a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Mar, 2013

The 411 on yurts and winter camping at Silent Lake

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|travel talk

Here’s a question: Can it really be called winter camping if it takes place during March Break, and if our shelter of choice is a yurt instead of a tent? I’ve decided that since there was snow on the ground the answer is a big fat YES.

I’ve uploaded a slew of photos to Flickr already (you can see them all right here), but I wanted to share one right here that summed up this wonderful new experience for me:

Deer deer

It was, in a word, heavenly. Winter camping is quiet and peaceful and wonderfully BUG FREE.

A few months ago we booked Yurt 31 at Silent Lake. It’s an Ontario Parks campground, one we’ve actually been to before as a family in the summer.

We had to really pare down our belongings so we could squeeze our cross-country skis in the Prius too. We knew that yurt camping in the winter at this place wasn’t going to be like car camping in the summer. Our car could not be a storage locker for our stuff this time around. You see, you leave your car in a lot and they bring your gear to the yurt in with one of these things.

We checked in at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon and Ontario Parks staff brought us to our site. They hauled the heavy stuff and we walked over, carrying our pillows and backpacks. It was about a five minute walk along an easy woodland trail.

The yurt is basically a thick canvas thrown over a wooden frame. I think ours was the oldest one there, but I didn’t really mind. They’re heated by a wood stove (which we also used to dry wet mitts and keep water warm in a kettle).There are a few plastic windows (the window covers are on the exterior) and our yurt had a skylight in the middle of the ceiling, which provided some welcome light. There’s no electricity here. There’s only the stove inside, along with a pair of bunk beds, a table/chairs, and a short counter we used to organize our kitchen stuff. There’s a propane BBQ for cooking on the outside, but no side burner or BBQ tools.

The whole kit and kaboodle is on a raised wooden platform nestled in the woods. Here’s the exterior view. And here’s what it looked like inside. It’s not glam, but we really liked it.

I know you’re probably wondering: WHERE ARE THE BATHROOMS. Well, let’s just say that if you’ve had an extra beer late in the evening or are the type who needs to go in the middle of the night you are likely going to be marking your territory nearby. This is exactly why I stopped drinking anything after 7:00 p.m.! :)  Here’s the road to the outhouse. It was precisely 175 steps away from our site (but who’s counting?) and there’s no running water either (some Ontario Parks latrines have a sink). Visits to the outhouse required a bit of forethought, i.e. “Will I need to pee in five minutes?” This was our destination if the answer was yes or even maybe. I kept a small container of hand sanitizer back at the yurt and encouraged everyone to use it. Often.

I see this as a small price to pay for the glorious weekend we had. There’s a lovely looping ski trail (the Red Trail) that went right past our yurt. It’s 6K, some of it leading us down twisting hills that cut through the woods. This trail was a tiny bit longer and more advanced than what we were used to, but we emerged triumphant at the end and only slightly bruised. (That would be me, mostly.) Here’s a view, but do note that my photo doesn’t do it any justice. Here’s a rest stop along the way.

The few meals we had while we were there were pretty successful. We had steak, salad, and a fresh baguette on the first night. Thankfully it was warm enough to eat outdoors at the picnic table… which is smartly situated right next to the big fire pit. We roasted marshmallows and sat around the fire after dinner. Dinner the next night was roasted hot dogs and raw veg. (By the way, THIS is the one and only way to cut a hot dog for roasting!) Later we got out the sparklers, a must for all of our camping trips.

Thankfully the weather was agreeable. It was a gamble. You can get a blizzard in March as likely as you are to get a sunburn, but we were able to comfortably sit around the fire without freezing our tails off.

