Recently I had the pleasure of enjoying a winter weekend at Windy Lake Provincial Park with my friend and running buddy, Lindsay. Despite the balmy -33 degrees it was perfect weather for trying out all of the outdoor activities the park offers. If you haven’t camped before or don’t consider yourself much of an outdoors person, take it from a camping newbie, this weekend getaway is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as those dipping their toes in to the Great Canadian wilderness!
History of Windy Lake Provincial Park
Fun Fact: Windy Lake Provincial Park is part of a crater that was left by a meteorite over 2 billion years ago! You’ve probably heard of this crater before and didn’t realize it. Most people know the crater as the Sudbury Basin and are aware of its abundance of copper and nickel. In fact, if you’ve heard of Sudbury, you’re probably also familiar with its famous gigantic nickel.
The crater the meteroite left behind is 200km wide and 20km deep. YIKES! If geology is your shtick, don’t forget to check out the Shatter Cones left behind from the impact. You can find them at the AY Jackson Lookout in summer or at Science North in the winter.
Luckily for beach-goers, the crater’s glaciers melted thousands of years ago and left behind some of northern Ontario’s best beaches around Windy Lake. I didn’t get to experience them this time, but I hope to return in warmer weather one day.
Ojibwa peoples have been camping, fishing, hunting, and berry picking on the shores of Windy Lake for over a century. Remnants of their past were unearthed in 1973 when a canoe was found at the southeast end of the lake. Another connection to their history in this area is Makoping Island. The Ojibwa call Windy Lake “Makoping”, which means “Place of the Bear Paw” because of the lake’s shape. Today, Makoping Island can be found south of Burnt Island, at the southeast corner of the lake.
In more recent history, Windy Lake Provincial Park used to be a picnic stop. It wasn’t until 1959 that it officially became one of Ontario’s Provincial Parks. Today it’s known as the perfect place to enjoy outdoor activities in both the summer and winter. People can camp, stay in cabins, or check off bucket list items such as staying in a yurt.
In the summer Windy Lake is a hub for aquatic recreation in the Sudbury region. People can enjoy sailing, windsurfing (it’s not called Windy Lake for nothing!), boating, waterskiing, swimming, and lots more. On the lake’s beaches, everyone from families, to couples and individuals relax while they soak up the sun, play volleyball, and build sandcastles. In the winter, well, you’ll have to read below to find out all of the fun outdoor activities offered at the park!
Located 40 minutes northwest of Sudbury off of Highway 144, the drive to Windy Lake is the perfect way to begin to unwind. If you’re driving from southern Ontario, the minute you pass Barrie, city life fades into the distance and a sense of calm takes over. My favourite part of the drive is when the road starts to wind and pass through the gigantic Northern Ontario rocks that shape the landscape.
From Toronto: 4 hours & 40 minutes
- Highway 401 West
- Highway 400 North toward Barrie
- Keep right at the fork to continue on Hwy 400, & follow signs for Ontario 69/Parry Sound/Sudbury
- Use the right lane to take Highway 17 West ramp to Sault Ste Marie
- Exit onto Highway 144 North toward Timmins
- Turn left to stay on Highway 144 North
- Take a left turn onto Old Cartier Road at the Windy Lake Motel and Restaurant
- Turn left at the Park Office
From Sault Ste Marie: 3 hours & 45 minutes
- Turn left onto the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 17) from Trunk Road
- Take the Highway 144 exit toward Timmins
- Stay on Highway 144 North
- Left turn onto Old Cartier Road at the Windy Lake Motel and Restaurant
- Turn left at the Park Office
The check-in time for Windy Lake’s wooden cabins is 3pm. Trust me when I say you’re going to want to stay longer when it’s time to pack up and go home. If it’s imperative you leave, checkout is at 11am.
Each of the 2 wooden cabins have space for 2 vehicles to park. The cabins have a cozy 1-room living area complete with beds, a small kitchenette, and a sun room facing the lake. Outside there is a wheelchair accessible porch with a barbecue. There are 2 heated outhouses shared by the cabins a short distance from your doorstep. Across from the parking area is the perfect place to enjoy beautiful sunrise and sunset views over the lake.
In the cabins there is room for 5 people to comfortably sleep. You’ll find a queen bed on one side, and on the other side there’s a bunk bed with a single mattress on top and a double mattress on the bottom. I can say from experience that the nights are nice and toasty, thanks to a propane fireplace.
The kitchenette includes a microwave, mini fridge, coffee maker, and kettle. There’s a table and wooden benches, which are perfect for eating and board games. It is necessary to bring plates, cutlery, cups, and any other kitchenware you might need for your stay. We brought a pressure cooker and it was perfect. Lindsay and I made a delicious orzo bolognese for dinner, and for breakfast we used the Instant Pot to make soft-boiled eggs.
P.S. One of these things just doesn’t belong inside the fridge. Can you find it? Leave your answer in the comments below!
