It was the coldest weekend of the year. And we headed north.
In Southern Ontario, winter hasn’t made much of an appearance in 2016. We listened closely to the weather reports leading up to the weekend of Valentine’s Day. Phrases like, “deep freeze” and “record low temperatures” were infiltrating the news reports for days. For that weekend, we had plans to drive four hours north of Toronto where it would be even colder. Were we crazy? Despite the reports, we drove to Northern Edge Algonquin, an eco-resort on the northwest edge of Algonquin Park. We took part in their “Making Tracks” winter adventure retreat.
As it turned out, traveling north in the winter was ridiculously fun. Sure, we wore many layers and bundled up, but we got to play in the snow in a true winter wonderland. We breathed the refreshing, icy air and admired the stunning white expanse that stretched far into the distance. Plus, it wasn’t always about the outdoor adventures. We ate sumptuous meals prepared by a chef, stayed cozy by our fireplace, and made connections with other nature-loving folks from all over the province.
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Here are some reasons why you should spend a weekend in northern Ontario at Northern Edge Algonquin, starting with a short video.
Embrace Winter Off the Grid
Northern Edge Algonquin is an eco-friendly resort, completely off the grid. There’s no cell phone service and there aren’t any electricity lines. Guests are encouraged to leave their electronic devices at home or in the car, with the exception of cameras. Of course, we all wanted to take pictures of our beautiful surroundings. It’s the perfect setting to unplug and take a break from technology.
The resort is primarily solar powered by 22 large solar panels around the site. The indoor facilities are heated by propane and wood-burning fireplaces. Ingredients for meals are sourced locally and grown in greenhouses and gardens at the resort.
The resort and its surroundings allow you to feel the isolation of the north in a comfortable setting. It’s a way to enjoy a piece of Algonquin Park without camping in the wilderness.
We woke up each day to brilliant sunlight peeking through rows of trees. Breathing in the fresh air and gazing across Kawawaymog Lake allowed for a true escape from city living. Northern Edge Algonquin was in an isolated setting, but it had the sense of a vibrant community. Our guides, Kim and Jeff, were friendly faces that greeted us each day. They helped us with everything that we needed during our stay. They were welcoming and knowledgeable, acting as adventure guides, storytellers, and teachers.
We stayed in a cozy cabin called the Bears Den. There were several places to stay: detached cottages, Points North (the main building), or the 120-year old log cabin. We adored our cute cabin, which was near the lake, the dining hall and Points North.
The Bears Den slept four people, with one double bed and two single beds. There was a wood-burning fireplace that we used every night for added warmth and ambiance. Kim and Jeff asked us to turn the lights off when we weren’t in the cabin, as the facilities run on solar power. Our cabin’s bathroom was eco-friendly. There was a composting toilet. For those who haven’t used one before, it had a regular toilet seat but it was a hole with a bucket in the ground. After you go, you throw a scoop of peat moss down the hole, which helps cover up any odor. The staff cleaned the toilet on a daily basis. We didn’t experience any issues with smell or anything of that nature. As for the sink, we had a limited supply of water that lasted the whole weekend. The water came out of a tap in the bathroom, but actually came from a container up in the roof. Quite ingenious, isn’t it!
The main building, Points North, had showers with hot water and flush toilets. Kim and Jeff encouraged us to take short showers as the water supply was for all twenty guests during our stay. It wasn’t far from our cabin and was not inconvenient to shower there.
The Main Dining Hall was across from our cabin. We met there each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the dining hall, there were several tables, some comfortable chairs, a huge bookshelf filled with reading material, and a wood-burning fireplace. We could relax by the huge windows, admire the scenery, and browse the library of books.
Winter Outdoor Adventures
A big part of the retreat involved the opportunity for winter outdoor adventures. We were free to take part in any of the activities, or opt out of any of them, too. On our first day, we decided to embark on the adventurous snowshoe trek.
There were two snowshoeing trips offered: one was tame, and one was more adventurous. Of course, we picked the adventurous one! While the temperatures had dipped to a frigid -44 degrees Celsius that night (setting a weather record for that day!), it warmed up to a balmy -24 degrees Celsius by the time we went snowshoeing. We bundled up in layers of sweaters, winter coats, snow pants, scarves, hats, mittens, you name it. Then, we borrowed snowshoes and handwarmers. Let me tell you, those little packets that you can put in your gloves or shoes were a lifesaver!
We hiked through the forest on snowshoes, forging a path in the snow. Our guides pointed out animal tracks, like those of rabbits. Though we heard the chirping of birds, we didn’t see many animals out there. I’m sure they could hear us coming.
The first part of our adventure was completely uphill. Even though it was cold outside, we worked up quite a sweat. It was tempting to remove some of the layers. Yet everyone reminded me of just how cold it was outside when they laughed at how my eyelashes had frozen!
