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.
Not so windy Windy Lake
This relatively small park is located on the outskirts of Greater Sudbury along the shores of Windy Lake, which gives the park its name. In terms of the lake itself, not sure how much of its name is grounded in its extreme windiness. We didn’t find it particularly breezy on the days we visited. One of the lake’s islands still caries its original name given by Ojibway, who have been inhabiting this area for over 9,000 years, – Makoping, which is a contraction for bear lake or bear’s water. Not sure why, but if you look at the map, the shape of the lake does remind a bear paw.
In the summer, the park attracts campers with its beach and water activities. In the winter, the lake is dotted with ice-fishing huts. If you’d like to join them but have no gear, the park office offers full fishing packages for rent, including rods, tip-ups, bait bucket/stool, fishing tackle, an ice auger and a sled that transforms into a portable ice-fishing shelter (I took this directly from the park brochure and have no idea what half of these things mean). Park staff will even transport the gear and help set up.
We are not really into fishing (as you’ve probably guessed already) and were mostly attracted by Windy Lake’s snowshoeing and skiing opportunities. The Onaping Falls Nordic Ski Club with over 15 kilometres of trails is right across the road from the park while its comfy, warm chalet where you can get ski and snowshoe rentals and also some rest is actually inside the park near the parking lot. The club staff were extremely helpful not only on the day of our visit but also prior to it when I bombarded them with questions through their Facebook page.
In terms of accommodations, Windy Lake has four yurts available, which means the park is mostly empty. Not necessarily quiet because of its close proximity to Highway 144 and a railway. Plus those pesky snowmobilers. I will say, though, that the Highway wasn’t that busy, especially on the weekend. An occasional truck didn’t bother us that much. Neither did trains, which weren’t that frequent either. Plus at night the electric heater inside the yurt drowns all the other noises.
In the winter, the yurts can only be accessed on foot or skis or snowshoes, whichever you prefer. They are a bit further away from the parking lot than accommodations in Killarney or Silent Lake, but still under 10 minutes. Two sleds are provided for transporting gear. The yurts have all the usual amenities: two bunk beds, a table with four chairs, a BBQ and a picnic table outside. Two privies are located right next to the yurts. Nothing fancy and quite a bit smelly but they are heated, which, I don’t need to tell you, significantly boosts comfort level in the winter.
Day 1: cross-country skiing, frozen lake and losing in Catan
We arrived in the park on Thursday night, not our usual midnight late, but still after dark. The sleds with our permit and park information were waiting for us right near the parking lot. Park staff had called us prior to our arrival to ask if we’d be coming late and promised to have everything ready for us. They also left the heater in the yurt on so we wouldn’t have to wait for it to warm up. Top-notch service!
After transporting and unpacking gear, we were ready for bed. We fell asleep to the sound of the heater and occasional moments of silence interrupted by a train whistle or a truck barreling towards Timmins.
The next day was gloriously beautiful so we thought we’d spend it skiing. After breakfast and coffee, we headed to the Chalet to get ski gear and trail passes. Because the trails are outside the park, you need to purchase a trail pass from Onaping Falls Nordic Ski Club to use them. But the prices are extremely reasonable. We paid $56 for the three of us and that included passes and gear rentals.
There are three trails ranging from beginner to advanced. We had our sights set on the Devon Kershaw Trail, which is 5.3 kilometres long and is marked as intermediate. The club staff, however, warned us it wasn’t in a good condition so it looked like the Green Trail was our best bet. I was a bit disappointed since it was only a beginner one so I expected a mostly level terrain. But then it turned out that their understanding of ‘beginner’ was slightly different than what you’d get close to Toronto. The trail had just enough hills that provided a bit of a challenge but not too challenging to cause excessive falling. At 4.5 kilometers, the trail wasn’t long so we did it four times before retiring for the day.
After a quickly prepared and devoured dinner, I left my husband napping and my son studying countries and capitals for his W5H competition and decided to check out the lake.
The lake is located down the hill from the campground and is accessible via a trail meandering through the forest. The beach was empty, of course, and the lake was completely frozen. It had sort of a barrier running along the edge with a layer of sand sandwiched between snow, which looked pretty cool.
When I came back, my husband was finishing the dishes and my son was setting up a Catan board so a game night it was. I was so close to winning this time, only needed one more point, but still lost to our son who by now has gotten so good that he also found time to knit during the game. (They were taught how to knit at school as a way to reduce stress so he is now working on a scarf). Better luck next time.
Day 2: Hiking, frozen lake, campfire and losing in Catan (again)
The next day was not as sunny as the day before but still pretty warm. We planned a snowshoe hike, which turned into a regular hike since the snow was so packed and hard that no snowshoes were required. The Transition Trail started right next to our yurt and went downhill (literally) from there. After crossing a small bridge buried somewhere under the snow, the trail started climbing back up and then winding down again leading us to the lake.
We couldn’t forgo the lake, of course, with all its glorious ice (I think I mentioned before that our son is a big fan of frozen water). Judging by all the fishing huts, cars and snowmobiles zooming across the lake, it was pretty safe for us to walk. We made a trip around a rocky outcrop and found some walk-in campsites on the other side. They were under a thick snow blanket but looked like a good place to stay in the summer. We found a picnic table close to the lake and took a snack break. Our son, in the meantime, had the time of his life, pretending to skate, polishing the frozen surface and hurling ice chunks across the lake.
The remaining portion of the trail took us through a wetland and back up to the campground. It was still pretty early. After all, the trail was only three kilometres long and even with our lake interlude didn’t take much time.
We made veggie burgers and ate them around the campfire. What followed was some more campfire time with coffee and wine and two more games of Catan. I lost both of them: first to our son, then my husband. I am starting to think I am not very good at this game.
The next morning was the usual routine: breakfast, coffee around the campfire, packing, transporting gear, loading the car and heading home. It was another beautiful day and the parking lot was packed with skiers heading for the trails.
We stopped at a Sudbury location of Herbert Fisheries, which also has another restaurant in Killarney, our favourite fish and chips place in all of Ontario. Unfortunately, they were closed. So we ended up at Henry’s Fish in Midland for our traditional post-camping meal. It was pretty good too.
The trip was a great farewell to winter with snow, ice and skiing. But spring was already moving in. A clear sign that it’s time to leave all the glamping behind and spring into camping.