A few months ago my daughter Hailey asked me if I’d go winter camping with
her. We had to wait for a break in her school schedule and the right time presented its self the last week of February. The only problem was that our favourite outdoor adventure show was the same weekend. We decided together to attend the show the Friday and Saturday so we could head out on the Sunday. Our destination of choice was somewhere new for us in the winter Bruce Peninsula National Park. Duane and I had done a day trip to the park to hike along the trail out to Indian Head Cove and the Grotto. That was in mid February when there was good steady freezing temperatures. What we found that weekend was ice formation heaven, we were able to walk along the shore and into the Grotto on the ice. Hailey had hoped that 2 weeks later the conditions would be similar but that was not so. On our day trip 2 weeks p
rior we checked out the permitting station for fees and information on winter camping in the park so when Hailey and I arrived after an uneventful sunny drive up we quickly walked into the campground first to scout out a campsite. It was pretty icy as the day time temps were reaching plus 10 range, we wanted a campsite that wouldn’t flood but was private and off the trail into the campground. We ended up choosing a site just up a small hill that o
verlooked the trail and a couple of campsites below us, perfectly private. Once we chose the site we headed back along the trail to the van to start unloading. The parking lot and road were down to bare pavement and gravel so we opted to pull as close to the trail head as possible to unload and avoid damaging the sleds on the bare ground. I have to admit
we didn’t really pack the sleds very well, as we were facing loosing daylight it turned into more of a chuck it in the sled and get it to the campsite fast kinda haul in. We didn’t have far to go but we just had to get it there along the icy path and up the small hill. We decided to take the Snowtrekker in on first load so we could get it up and go back for whatever we had forgotten. The snow was still 2 1/2 -3 feet deep in the bush and on unused campsites so we had to dig out space to erect the tent. Working together to dig out a 10 x 13 section didn’t take long mostly thanks to the warm temps it was lifting out in chunks. The tent went up quickly as the sun started to dip, as ground was frozen and to save ourselves some time we opted to go with snow anchors for the guy outs. (Snow anchors is a method of tying off to either a stick or a peg, in our case one of our 12 inch common
nails and burying it in snow, let the snow ‘set up’ and then go back and tighten your line) This method worked fast and was very efficient for us. Once the stove was in and we were satisfied with the angle, I left Hailey to get the fire going and headed back to move the van and get our last load along with our dinner. We had been greeted by a very tame young raccoon when we first had arrived, he had been snooping around the single vehicle parked in the lot and had dumped the trash can in the registration hut over. He had ambled over to watch us dig out and put up the tent but left when we tossed a snowball in his direction. He was back however now that I had the van open and was pulling out food, after parking the van he followed me against my attempts to shush him away back to the tent. Hailey thought he was cute but I did not, in a text home to let them know we were OK but had a visitor the text auto corrected to ravioli instead of raccoon and so he was named. Ravioli pestered us until about 1 am even after we took the remaining food back to the van. When his scratching on the tent by my head lead to me batting at the offender thru the tent walls with my nalgene, he finally left us alone for the rest of our night (sorry not sorry, didn’t want a rip in our snowtrekker) Our first night was great, temps only dipped down to around the zero mark but the wind had picked up. It was slightly eerie being the only people in the entire park, the car in the lot turned out to be a day use that left. The moon was bright and it was super quiet, just what we had been looking forward to.
Our second day began with the sun out and the sounds of parks staff arriving to work on the O-tent-ic. We got some water boiling for coffee and hot chocolate. I should mention that there is no running water available in the park to campers in the winter. We had brought several jugs and assorted variety of nalgenes full from home. It was kind of a pain to have to go back, get our food to bring back and cook but Hailey made us a fantastic breakfast. We had decided to have a relaxed morning and weren’t in a rush to get hiking. After packing up what was left of the food and returning it to the van we found Ravioli trying to break into a day use car only minutes after they had departed. We headed back to the Snowtrekker to open the door so if he decided to go in and investigate he wouldn’t damage the tent (the fire had been dampened down and was almost out). I had started out on snow
shoes but quickly figured out they were unnecessary so I buried them under a picnic table to be retrieved later. The hike out was an extra 2 kilometers from Tamaracks than were we usually camp but it went fast. It was a warm sunny day and I was quite comfortable in just a fleece sweater under my Outdoor Research hoodie. I was carrying our water and snacks and Hailey had her camera gear. From campsite to Indian Head cove it was about a 40 minute hike, with a washroom/ pictures stop. Peaking out from one of the lookouts in the cove it was clear that we would not be walking along the shore on the ice.