I know a few of you out there were interested in trying this out for yourselves. I didn’t find the Ontario Parks site very forthcoming so here’s the stuff you really need to know:

  • There are two bunk beds, with a single on top and a double on the bottom. The mattresses are covered with a thick layer of vinyl. No need to bring sheets, just warm sleeping bags and a pillow.
  • The parks people supply the water, and drop off a large 20L container for drinking (which they buy in town) and an extra 20L for washing. This was more than enough water for our family of four for the weekend.
  • They also supply the wood, and there’s plenty of it, both for the woodstove inside the yurt and the fire pit outside. There’s also an axe if you need to split larger pieces or whittle some down for kindling… but you probably won’t need to do this. Bring matches!
  • The BBQ was so-so. We regretted not bringing our little Coleman stove to boil our water for coffee and to heat water to wash the dishes. We eventually figured out it was faster to heat water over the fire pit. Lesson learned.
  • If you have kids who like to get in the snow, bring extra mitts and boots. One of the kids had soaking wet boots at one point that took ages to dry. Further to that, bring indoor shoes too.
  • Let it be known that there was a family of raccoons living under our yurt. ;)

This experience totally left me hungering for more family travel adventures. I felt such a great feeling of peace and accomplishment at the same time. Amazing. I’m so glad we planned this little getaway.

You can see the rest of the photos over on my Flickr page.

11 Responses to "The 411 on yurts and winter camping at Silent Lake"

1 | Carrie

March 16th, 2013 at 3:32 pm


Looks lovely! We just booked a yurt for this summer… If it’s successful, we may have to give the winter a try next.

2 | andrea

March 16th, 2013 at 3:53 pm


We are yurtin’ converts! We stayed in one during the summer too (post here: http://www.quietfish.com/notebook/?p=4609) and it was divine. I think it’d be perfect for new campers too.

3 | Sarah McCormack

March 16th, 2013 at 3:56 pm


fantastic!!!! i love this idea! thanx for all the great info Andrea!

4 | Alexa Clark

March 16th, 2013 at 4:06 pm


Looks and sounds like it was a great adventure.

One tip for post-outhouse hand washing in the winter? Use the snow. It melts in your hands and you can grab a second handful for the rinse.

5 | Tanya

March 16th, 2013 at 8:20 pm


What an adventure! Thanks for sharing and the information.

6 | Allison

March 16th, 2013 at 9:12 pm


What a fun adventure, and great family memories! Love the idea, when my boys get a bit older we will definitely be checking it out!

7 | The ultimate s’more recipe! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

March 18th, 2013 at 6:06 am


[…] the chief menu planner I made an executive decision not to make s’mores for our recent camping trip for exactly this reason. But THEN my mother-in-law gifted us with batch of homemade brownies upon […]

8 | Snowy

March 18th, 2013 at 10:30 am


We had a winter experience at a Ranger’s cabin in Algonquin Park many moons ago (in March). The first day it snowed A LOT. Day two, it rained A LOT. During our first night, we heard wolves howling nearby. In the morning, we noticed a red patch out on the ice, with ravens picking at bones. Aaaooooo! The kind of thing you never forget.
We hike into our cottage in the winter (no hydro / woodstove). Similar experience but the yurt is for sure more challenging. More like winter camping. The woodstove in a yurt at -30C MUST stay stoked. We bring 10L of drinking water and wash dishes with melted snow. And we haul in our food and clothing on sleds (one large duffle bag). I know what you mean about 1) amazing time of year to be in the woods 2) the sense of adventure/accomplishment when you finish up. The smell of smokey stinky clothes is um…unique.
You can’t help but wonder how early settlers got through winter in small rustic cabins. Spring must have been an unbelievably joyous experience.

9 | Miles

July 1st, 2017 at 11:59 am


Hi. Great post and thanks for all the pictures!
Question; there is no Yurt 31 at Silent Lake. Any chance you could clarify which site you were staying at?


10 | andrea tomkins

July 9th, 2017 at 11:41 am


Hi Miles, we just checked the map and compared photos and it looks like Ontario Parks has removed the yurt and converted that spot to a regular campsite. Sorry! I’m sure there are plenty of other nice ones to book there…

11 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Silent Lake 2018: A bit about the crazy weather and life on a walk-in camp site (part 1) - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 1st, 2018 at 2:43 pm


[…] fall of 2005 and we returned as a family in the summer of 2006. We also went the winter and stayed in a yurt (which was totally […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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