When your inner voice continues to tell you to go in a certain direction, Life may have something special in the cards for you. Listen closely. Allow yourself the opportunity for Magic.
I’ve driven down Highway 60 countless times over the years and always loved the sound of Limberlost Road. Little did I know, until recently, there was treasure trove of outdoor fun just 10 minutes drive north of that sign.
Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve comprises 10,000 acres of unspoiled hardwood forest, twenty private lakes, and is home to 70km of trails for hiking, biking, snowshoeing and skiing. Amazingly, access is free to the public; thanks to funds generated by the rental of a variety of accommodation options throughout the year. For an active outdoors lover, it’s an absolute dream!
Having always wanted to check it out, I jumped at the chance to go with a friend in late January. It was crisp -20 degrees that day, but the sun shone bright and warm. It was one of the best days I’d had in a very long time. It also allowed me to experience my first walk across a frozen lake!
Having surfed off the west coast, I’m fully aware of the stoke you get from that experience, but I can’t say I’ll ever forget the freedom and joy I felt as we made our way across Solitaire Lake that day. Those feelings stuck with me and solidified my intentions to share this magical place with my girlfriends for our annual winter getaway on Family Day weekend.
As bad luck would have it, I realized I’d booked my hotel room for the following month, at 11pm the night before we were to arrive in Huntsville. The entire region was booked solid for accommodations; likely due to the massive snowfall preceding, and the incredibly warm forecast we all enjoyed. The last two years Family Day weekend had been between -25 and -40, so +10 was a welcome change!
Our holiday became one of day trips, which worked out fine. It also reminded us that these experiences can be enjoyed in short spontaneous trips that don’t require a full weekend commitment. We got up early and made it there by 10:30am. Perfect!
Welcome to Limberlost!
The drive to Limberlost is an experience on its own. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to buy property and move there after you’ve made your way up toward the reserve.
Once you turn off Limberlost Road, you wind your way down through a bower of trees, all the way to the front gate. It’s the perfect introduction to this wonderful destination.
Upon arrival, there is a quick check-in for guests at the parking lot. Sign in, grab a visitor pass, make a small donation and you’re on your way.
You may want to have a look online at the trail map before you go. There are quite a few options and signage is quaint. Had I not gone with a friend already, I wouldn’t have really known where I was going. Once you’re on the trails, it’s easy and self-explanatory.
The Solitaire Lake Trail varies in technicality, so you’ll need to give yourself a good 2-2.5 hours to complete the loop. My first visit was pretty quick. We didn’t need snowshoes and the ground was hard because of the cold. This made for a much easier hike.
My visit with Christina was the opposite. It was warmer, the trail wasn’t as broken in, and the warm conditions made the snow heavy and sticky. These trails aren’t groomed, from my experience, but they pack down very well when they are utilized by locals.
Christina had issues with her snowshoes’ bottoms accumulating snow the entire walk. But, as you can see, she didn’t let that stop her fun! Take it slow and savour the environment. It really is spectacular from start to finish.
The Solitaire Lake route runs mostly parallel to the edge of the lake. You’ll pass by a series of six beautiful cabins during the first half of the trail. All drool-worthy and rentable.
Fortunately, it was sunny and clear both days I visited. The way the light shined through the trees took my breath away. Such a picturesque, pristine locale to experience and enjoy. Having a trail like this running straight through the frontage of these properties is undeniably convenient. Be sure to wave at the occupants as you go by!
Aside from the obvious beauty, my favourite aspect of the Solitaire Lake trail is the varied terrain. You’ll want to have a decent level of fitness and agility to manoeuvre the more technical areas, but taken at leisure it’s completely doable for the average person.
I’m eager to return in the summer and fall to see what the trail is like without snow. I’m sure it’d be just as fantastic.
A Respite from the Cold
Many of the trails at Limberlost have ranger cabins with wood stoves to take breaks in. Langmead Cabin is about half way through. I stopped here both times to take a break with my friends.
We could have really used a stove on my first trip. Sadly, Solitaire Lake’s cabin is without, but it is still the epitome of charming. If you hike this trail, take a minute and have a look inside at the area maps and pictures on the walls. They share some history and leave you feeling a bit more in touch with the reserve.
During my first visit, I was especially taken with a framed picture on the wall that showcased a song written about Limberlost.
The way it depicted Limberlost, alluding to it being a Fairy Land, brought a smile to my face. Having experienced the magic energy of these woods, hearing it could house fairies, and the like, came as no big surprise to me.
I made a point of capturing the song on my return so that I could include it in this blog. Have a read! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
The Limberlost Song
Up at Limberlost I love to ramble,
Lake and Forest far as eye can see,
Up among the pine tress and the bramble,
Where the eye is clear and hearts are free,
OH! every night I hear the wild loon calling,
And the hoot-owl hooting HO-HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO
On Lake Solitaire, the moon beam softly falling
And my heart is calling out to you, HOO HOO.
In the winter time the air is bracing,
The scenery is so different and so grand.
Over hills and trails the skis are racing,
Thro’ a bright and snowy Fairly Land.
