While some riders prefer to store their ATV during the winter, or use it only for plowing the driveway, there are others that want to continue the off-road adventure despite the cold and snow. As avid ATV enthusiasts, we are among those in constant search of trails that are open for fun during the winter months.
The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve is an 80,000-acre private land facility that, for a reasonable fee of $49 per day, opens their 300 km of groomed woodland trails to ATVs and snowmobiles only during the winter season. In the summer, the Forest is dedicated to mountain bikes and hikers. The experience destination facility is located approximately three hours north of Toronto, just on the outskirts of Haliburton, Ontario.
On a snowy Saturday in February, we decided to take a day trip up to Haliburton with our ATVs. Having been to this area before, we started our day with a top-notch breakfast in Minden, Ontario at the Winter Green Maple Products and Pancake Barn. This area is renowned for some of the best maple syrup that Ontario has to offer, so don’t miss your opportunity to sample the liquid gold.
After a hot breakfast, we trucked over to the Haliburton forest and unloaded our ATVs to spend our day enjoying the diverse winter trail system. The forest offers a taste of every riding style, from the flat double-wide trails to the more challenging single tracks with winding hill climbs and off-camber riding. You can choose to navigate to one of the many observation decks or highland lookouts, with an adventure waiting on every trail.
The friendly staff at the Welcome Center provided us with a quick overview of services available and equipped us with a map of the grounds to plan our route and decide what we wanted to visit that day. A visit to the lakeside ice caves and a trek up to the highland lookout were our priorities for this ride.
The forest is also a wildlife sanctuary, so it was easy to discover many animals and birds within their natural habitat at every turn. During our day spent riding the trails in mid-February, we encountered many deer, partridges and osprey. In the early evening, we also enjoyed hearing the howls of the wild wolf pack that had taken up residence in the highland forest.
In addition to the naturally occurring wolf colonies, the Haliburton Forest Wolf Sanctuary, a 15-acre enclosure, is home to Fang and Luna—the alpha pair—and their pack. The educational and research-based Wolf Center includes numerous exhibits, a theatre and classroom area, wolf-themed book and gift store and an observation room with one-way glass, allowing visitors to observe and hear the wolf pack in action. It was the highlight of our visit and we strongly recommend that everyone dedicate some time to see this incredible place during winter’s quiet off-season.
During our Forest visit, our group of four took advantage of the convenience of the onsite "Cookhouse." For lunch we had the cook prepare us foil wrapped sandwiches, which we heated on the woodstove at one of the many warming cabins easily found along the trails. After a full day of riding, we gather back at the Cookhouse to enjoy a freshly prepared dinner served in a home-style fashion.
With over 50 lakes on the property, it is easy to see why ice fishing is a popular activity for many visitors. The Forest also offers dog-sledding experiences with 150 Siberian Huskies living onsite that are eager and ready to pull you for an afternoon ride. Activities ranging from woodworking classes to ecological workshops, to visiting their astronomy planetarium, ensure something to please everyone at the forest.
The management at the forest restricts the number of ATVs and snowmobiles allowed in at one time, so always book your visit ahead on their website below, or call 705-754-2198. Weather conditions can also play havoc with the trails, so always confirm that the trails are safe and open the day before your visit. You can check out the current weather in the Forest on their live webcam at Base Camp.
There is so much to see and do at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve—we recommend visiting their website for detailed listing of all the activities offered during the time of your visit.