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The Good Winter Bucket List

Kate Farrell
December 8, 2019

It’s dark before dinner. You haven’t shaved in two weeks. You’ve traded your cut-offs for SuperPuffs, and tucked your trusty summer ride into the disorganized abyss of your storage locker. 

Welcome to winter. It sucks. You’re gonna love it.  

Bah-humbug-blahs aside, even the most curmudgeonly of winter warriors can’t deny the couple of precious months when Ontario becomes a wonderland: skating trails through the forest, curling up in log cabins with toasty wood stoves, maple-tree tapping and poutine snacking with the reckless caloric abandon of someone who’ll be bundled in chunky knits for the next five-plus months. 

Grab your Sorels and fasten your snow tires — here’s our winter weekend bucket list. 

Get logged in at the Cabin on the 9

A log cabin so quintessentially Canadian, it was featured in a Roots ad. Cabin on the 9 is an off-grid retreat is outfitted with a kitchenette, wood-burning stove, and queen-size orthopedic foam mattress. There’s no running water, but it’s a short walk away from the main Victorian house where you can access a full washroom. Best part of renting in the winter? The private pond that freezes over at your literal doorstep — bring your skates, and use the hockey gear, sleds, and snowshoes left for your leisure! 

Go winter glamping on a horse farm

How about a slumber party in a 150-year-old luxury pioneer cabin, tucked away on a 200-acre horse farm? Hike the property’s private trails, or post up by your indoor fireplace with a good book for some hygge-worthy hibernation. For those who favour the ‘glam’ in glamping, guests can request to have a small generator to power LED lights, laptops, phones and more. 

Stay in a yurt in Algonquin Park 

If winter camping calls to mind nightmarish Outdoor Ed trips in high school, meet the heated yurt of your mildly-high-maintenance dreams. Explore Algonquin via snowshoe, foot, or cross-country ski during the day, and return to your toasty abode come nightfall. There are seven yurts in the Mew Lake campground, each with space for up to six people. 

Go fly a [snow] kite!" 

While the idea of skiing via giant kite may daunting (but, come on, it looks really cool), you can always start with lessons from iKite Canada. If you’d rather spectate or want more demos and lessons, keep an eye out for Elmhirst Resort's annual snowkite weekend.

Go night skiing...

Get your Lindsey Vonn on day and night at Blue Mountain. Hit the slopes under the stars (and high wattage lights, don’t worry). A word to the winter-wise, a boozy dinner and night skiing do NOT mix — delay the apres if you’re planning on heading out for a nighttime run.

...Then go apres-night-skiing

Partake in the province’s favourite winter pastime — sans or avec the actual skiing part. 

While the slopes in Ontario may not be on par with B.C.’s (ahem, calling them “Mountains” may be a bit hyperbolic), our apres-skis are worthy of national recognition. The lively Blue Mountain village is at the top of our list; hit Jozo’s and Rusty’s for beers, greasy pub fare, and, well, more beers. 

Snowshoe through a 100-acre bird, wildlife, and stargazing sanctuary

Head to Freija for a day of forest bathing and snowshoeing amid 300-year-old trees, or stay awhile and rent their on-site loft on Airbnb. While you’re there, ask about the conservation projects happening in the forest and adjacent conservation area (like the hibernaculum, a special habitat for snakes to use in the winter). 

Skate on an ice trail under the stars 

Ice rinks are so 2010s. Take the scenic-er route and skate one of Ontario’s many infamous ice trails. MacGregor Ice Skating Trail has lights every day until 10 pm so you can skate by starlight.

Some other ones to hit include the Penetanguishene Discovery Harbour Skate Trail (say that five times fast), Arrowheads Skating Trail through the forest (selected by Travel + Leisure as one of the most stunning natural ice rinks!) and the Peterborough Life Lock skating trail (keep an eye on their Facebook and Twitter for updates). 

Go cross-country skiing in Killarney 

Venture to a land where roads are left unplowed, but the ski trails groomed and good to go. There are a total of 33 kilometres of trails to explore, ranging from 8km to 15km (insider tip: the Freeland trail will take you past the cranberry bog and onto the frozen Freeland Lake). Always check the ski report before heading out to make sure you can go across the lake! Accidental polar bear dip? No thanks. 

Fun fact: In 2019, Killarney became the first provincial park to be designated a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. *Hey Google, play “Stargazing” by Travis Scott.*

Attend a dinner series (and have the meal of a lifetime) 

We’ve been around the block when it comes to taste-testing local fare, and two dinner series stand out from the pack: Sunfish, an experimental, multi-course dinner in a prospector tent, and Sumac + Salt, a Chef’s Table-worthy, 12-person, BYOB dinner at a farmhouse in Meaford. Both have special seasonal events (last year, the Sunfish dining tent was pitched in the middle of a frozen lake!) — so keep an eye on their socials to snag seats. 

Dine Niagara Falls-side at the Snow Globe Soirée

Your wildest, waterfalliest, most ‘gram-worthy dining fantasies are about to come true, January 16th to February 20th. Wine and dine in a heated transparent snow globe overlooking Niagara Falls.  

Treat yo'self at a winter spa. 

St. Anne’s Spa offers an outdoor hot tub, walking trails, a full range of spa treatments, a bakery and more, with day trips and overnight accommodations available. Try the seasonal Festive Flare Stone wrap (Dec/Jan) and enrobe in orange essence, cinnamon, and St. John’s Wort and Echinacea herbs. Think of it as an upgraded version of your DIY blanket burrito beside a space heater.

Looking for something a little more nordic? Opt for the Scandinave Spa, a winter hotspot worthy of a hot-cold-sauna-steam circuit.

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