Snow! Yes, we’ve finally got snow. OK, I’m kinda cheating with this shot. This pic’s of the cosy lodge at Wolf Den Bunkhouse n’ Cabins, a youth hostel mere minutes from the glorious Algonquin Provincial Park, up in cottage and camping country. I visit Wolf Den every January with some friends from the Toronto Outdoor Club because it’s truly a winter wonderland. So, no, Toronto does not look like this. Though we did get some fluffy white stuff the other night, it’s currently 7°C in Toronto, everything’s melted, and our crazy non-winter continues to confuse us all. If only I weren’t injured, I’d be B-icicling through this wet mess…in February. But instead of B-icicling, I went up to Wolf Den and got my snow fun on.
a hostel that feels like home
The Toronto Outdoor Club’s annual winter trip to Wolf Den is an in-demand event. That’s because Wolf Den has such a relaxed vibe, with an open-concept communal self-catering kitchen/dining area on the lodge’s main floor (it’s a hostel, afterall, complete with picnic tables inside!); a cosy loft lounge upstairs, with a fireplace, plenty of sofas, cushions and books to curl up with (and musical instruments, like a digeridoo and guitar, if you’re so inclined); and a handful of small, private rooms downstairs (linens included).
wood cabins bring the outdoors in
Some people prefer bunking in the cabins, which house more beds per room (there are no bunkbeds at Wolf Den) and have that lovely woodsy scent. The downside of the cabins in winter is that you’ll have to make the middle-of-the-night trek through the snow to get to the washrooms in the lodge, as the outdoor toilets are closed for the season. I like sleeping in the lodge, but I know those who swear the cabins are worth the frigid walk.
algonquin is in arm’s reach (well, almost)
As lovely as the lodge is, the main reason I love Wolf Den so, is that it’s sooo close to Algonquin: it’s only 5 minutes to the west gate. The short distance to the park means that snowshoe and cross-country day trips are always on the agenda. If I’d been allowed to ski this trip, I’d have done the trails at the picturesque Fen Lake, which has four loops ranging from 1 km to 13 km, and a tiny warming hut, ideal for a lunch break by the wood stove.
three nearby trails to tickle your fancy
Since I couldn’t ski this trip, the best part of Wolf Den was mighty appreciated: it’s walking distance from three great hiking/snowshoe trails!
1 Ragged Falls About a 10-minute walk east, Ragged Falls has a short 1 km official trail out to the falls, which are gorgeously frozen in winter; the trail unofficially continues a bit farther, though I haven’t gone that way.
2 Beetle Lake Trail About a 20-minute walk west of Wolf Den, you’ll find the 6 km hilly Beetle Lake Trail, which you can access from either side of Oxtongue Lake. It starts (or ends) on Elliot Road, just east of the lake, and finishes (or starts) on the other side, merging with the trails at Algonquin Outfitters (see below).
3 Algonquin Outfitters The series of flat cross-country ski and snowshoe trails at Algonquin Outfitters could easily keep you busy for an afternoon. Bonus: This is where you can conveniently rent skis and snowshoes for the day (or half-day). Even better: You can pay for a full day, and switch between borrowing skis and snowshoes, so you can do all the trails behind the outfitter.
The frozen, but still rushing, Ragged Falls. Last year, we hiked out to the falls late at night, and though we could hardly see anything in the dark, we could still hear the magnificent roaring water.
A wee frozen pond between Wolf Den and Ragged Falls.
There are dozens and dozens of canoes covered in snow at Algonquin Outfitters! I love skiing the trails behind the store, because you don’t need a trail pass, and it’s walking distance from Wolf Den. It’s not as pretty as Fen Lake, but it sure is convenient when you don’t want to depend on carpool. Just try to not be tempted by the store’s sales!
Last year when we went up, it was around -25°C! And we had lots more snow! And icicles, as you can see here. Annnd I was very happy to warm up inside Algonquin Outfitters after skiing the trails out back.
It’s always nice to come back “home”! Wolf Den‘s owner, Ben, builds a bonfire every Saturday night, hidden in the trees between those two outbuildings. This year was warm enough that a few of us were lured out of the cosy lodge to roast marshmallows by the fire; last year, poor Ben was tending the fire solo, ’cause we were all too chicken to chill outside. The one thing I’ve noticed about being out here in winter is that the sky is crazy clear at night, so you can easily see constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. I even spied a shooting star this time!
I’ve yet to be tempted to stay in a cabin, as I’ve zero desire to bundle up in the middle of the night to use the loo in the lodge, but I’ve friends who swear by the delicious woodsy scent.
Nope, I like lounging in the lodge and having my sleeping quarters right downstairs. I would stay here every weekend if I could afford it!
What: Wolf Den Bunkhouse ‘N Cabins
When: Open year-round (uh-huh), but particularly lovely in winter if you’re not up for winter camping!
Where: 4568 Hwy 60, Oxtongue Lake, Ontario, Canada
Why: For people who want to enjoy the Great Outdoors during the day, but enjoy coming home to a warm, cosy lodge or cabin at night. And the communal hostel atmosphere really appeals to some people.