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Winter Camping in the Kawarthas

chid looking through round hole of a camping tent

In ice we trust, in snow we must, go camp in frozen country. With axe and saw for timber is law, to make our homes more comfy.


father & son talking in front of their camping tent

It’s still early in the season, but I can already hear some of my friends wonder aloud why we “Peterbourians”, like most Canadians, choose to live in a place where our nostrils ice up, wet hair turns to icicles and exposed flesh freezes on contact with the sub-zero weather.

Our response is usually to remind folks that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear! Furthermore, as much as I’d like to think that Canada has a lot going for it outside of its natural heritage, I believe Kevin Callan put it perfectly when we spoke about preparing for winter camping recently: if you don’t like to get outside and enjoy the Canadian winter “what the heck are you doing here?”

mother explaining the daughter about a chair inside a camping tent

Now, I reserve the right to stoke up the stove, grab a good book, put my feet up and my drink down and take the day right off every now and then, but if you’re going to survive and thrive in this neck of the woods, you’ve got to learn to love being outside in winter.  For our family, building our own canvas wall tent has revolutionized our approach to being outside in the winter.

child holding stick
man & woman with camping tent

Before I explain how, let me set the stage by describing the set up: a prospector’s tent suitable for winter camping requires poles for a frame, a canvas fly and a stove to heat the place.  Obviously, fir poles, cut to length, add to the aesthetic, and lend an additional pioneer feel to the entire operation, but they can be trickier to transport than a collapsible frame made of metal poles and an angle kit.  I’ve prepared a set of fir poles for use around our home near Lakefield, and Briagh has cut up about two-dozen metal poles for backcountry use at her family’s acreage on Nogies Creek near Bobcaygeon and at various sites around the Kawartha Highlands Signature Site.  As for the fly, please know that an open flame can consume 250 square-feet of untreated material in less than half-a-minute, so it should be made of sturdy, marine canvas that has been treated to avoid succumbing to rot and flame.  There are several ways that these basic elements of prospector tenting can transform a wince-inducing polar vortex into solid gold winter fun.


Pre-winter trip with The Land Canadian Adventures at Nogies Creek

First, our canvas Fort Macpherson Tent gives us a home base other than the car to store gear and food when we’re out for a rip on the skis or snowshoes, and a warm place to return to for snacks and naps. Few sights are as comforting on a chilly afternoon as returning to a glowing stove with a steaming kettle resting on it.  In the late afternoon, as the light begins to fade, it’s a perfect spot to relax and enjoy dinner followed by games and songs around the fire and your favourite warming beverage. Being able to extend the “active portion” of the shorter winter days helps us avoid cabin fever and keeps everyone’s spirits higher.

There’s room for a bit of ‘horseplay’ when the sun goes down in the prospectors’ tent!

girl pointing at a glowing stove to show it to a man in a camping tent
child sitting on a woman's back and both playing

Also, having a hot tent has decoupled the idea of winter camping from being absolutely and necessarily freezing cold.  With a wood-stove-heated prospectors’ tent, you no longer have to defrost your boots or your food when you wake up in the morning, not to mention the rest of your body and belongings!  The upshot: -40 outside; t-shirt weather inside.

So if you feel like truly embracing the season this winter (not just griping about it in the usual Canadian way), come join us for an afternoon, or even an overnight of snowshoeing, hiking or cross-country skiing- all equipment provided. You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals, mulled wine or apple cider, rosy cheeks and enough fresh air to last you ‘til spring time!

“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver!” Gilles Vigneault


This blog was originally published 2016. Updated in 2021.