OH! sunny southern climes may be appealing
But I’ll go north and play with old Jack Frost.
To the place that gives that “Up and at ’em” feeling
With the kind of folk you like at Limberlost.
After a quick break at the cabin, Christina and I made our way through the forest towards the second half of the trail.
As much as I try to be in the moment when outside, almost all my trips involve the intention to try to capture beautiful photographs. This particular morning I didn’t feel it really happening for me. I was bummed out and frustrated at my inability to translate all that I was seeing and experiencing through images.
A big believer in manifesting positive experiences in your life through intention and ‘putting it out there’, I voiced my frustrations to Christina and openly wished for a change of energy.
As we came along to an opening in the forest, we could both smell burning wood in the air. A man and a woman were hard at work cleaning brush from the edge of the lake to improve the view from the trail. I gazed around at the huge pine trees and immediately started to feel that something special was about to happen. Magic was in the air!
I love when you get the sense that life has your back. I was already crouched down on the ground in anticipation when Christina turned to me in amazement. She could see it starting to happen and didn’t want me to miss it. “Erin!!! Look at the trees!”
In a serendipitous stroke of timing and luck, the warm breeze took the smoke and ushered it through those majestic old pines, bringing the sun’s rays to life!
I have yet to see the Northern Lights, but I have to believe that the feeling you get in your chest is similar to what I felt in this moment. How blessed to be able to experience such a natural wonder unveil itself so beautifully!
Christina stood in amazement as I snapped away, delighted as can be. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. I hold it as one of my favourite photo moments in life thus far.
As the smoke cleared and the rays dispersed into the air, I walked back to the older man burning brush and thanked him profusely for playing his part. I don’t think he understood why I was so excited and thankful. He might have thought I was crazy, but hopefully both he and his partner will see these photos someday and understand.
They were magicians!
From that moment on, our hike felt brighter, lighter and full of wonder. We couldn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the day. When you see something like that occur before your eyes, you can’t help but feel that anything is possible!
Indulge Your Inner Child
The second half of the trail can feel long, but it provides a variety of sights to enjoy. We stopped numerous times in awe of ice formations hanging from the rocks that jutted out towards the trail. I couldn’t help but touch the icicles, while paying mind to the danger of falling ice from overhead.
It was a very warm day so the water was dripping off tree tops throughout the hike and especially from these icicles. These had developed a lot more in the 3 weeks I’d been away, but I had been told that they can be so big they turn into a cave.
I may not have had the luxury of walking through an ice cave, but my inner child still stood in amazement and appreciation that they even exist at all. Nature truly is a marvel.
After 1.5 hours in the woods, we were ready to get out and soak up the suns rays on Solitaire Lake. I’d been talking about it for weeks and couldn’t recall where my friend and I had accessed it weeks prior. Eventually we found tracks of fellow snowshoers and made our way onto the lake.
I’ll be the first to admit that stepping out on it made me nervous this time. I knew that it had been cold enough leading up to the day for it to be safe. Definitely pay mind to your safety first and foremost!
Walking along the side of the cliffs is a phenomenal perspective. If I have a ‘best of’ list of experiences for winter 2017, the two times I was able to do this are likely at the top.
Over the past two trips, we’ve established a bit of tradition on our winter weekend getaways. I’m sure everyone has their thing, and ours is WINE!
During a long hike or ski, we take a break, sit ourselves down in the sun and enjoy some wine as a reward for our efforts. Life is short right? Treat yourself!
The past two trips have been Fort Berens Late Harvest Reising, which I discovered on a trip to BC a couple of years ago. It’s a personal fave, chills quickly in snowbanks (ha!), and is the perfect level of sweet for a sunny winter day! This was my last bottle, so we savoured it!
While drinking our wine, we noticed there was a 6 inch layer of slush underneath the surface of the snow. If that doesn’t make you freak out, you’re a stronger person than I am. Seeing the water rise up was pretty much our cue to finish off the day and get safely across the lake.
I’ve yet to see what the final portion of the Solitaire Lake trail is like, because I’ve spent my hikes out on the lake. As much as I’m sure the trees are beautiful, I’m not sure if they can quite compare to the majestic beauty of the rock faces that stare out at passersby. They truly are a sight to see.
I must come back and experience them from a canoe.
By the time we were on our way back across the lake, the temperature had risen to +8 degrees. Our snowshoes kept us out of the slushy mess below, but the moisture came up pretty quickly underneath our shoes and was easily seen in the tracks made before us.
As much as I loved the experience again, I much preferred doing it in -20 degree weather! That said, twice in one month was a gift!
If you want to hear my happiness, you can watch this quick video of me out on the lake.
Limberlost and Found
Within 20 minutes, Christina and I were safely and happily on other side of Solitaire Lake. Christina was happy to get her sticky snowshoes off and I was happy to have shared the experience with my best friend.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve, I highly recommend it. Solitaire Lake Trail is one of many to choose from; most are shorter. Buck Lake Trail is my next trail of choice, hopefully at the end of March.
With a little bit of luck, you might experience the magic yourself. You may even meet a fairy.
Wild and Found