New Years Eve at Arrowhead...in one word...busy! The place was packed with skiers, and families checking out the skating trail. We didn't want to have to try and rent skis since the gatehouse was packed with people trying to do just that, so we stuck with our snowshoes and did the Stubb's Falls Trail.
If you'll remember, we hiked to Stubb's Falls from our campsite last Mother's Day and spent forever there taking pictures. It's just as awesome in the winter, in many ways maybe more so. The water level hadn't gone down at all, which was a bit unexpected. There was lots of it frothing over the ledges and cutting it's way through blue tinted ice. We took a whole bunch of pictures again.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The trail can be accessed at one of two places, either the first parking area after the bridge, or the next road which also is an access point for ski trails and the skating trail. We chose the first, and crossed the road and followed the trail until we came to where the Stubb's Falls Trail meets up with the second parking area. For a while, skiers, skaters and snowshoers are all going side by side, but after a bit, the skate trail turns off and then further down the official ski trail does as well (though other trails meet up with it again by the Falls them self.)
Point of irritation...the stairs you must descend to get to the bridge over the falls means you have to take off your snowshoes. Now, this wasn't a problem for the adults. Our snowshoes are relatively quick to get done back up, but Squatch's took us ages since they are just a bit too small, so Chris opted to carry him down the steps.
The truth is, you don't need snowshoes. The trail is packed and easy to walk on, at least it was for our trip. We ended up carrying them for the last half of the loop since we were always passing people in sneakers and felt kind of stupid.
After we got back to the car, we decided to try out the skating trail. The trail is 1.1km of flooded road looping between road two and three of the Little East River Campground. Bubbie had to rent skates, and swears they were dull as a kitchen knife, so it took us forever to make one circuit. Chris and Squatch made two more after us girls limped our way back to the picnic tables to sit around the fire and get warm.
There were a few handy warming shelters where you could sit and eat your lunch. The one we stepped into was full so we didn't stick around but I did notice there were racks hanging over the wood stove for people to put their hats and mitts, giving them a bit of drying time.
Unfortunately, the tubing hill was closed but I don't know why. There seemed to be lots of snow, but the girls at the gate house were looking pretty harassed so I didn't want to bother them for details. I highly recommend making Arrowhead a destination for winter fun though. The skating trail was very cool, and there are certain nights the loop is lit by tiki torches which would be very awesome. There is also a lot of cross country ski trails ranging from beginner to expert. Rentals are available, and the cost of entering the park ($14) is included in the cost of your trail pass (something like $33 for a family of four) so it's a bit more expensive to ski than the other options.
I am a little surprised they charge extra for trail use though. I did a quick check to see if Algonquin does, and found there's no extra charge. I'm wondering if maybe they need to charge to justify having staff on at times other than Christmas holidays. Algonquin is going to have a fairly steady flow of people, but I'm guessing not many people know about the trails at Arrowhead. It's too bad because for people coming from the city, it's easier to go up Highway 11 and get to Arrowhead than it is to get to Algonquin.
Personally, I prefer it when there isn't a ton of people around, so I'm hoping we get back up there on a random weekend to see how busy it is. It would be nice to be able to take pictures of the falls without having to try and frame it to keep a dozen strangers out of the shot, or to have every skier we passed tell our kids to not step on the ski trail with their snowshoes (when I'd already told them that before we got out of the car, and they weren't near the ski track anyway.) It would have been nice to have been able to sit in the warming shelter and eat lunch (not that we packed one...Mum brought a bag full of peppermint patties, and that was all we had, not even drinks. We're really going to need to work on preparing for these trips better)
All said though, Arrowhead is a nice place to spend a snowy winter day, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
On a side note, I have pictures to post, but am having trouble getting them from iPhoto to the blog on my new computer...I'll figure that out and post them separately.