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Lessons Learned: Tips for winter yurt camping in Killarney Provincial Park

Part three of A Winter Yurt Adventure in Killarney Provincial Park

When we started planning our Killarney yurt trip back in the fall we had a lot of questions. We’re experienced campers, but we had never done it in the winter and we knew twhen it’s really cold there are a few unique logistics you need to consider.  

To get ready for the trip we read a lot of blogs, watched some cool You Tube videos, read the information available from Ontario Parks and the Friends of Killarney websites and sent some e-mails directly to the folks at Killarney.  But there were still unanswered questions.  So, we made a few assumptions and crossed our fingers as we packed our bags.

As it turns out, our research AND our assumptions were as solid as the ice on Killarney’s George Lake.  We didn’t find ourselves stuck in a yurt unprepared and we learned a few things from the experience.  If you have never winter camped at a yurt, you might have some of the same questions we had.  Important questions like “Where do you go to the bathroom?”


Direction signs in Killarney Provincial PArk
There is no "Restroom" icon on tis sign.  There is a reason for that.


Based on our experience at Killarney Provincial Park earlier this month, here are our top tips for you:

 Inside the yurt

  • Take a sheet to put on the mattress, even if you are using a sleeping bag. Who knows how many people have slept there before you? It will also add an extra layer of insulation. 
  • Take something warm for your feet in the yurt, like slippers. You'll want to change out of your boots - but the floors aren't heated, so you will feel the cold on the floor if you just walk around in socks. The Killarney yurts have a basic plastic floor built on top of the wooden deck with no insulation. That means the floors are cold.  Really cold. In fact, we spilled water on the floor and it froze.  Yes. We had small black ice issue INSIDE the yurt for a couple of days.
  • Heated does not always mean warm.  Sure, the yurt has electric heat.  But when it is -30 there is only so much that poor little heater can do to battle the cold.  Yurt walls are insulated, but not much.  At the coldest times of our trip, the temperature in the yurt didn't get above 14 C. That was with the heat turned up as high as possible.  Be prepared to wear layers inside if it is crazy cold outside.

 Going to the bathroom

At Killarney, the closest “facility” was a vault toilet without any running water. That vault toilet was a few minutes’ walk from the yurt. For the record, there was no way I was walking that far, through the snow when it was -30 and I really had to “go”. Especially at night.  So, we had designated "pee trees".  One was just for the girls and one was for the boy.
  • Take toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
  • Burn the toilet paper or put it in the garbage.  
  • Remember – other people will use the yurt site after you so be respectful of that.
  • Have separate pee trees for boys and girls. Trust me on this. The way girls "go" is a totally different footprint than the way boys "go" and they'll mess everything up for the girls. Gross? Maybe. But hey, someone has to give you the facts.
  • The good news is that Killarney does have a warm washroom with running water at the park office.  It is about a 10 minute walk, uphill from the yurts.  
  • There are no showers available when you are winter camping.  For some campers, that doesn’t matter any time of the year, but I thought you should know. 

 Water

  • The only access to running, potable water is from the washrooms located at park office.

 Cooking

cooking outside during winter at a yurt
Use the BBQ provided by Ontario Parks for as much of you're cooking as possible.  We learned this the long, cold way.
  • Everything to do with cooking takes longer in the cold, including the simple act of boiling water.
  • The BBQ is your friend. We didn't take a lot of BBQ food, and wished we had as it was much easier than cooking with a small camp stove.  The BBQ at Killarney had a burner for pots and was much easier than using the camp stove to boil water.
  • We didn’t have any problems with our BBQ starting and the propane burned well.  We had read that propane tanks don’t always work well in the cold, but Alex was firing up the grill in -30 without an issue.

 Things you don’t think about until it’s too late

Red Jeep in the parking lot of Killarney Provincial Park
Why are they smiling? Because we didn't need to boost the Jeep at the end of the trip! 
 (BONUS FOR GEOCACHERS: Do you see the travel bug? If you can read the number, go ahead and log the find. Make sure you tell usthat you found it on Sometimes Eventful!)
  • If it is extremely cold, make the trek to the parking lot and start your vehicle for a few minutes each day.  We were fortunate that our Jeep started every day with no problem.  But a number of other campers needed a boost.  The park staff are awesome, and happily boosted frozen batteries with the Park trucks.  Unfortunately, one poor group of guys couldn’t revive their car and needed a tow to the nearest available garage.  That leads to my next point….
  • Have a back-up plan in case you need to be towed somewhere.  The campers I just mentioned had to be towed to Sudbury, which is approximately one hour away from the Killarney parking lot.  If they did not have a roadside assistance plan, it would have been an expensive trip.  Sure, there are villages closer to Killarney Provincial Park than Sudbury.  But those villages don’t have an open garage in the “off-season”.
  • Have lock de-icer on hand.  Remember to take it out of the vehicle when you park.

 Embrace the cold!

When we started planning our trip, it was still fall and the weather was beautiful.  We laughed at the idea of camping when it was a bit chilly. But as we watched the weather forecast closer to our departure date, we saw that snow would be plentiful and the temperatures would be extremely cold.  We gathered up ideas of what we would do in all that snow. And then we laughed some more as we packed our woollies and talked about all the adventure we would have.

How did we embrace the cold? Check out my other blog posts about our winter yurt adventure at Killarney Provincial Park: A Winter Yurt Adventure in Killarney Provincial Park and New Experiences: Go Lie on a Lake


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