Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Today’s post comes from Quetico Provincial Park Superintendent Trevor Gibb.

The smell of clean, fresh pines and firs. The sight of fresh tracks of moose, wolves, otters and hares zigzagging down the path in front of you. The screech of a titmouse. The crunch of bright white snow and the gentle bite of winter air on your cheeks.

This is cross-country skiing in a natural park. This is what winter is all about.

Every January, the Beaten Path Nordic Trails Ski Club hosts the Sawmill Lake Classic Ski Tour in Quetico Provincial Park.

Quetico's Sawmill Lake Classic Ski Sign

This day ski tour offers two route options: a 24 km groomed classic route or a 10 km groomed classic route. It’s a group ski, where no one runs and participants enjoy more relaxed, adventure-style skiing through the snowy forests of Quetico.

The day’s adventure begins at the Heritage Pavilion at Quetico’s Dawson Trail Campground. After check-in, ski preparation, and hot coffee by the crackling fireplace, skiers set out from the building’s back deck along the manicured boardwalk following the Pickerel River.

quetico skiers

The manicured riverside boardwalk takes skiers to the park’s winter activity parking area near the shore of French Lake. From there, the group follows the campground’s trails and roads south until the campground development ends, and then slips into the park.

In the next section, the ski tour follows the Pines Hiking Trail, which is groomed and groomed especially for this event. The narrow trail winds between spruce trees and Jack Pine. The trail occasionally offers views of the Pickerel River.

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Before reaching the sandy beaches and ancient pines of Pickerel Lake, the ski tour turns east along the Sawmill Trail. The Sawmill is an authentic nature trail that runs along the perimeter of spruce swamps and the banks of bodies of water that cannot be accessed at any other time of the year.

unemploymentKeep your eyes and ears open for winter wildlife!

Moose tracks crisscross the snow of the sparsely forested swamps and wetlands along this stretch of trail. The tracks are sometimes so fresh that you wonder if the elk caught the sound or smell of the first skiers in line and retreated moments earlier.

Just before reaching Sawmill Lake, skiers are greeted by a warm campfire. A great place to rest, grill sausages or warm up a lunch with new riding companions.

quetico skiers

Once past Sawmill Lake, turn north and follow historic Camp 111, which is more of a trail today. Before the logging ban in Quetico, the road led to a remote logging camp. This section of the trail offers gradual descents through sheltered balsam fir thickets, as well as long, flat sections that are welcomed by most skiers at this time of day.

After this stretch of gentle skiing, skiers reach a second campfire, where there are snacks and an outhouse, a last warm-up and gathering place before the home stretch.

quetic skier

The final leg of the tour continues north on Camp Highway 111 and then turns west toward historic French Portage.

At one time, the Dawson Trail, the route to western Canada for a brief period in the late 19th century, passed through this same transportation.

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The French Portage returns skiers to the Dawson Trail Campground and the Heritage Pavilion where the trail began. Participants swap stories of slip and fall fun, wildlife sightings, and special experiences of the day.

Skiers who began the day as strangers now chat happily by the fireplace and share hot drinks until the crowd gradually thins.

Ready to register?

The Sawmill Classic Ski Tour is certainly a special way to spend a Saturday in January.

This year’s event will take place on January 18, 2020, starting at 9:30 am at the Dawson Trail Heritage Pavilion. Bring your classic skis. Please arrive 20 minutes early to register.

The ski tour costs $20 per registrant (which includes the park day use fee). Participants are responsible for their own nutrition and hydration.

Email event organizer Chris Stromberg at [email protected] for more information about the tour.

More details here.

PS: Why not spend the night?

Cabin in the Quetico countryside in winter, showing the front porch.

Stay in a beautiful rustic cabin at Dawson Trail Campground. See Quetico’s sheltered accommodation page for more details.

Reserve online or by phone (1-888-668-7275).