What a winter we’ve had, huh? The temperatures have been up and down so much that it’s a wonder our thermometers haven’t called it quits and headed south for the rest of the season. It is anybody’s guess when Jack Frost will send another snow dump or cold snap out to York Durham Headwaters this year, but there is one thing we do know for sure: there is plenty more winter to be had. So, if you haven’t yet ventured outside for your dose of cold-weather fun, we want you to think “off the beaten path.” In other words… we’re talking snowshoeing!
Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years. As a nation, they are a proud part of our heritage. Early Canadian fur traders, trappers, and a number of other professions that relied on getting around in areas of heavy snowfall made use of this ingenious invention. In fact, nearly every First Nations peoples of North America had been using snowshoes before the Europeans, and introduced them to this mode of winter transportation. Today, the modern snowshoe is made of aluminum, and looks quite different than the traditional wooden frame and leather lattice of centuries past. But they provide just as much fun.
With our extensive network of trails and conservation areas in YDH, if you can get your hands on a pair of snowshoes, you can submerge yourself in our Winter Wonderland… but not literally, of course; that’s kind of the point. This simple piece of equipment is designed to distribute your body weight over a wider area, thus allowing you to “float” over the snowy terrain—flotation being the technical term for the physics of this invigorating activity. If you enjoy a good nature walk and are prepared to bundle up, you’ll love snowshoeing.
“There is nothing quite like getting out on our trails and experiencing the beauty and absolute peace that snowshoeing offers,” say staff at Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton. “The fact that snowshoeing offers the opportunity to access areas you otherwise wouldn’t be able to in winter can’t be overlooked.”
Cold Creek, which is just north of Kleinburg in York Region, has been offering snowshoeing since the early 2000s. Snowshoeing at Cold Creek is fairly simple. There are three trails which are marked out for both skiing and snowshoeing—beginner, intermediate, and expert. Visitors are welcome to use snowshoes on any trails they please, and snowshoes can be rented for a mere $5 per day.
The Ganaraska Forest Centre is another location just outside of YDH that offers snowshoe rentals. For only $15 per pair plus $6 for a hiking day pass, you can get out into one of the most beautiful and extensive natural areas east of Durham Region. “If you’re keen on trying this out, please do,” says Amy Griffiths of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. “It’s as easy as walking… only with big shoes on.”
At Ganaraska, there are two dedicated snowshoeing trails available. The first is a short, 2.5 km loop, and the second is a longer 8 km loop, both of which meander through picturesque pines and hardwood forests. For over 30 years, the Ganaraska Forest has been a prime location for snowshoeing enthusiasts, and the Ganaraska Forest Outdoor Education Centre has been teaching visiting students how to snowshoe since the late 70s.
Those who know the joys of snowshoeing know that getting outside keeps you healthy in body and mind. Not only are you staying active when you strap on a pair of these babies, you’re also traversing landscapes that may not be visited in other seasons. Amy points out that winter not only changes the landscape, it also alters wildlife behaviour. The forest is continually changing, and wildlife must adapt to the seasonal differences just like we humans do. “The search for food often forces wildlife to be active for longer periods,” she says. “Some species reduce their range in the winter and some species gather together in groups for breeding, protection, or in prime food areas. This often increases the chances of encountering elusive species while on the trails—an experience that everyone should have.”
There are many great trails in York Durham Headwaters that are accessible to snowshoeing. To see which trails offer rentals, contact the location directly. For an overview of what trails we have here in York Durham Headwaters, browse the Ontario Trails Council’s handy Find a Trail map. Also, many sporting equipment retailers will offer snowshoes to both rent and purchase. So, if you’re close to a trail but not to an onsite rental facility, you can still be outfitted with basic gear for your winter snowshoeing adventure.
Story by Katherine Ryalen