We did it. We went winter camping to Pinery Provincial Park. We stayed in a Yurt, and even though it was the last day of winter it was as close as we’re going to get with a five year old. There were two other families with small kids staying at the park, a few families with older kids, and the rest were teen and college kids. The college kids played music in their car for everyone to hear throughout the day. I think at one point I heard Rage Against the Machine.
Pinery Provincial Park is located on the shores of Lake Huron north of Sarnia. It’s one of the most popular Ontario Parks. With 600 campsites, it can be rather busy during the summer. When we arrived at the end of March Break, the snow was melting and all the winter activities were finished. More than half the park was closed, and there wasn’t much to do except for go on hikes and visit the Visitor Center. After being indoors all winter, it was very nice to spend time outdoors, sit around the campfire and relax.
During the winter, only the Riverside campground is open, which is far from the beach, but that’s where the Yurts are located. The Yurts all have heating, A/C power and a propane gas BBQs. I had booked the Yurt two weeks before, probably due to a cancellation. Most people book them up to five months in advance. During our stay most of the Yurts were occupied, and there were three or four RVs and two sites with tents. At one of the sites, two teenagers were there without a car. Their mother had dropped them off for the weekend. The kept their tent covered with a tarp at night and had Home Depot paint cans for their stuff. Good thing the bears were still asleep.
The only road open past the campground led to the P9 parking lot, and it was a five minute walk to the beach and picnic areas. At the picnic area you can feed the chickadees from your hand. The famous Pinery sand dunes had some snow, but the real attraction was the surreal looking beach, and the famous Pinery sunset. We thoroughly enjoyed both. The frozen lake made the beach look really big. We walked 300 meters out towards the white frozen snow. There were patches of white snow along the way that you had to cross carefully. Otherwise you’d fall through the lightly packed snow and get snow in your boots.
Technically when we arrived on Friday March 20 spring began at 3 pm, so it wasn’t even a full day of winter we spent at the campsite. Our first day was the warmest of our three day trip. We enjoyed ourselves by having friendly snowball fights, playing on snow banks, and going for walks. As Spring arrived, the next two days became progressively colder until on the last day it was -10C. This no longer felt like spring to me but my daughter kept playing in the snow the entire time.
My daughter loved the Yurt. She wanted to go back and play on her bunk bed. We didn’t allow her to play with any electronics during the trip, but brought a set of miniatures, and a set of building blocks for her to play with.
At night, we stayed warm thanks to the electric heaters in the Yurts, our warm sleeping bags, and our warm hats on our head. Now I know why people used sleeping caps back in the old times. After my daughter went to sleep, my husband and I sat outside around the campfire marveling at how nice it was without all the bugs we’re used to at night. That night was overcast, so we didn’t see many stars.
The next day we went to the Visitor’s Centre for a talk and a hike along the Cedar Trail. The theater was full during the talk, and there were many kids. As many as forty people showed up for the hike along the Cedar trail. We did a scavenger hunt looking for items on the list as we were walking.
As soon as the hike was over, most people left in their cars. Some probably drove to the beach and the picnic area where you can feed chickadees from your hand. Most of those people were from the area doing a day trip to Pinery. We didn’t see that many people again during the rest of our stay.
We had lunch at a local restaurant on the highway. The nice thing about Pinery is that it’s close to Grand Bend. You don’t have to worry about your meals as much. There is a BBQ with a gas line at the Yurt, restaurants nearby on the highway, and a NoFrills on the highway. It’s just like being at home!Later in the afternoon we spent some time on the Ausable River. It was colder than the previous day but still manageable. The river was frozen on the side where the canoes were, and thawing on the other side. We watched a large Turkey Vulture land on the ice and later fly away.
That evening we had a BBQ, ate outside and had a campfire.
That night the sky was clear and the stars were bright. We were warm during the night even though it went down to -10C overnight. We turned the heat up higher than the previous night, and our heater kept going all night trying to keep the Yurt warm. In the morning my daughter was proud she slept in her sleeping bag and was warm. She was this warm (hands wide apart).
The next day we packed up and left by noon. It was cold and sunny. We didn’t make it back to the beach. Instead we drove to Bronte Creek to check out the Maple Syrup Festival. We used our vehicle pass to get into Bronte Creek for free (we had paid for it in our Yurt reservations).
Overall our trip was nice, and somewhat relaxing. However we were stressing out because my daughter wouldn’t eat well. She was sick, which didn’t help her appetite, but I have to say that she was better by the end of the weekend. We didn’t have to cancel just because of a cold.
After spending so much of our time indoors during the winter, it was nice to be outdoors at the campground. That’s the thing I will miss most, though I won’t miss being cold. I can’t image doing this trip in a tent. The heater and the comfort of beds were great.
The entire family loved the Yurt. It helped that the Yurt had heating, but I suspect it would get pretty cold if it was -20 C outside. I don’t know if I’d enjoy it as much. We brought a kettle and used it to make oatmeal in the morning, and tea during the day. We packed the tea in a thermos for our day trips.