What we thought was the name of a setting for a murder mystery movie, Silent Lake Provincial Park was instead a stunning focal point in the Northeastern Ontario. This was my second winter heading out of the comfort of my warm home into the wilderness of Ontario to winter camp in a yurt.
I’d like to say that this will be an annual tradition. For many reasons, winter camping has become one of my favourite camping adventures. For one, the parks are relatively empty, making it feel like you’re alone in the wilderness.
This winter has been a complete opposite from last year. Last year, the winter was fairly mild and the weather, which hovered around the freezing point, was just cold enough to feel winter. But there wasn’t any snow, and periods of freezing rain ruined any chance for snow to stick around.
This year, however, we’ve been under a deep freeze since mid-December. The weather on our camping weekend was -17 degrees Celcius (which was around -30 degrees with the wind chill), and there was at least one extreme cold warning from Environment Canada. It was f*cking cold.
Thank God for the warmth of a fireplace in the yurt.
Silent Lake Provincial Park
There are 26 provincial parks in Ontario that offer winter camping, and nine of them have roofed accommodations. We chose Silent Lake PP because surprisingly it was the only availability we had. Reservations open five months before your preferred dates, and the yurts fill up fast.
Sure we thought we had booked a place in a murder mystery movie – especially with names like Silent Lake, Second Silent Lake, Quiet Lake and Soft Lake.
But, the names speak for themselves. At night, it is pitch black outside (the stars were incredible), and during the winter, there’s barely a sound, save for the snow crunching under your boots.
It was magical, to say the very least. But winter camping is absolutely not fun unless you are 100% prepared to be in the wilderness during the cold weather.
Tips for winter camping in a yurt
Winter camping in a yurt means having to think about staying warm 100% of the time. Yes, yurts offer a “glamping feel,” but they are not any warmer than a regular tent, especially when it’s 20 below outside. The yurt we stayed in had an electric fireplace, which was EXCELLENT. But even with it on the floor was freezing. It was a running joke that the floor was a fridge (rather than the floor is lava).
When it comes to doing anything in winter, layering is probably the most important. Start with a base layer, add in protection from the wind, add an insulation layer and finally an outer shell. From your head down to your toes you’ll want to keep yourself snuggly warm.
I had a thermal layer, fleece layer (fleece is the best) and my big winter parka, which kept be warm enough. I added a buff to feel the wind off my face, and three layers of pants to keep my legs warm. So I don’t joke about layering up.
First off, get a sleeping bag that will keep you warm. I mean, obviously. Mine is an old army sleeping bag – that thing is rated to keep me warm if I were sleeping on the dark side of the moon. But other things will allow you to stay warm, such as a sleeping bag liner (I have a fleece one for extra warmth).
Head to your nearest camping goods store for a sleeping bag fit for winter camping.
Hand/ feet warmers
Hand or feet warmers are a must if you run on the cold side. They can give you a little boost of heat if you have a harder time warming up your extremities.
I usually run on the warm side, but even I needed toe warmers this time around. They stick to your feet and last for hours – helpful when the floor is a fridge. (See above).
Make warm meals
There is only one thing that motivates my friends and me when we’ve come back from a winter hike, and that’s warm food.
Last year we made soup and hot campfire pizzas. But this year, the snow was too deep to build a fire, so we relied on our barbecue and an electric kettle to heat water for a cup of soup and Mr. Noodles. We also made copious amounts of tea and hot chocolate.
I mean, it may seem like perfect sense, but do not hold it in, especially before you go to bed. Your body will use energy to keep that liquid warm when your bladder is full, making it harder for you to stay warm.
So at Silent Lake PP, the only warm comfort station was a five-minute drive. So that meant going pee meant running in your winter boots and winter parka to the nearest outhouse. And let me tell you, having to pull down your pants and sit on a frost covered toilet seat was not the first thing I wanted to do in the morning. Perfecting the squat was necessary.
Winter camping in a yurt is one of my favourite winter activities, and it can be yours too if you plan right and dress warmly. So the next time winter rolls in, it’s time for you to roll out… your sleeping bag.
Q: Would you go winter camping? Have you been winter camping? Tell me about your experiences!
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