Other items you’ll need to bring are bedding (pillows, sheets, sleeping bags, etc…), except for a mattress. Items to leave at home include cigarettes, vapes, and pets.
Windy Lake Provincial Park has 6 yurts available for rent, each one including a parking spot. During the winter the yurts are accessible by cross-country ski paths. The park provides sleighs to help transport your items to the yurt, which is an easy 7 minute ski or walk from the parking lot to the campground. Like the cabins, check-in is 3pm and checkout is 11am.
The yurts sleep 6 and have two bunk beds with a single bed on top and a double bed on bottom. Inside the yurts you’ll find a table with chairs, a light, electrical heat, and even an electrical outlet. Each yurt has it’s own private outdoor area with a fire pit, a large wheelchair accessible deck, a propane barbecue with a side-burner, and a picnic table. All cooking must be done outside the yurts. How much more Canadian can barbecuing in the winter get?!
For trips to the loo, there’s a central bathroom shared by all of the yurts and a few more that the cabins share. Bonus tip – they’re heated. In fact, the bathroom and toilet seat was warmer than the ones inside the building of my previous employer in Ireland!
Make sure to bring bedding and kitchen items. Leave cigarettes, vapes, and pets at home.
There are a few ways to secure ice fishing services over a winter weekend at Windy Lake Provincial Park. If you’re renting a cabin or yurt you can add on an ice fishing package for $100. If you’re not staying overnight, you can call the park office and schedule your rental (prices below). Last minute planners can walk in to the park and request rentals, however they’re quite popular, so it’s best to book in advance.
Regardless of your skill or experience, make sure to purchase an ice fishing licence and read up on ice safety beforehand. A day fishing licence costs only $13.80 (as of February 2020) and is easy to acquire.
Both of Windy Lake’s ice fishing packages include 2 rods/reels, tip-ups, a bait bucket/stool, and fishing tackle. If you prefer to set everything up yourself, the cost is $100. The staff will provide you with the ice auger and a sled that transforms into a double-seated portable fishing hut. For those less familiar with ice fishing, park staff will bring the equipment out to the designated location and set everything up for a total of $150. The lake and ice fishing huts are easily accessible by foot (/snowshoe) from the park office.
Don’t forget to stock up on bait before arriving at the lake. Chelmsford, which is 18 minutes east of the park, has several bait shops to choose from. We visited Dandy Live Bait and Tackle. The staff were friendly and helped us choose the correct bait for our adventure.
Windy Lake Provincial Park is an excellent spot for beginner and avid ice fishers. There are plenty of Lake Trout, Walleye, and Lake Whitefish to entertain you for the weekend and the views from the hut aren’t bad either!
The Onaping Falls Nordic Ski Club has 8km of beautiful snowshoe trails for people to come and enjoy. People are welcome to bring their own snowshoes or rent from the chalet.
We also found the snowshoes helpful to move between our cabin and the fishing hut on the ice. I’d highly recommend snowshoes as an item on your packing list, or as something you rent while at Windy Lake.
A winter weekend at Windy Lake wouldn’t be complete without some cross-country skiing. Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club is situated across the road from Windy Lake’s park office. The OFNSC is run by several enthusiastic and friendly volunteers. The club boasts over 15 km of classic and skate style trails that are track set and professionally groomed. Before and after exploring, the club has a Ski Chalet with drinking water, flush toilets, a cozy wood fireplace, seating area, and warm drinks. Due to their location, they’re also open longer in the season than other nearby clubs. Count me in!
The ski trails offer something for everyone – from the beginner, to families, to Olympic skiiers. I’ve only cross-country skiied once when I was 12 for a field trip. As my second time ever cross-country skiing, I found the trails easy to manoeuver, beautiful to wander through, and one hill in particular on the Green Trail was quite thrilling! Onaping Falls Nordics Ski Club is also home to several professional Canadian athletes, including Olympian Devon Kershaw.
The map below shows most of the club’s trails, although they’ve recently added two new loops that aren’t displayed below. The Green Trail is 4.5 km of mostly flat track which I can attest to being excellent for beginners. The blue trail is the Devon Kershaw Trail and is a 5.2 km loop. Darren’s Surprise is the 4.2 km red trail and is the most challenging. For snow-shoers, follow the purple trail for 8 km of powdery fun. Last, the yellow trails are bypass trails.
Prices for cross-country day passes range from $5 for kids ages 6-12 to $15 for adults. Children under 5 ski for free and it’s an affordable $30 for a family to ski. Not to worry if you don’t have equipment. The ski club offers rentals for skis and snowshoes. For more pricing information, visit the OFNSC site here.
What’s Your Favourite Winter Weekend Getaway?
Do you have any favourite winter spots? After experiencing winter camping and a whole slew of outdoor activities for the first or second time, I think it’s time to add more cold-weather travel to my list!