Here in York Durham Headwaters, we’ve already gotten a taste of Winter Wonderland with this season’s early snowfall. If that means you’re chomping at the bit to get out there and experience some winter fun, we’re right there with you. Haven’t yet had a chance to strap a pair of snowshoes onto your boots? We challenge you to give it a try this year. And if you do happen to be a seasoned snowshoer, then welcome back! Let us put you in the winter spirit by reminding you how awesome snowshoeing is.
Snowshoeing: a brief history
Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years. As a nation, they are a proud part of our heritage—famed Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson, for example, was nicknamed “Pere Raquette” (after a Québécois term) because of his fondness for snowshoes. Early Canadian fur traders, trappers, and a number of other professions that relied on getting around in areas of heavy snowfall made use of this ingenious invention. In fact, nearly every First Nations peoples of North America had been using snowshoes before the Europeans, and introduced them to this mode of winter transportation. No one knows exactly when or where snowshoes were invented, but historians are confident that they came across the Beringia land bridge (now the Bering Strait) with waves of Asian hunter-gatherers between 30,000 and 5,000 years ago. The first human footprints on North American soil may well have been made by snowshoes!
As indigenous populations spread across the country, regional variations in snowshoe design had become identifiable. An elongated spear shape was known among the Ojibway of the Great Lakes region. A leaf shape was known among the Huron and Algonquin and was the style adopted by the first French settlers in Canada. An oval or “bear paw” design was common in the east, particularly adapted to forests and lowlands. And an elliptical form—a modified bear paw—originated in eastern North America in the mid 20th century.
Sadly, the popularity of snowshoeing fell after post-WWI European immigrants brought their love of skiing to Canada. From the 1980s on, however, the modified bear paw design was adapted by innovators into an aluminum, plastic and steel iteration. As a result of its new low cost and durability, the popularity of snowshoeing experienced a wonderful resurgence—which works out well for us!
Where to snowshoe in YDH
With our extensive network of trails and conservation areas in YDH, if you can get your hands on a pair of snowshoes, you can submerge yourself in our Winter Wonderland… but not literally, of course; that’s kind of the point. This simple piece of equipment is designed to distribute your body weight over a wider area, thus allowing you to “float” over the snowy terrain.
Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, which is just north of Kleinburg in York Region, has been offering snowshoeing since the early 2000s. Snowshoeing at Cold Creek is fairly simple. There are three trails which are marked out for both skiing and snowshoeing—beginner, intermediate, and expert. Visitors are welcome to use snowshoes on any trails they please, the cost of rentals for snowshoeing $10 per set and X-Country skis cost $20 per set.
Are you in the Mulmur area? The Mansfield Outdoor Centre offers snowshoe rentals at $24 a pair with the purchase of a day pass ($25 for adults, $20 for children and seniors). Their dedicated snowshoe trails let you enjoy nature at your own pace, and snowshoeing gives you a unique way to access almost anywhere across their more than 200 acres while you trek through unmarked areas and explore.
The Ganaraska Forest Centre is another location just outside of YDH that offers snowshoe rentals. For only $15 per pair plus $6 for a hiking day pass, you can get out into one of the most beautiful and extensive natural areas east of Durham Region. Here, there are two dedicated snowshoeing trails available. The first is a short, 2.5 km loop, and the second is a longer 8 km loop, both of which meander through picturesque pines and hardwood forests. For over 30 years, the Ganaraska Forest has been a prime location for snowshoeing enthusiasts, and the Ganaraska Forest Outdoor Education Centre has been teaching visiting students how to snowshoe since the late 70s.
“If you’re keen on trying this out, please do,” says Amy Griffiths of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. “It’s as easy as walking… only with big shoes on.”
There are many great trails in York Durham Headwaters that are accessible to snowshoeing. To see which trails offer rentals, contact the location directly. Island Lake Conservation Area (as well as other Credit Valley Conservation Area sites), for example, does offer snowshoe rentals—and they’ll let the public know current rental rates as soon as they’re open for the season, so be sure to check their website. For an overview of what trails we have here in York Durham Headwaters, browse the Ontario Trails Council’s handy Find a Trail map. Also, many sporting equipment retailers will offer snowshoes to both rent and purchase. So, if you’re close to a trail but not to an onsite rental facility, you can still be outfitted with basic gear for your winter snowshoeing adventure.
Story by Katie Ryalen and Rob Morphy
After a long day outdoors, there’s nothing quite like a warm beverage and some comfort food. Check out some great spots to warm up below!