A Cabin In The Woods: My Winter Experience In An Ontario Parks Cabin
As snow blankets the ground and the province’s many lakes freeze over, Ontario becomes a winter wonderland that is a joy to experience. One of my favourite activities is forest hiking as there is something incredibly beautiful and serene about walking through snow-covered woods. I love the sound of the snow crunching under foot and the sight of the winter light filtering through the trees.
If you love the idea of exploring the outdoors during the winter, you will likely love staying in a cabin in the woods.
Although we are avid summer tent campers, my family and I had never tried camping in the snow. One day we’d like to try camping in a tent during the winter, but we decided to go slow and start with a rustic glamping experience by renting one of the cabins at Arrowhead Provincial Park.
These cabins have heat, electricity and beds but no running water or bathrooms inside — so they are a nice middle ground for those who want to get outdoors in the winter but are worried about sleeping in the elements. If you’re wondering what it is like to stay in one of these cabins during the winter, read on for all the details.
And if this still feels too rustic for you, we have some incredible cabin accommodations at the edge of Algonquin Park that come with full amenities and meals included, while still having access to the beautiful winter landscape of Ontario. Check them out here.
Roofed accommodations at Ontario Parks
Ontario Parks have a wide range of roofed accommodations — from soft-sided shelters to cottages — available for rent right across the province. Not all of their offerings are open in the winter however as some are not heated. You can get all the details here.
I have previously stayed in a cabin at Arrowhead during the late fall, in a canvas tent at Bon Echo during a beautiful sunny weekend in September and in a yurt at MacGregor Point in May. All of these experiences were terrific and I highly recommend them.
Please note that Ontario Parks accepts reservations five months prior to your stay. Much like premium campsites in the most popular parks, these accommodations do book up quickly, especially on weekends, so be sure to plan ahead. You can also sign up with Ontario Parks to be notified of cancellations, which is a good option as people’s plans often change and accommodations become available throughout the year.
Related: Read about winter camping at MacGregor Provincial Park
Getting to the cabins
We arrived at Arrowhead Provincial Park on a sunny and quiet weekday. During the winter, the roads to the cabins are not maintained so you cannot just drive up to your accommodation as you would in the warmer months.
We parked at the designated parking space for cabin rentals, which is a very short walk away from the cabins, and loaded our stuff onto the available sleds. The kids loved this part so much. Our oldest pulled one of the sleds while our youngest climbed right in. Our middle child, true to form, just ran around wildly enjoying the natural surroundings. Arrowhead is one of our favourite provincial parks so the kids were very excited to check it out in the winter.
Inside the cabins
Ontario Parks cabins are nothing if not cozy. The wood interiors feel rustic and warm — a perfect place to curl up and rest after a day of outdoor fun.
There is an enclosed (but not heated) front porch with two wooden Muskoka chairs, mats for snowy boots and space to leave your winter gear.
The cabins sleep five people. There is one queen-sized bed and a bunk bed with a double on the bottom and a single at the top. You can absolutely just sleep in a sleeping bag on top of these mattresses but be warned that they are very slippery. We found it much nicer to put a fitted sheet over the mattresses and then curl up in a sleeping bag. I am not a big fan of sleeping bags, so for the queen bed, I brought a comforter. The cabins are honestly so warm that you won’t need much more than you use at home for a comfortable night. Don’t forget pillows!
There is also a table (with a leaf that makes the table larger) and five chairs, as well as a tiny kitchenette that includes a mini fridge, cupboards and a microwave. Outside there is a bbq with a side burner (propane is included in the rental) as well as a firepit. You’ll need to bring your own dishes, utensils and cooking equipment.
While the cabin is heated through electric baseboard heaters, there is also a propane stove which adds extra warmth if you need it but mostly it just provides incredible ambiance.
At the bottom of this post, I’ve included extra photos of the inside (including the stove) so keep scrolling for more.
What about running water?
As I mentioned before, the cabins do not have water or plumbing but there are heated washroom facilities just a short walk away. In the building you will not only find bathrooms, but also showers and a heated dishwashing facility where you can bring your dirty dishes to wash in the nice warm water.
Be sure to bring your own biodegradable dish soap, a bucket or container to carry your dishes and pots, a sponge or cloth to wash your dishes with and a dish towel to dry them off. When it is busy in the park there can be a wait to use this room.
Things to do in the winter
Arrowhead Provincial Park is probably best known for its magical skating trail in the winter. The trail is usually open from January to early March and was not operational when we visited.
But we found that there are so many other ways to get active outside at Arrowhead that go beyond the skating trail: you can rent (or bring) cross-country skis or snowshoes and try out one the many trails. There are 28 km of classic ski trails, 16 km of skate-ski trails and more than 8 km of snowshoe trails available. There are also plenty of place to just take a winter stroll and see how the forest changes during the winter. My children loved seeing the birds flying through the forest.
The nice part about staying overnight in the park is that you get to enjoy an outdoor fire in your own fire pit at any point in the day. We loved cooking outdoors and eating lunch by the fire, just as we would during the summer months. Breakfast and dinner, we cooked outside but ate indoors.
In the evenings, the sun goes down much faster than in the summer, so we were able to enjoy the beautiful night sky for much longer.