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Algoma in the Winter

Updated: By Rob Stimpson

It’s late November, you wonder where did the last ten plus months go? The sun sets sooner and rises later as late fall transcends into December. Snow squalls become the daily weather event. For the winter enthusiast, the outdoors beckons. Algoma and the Superior coast has no shortage of an amazing array of winter landscapes to be experienced. Is it cross country skis, downhill or snowshoes? Whatever the mode of travel is, there are trails suited for you.

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A.Y. Jackson, the legendary Group of Seven painter from the last century was affectionately known as “Pere Raquette” (father snowshoeing) by his Quebecois friend and artist, Clarence Gagnon. He was seen many times during the winter months exploring the landscape on his snowshoes. The Group’s winter and late fall paintings of Algoma captured the essence of the landscape. There is that sense of solitude that comes over the land in winter.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

One cannot go to Algoma in the winter without exploring Stokely Creek in Goulais River. Stokely is located in the Algoma Highlands about a 30 minute drive from the Sault. Stunning views of Lake Superior and with its great snow conditions; it has the perfect terrain for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The 100 kilometers of trails provide the visitor with something for all skill levels. You can trek your way up to King Mountain, rising 1900 feet above the Goulais River Valley. Stokely is more than just a winter sport centre, it is a resort with great dining and cabins to keep you there for a few days or longer.

Another favourite place is Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Prov Park. Most only experience this iconic location in the summer but winter brings a whole new flavour here. The image posted, the lake was frozen but at the same time, the winds drove the brash ice up onto the beach, creating this gravel pile of ice fragments. There are a number of trails in the Park suited for more snowshoeing than cross country skiing. Caution is required if the parking lots have not been cleared and you need to park on the shoulder.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

Lake Superior is fickle and when it comes to winter, you never know what she will serve up. Some years, you can leave the comfort of the shore and head out onto the ice, while other times, you are best advised to stay on terra firma. I highly recommend you talk with people who know, and if in doubt — don’t go. Falling into a lake during the winter months can be disastrous.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

Winter is a time to leave the comfort of home and get outside. Yes, it is cold but you will be surprised how fast your body will acclimatize to the temperature. I always layer when cross country skiing or snowshoeing, before you know it, you are losing water, aka sweating. Never wear cotton as it will pull warmth away from your body and could cause hypothermia. Get your yourself an under layer which will “wick” the sweat away from your skin. Check out your local outdoor stores for different types that are available.

Don’t forget to take your camera or sketch pad with you. The light during winter is ephemeral, moments a splash of light on a tree or a snow covered hillside might last only minutes. After a fresh snowfall, get out there, try and capture the soul of Algoma in the least liked season. There is a silence in the backcountry, hardly a sound, unless it is minus 30 and the trees crack like a rifle shot.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

As for accommodation your best bet is the Sault or Wawa if you are exploring Lake Superior Prov Park. Further north White River, Marathon and Terrace Bay are your choices. Want to try something different with accommodations? Hot camping might be just the ticket. Sleeping in a tent that’s heated by a portable wood-burning stove in sub zero temps is an experience.

What ever you decide, get outdoors in winter, it is a great tonic for beating the winter blues and another way to experience the land.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

Remember safety first. Going snowshoeing or any winter outdoor activities in unsupervised areas, i.e. Provincial Parks, make sure you let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Carry water, matches, some power bars, an extra layer and a headlamp as days are shorter. Careful of parking lots that are not maintained in winter. Call the MTO and find out which ones are ploughed.

Get outside and enjoy winter.

About Rob Stimpson

Rob is an internationally published, award-winning photographer best known for capturing the wilds of the Canadian outdoors. In addition to teaching photography at Fleming College and doing workshops, Rob’s work can be seen on Ontario Parks, Ontario Tourism & Parks Canada web-based and print publications. With covid he is teaching and doing his talks over zoom as well his gallery is open with social distancing protocol.

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