Story and photos by Zak Erb
Certain things in life are inescapable. Of course there are the classic certainties, death and taxes. There’s change, both personal and environmental. Achievements, regrets. Those of us who’ve made homes near the Great Lakes might add snow to the list. Great heaping piles of lake effect snow, year after year. These heaps are thoughtfully deposited, courtesy of moisture rich winds, on our ski hills, across our parks, and yes—onto our roadways, sidewalks and rooftops. Frigid snow blankets our fields, it catches in the boughs of our evergreens, it clings to the stone of the Niagara Escarpment, and it renders our waterways frozen and magical.
Some residents of the Great Lakes area retreat to warmer climes when the snow begins to fly, and who can blame them? But for those who choose to remain, and especially for those who pack toques and visit the area in winter, the snow produced by the Lakes offers breathtaking views, unspoiled scenery, and wintry magic at every turn.
There’s no shortage of scenic winter drives to be found around the Lakes, but few can be the equal of Grey Road 1. This unassuming 50 kilometres stretch of tarmac hugs the western shore of Georgian Bay between Owen Sound and Wiarton. Those in search of a bit of winter sightseeing will find it an absolute treasure.
The route begins just North of the Pottawatomi River in Owen Sound and immediately makes its way past Kelso Beach Park. Stop at Kelso to check out the snow-covered slopes of the natural amphitheatre. Behind the bandshell stands the famous “Summerfolk tree”, angled precariously out over the frigid waters of Georgian Bay. If the bay has frozen you’ll likely spot hardy fishermen atop the ice.
Sarawak Family Park, three kilometress to the North, offers a long view into the open expanse of Georgian Bay. It features twin breakwaters of large rounded stones which are quite arresting, when topped with the frosty white stuff. As the parking lot is not maintained, stop here only if the snowfall has been light, otherwise continue down the road to—the Kemble Women’s Institute Lookout. This gorgeous roadside lookout stands high above rolling farmland and offers visitors a commanding look across the mouth of the bay. A unique “tea-service” sculpture makes for an entertaining photo op.
The winter sun hangs low over Georgian Bay
The winding drive from this point on Grey Road 1 through to Wiarton is its own reward. Glimpses of the bay flash through the snow covered trees, and Big Bay’s stony shore extends its dramatic view of Griffin Island. Following Big Bay, the cliffs of the escarpment reveal themselves to the South. This is a truly awesome experience, with the bay so close on the one hand and the escarpment rising from the snow on the other. From the scenic Colpoy’s Lookout, you’ll have an elevated vantage point across Colpoy’s Bay, as well as a great view of the towering bluffs of the Escarpment.
All of these locations are found right on Grey Road 1, and if conditions permit, can be driven right up to. If you’re in the area and prefer something a little less accessible and a little more adventurous, you’re very much in luck.
Jones Falls, in the Pottawatomi Conservation Area, is absolutely surrealin the winter months. When fully frozen, the falls are converted to a stunning wall of ice layered atop the craggy cliff face. When the water runs, especially late in the season, droplets spray everywhere. They freeze to the surrounding trees, swelling boughs to an abnormal size which gives the entire scene an otherworldly aspect. The base of the falls can be accessed via a blue blazed side trail just East of the top of the falls. Exercise caution, as the trails—especially this side trail—can be extremely icy.
Jones Falls enjoys the benefit of a well maintained parking area at the head of trails, making it a well trafficked winter destination.
Zak Erb takes in the incredible views at Skinner’s Bluff, a lightly trafficked loop trail near South Bruce Peninsula
Skinner’s Bluff on the other hand, has no fixed parking area once the snow arrives in earnest, and winter maintenance does not extend to the trail head. But for those hardy types willing to ski, snowshoe, or trudge, the results are well worth the effort. Found on the Bruce Trail, and generally accessed via the Colpoys Range Road, Skinner’s Bluff is an absolute icon of Ontario landscapes. The famous bluff suspends visitors well above the frozen marshland below. With the rock slab jutting out so far, the field of view is impressively wide. Care must be taken when accessing the bluff. Ice forms atop it, and narrow crevices nearby can be covered in snow.
Yes, snow can be groan inducing and backbreaking. It complicates travel. It gets in your boots, it slides down the back of your parka. But it can also be jaw droppingly beautiful, and given its inevitability in this area, we may as well embrace and enjoy it— ’cause it sure isn’t going anywhere.