Kate Ming-Sun talks about how Algonquin’s Mew lake campground is a great choice for first-time winter campers
With choice of accommodations, a heated comfort station, and easy access to fun winter activities, Mew Lake Campground in Algonquin Park is a great place to start for the first-time winter camper. Campground hosts Steve and Diane have spent their winters here for the last decade and are always available should you need a contact onsite.
As an aside, there have been a number of posts on this site about gear and workshops to get you started in winter camping. It goes without saying that it is important to be prepared when heading out overnight this time of year.
Mew Lake has 59 electrical sites, 72 non-electrical sites, and seven yurts available during the winter months. The yurts have bunk beds that sleep six, electrical heat, and fluorescent lighting. The campsites come with fire pits and picnic tables.
Our party of four recently stayed on a non-electrical site on the shore of Mew Lake. We were three experienced winter campers sleeping in two hammocks and a four-season tent and one new winter camper in a three-season tent. When we arrived Friday night, we built a homemade hot tent out of an old dining tent to warm up in when it dropped to -30 degrees Celsius that night and during the day on Saturday when it did not warm up much further. It was quiet in the campground when we arrived but by Saturday afternoon we were astounded by the number of people staying at Mew Lake, fairly evenly split between all three campsite types. On our walkabout, we ran into a couple from Philadelphia and their Havanese Lulu staying in a tent with heaters on an electrical site for a week. We waved at two more people sleeping in hammocks. Every yurt had at least one car out in front of it.
There are outhouses every kilometre or so. But if you’re not particularly handy at crouching over a frozen toilet seat, check out the heated comfort station. With a shower, flush toilets, sinks, and a laundry facility, the comfort station was a great place to meet other campers and commiserate over the previous night’s frigid temperatures while warming your hands under the hand dryers. The washroom facilities were clean, the floors well-mopped after we tramped in snow regularly, and supplies like toilet paper and soap were well-stocked.
There are plenty of outdoor activities near the campground to keep your mind engaged and your body warm. For the first time this winter, Steve and Diane flooded the parking lot outside the comfort station to form a skating rink. Each night there was a fire roaring on the east side of the rink while a game of shinny ran full-bore.
Just beyond the garbage and recycling centre for the campground, there is easy access to the Old Railway Bike Trail, the Track and Tower Trail, and the Highlands Backpacking Trail. The Old Railway Trail is groomed by snowmobile for snowmobilers but one in our party got his ten kilometre run in along the well-packed trail without running into anyone else. The Track and Tower and Highland Trails are set up for snowshoeing. The rail trail runs between Rock Lake and the Track and Tower Trail for 16.2 kilometres and features several interpretive panels outlining Algonquin’s history. The Track and Tower Trail forms a 7.7 kilometre loop with a spectacular lookout around the halfway mark. The Highland Backpacking Trail is a challenging trail featuring 19-kilometre and a 35-kilometre loops.
Algonquin’s three dedicated cross-country ski trails are a short drive away from the Mew Lake Campground: Fen Lake Ski trail can be found at the West Gate. Minnesing Trail is 23 kilometres from the West Gate. Leaf Lake Trail is near the East Gate. Snowshoers should stay off these three trails but can hike anywhere else in the park.
Gear rentals (skis, snowshoes, winter camping gear, etc.) can be made at Mountain Equipment Co-op (from your home location as there is not one near the park per se), Algonquin Outfitters, or Algonquin Basecamp to name a few outfitters.
Just the Facts
Mew Lake Campground is 3.5 hours from both Toronto and Ottawa in clear driving conditions. It is located at kilometre 30.6 on the south side of Route 60.
Mew Lake qualifies as a premium campground. Non-electrical campsite fees are $38.25 per night plus HST. Electrical campsite fees are $43.75 per night plus HST. Yurts are $86 per night plus HST. Reservations may be made online or by calling 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).
Park rules dictate a maximum of two cars per campsite but wardens are reasonable about extra cars parking at unused campsites. Additional vehicle fees apply at a rate of $11 per day plus HST.
Check out more articles on Algonquin here