Before long, the forest opened up to a clearing. It was another frozen lake, Lake Corkery. We went snowshoeing around the edge of the lake and even made patterns in the snow.
Next, we decided to go ice skating on the frozen pond. A section of the lake was cleared of snow. We grabbed a couple of hockey sticks and a puck, and played around on the ice. We both aren’t very good skaters, but it was fun to glide around and get our bearings on the ice. Be sure to bring your own ice skates as the resort only has limited amount in certain sizes.
We also rode the kick sleds. These sleds had a little seat on the front, and a place for standing and pushing on the back. Justin slid around on the sled, and I rode on the front of it. It was a great way to feel like a kid again.
Though we didn’t take part, there was also cross-country skiing available. We’ll have to give it a try next time.
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Chef Gregor created memorable meals using fresh, local, and organic ingredients. This man is a wizard in the kitchen. All the guests gathered at one of three communal tables. Greg placed the dishes on the counters and served the meals buffet-style. For every meal, he described where the ingredients came from. More often than not, they were grown at a nearby farm or greenhouse in Ontario. He stressed the importance of connecting to our local farmers and their food. Greg wrote his mantra on this chalkboard:
Gregor’s Recipe for Soul Food:
- Harvest fresh, local ingredients.
- Find inspiration from global flavours.
- Season with a generous helping of gratitude.
- Serve home-style and share in community.
- Compost the leftovers (if there are any).
Chef Gregor created inspiring and savory vegan dishes, alongside those that weren’t plant-based. Everything was so healthy and fresh. Everyone ate some of the vegan dishes and enjoyed them, too. The food was not only skillfully prepared, but also made with love and gratitude.
For breakfast each day, we ate fresh fruit (orange and grapefruit), maple granola, brown rice porridge with maple syrup, and English muffins or bagels with peanut butter or jam. There was juice and fair-trade coffee to drink, too.
Here are some of our lunches and dinners. We truly felt spoiled.
For dinner on Valentine’s Day, we tried some local wine and beer. This particular beer was brewed in a local nearby town. It was refreshing and great tasting.
Lunch on our last day was real treat. We made our own pizzas using the outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. Kim and Jeff arranged a variety of ingredients. We piled fresh onion, steamed kale, marinated mushrooms, and rice milk cheese on top of flavorful tomato sauce. The pizzas only took a minute to cook inside the 900 degree oven. They were yummy and left us feeling nice and full for our long drive home.
Even though this trip was full of adventure, we had many moments to unwind and take it easy. You didn’t even have to partake in any activities at all. The experience was entirely up to the individual. Between outdoor activities, I worked on my adult coloring book on a couch in Points North. I admired views of the lake while sipping a soothing herbal tea.
There was a sauna at Northern Edge Algonquin where we relaxed. It offered a great contrast to the freezing weather outside. At one point, Justin and I worked up the courage to run outside in our bathing suits. We laid back in the snow and even rolled around a bit. Then, we ran back into the sauna as quickly as we could.
On the first evening, our group gathered by the fireplace in the 120-year old log cabin after dinner. We were offered white pine tea to drink, which has a crazy amount of vitamin C. You let the pine needles steep inside the hot water. Once they slowly sink to the bottom of the cup, it’s ready to drink. I didn’t know how pine needles would taste, but it was very good.
Kim and Jeff shared stories about their times exploring Algonquin Park, the oldest provincial park in Canada. They talked about the wildlife in the area, and shared some found objects like antlers and skulls. It was very interesting to learn more about the landscape and animals of the region.
The nights were clear and crisp, and we could see many stars above. Northern Edge Algonquin is an ideal place for stargazing. From time to time, you can see the Northern Lights here; unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see them while we were there. The stars did shine brilliantly and we could see many more without the light pollution of the city.
We also met so many wonderful people there. It was great to see some friendly faces during meal times and on our outdoor adventures. Though we traveled as a couple, I think this would be a great place for solo travelers, too. There was a great social dynamic here, and hopefully we created some lasting friendships!
We braved the cold weather, got some exercise in the snow, and ate delightful and thoughtful meals. Staying in one of the rustic cabins combined some comforts from home in a natural, eco-friendly setting. Northern Edge Algonquin offers spectacular weekend getaways, whether you’re traveling from abroad or looking for a vacation in your own backyard. Northern Edge Algonquin isn’t limited to winter holidays – they are open all year long with many opportunities for adventure in the summer as well. I’m already eyeing their yoga retreats, as I’d absolutely love to return in the future.
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Disclaimer: Thank you to Ontario Travel for hosting our stay. Our opinions, as always, are entirely our own. We had an amazing time at Northern Edge Algonquin and encourage you to visit!
Would you ever travel to a cold place in the winter?