Who knew winter would be so popular in Ontario’s cottage country?
The people at Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville, Ontario did. In fact, opened in 2018 is the new Visitor’s Centre, with floor-to-ceiling fireplace and inside the ‘warm up’ area, designed to efficiently rent skates, cross-country skis (skate or classic style) and snowshoes to thousands heading north from Toronto to enjoy some Great White scenery and snow sports.
To answer your next question: yes, all Ontario provincial parks are dog-friendly (leashed) and Arrowhead does one further … skijoring with the dog. But more on that soon.
First, at Arrowhead you can run your pup along any of the 15 km of winter hiking trails including the easy 1 km walk from the Visitor’s Centre parking lot to Big Bend Lookout, a panoramic review of the circular Big East River oxbow and sand deposit reshaping the river each year. In the last 15 years, the wooden viewing platform has been moved back three times.
Can you stay overnight with the dog?
Sadly no, one thing you can’t do in the winter with the dog at Arrowhead is stay overnight, which is a shame because the park has several ‘roofed accommodations’ opened during the winter months. So rustic and cozy, it’s easy to picture your fur baby curled up next you beside the wood burning stove under a classic Hudson’s Bay blanket.
Each hut has log cabin-style bunk beds, kitchenettes, a firepit in the yard and heated showers… a short walk away. There’s no bathroom in the cabin, but every dog owner knows, relief walks are all part of fun Fido travelling. Sadly, it’s not to be.
“We’re working on it,” park staff have told me several times. “We’ve had a lot of request for dog-friendly accommodations and we’re working on a way to make that viable for all.”
In the meantime, two pet-friendly motels (with bathrooms) are located just outside the park boundaries – the economical Arrowhead Inn with some kitchenette rooms and The Tulip Inn with private trails. Of course, 7km away is the pets-stay-free Motel 6 in Huntsville (affiliate link) that’s a great deal for access to an indoor pool.
Also, relatively new at Arrowhead is a designated winter skijoring trail.
What is dog skijoring?
Dog skijoring is a mash-up between horse skijoring (a horse pulls a skier) and dog sledding. So, visualize a person on cross-country skis (usually skater but classic will do) propelling themselves forward with polls along the winter trail with a harnessed dog or two attached to a rope around his/her waist.
That’s right, the dog adds additional momentum by pulling – there’s no control reins so the dogs must want to run and, hopefully, respond to a few basic sledding commands. (Yes, there’s a quick release on the rope).
Can you do skijor with your own dog?
Yes. But there’s some conditions: your dog needs to be fully grown, at least 30 pounds and obviously in good shape. Any breed can try it, but no surprise Husky types are usually best at it. Also, you need to sign up for a training session led by local sports clinicians Lowell Greib and Katherine Ahokas of Huntsville’s The SportLab. They will loan (or sell) you a dog harness … and even supply a dog if pre-requested.
Arrowhead Dog Skijoring Sessions are 45-minutes long on the following dates:
- January 20,
- February 3
- and March 3, 2019, 1 to 4 pm.
Purchase a park pass, rent skis if necessary, and meet at the Arrowhead Provincial Park Birches Parking lot under The Sportslab banner.
And don’t worry. Pet dogs aren’t trained ‘mushers’ and don’t tend to run at high speeds through the trails (if at all). But if you do have a crazy pup who leash pulls (like mine did when he was younger), skijoring might be his jam. If not, you can always say you did.
Even better, dog skijoring is included in the price of a park and ski pass.