It's been a really bad year for outdoor winter sports, at least in our area. Ever since mid January it's looked like late March out there. Further north wasn't so bad, but finding time to get there to go snowshoeing wasn't easy. We finally managed to get to Algonquin on Family Day. The weather was perfect, about +6 and sunny
The original plan was to do one of the interpretive trails, but when Chris went into the office at the West Gate to get our permit, he asked which rails were good and he was told the Minnesing Mountain Bike Trail. When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a lot of cars with cross country skis leaning against the trunks. Since ski trails don't allow hikers or snowshoers on them we thought we'd been misled. A little scouting around proved otherwise.
The actual Minnesing trail is for skiers only in the winter, but for snowshoeing, you actually take the trail that leads to Canisbay Lake Campground. From the parking lot, go to the left of the little cabin (where there was a barrel stove lit to warm you up after your trip) and you'll see a sign for the Linda Lake Snowshoe Trail. This can be a bit misleading as well because if you look at the map of the bike trail, you'll see the loop that goes around Linda Lake is over 10km long. Follow the trail until you join onto another trail. This is actually the road from Canisbay campground to the boat launch and a small beach. If you go to the left, you'll get to the boat launch. Going right will take you to the campground.
We went left, still thinking we were on a 10km loop (and at this point I realized we had brought some granola bars, a few celery sticks with peanut butter and some cheese and crackers, but nothing to drink) so we planned to go for a while then just turn back whenever we started to get tired. When we came to the boat launch we were confused. We stopped and had some snacks, then decided to cross the lake to the clearing we could see because it looked like it might be a beach. I should say now that I have a fear of crossing frozen lakes, especially since it's been such a mild winter. When we were kids, my brother fell through the ice, and though my uncle grabbed him right away, it still creeps me out to think about it, especially with my kids there.
Every time my snowshoes creaked I thought it was the ice about to give. Reaching the far shore was a huge relief, even better we saw there was a clear trail used by other snowshoers recently, so we figured it had to join up to the short trail to the Minnesing parking area eventually, which meant not having to cross the lake again. It became obvious that we were in fact in the Canisbay campground now, so we knew even if the trail didn't get us back to the cars, we could head for the highway and get back that way. Luckily, the trail does loop back and if we'd bothered to take the park brochure with us we would have known where we were right from the start. Looking at the Canisbay campground map, it all becomes pretty clear where the trail was. I'm sure in the summer we could drive there and it would take seconds but to us, it seemed to be a really long trail that may or may not get us where we wanted to go.
I'm glad we decided to do this trail rather than one of the interpretive trails though. It was a fairly level trip and took about 2 1/2 hours, including snack time and time to explore. We also didn't see anyone until just as we were exiting the trail at the parking lot, another group of snowshoers were heading in to start their own trek.
We headed to the visitor's center (after checking out the cabin to warm up...someone let their dog poop inside and didn't bother to clean it up.) The restaurant was closed, but there were snacks and microwavable items like KD cups and Chef Boyardee cups available. You pay on the honor system, there's a jar to drop your money in but we saw a lot of people take things and not pay, at least not that we could see. We all found this strange since there were other people around who could have reported them, and a park employee just outside who might have seen. Just as we were about to leave, they announced they would be showing Paddle to the Sea in the theatre, so we decided to stay for that.
We saw no moose on this trip, but Chris spotted a fox running across a frozen pond, and he saw a deer just as we were exiting the park. Chris is eager to go back with skis and try the Minnesing, as well as biking it this summer.