Road trip to Arrowhead Provincial Park: Ice skating in the wilderness
Arrowhead Provincial Park’s winteriffic good times include ice skating and cross country skiing.
Arrowhead Provincial Park’s winteriffic good times include ice skating and cross country skiing
Just under three hours from Toronto, Huntsville’s Arrowhead Provincial Park is a winter must-visit for outdoor lovers – especially those who love ice skating. The park’s wilderness skating path is legendary, attracting thousands of visitors each season. But there’s more to do than ice skate: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tubing are other fun park activities. There’s so much to do, that packing it into one day is the biggest challenge.
Solution: rent a cabin and spend a couple nights!
Although my family are diehard backcountry campers, we decided to give car camping a try because, hello: –7C by day, -15C by night. A fully winterized, heated cabin in the woods sounded heavenly to us. We packed our Ford Escape with sleeping bags, pillows, groceries and multiple layers of outerwear, then we hit the road. Onward to Muskoka!
Arrowhead Provincial Park
A year-round destination, Arrowhead (451 Arrowhead Park Road, Huntsville) lies in the heart of Muskoka. Petite by Ontario Parks standards – just 12.37-square kilometres in size, compared to its local sister, Algonquin Provincial Park, at 7,653-square-kilometres! – Arrowhead packs plenty of excitement into a small package.
In winter, Arrowhead’s ice skating path, extensive cross-country ski trails, tubing hill and snowshoe paths lure snow hounds. Warming huts, comfort stations, and a park office with gear rentals and hot chocolate ensure visits are as comfortable as they are fun.
Ice skating path
Arrowhead’s ice skating path is the big draw each winter. Set in the East River portion of the park, the 1.3-kilometre-long trail winds its way through the snow-dappled forest. Banked borders prevent tree-human collisions, something beginners will be happy to know. The picturesque trail is groomed to ensure a safe, glassy surface where you can show off your figure skating, speed skating and other Instagram-ready skating moves!
Figure skates and hockey skates can be rented at the park office, and skate sharpening is also offered.
Travel tip: Ice skating is weather-dependent, so check Ontario Park’s ski and skate conditions before driving out.
On Saturday nights, tiki torches illuminate the ice skating path for night skating. Wending your way through the trail at night is an otherworldly experience. Be prepared to share the ice however, as night skates have become an extremely popular weekend attraction. Make the most of night skates by renting a park cabin: the fully winterized cabins are a short walk from the ice trail entrance.
With over 33 km of groomed cross-country ski trails, Arrowhead is the place to learn how to Nordic ski, or to hone your skills. Roving through the park, trails come in a variety of lengths and are classed by difficulty. Most routes are designed for both classic cross country skiing and skate-skiing.
Take a break in a warming hut, or bring a backpack and enjoy a picnic while overlooking an icy river or snow-covered lake.
The park office’s gear rental makes skiing a great option for newbies, or anyone looking for a plan b if the ice skating trail is closed for maintenance.
Snow lovers of all ages will love whooshing down a hill on a big inner tube. Tubing is free with park admission, and while the hill was closed for our trip (not enough snow to create the necessary banks) it should be up and running when the area gets a solid snowfall. An open fire pit and roaring campfire are maintained at the top of the tubing hill to keep tubers warm between descents.
After carrying our supplies the 500 metres from parking lot to cabin (two transport sleds were provided for this purpose), “Wow!” was our reaction to our camp cabin. While small, the one-room cabin was cheerful, clean and comfortable. Windows let in plenty of natural light. A propane fireplace kept the cabin cozy; the dinner table seated five; and the rustic timber beds were great for lounging.
We prepared a stick-to-your ribs dinner of mac and cheese, grilled sausages and berry pie, taking advantage of the cabin’s many “glamping” amenities: deck barbecue, in-cabin microwave, bar fridge, coffeemaker and water cooler.
Our sleeping bags were extraneous given how warm the cabin was. Upshot: we may never backcountry camp again!
A year-round cottage-country destination, Huntsville is well equipped to handle any pre- or post-winter camping needs. We loaded up on delicious heat-and-serve cabin meals at The Farmer’s Daughter (118 Highway 60, Huntsville), also enjoying muffins and lattes from their cafe. Upon realizing our daughter had outgrown her snow pants, we found snowboarding pants at the local sports store.
After going for a final spin on the ice skating path and watching the Zamboni do its business, we fueled up for the long drive home. Family Place Restaurant (1 King William Street, Huntsville), isn’t fancy, but it’s been offering crowd-pleasing diner food for the past 30 years.
Stuffed, sore muscled and happy, we drove home, planning our next family visit to Arrowhead.
Had enough of Winter? Check out these: Top Ten Things To Consider Before Your Florida Road Trip With Kids
Ontario Parks hosted the author and her family at Arrowhead Provincial Park, providing an overnight cabin stay and complimentary ski- and skate rentals.