From snowshoeing to ice fishing, here’s where to embrace winter in Simcoe County
There are two types of Torontonians when it comes to winter: those who go into hibernation mode, and those whose Instagram feeds are filled with photos of them climbing ice cliffs, snowshoeing through High Park and skating at Nathan Philips Square. I fall into that second camp of insufferable, winter-loving people who love snow, much to the disdain of 95 per cent of my colleagues.
Although the season is winding down in Toronto, one can still enjoy a wintery getaway just outside the city. Last month, I visited Simcoe County, a snowy destination about an hour and a half north of the GTA, for a weekend of cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing and skating along forested ice trails.
Here’s a guide to winter in Simcoe County.
There are plenty of hotels in Simcoe County, but if you want the charm of an Airbnb with the ease of an all-inclusive, there’s Fern Resort. The family-owned hotel located outside of Orillia has over 100 rooms of varying sizes, including cozy one-room cottages that look out onto Lake Couchiching. Fern Resort has a dining room serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, a rec room that hosts live musical performances on the weekend, plus a spa and a gym.
A cottage unit near Lake Couchiching.
Fern Resort offers activities for guests including skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice fishing, all of which include complimentary gear rentals. Although Toronto now has two skating trails – The Bentway under the Gardiner and the Colonel Samuel Smith Skating Trail in Etobicoke – neither of those compare to Fern Resort’s 1.5-kilometer route. The well-groomed trail winds through a picturesque forest that makes for a serene skate, a contrast to the hustle and bustle of many urban skating rinks. In the evenings, tiki torches light the trail.
The 1.5 kilometer skating trail winds through a forest on the property.
On the frozen Lake Couchinging, you can play a game of shinny or hunker down in one of the ice fishing huts. As a devout vegetarian, I felt guilty about potentially catching fish for fun, but I was never faced with this moral dilemma. After 30 minutes and no fish in sight, I gave up and went cross-country skiing instead.
Two ice fishing huts on Lake Couchiching.
The snowshoeing and cross-country skiing routes follow the skating trail and then deviate deeper into the forest. Since the property is very flat, the routes are ideal for beginners. This was my first time cross-country skiing and after spending the first 15 minutes finding my footing, I was speeding along.
Zipping along the trails. Full disclosure: I had likely fallen right before or after this photo.
On our last day at Fern, we rented a snowmobile for an hour. A staff member gave us a quick demo on the basics – mainly, how to accelerate and how to stop – and then sent us on our way. Although we started off cautiously, we were quickly ripping around the snow-covered golf course and flying off small hills.
Yes, I forced my boyfriend to take approximately a dozen glamour shots of me posed with the snowmobile, knowing full well this may be my only time on one.
Downtown Orillia has plenty of homey bars, restaurants and markets. For lunch, check out Mariposa Market, a family-owned mainstay that features a café, bakery and candy shop. Nestled inside the market is also a home decorating store, a shop full of handmade soaps and candles, plus a fashion boutique.
I highly recommend the Skor bar doughnut at Mariposa Market.
For dinner, head to Rustico Pizza Vino, which is known for it’s wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas and extensive wine list. For dessert, order the pizza doughnuts, which are basically deep fried balls of delicious pizza dough rolled in sugar and then slathered in Nutella.
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