Giant floating chunks clinked together with the waves making the sight mesmerising. There was just a handful of people and we were able to move about freely and take pictures without wating for people to move out of shot.
The floating ice stretched way out into open water, along with the blue ice formations made for some great photo opportunities, it was one of the main reasons for our trip as Hailey had a new camera she wanted to use. We moved around the rocks, careful not to post hole thru the deep snow to the Grotto. The rocks in places were a sheet of ice and we were mindful not to go to close to the edge. As we continued along the trail Hailey decided she
wanted to head to Overhanging point, an eroded cliff that in good weather has a hole that you can climb thru and down into an almost cathedral like amphitheatre. The trail along boulder beach was fairly easy, we followed along old snowshoe prints that held our weight with out sinking and the actual boulder beach was bare rock, very easy to traverse.
At this point it was about mid afternoon, we needed to keep an eye on the time so we could make it back before dark. Once off boulder beach the trail climbs upwards and we found only a single pair of old foot prints to follow in to keep from sinking. The look out vantages along the trail were stunning and
worth every minute of the hike. The hole down to the overhang was open but filled with treacherous ice, we opted to keep moving along to the safer way down a short ways up the trail.
Our safer way down turned out to be an obstacle course, a tree had fallen, to take out another tree to block our way down. We carefully slide, wiggled and ducked down into 3 foot deep snow until we got under the first part of the overhang where it was bare rock. If you’ve never been to the over hang its magical, the rock when you walk on it sounds like broken glass and its noticeably colder.
We were clearly the only ones to have visited the spot in some time, no prints human or otherwise were visible. A quick peak at a favourite swim spot let us know that the ice formations were unsafe so we kept our distance. Should we put ourselves in an emergency situation we would have no way to contact help as we were out of cell range. With that in mind we enjoyed carefully exploring the overhang, the ice formation coming from the tunnel looked like an icy slide. Sorry pic heavy it was really stunning!
After retracing our footsteps back to the main trail, we decide to head back to boulder beach to have a very late lunch before heading back.The day was spectacular, we had both enjoyed the sites and each others company. We lingered over some kielbasa, cheese, crackers and hot cup a soup sitting on the warm rocks by the shore listening to the ice chunks tinkle before we realized it was nearly 5pm, the sun would be going down and we needed to get back. The desire to not be caught on an icy trail in the dark motivated us to hike quickly and we improved our time getting back to the campground in the daylight. I retrieved my snowshoes and as we approached our camp we could smell wood smoke, someone else was camping. We were a little disappointed to find a fellow winter camper had chosen a campsite right beside us when there was a completely empty campground. Oh well, we told each other that maybe he was afraid and needed to be close to people. But in reality on a Monday in late February he probably expected to be alone as we had.
Despite having a next door neighbour whom we enjoyed a nice evening, opting to have dinner and hang out in the tent rather than having an outdoor fire. The wind had picked up substantially so I checked our snow anchor line, tightened a few of them chatted with home on a phone call to describe our day and check in. I had tagged several pics on social media as #girlshottenttoo and the response to a mom/daughter trip was very supportive. Hailey and I had very comfortably set up camp and were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Yes we were in a campground, but it’s un serviced in the winter, no running water, no flush toilets (there is one vault outhouse in the campground open and the outhouse at the head of trails parking lot) wood is by donation. We had opted to bring kiln dried oak/hardwood from home to burn in the wood stove at night so we only bought wood on our last night when we had an outdoor fire. Could we have hauled in off trail somewhere else, most definitely in fact that is the plan for next winter.
