My Love Affair with Hiking in Shoulder Season/Winter

Everyone has experienced the following. You get out onto your favourite trail on a quiet summer morning. The air is fresh, sun is shining, temperature perfect, and not a person in sight. All of a sudden, you round a corner and there is a family there with their four children. All of them complaining they’re hungry. “No worries!” You think to yourself. Every family has their off days. You just pick up the pace. You round the next corner to find a group of city kids spread across the trail, not letting people by. The one kid had a speaker loud to his ear with the latest Drake song playing. You’re irked that the quiet has been disturbed, but you keep pushing on to the viewpoint. As you keep going down the trail, the crowds get thicker and thicker. The silence and solitude you were craving has become a distant pipe dream. This is why hiking in shoulder season and the winter is best.

Without further ado here is the list of why you should save your hikes for winter and shoulder season.

Solitude

Griffith Uplands trail in Greater Madawaska

Winter and the shoulder seasons around it present your best opportunity for solitude while hiking. The air tends to be colder and people (yes even Canadians) don’t like to be outside in the cold. This is your best opportunity to either get out alone or with a few friends and not see another soul for hours. There’s a moment of peace that occurs in every hike when you can’t hear the noise of cars or people and your thoughts just drift away. The experience is more whole when you’re not forced to share it with one hundred others that day. You can appreciate nature at its fullest and at your own pace.

Snow makes everything better

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Plain of Six Glaciers, Banff National Park

Slide Lake Loop, Frontenac Provincial Park

Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area

Oh wait, I have to write something for this? The pictures didn’t do it enough justice? Okay, here it goes.

My first real experience with hiking in the shoulder season was on my first trip to the Canadian Rockies a few years ago. It was October and they had received significant snowfall on the days leading up to my trip. The snow didn’t ruin a single bit of it. It enhanced the views. The craggy snow capped peaks in Banff National Park had an even more magical quality to them. The air was crisp and wading through the snow for the perfect view back towards the lake is something that I’ll always remember. It is the first moment that I fell in love with the mountains.

As the trip progressed, we got significantly more snow the closer we got to Jasper. Some trail heads may have been closed but others were perfectly complimented by the snowfall. Aquamarine water flowing through a snow covered canyon at Sunwapta Falls was one of my favourite short hikes I’ve ever done.

These snow covered views don’t just benefit the mountains. Places like Frontenac Provincial Park or anywhere along the Bruce trail in Ontario come alive after a fresh snowfall. The snow just makes the experience distinctly more Canadian.

The conditions challenge you

Wright peak, Adirondack Mountains

There is no better way to build mental toughness than completing a task in adverse weather conditions. Whether it is slugging it through waist deep snow, fighting 100km/h+ winds, or fighting to keep your eyes open in the rain there is no better feeling at the end of it. The grit and resolve gained will power you through your next toughest hike.

Somewhere outside of Labrador City in April 2009

The first time I ever experienced adverse weather during shoulder season was on a trip to Labrador to visit family when I was 18. I foolishly thought that being April I wouldn’t need much more than a hoodie and a backpack for hiking. The second day in, it snowed almost 3ft. I wasn’t going to let this ruin my chance to hike. I bought a thin spring jacket and some gloves from Home Hardware and headed for a hill outside of town. 3 hours later I was cold and wet from trudging through chest deep snow drifts and dealing with winds so strong they would knock you over. Lesson learned. Pack for all weather conditions.

It’s Cheaper

Accommodations and flights tend to be much cheaper in the shoulder season. Hotels in mountain towns like Banff and Lake Placid can be found at a fraction of the price they would be in the summer or winter. Sure some of your favourite trails may be closed because of seasonal conditions but that leaves hundreds more to be discovered!

The Beer Tastes Better

I’m sure there is scientific evidence of this. If you’re still not sold then there is evidence that being active in the cold burns more calories.

Still on the fence? Hop off it and give winter/shoulder season hiking a try! There are plenty of opportunities to get out there and try it.

Resources

https://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/web/

  • I haven’t formally joined as of yet but their members have been nothing but helpful to me.
  • 22 sections across Canada.

https://brucetrail.org/pages/about-us/the-bruce-trail-clubs

  • Each section hosts hikes in their area often.

https://www.ontarioparks.com/winter

  • Many parks host guided hikes throughout the season

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