comeback last week, especially in south-western Ontario and from what I heard along the east coast. So we thought even if winter this year was slightly disappointing weather-wise in our part of the world, it still brought us some memorable moments, like a New Year’s trip to Gatineau or a surprisingly warm Family Day weekend at Killarney and therefore deserved a proper send-off. Windy Lake Provincial Park seemed like a good place for our last glamping trip of the winter. The park’s northern location carried a promise of snow. Plus we’d never camped there before.
Where do I even begin?! Glorious weather, mounds and mounds of pristine, sparkling snow, a cozy cabin in the woods — it was certainly a Family Day weekend to remember!
Those who have been following this blog are aware of my frustrations with the extremely un-wintery behaviour of this year’s winter, at least in my part of the world, and the extent to which we’d been going to find even a little bit of snow. So you can imagine my delight when we woke up to a major snowfall this past Sunday. We knew this winter spike might no last long so we dropped all our chores and headed outside. It was magical.
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.
I love Family Day weekend camping. Yes, it’s cold (or even frigid cold as it was this past weekend) and a simple trip to the bathroom requires major preparations and lots of layers. But none of those things matter when you are greeted every morning by beautiful views of the snow-wrapped forest and clear crisp air that makes your whole body vibrate in tune with the singing snow under your feet.
This year, we spent the Family Day weekend at Allegany State Park. Located in the Enchanted Mountains region in western New York, it’s less than a three-hour drive from Toronto. With over 150 winterized cabins, it’s easy to book last minute roofed accommodations. We stayed at one of the cabins at the Congdon Loop. The cabin was pretty spacious with two bunk beds and a kitchenette area that had a fridge and a gas stove. There was a gas heater and electricity so it was warm (well, relatively warm when the temperatures dropped to -25C on Sunday) and light. The comfort station (very warm and comfortable) was about two minutes away. It also had showers (although not sure who would want to use them in the weather like this) and a utility sink, very convenient for washing dishes.
The park itself offers a lot to do. The Art Roscoe Nordic Ski Centre boasts over 20 miles of cross-country ski trails of various difficulty levels and also has gear rentals and a warming hut. Allegany is very popular with snowmobilers. We could hear them whizzing by from time to time. We also spotted a few fishing huts on the Red House Lake. And, of course, there are great tobogganing hills for the kid in all of us.
We arrived at the park late on Friday. Our cabin was up on a hill and there was no way to get the car up there with all the snow so we had to carry our gear and supplies. Nothing makes you move faster than freezing temperatures so between the four of us we were done in a record short time. After having a nice cup of tea and deciding who’d take the upper bunks, we were all in bed dreaming of a great day ahead.
We started the next morning with our favourite breakfast and a nice cup of coffee. We then headed to the Art Roscoe Ski Centre where we rented gear and spent the day skiing. It was snowing lightly when we started and the forest looked magical. It’s amazing how winter manages to create the most enchanting works of art with only one colour at its disposal.
Somewhere halfway through the trail, a snow squall blew in reducing visibility to almost zero. Luckily it passed quickly but our younger son continued to shake snow off the tree branches with his ski poles so by the time we were done we looked like snowmen and, well, one snowwoman.
After our skiing adventures, we drove to the neighbouring town of Salamanca (about 10 minutes away) to buy some food and wood and spent the evening cooking boys’ favourite minestrone soup with garlic toast, building a campfire near the cabin and then playing the game of Life back inside.
The next morning, we woke up to refreshing 25 below zero outside and lots of sun.
After delicious oatmeal with fruit and some warm drinks, we finally plucked up the courage to go outside.
We decide to test our new snow tube on one of the hills. It was fun while it lasted, which wasn’t very long. About halfway down the first run, the tube ripped sending the kids tumbling down. There was a bit of complaining about scratched cheeks and cold snow but nothing a nice hot cup of chocolate wouldn’t fix.
We spent the rest of the day around the cabin, our younger son breaking off icicles, the rest of us warming by the fire. By then, our improvised fire pit (the real one was hidden somewhere under the snow) got wider and deeper allowing us to actually sit around the edge right by the fire. In the end the combination of fire and snow created a perfectly round crater, its walls covered in ice spikes.
Once we went through all of our wood, we retreated inside, made some fish with baked potatoes and roasted corn (yum) and played our favourite board game, Settlers of Catan.
On Monday, it was time to leave. As always, it felt the trip hadn’t been long enough. Two beautiful does came to say good-bye.