Throw away your schedule and find yourself in Ontario’s Highlands this winter, where every unrehearsed moment will stimulate your senses and warm your soul – even on the frostiest of days. Let curiosity be your compass and your inner wanderer be your guide as you explore our rugged, mysterious landscape, known by locals as “Snow Country” and visitors as the perfect spot to disconnect from the stresses and responsibilities of everyday life. Whether you stumble upon pristine winter wilderness, where the howl of the wind and the crinkle of your snow pants echo into the unknown; or spontaneously meander into one of our picturesque small towns with nothing but a craving for a great story and/or butter tart, our region is the perfect backdrop for a memorable winter getaway, just 2.5 hours east of Toronto and 30 minutes west of Ottawa. Come wander in Ontario’s Highlands.
Satisfy your wandering spirit with an authentic rural getaway with zero “touristy” gimmicks. Discover small friendly communities under a blanket of white, where a single day’s exploring might include holiday shopping for repurposed treasures at Tin Barn Market (Almonte); a serendipitous stumbling unto historic street art (Pembroke Heritage Murals); or swapping stories about the worst haircut you’ve ever had with the guy behind the counter of a rustic pizzeria you stumbled into entirely by accident. Love those one-of-a-kind “stop the car” moments? Set your GPS to Ormsby (Population: 20), one of Ontario’s “Ghost Towns”, and you’re sure to encounter The Old Ormsby Schoolhouse among the abandoned farms, where you can enjoy an unusual afternoon High Tea inside the 1921 school room. Maybe you can map out your next stop on the black board?
(Photo Credit: Sharon Mendelaoui, Dream Travel Magazine)
Discover a part of yourself you didn’t even know existed – like an inner artist, an admirer of all things textile, or an 18th century history buff. Ignite your love for unique art by rolling up your sleeves at Artech Glassblowing Studios, where you can learn to hand-craft everything from holiday ornaments to cups, paperweights and vases. Gaze in awe at one of the winter exhibits at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum and leave with a newfound appreciation for the area’s woolen textile industry past that still lingers in the towns’ architecture and way of life. Or head out on a guided educational journey with Yours Outdoors, like snowshoeing in the footsteps of an 18th century fur trader and picking up new skills such as flint and steel fire-making, or trap-setting.
Redefine “quality time” in a region that’s bursting with quirky new traditions for you and your closest friends or family. Together, explore a maple sugar bush by horse-drawn sleigh at Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush; then, continue to Wheeler’s Pancake House and Sugar Camp, where you can visit an authentic First Nations teepee that pays homage to the people who first discovered maple syrup in the area many years ago. Looking for other memorable winter experiences you can return to year after year? Don’t miss the ice castle on Black Donald Lake, named one of the Top 10 in the world by Fodor.com. Built annually by a local family on The White Pines property, it’s made of nearly 1,000 blocks of ice, each weighing more than the average nine-year-old child, and is bigger every year. Remember to ask the owners, Val and Shawn, to share the story of their son’s beard, which tends to freeze during the build in the harsh winter conditions, and requires frequent thawing.
Hit “pause” on your everyday life, and find peaceful stillness at the Black River Retreat, your private getaway nestled among six acres of snow-capped wilderness. Feel all your muscles instantly relax in the bubbling outdoor cedar hot tub as you look up at the stars and listen to the crackling of a nearby fire – did you hear that? It’s the sound of complete quiet. If you prefer to soothe on the slopes, unwind after a day of skiing at Calabogie Peaks Resort with a cup of hot chocolate in one of the cozy chalets, or feel the stresses of home melt away during a massage in a rustic cabin spa at Sands on Golden Lake. What better way to disconnect and rejuvenate your body, mind and soul?
(Photo Credit: Barrie Martin, Yours Outdoors)
Not the type to sleep in or waste time? Recharge your batteries with high-energy adventure, found around every nook and cranny in our exciting region. Quench your need for speed from the front seat of a roaring snowmobile, weaving the groomed trails of Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve; or make fresh tracks riding past frozen lakes, sparkling forests and farmland on the Hastings Highland Tour, anticipating each new discovery behind every bend of terrain. For an experience that’s sure to spike your adrenaline, we suggest just looking up the 36-foot man-made ice wall at Medeba. Are you brave enough to climb to the top, and feel the air escape your lungs as you look down?