An Algonquin Park winter adventure weekend offered by Voyageur Quest brought visions of pristine white snow, crisp cold air, blue skies, quiet lakes and the sweet stillness you can only experience deep in the winter woods. It sounded like the perfect winter digital detox I was looking for to sooth my mind and lift my spirits after a difficult year both in my personal life and at work.
The weekend activities promised to be fun, some snowshoeing, cross country skiing, dog sledding, lots of good food, and an extra bonus, the stay was billed as totally off the grid. No hydro and most importantly no Internet connection. I would have to put away my smart phone and say good-bye to my lifeline, my entertainment and my time waster for three entire days. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
Winter tires are your friend when you are traveling on slippery, snow covered roads in northern Ontario. If you can brave not focusing your attention totally on the road ahead, you will be rewarded with glimpses of pristine snow covered lakes, pretty little cabins tucked away for the winter, and slabs of ice covered granite jutting out of the frozen landscape. After an easy 3-hour and a half drive from Toronto, we arrived at the Voyageur Quest lodge located on the northern periphery of Algonquin Park in time for a hearty lunch of sweet potato soup and homemade bread. What a great way to start our weekend adventure.
The lodge can only be described as pure Canadiana. It is what most people who don’t actually live in the country would envision a home in Canada would be like; a large, rustic log cabin nestled by the side of a frozen lake, surrounded by towering evergreens. I felt like I was in a Group of Seven painting. Beautiful.
Equipped with a large living and dining space, 6 bedrooms and 2 indoor toilets (woohoo!), the lodge still felt cozy, with 3 fireplaces and plenty of snug nooks perfect for relaxing after a day of winter time fun. On our weekend stay we shared the lodge with visitors from Chile, Australia and southern Ontario. Voyageur Quest provided the meals, and luckily our cabin-mates thought ahead like we did, bringing and sharing wine and beer cooled in the snow.
The lodge is off the grid, this means no electricity, no heat, no lights, in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. This may not be everyone’s ideal way of getting away from it all in the winter but I loved it. The lodge glows with soft light cast off from kerosene lanterns scattered all around, the fires blaze all day long, and the quietness of winter surrounds you without the distracting roar of a furnace, and the buzz of hydro.
With temperatures dipping to -20 Celsius at night and the fires dying down to embers, it does get cold in the middle of the night. To help you get through until morning without turning into a popsicle, Voyageur Quest supplies toasty warm sleeping bags and extra blankets, perfect for making a lovely warm nest to snuggle away in from the bitter cold. Pro Tip: keep your long johns on or maybe more at bedtime, this is not the place for skimpy lingerie! Plus, I’ve been told long underwear can be sexy:)
The meals were provided and cooked by our guides for the weekend, Sarah, Andrea and the three Nicks made sure we were well exercised and fed during our stay.
Meal planning and recipes for the lodge were provided by a traveling chef…yes a professional traveling chef in Northern Ontario! Sample meals included deliciousness like apple stuffed pancakes, French onion soup with ham and cheese toasties, hearty French-Canadian tortiere with a cranberry jalapeño sauce, dream bars, and melted brie or hummus served between meals, yum.
Winter Adventure Activities
Snow Shoeing in Algonquin
Snowshoe treks around Surprise Lake and Moose Bay were a delight. Before this trip, I was not a fan of snow shoeing but during my 3 days, I found I enjoyed our snow shoe trips most of all. There is something special about a slow hike through the snow, chatting, and being fully immersed in the beautiful winter wonderland around us.
Backcountry Cross-Country Skiing
I have been cross-country skiing many times but never back country skiing. It was a challenge! We skied in the deep woods, twisting and turning through narrow paths, going up and down, and trying to avoid smacking into trees along the way. I became an expert at falling and getting back up with my skis still attached.
Homemade Luge Run
The homemade luge run was a blast, what a great combination – a steep, icy hill, toboggans, and us! Everybody got in on the fun, and we all tackled the hill many times for the thrill of a fast run down.
I didn’t try dog-sledding but Judy, our visitor from Australia did and she described it as “one of the best days of my life.” Her dogs loved to run, and as they raced over the frozen ground, Judy and her sled partner hung on and enjoyed the ride. Mush!
What do you do without a TV or Computer Screen Time?
So, without the distraction of the internet, smart phones and television what is there to do? Simple pleasures became special, standing out on a frozen winter lake at night, gazing at the stars, brilliant in the northern sky, a game of pick-up hockey, the goal posts lit with torches, a game of Canadian Trivia Challenge, and sadly we Canadians in the game didn’t fare much better than our visitors!
Winter Digital Detox
I made it through three days without Internet, off the grid in a snowy wonderland. I wasn’t checking up on family or friends on Facebook, posting on twitter, or sending email. Instead, I talked to interesting people from around the world, played games, challenged myself physically and communed with nature. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Not sure what to wear on a winter adventure trip up north? Click here for a handy and comprehensive list of travel essentials, perfect for any extreme winter travel adventures.