Finally, we were able to access Coccinella and get her ready for the season! After spending the previous weekend doing maintenance, we were able to take her out for a shake-out weekend.
We made our way to Algonquin Provincial Park with a view to spending the weekend at Mew Lake Campground. We had great weather for the drive and arrived before dark, which always makes it easier to get set up!
Mew Lake Campground is the only campground in Algonquin Provincial Park that is open year round. There are 33 reservable sites (all of which have electrical service) which can be reserved here. The remaining sites are available on a first come, first serve basis, including those in the Radio Free/Dog Free area. We stayed at Site #47 because it had electrical service and was on the lake. It was very big and could easily accommodate a much larger trailer.
Of note, only the reservable sites will be regularly plowed all winter. The others are plowed when time permits for the limited winter maintenance crew. Also, the only source of potable water during winter months is the comfort station. And several international travellers were very surprised to find that the sanitation/dumping station was closed during the winter but visitors should understand that water pipes cannot be left without a heat source during harsh Canadian winters.
Algonquin’s hiking trails are not maintained during winter months. That isn’t to say they aren’t used because they definitely are. It just means that hiking can be quite challenging, depending on the snow pack. We took advantage of the nice weather to hike the Track and Tower Trail, located 25 kilometres from West Gate and 31 kilometres from East Gate. The trail is a 7.7 kilometre long loop through a mixed hardwood and evergreen forest. The snowpack was deep; however, the snow on the trail was well compressed so that walking on the surface was not a problem. Stepping off the trail resulted in post-holing up to your waist!
The hike itself was not terribly challenging with the exception of section between points 5 to 9. This section was very hilly and steep with wooden stairs providing an efficient path up a fairly steep rockface. Unfortunately, these stairs, which would have been challenging even in the summer, were almost impassable due to snow and ice. We managed to scramble up them using stair railings to pull ourselves up.
There were several frozen waterfalls and the Madawaska River was bursting at the seams with water from the newly melting snow.
While the hike to the lookout was challenging, it was worth every bead of sweat. The views of Cache Lake and Grant Lake were spectacular. Coming back down the trail proved to be far more challenging than climbing up, with the hills turning into giant ice slides! Be prepared to hug tree trunks on the way down to avoid turning into an ice kamikaze!
There were tons of moose tracks where the animals were crossing the trail to go down to the river to drink where the water was open. We did not see any wildlife but probably because we were hiking with dogs. Rikka and Marvin’s stubby little legs made it the whole distance but they were truly exhausted by the time returned to the trail head.