When I set out to snowshoe at Arrowhead Provincial Park, I had no idea I’d be blazing the trails for the 2016-2017 season!
After a quick stop at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, Ontario, where I purchased my Atlas Run snowshoes and was taught how to put them on and securely fasten them, I headed for the closest provincial park, which was just 10 minutes away. I wanted to try them out as soon as possible, and since we didn’t yet have any snow at home, this was my best option.
The park had just opened for the winter season the day before, and when I arrived early on a Saturday morning, there weren’t too many people around. I stopped at the park office, paid $17 for a vehicle permit for the day, and picked up the free “Arrowhead Winter 2016-2017” guide. The Ontario Parks employee showed me the snowshoe trails, and I made the decision to head for the Hemlock Ridge and Stubb’s Falls Loop.
I parked at the Mayflower Warm-Up parking lot, and took a few minutes getting all organized – it was -12 degrees Celsius, so I needed to make sure I was wearing enough layers, but not too many that I would sweat and then get cold. I wore my trail running shoes with my running snowshoes (narrower and lighter than more traditional snowshoes, such as my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes, which are perfect for backcountry camping in the winter and pulling a sled loaded with gear). And I put on my new gaiters, which I had never worn before and couldn’t figure out how to tighten at the top around my calf.
I had a little trouble finding the start of the trail, but there was an Ontario Parks employee accessing a room in the building that housed heated washrooms, so I asked him and he pointed to the start being behind the wood shed, which was fenced off. Apparently not a lot of thought was given to the fencing in, as the trailhead was completely obstructed.
I had to climb up and over a pile of snow dumped by snow plows, but then I was on my way! The park employee had warned me that no one had been on the trail yet (read: good luck! it will be tough going!). It was most definitely tough slogging at times, as I attempted to run through the forest! At times I had to walk because it was too steep or I wasn’t sure what was underfoot (e.g. a big rock). And then after just .77 km, I was exhausted! This snowshoe running business is hard work – in particular when you’re blazing the trail through a foot of untouched snow! I had to follow the red blazes on the trees to figure out which way the trail went. At one point, I couldn’t see any markers, but did see animal tracks, so I followed them, and sure enough, the animal was right!
When the trail got close to the main park road, I spotted a couple walking along the road and waited for them to approach so that I could ask them to take my picture. They were from Stratford, and unfortunately I can only remember Ken’s name!
From there I joined the Stubb’s Falls Loop, which had been walked on by people in boots, thus making it a bit easier to travel on. I continued running and other than the odd person I saw, I was alone and it was very peaceful. I spotted lots of bunny prints in the snow. By the time I reached Stubb’s Falls, a very pretty spot, my phone had become so cold that it shut off and wouldn’t turn on. Sadly, I couldn’t get a picture of the falls! There was also evidence of an otter there – a slide on one bank of the creek. I crossed the creek and climbed up a set of stairs (not easy to do in snowshoes), and had trouble finding the trail – I found the cross country ski trail, but there were signs saying no walking, no snowshoeing. Did other people listen? No. But I searched for the snowshoe trail, and eventually found it – along a campground road. By this point I was doing more of a run/walk combo – I was getting tired.
When I reached the Hemlock Ridge trail again, I think I walked more than I ran for the last 700 m – it was mostly uphill!
Within 10m of the car, I fell for the first time! My tired legs tripped on a stick. In the end, I travelled around 5 km, which is pretty good for a first time on running snowshoes!
There was a huge amount of snow in my gaiters, but I’ve since learned how to cinch them tight! And my feet got wet in my trail running shoes. Next time, I’ll try wearing cycling foot covers and merino wool socks. My feet were not cold while I was running/walking, but had I stopped for any significant amount of time, they would have become unpleasant.
If you’ve never been to Arrowhead, you might not know that they also have a 1.3 km skating loop through the forest, a tubing hill, and lots of cross country ski trails. You can rent skis, snowshoes and ice skates at Arrowhead!
I had a great day and can’t wait to try my snowshoes out again!
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