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Five Winter Backcountry Destinations in Southern Ontario
December 10, 2014
It's that time of year again! Paddles and hiking boots have given way to snowshoes and cross country skis!
The canoe is stored away for a well deserved hibernation, a sad sign signalling the end of the Canadian paddling season. However, this does not mean your explorations should be put on a frosty hiatus! Southern Ontario is blessed with a plethora of prime backcountry destinations and winter is a perfect time to embark on an exploratory trip or two.
Ontario is a vast province with countless opportunities for backcountry exploration. For the purpose of this article, Southern Ontario is defined as the lands south of (and including) Algonquin Provincial park. The north is a vast region that offers a seemingly endless selection of backcountry destinations and warrants its own post.
Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands
Explore the Wilderness Section of the Ganaraksa Trail and camp along the frozen rocky barrens
The Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands is a large un-operating provincial park located just southeast of Minden Ontario. The un-operating status means that the park is without fees or facilities. Frozen lakes and connecting portages make for great snowshoe routes and the Ganaraska Trail offers a rugged wilderness trek that can take explorers deep into the parks interior. Be prepared for an experience similar to crown land and know that help can be a days or more trek away .
The Bruce trail follows the edge of the spectacular Niagara Escarpment, offering stunning vistas of the landscapes below. A popular summer destination, the trail sees comparably limited use throughout the winter months. Hike the entire 885km trail or explore smaller segments for a weekend overnighter. Recommended sections include the Pretty River Valley and remote sections along the Georgian Bay coast. Along the way witness frozen waterfalls, caves, icy overhangs and breathtaking lookouts. Be aware, ice and cliffs can present a danger to even the most experienced of backpackers and caution should always be exercised!
Frontenac Experience snowshoeing and cross country skiing on over 100km of maintained trails
Frontenac Provincial Park protects 5,200 hectares of the southern Canadian Shield. The park offers 48 backcountry campsites arranged in clusters of 2 to 4 accessible by a 100km network of trails and frozen lakes. New to winter camping? The park offers wilderness skills training programs which offer introductions to a variety of experiences including hot tenting and winter trip planning. All this is located within a few hours drive from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal!
Largest park in Ontario, south of Algonquin Provincial Park
The Kawartha Highlands features a rugged rolling landscape of small lakes, wetlands, forests and rocky barrens. In the winter you can traverse many of the frozen canoe routes by snowshoe or ungroomed cross-country skiing. For the explorer, venture off the main routes to seldom seen back lakes and setup camp under a sheltered canopy of pines. Before venturing out, permits must be obtained through Ontario Parks.
Ontario's oldest provincial park, Algonquin offers the visitor an expansive backcountry destination that is arguably unrivalled within Southern Ontario. Ski, snowshoe or trek deep into the interior of this picturesque landscape which captured the heart of legendary artist Tom Thompson who painted awe inspiring landscapes of the parks frigid splendor. If you plan on basecamping, Mew Lake offers yurts and ploughed campsites.