Winter in Quetico Provincial Park

If you know Quetico Park mainly as the canoe park north of the Boundary Waters, you’re not alone. But with over 1,800 square miles of wilderness, its under-appreciated as a winter destination. If you’re looking for winter adventure, Quetico Provincial Park offers unique opportunities to enjoy the darkest, quietest, snowiest season – which often begins in November. Picture towering pines silhouetted against a dazzling blue sky, and a layer of new snow spilling from the branches. Here are just a few ideas for exploring Quetico when the canoe routes are frozen over.

Dawson Trail winds along French Lake, photo via Ontario Parks Blog

Make (snowshoe) tracks

Park superintendent Trevor Gibb recommends the trail to French Falls: “This adventure takes you to a small frozen waterfall on the French River. Start your journey at the French Portage trailhead. There is a large plowed parking area there and a year-round vault toilet across the road. Once you are all geared up, hit the trail heading east following the French Portage Trail until it joins the French Falls Trail. A frozen waterfall is at the end of the trail and the small valley at the base of the falls makes for a great rest stop before you turn around and retrace your steps to the parking area. This snowshoe hike takes about 2.5 hours to complete. Quetico’s trails are multi-use. Do your best to stay to the side of the trail to prevent damaging the ski tracks.” The Dawson Trail Campground features a network of winter trails, the trail that winds along the French Lake shoreline is also a favorite with snowshoers.

Quetico Provincial Park, photo via Ontario Parks Blog

Wax the skis and watch for moose tracks

Quetico boasts maintained ski trails and even skate skiiing. Trevor Gibb shares “for those seeking winter solitude, try classic skiing the Camp 111 Trail. It’s a longer ski loop, but often the only tracks in front of you are those made by the local wildlife. Take care not to trip in the giant Moose prints that are often left on this trail.” Check out the Winter Ski Trails Map.

Winter camping in the backcountry, photo via Ontario Parks Blog

Winter camping

Quetico Provincial Park is renowned for backcountry camping amongst experienced adventurers, but more accessible winter camping options are increasing. Formerly only available in the summer months, tents and trailers are now welcome at Chippewa Campground from January to March. Or for cozy solitude, choose one of the ski-in or snowshoe-in rustic cabins.

A snowy campsite, photo via Ontario Parks Blog

Brave the cold and go stargazing

The long crisp nights of winter are perfect for stargazing, free of light pollution. The dark starry skies of Quetico were recognized by the International Dark Sky Association in 2021 and joined the BWCAW with official designation as an International Dark Sky Park. Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights against unpolluted darkness, and hear the howl of wolves across a frozen lake.

Dark sky over Quetico, photo via Ontario Parks Blog

Watch for wildlife and enjoy winter birding

“The cheery song of the Pine Grosbeak can brighten up any winter day in Quetico” says Trevor Gibb. Red Foxes, Pine Martens, Moose, and Snowshoe Hares, Great Gray Owls, Canada Jays and Grosbeaks are just a few of the species that frequent the winter woods, and may be easier to see and hear against a snowy backdrop.

Canada Jay photo via Ontario Parks Blog

More information:

Learn more at the Ontario Parks Blog

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