As Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown crackles on the record player and rain patters on the skylight above the floor cushions I’m curled up on, my boyfriend keeps an eye on the barbecue outside the front door of our yurt. He’s grilling our dinner of marinated chicken breast and veggie burgers in the frigid, fading daylight, and I’m staying warm by the gas fireplace thinking one thing — that I never want to leave our little bubble of contentment here on the isolated shore of Kennisis Lake, deep in Ontario’s snowy Haliburton Highlands.
Last month, Sport Chek unveiled our accommodation, a.k.a. the Woods Parka Lodge, a winterized yurt on private property in Haliburton, to help promote the launch of Woods’ winter collection. The yurt, which is available to book on Airbnb until the end of January, is specially insulated using the same duck down found in Woods’ new Alverstone Expedition Parka. Gimmicky? Yes. Effective in creating the coziest yurt I’ve ever stayed in? Also yes.
Throughout the yurt, the decor nods to the heritage of the century-old Woods brand. On one wall is a re-creation of the first-ever Woods expedition parka, which was made for Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, a Canadian Arctic explorer active in the early 1900s. It, in turn, is surrounded by photographs of Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest, and his team, all of whom are shown on the mountain clad in Woods gear and pitching a tent emblazoned with the company’s tree logo. In a shadowbox by the bathroom is a copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, open to a page that mentions the company’s “sleeping robe” (today known as a sleeping bag), which played a role in one of the book’s love scenes.
But the real pièce de résistance is the king-sized bed, which is strewn with half a dozen pillows and cloaked in plush bedding. After only one night’s sleep, I concede that all those Instagram influencers who bang on about Endy are actually right — the company makes a fantastic mattress. Ensconced in that cocoon all night while staring through the skylight at the stars made me very happy indeed.
Staying in the yurt was the focus of our visit, but we manage to drag ourselves out of bed to explore what else Haliburton has to offer. Here are five options to help you get started, should you manage to score a reservation at the Woods Parka Lodge.
1. Explore nature
Although often thought of as a summer cottage destination, Haliburton offers lots of activities in the off-season. There’s no shortage of places around the highlands to tread through endless ice-sheathed forests on snowshoe, ski or foot. For longer, moderately challenging trails, head to the Frost Centre, just south of the town of Dorset. For an easier route with a breathtaking view of Maple, Beech, Boshkung and Twelve Mile lakes, drive to the James Cooper Lookout Trail on North Shore Road. Wherever you go, don’t forget your binoculars! algonquinhighlands.ca
2. Encounter wildlife
Possibly the area’s greatest attraction, Haliburton Forest’s Wolf Centre allows you to catch a glimpse of Haliburton’s permanent wolf pack roaming in their six-hectare enclosed habitat (while maintaining a safe distance behind the observatory’s glass). Before you leave, say a quick hello to Hershe, the centre’s resident orphaned moose.
3. Experience one-of-a-kind art
Surrounding the Haliburton School of Art & Design (a campus of Fleming College) in Glebe Park is the Haliburton Sculpture Forest. What began as a modest three-sculpture project in 2001 to boost local economic development through the arts has since grown into a tourist destination with 34 unique sculptures by Canadian and international artists. Special exhibits in the forest also feature the work of graduates from the art school.
4. Enjoy a local brew
There may not be many microbreweries in Haliburton, but what is there is well worth a visit. Stop at Haliburton Highlands Brewing for a malty Wee Heavy scotch ale (and return in the summer for the seasonal and lightly spiced Mosquito Saison), or drive a bit farther into nearby Carnarvon for Boshkung Brewing Co.’s award-winning North Country, a German-style amber ale.
5. Eat and be merry
Although Heather Lodge has changed hands several times since it opened in 1942, two things have remained constant at the resort: its restaurant’s gorgeous view of Twelve Mile Lake and its attention to exquisite culinary details. The menu changes daily and incorporates local products such as wintergreen maple syrup from the neighbouring town of Minden). Call ahead if you have special requests or suggestions — you won’t find a more accommodating bunch.