Ice Skating in Muskoka

Winter in Ontario can be full of fun if you dress appropriately. I always look forward to winter activities such as skiing, skating, snowsh...

Winter in Ontario can be full of fun if you dress appropriately. I always look forward to winter activities such as skiing, skating, snowshoeing or just hiking in a forest. I especially enjoy being outside on sunny days with below freezing temperatures. This past winter in Canada (2015-2016) was unusually mild, however Family Day weekend (February 13-15) has reminded everyone what the real Canadian winter should look like. 

The weather forecast was ruthless for that weekend. While most Torontonians chose to stay indoors close to their furnaces and fireplaces, we headed 250 miles (400 km) north where there was even colder. 
Before, I didn't even know that the temperature sensor in my car stops working at -27 F (-33 C). Now I know, but not exactly sure what the real temperature was back then. In Muskoka, close to where we spent our night at hotel on February 13th, the temperature dropped to -44 F (-42 C) at night. Fortunately, next morning I was able to start my car's engine only from the third attempt. 
What I didn't expect through is the line with cars before the entrance to Arrowhead Provincial Park. It turned out that many people do enjoy freezing winter weather and came to go skating, skiing or snowshoeing to one of the most beautiful winter park in Ontario. 
This park gets really busy on weekends, but kudos to its management who ensured that visitors are happy and enjoy their time in the park. We'd already been there three years ago, and since then the park has added a new winter parking lot and installed a few trailers with tables and fireplaces where people can warm up and have snacks. Equipment rentals for skiing, skating and snowshoeing have been moved from the office to another location to avoid lines. 
Apparently, cross-country ski is a very popular activity in the park with at 27 miles (44 km) of well groomed ski trails that range from beginner to expert. 
When I saw some of those trails, I've added a cross-country ski to my to-do list for the next season. 
What we wanted to try while being in the park is snowshoeing. For those who don't know what it is, a snowshoe is footwear for walking over the snow. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot does not sink completely into the snow, a quality called "flotation" (from Wikipedia). A traditional snowshoe was invented here, in North America, by native people who lived in today's Ontario and Quebec. They used them for hunting, trapping and fur trading. 
You can find traditional snowshoes today, but they are less common and usually more expensive than the metal ones.
Park also maintains 5 miles (8 km) of snowshoe trails, but the one we've been to (Stubb's Falls) is a shared path where people can also walk. The signs are a bit confusing, aren't they?
The Stubb's Falls trail was so stamped down, so having snowshoes would seem like an obstacle rather than an advantage. I'm curious to know if there are other trails in the park where hikers are not allowed, so you can walk on pristine snow.
But the real winter highlight of this park is its 0.8 mile (1.3 km) long ice trail for skating. 
Those who want to experience it, please beware of timing. The trail is only open from 11 am to 3 pm, and from 6 to 9 pm. From 3 to 6 the trail is closed for maintenance. 
However, after 6 pm when it's usually dark in the winter, the trail is lit by tiki torches. It must be very romantic!
The ice trail is made over the paved road at the campground. You can see campsites with tables and taps. Of course, under the thick layer of virgin snow.
Some of the comfort stations are open and maintained in the winter, too. Some of them are even warmed up. 
The ice trail is one of the best attractions I've seen in Canada in the winter time. It combines the joy of skating and being in the forest.
The Stubb's Falls trail is 0.6 mile (1 km) each way. As it names suggests, it takes you to the falls which by all means are way more beautiful in the winter thanks to the big snow lumps and frozen water.  
A huge boulder left after the last glacier receded some 10 000 years ago.
Truly magical place to watch a sunset.

My other posts from winter wonderlands:

Frozen Niagara Falls
Ice Volcano in Letchworth State Park

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