Our third and final day after a very gusty night found me making a quick breakfast so Hailey could sleep in a bit, our goal was to hike out to Stormhaven. After hiking 10 plus kilometers the previous day we had thought it would be nice to explore another one our our “secret swim spots” and caves along the shore. I enjoyed a very peaceful coffee sipped from my new kupilka cup I had received for Christmas with a generous splash of bailey’s. We took notice that our neighbour was also awake and looked to be packing up (yes we gave a secret woohoo). We cleaned up quickly and decided to change our plans, Hailey wanted to go back out to Indian Head cove to get some more shots. The trail passed by quickly, the sun peaking in and out of the clouds that seemed to fly by. Again there seemed to be very few visitors about and the feeling of solitude continued. Our first look out to Indian
Head cove, the same one as the previous day revealed that the winds of the night had take every single ice chunk out. Not even the flow further out remained, it was all gone.
The change and difference from the previous day made it seem like it was an entirely different trip. We enjoyed poking around the shore, getting up close with the blue ice before heading around the corner to the boulder beach of Horse Lake Trail. The shore ice on this side left amazing little shelves, the days temperature hadn’t risen yet along with the help of the cold wind so there was a thin coating of skim ice that sounded like wind chimes. Exploring along the shore with the rocks and points of interest that we normally see buried under snow makes it seem like a whole new world. On this side we hiked as far along as we could before it was clear that we couldn’t pass further. Moving up the shoreline we popped in to visit a little cave that in warmer weather the kids love climbing up a bendy tree into. Here we discovered animal tracks, which we hypothesised to be a porcupine (not sure why but that was our guess). We retraced our steps to have lunch on a big exposed rock right beside the water, it wasn’t overly warm but it wasn’t freezing either and we lunched in peace and quiet for some time.
We thoroughly enjoyed some snacks that were sent to us from our friend Juliette at https://canada.thrivelife.com/juliette, feel free to look her up at http://www.facebook.com/thrivelifewithjuliette We loved the cheese snacks and yogurt drops the best. Definitely something to look into for our future trips as not only were they delicious they were practically weightless in our packs. Despite our day having no real destination we had a fantastic time and racked up the kilometers again before heading back. The sun was out when we went to have our last look at a now ice chunk free Indian Head cove, a few visitors appeared while we sat sunning ourselves.
At last we headed back, determined to have dinner while it was still light out and treat ourselves to an outdoor fire.
Once back at camp we found our neighbour gone, with just a few cars in the day use lot we were alone again for the night. Hailey was planning on baking cinnamon rolls in the reflector oven, the first batch baked beside the wood stove in the hot tent turned out fantastic. The second batch beside the outdoor fire, not so much. I think it was the commotion that ensued when a flying squirrel made its appearance and tried to steal the buns straight out of the pan. That little guy snuck up on us then thrilled us as he clamber up a near by pine tree to the top only to glide down over the top of the hot tent to the trunk of another tree. Up close he was no ordinary squirrel, he treated us to another gliding swoop before leaving for the night. Flying squirrels tend to be nocturnal which why we don’t see them very often. We agreed that the cinnamon buns were cooked enough to put away for the night, we didn’t want to attract anymore wild life. Ravioli the raccoon hadn’t made an appearance and we didn’t want to test our luck with the rising temps the bears would be waking soon (yes Bruce Peninsula has bears) being the only ones in the campground could almost certainly mean we would be the first ones to visit if we had food out.
We concluded our night with one last drink around the fire, we absolutely loved the quiet and the novelty of being the only ones in the park the only noise to be heard was our nightly visit from an owl. I loved camping with Hailey, being raised a camping kid she has the intuitive quality to know what has to be done around camp and the division of chores, she’s more than capable of maintaining the wood stove and best of all she doesn’t complain. While its not typical that a mom & daughter would head out winter camping its nice to show we are capable and just as competent as when we go with dad.
Camping at Bruce in the winter was fantastic, while its basic (no water, vault toilets) it didn’t matter it had everything we needed and for an inexpensive fee. Staff was about in the mornings, checking the permit station and refilling paper in the vault toilets but other than that we didn’t interact with anyone else. Visitors should keep in mind that cell phones should not be relied on, coverage is spotty especially out at the shore and ultimately you are responsible for your own safety. Always leave enough time to complete your hike in daylight. Dress appropriately for the weather & bring adequate food/water.
Check out the link below for more detail on winter camping at Cyprus Lakeby