Family Snowmobile Adventures in Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve

Katie Erb and family keep the tradition alive with their annual weekend on the trails at this gem of a place in Ontario's Highlands. Rentals, accommodations and hundreds of marked trails make this a favourite destination for sledders and non-sledders alike.

My winter wouldn’t be complete without an annual trip to Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve , and this January was like every other. I’ve been coming to Haliburton Forest with my family to snowmobile since I was young and more recently with Glasvan Great Dane Trailers for an annual customer appreciation snowmobile weekend called Sledfest with Erb Transport. This year there were about 50 of us, with me being one of only two girls. 

Sledfest 2015 in front of the Boiler Room cabin

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Haliburton Forest, it's often referred to as ‘Ontario’s Snowmobiling Wonderland’ and this Ontario’s Highlands highlight was rated as one of the Top Ten Snowmobile Destinations in North America by Check out this video by Snowmobiler TV:

The forest is the only privately owned snowmobile operation in the world, with over 100,000 acres of woods and lakes, 300 km of smooth, daily groomed trails and on-site snowmobile rentals.

My brother Kyle and me with Mortimer the moose on a family snowmobiling weekend in February 1999

Even amazing snowmobile adventures aside, the wildlife reserve has long had a place in my heart. Petting and seeing the moose, horses, pigs, wolf pack and husky sleddogs always puts a smile on my face. And one of these years, instead of just snowmobiling, I’m going to do a dog sledding tour through the forest, it’s on my bucket list. 

Taking a break with a purebred Canadian Eskimo husky preparing for the 2017 Winter Sleddog World Championship taking place at Haliburton Forest from January 24th to February 1st

Sledder's Delight

Now back to snowmobiling! The snowmobiling highlight of Haliburton Forest is the length of their sledding season, averaging up to 16 weeks. It’s hard to believe that only 6 to 8 inches of snow is needed on the trails to start grooming and sledding.

There’s always a concern for snowmobilers in Ontario when planning trips in advance that there will be a lack of snow or that the trails won’t be open. However, each year I plan and head there with confidence. There’s always enough snow in Haliburton Forest mid-January—I’ve never been ‘snowed out’ yet!

This year, despite the warmer weather with temperatures hovering around zero Celsius I only needed to wear a base layer and KLiM uninsulated outerwear. A total night-and-day comparison to some of the January weekends I’ve spent in the forest, riding in temperatures of -20°C. 

Perfectly smooth trails, an Ontario snowmobilers dream

My dad has been coming to Sledfest annually for about 20 years; needless to say, he knows the trail system. As the leader, he takes us on some of the windier single track trails to different lookouts or the gorge—destinations often overlooked and off the main double-track trails.

My dad and I at The Lookout

During our weekend in Haliburton, we put on about 250km, stopping at all five of the cabins for a break throughout the weekend. The main trails were snowy and smooth. Some of the feeder trails were closed because of a lack of a hard pack snow base and some of the 50 lakes were staked for crossing too.

Due to the warmer weather this winter, not all of the lakes and rivers are frozen. Haliburton Forest only stakes lakes that are safe to cross. Lakes that aren’t staked should not be snowmobiled on due to open water and thin ice. 

As my riding has progressed so has my preferred riding style. Currently, I absolutely love backcountry riding and playing as opposed to logging miles on trails. That being said, riding the Haliburton Forest trails is an absolute blast because there aren’t any road crossings, rather 300km of fun and fast forest trails. Plus, there’s a 100-sled per day limit to allow for no overcrowding and maintenance of trails—we could ride for an hour and not see another sledder. For me, that’s a valuable feature of a trail riding experience.   

Ease of Use

Since the park is privately owned, Haliburton Forest trail permits are required. Seasonal, three-day or day passes can be purchased. I've always gone for the three-day pass when riding the forest and I stay overnight in one of the forest-owned cabins—usually the Whiskey Jack or the Beaver House. 

As I mentioned earlier, Ski-Doo rental snowmobiles are available if you don’t own a snowmobile or two like I do. This weekend I brought my 2012 Polaris 600 Rush. It’s great for cornering on trails and fast on the many lake crossings. I was also riding a 2017 Polaris 800 Switchback Assault, a great crossover sled for trail and backcountry riding. 

The park has trail maps available and every intersection in the forest is marked with necessary info including a directional arrow pointing back to the base and how many miles distance away it is. So there’s no excuse for not making it back to basecamp! Well maybe if you run out of gas, but there are gas services at basecamp.

And as for food, The Cookhouse Restaurant is my destination at the base for breakfast and dinner because I would rather relax pre- and post- sledding than have to cook! Haliburton Forest has every amenity a snowmobiler needs—it’s a one-stop snowmobile destination! 

The tradition continues - Sledfest 2017 

My Sledfest weekend was a blast once again! Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve continues to have a very special place in my heart. It truly is the ideal winter destination for any outdoors enthusiast and every kind of snowmobiler from young to old, new to experienced, large or small groups. Come discover the highlights of the Haliburton Highlands for yourself, and I promise it’ll find a place in your heart as well.

Check out this video for more about sledding in Ontario's Highlands:

About Katie Harris (Erb)

Having travelled 34 countries around the world, Katie is most at home riding snowmobiles in Northern Ontario. She's also passionate about trucking, travel, geography, and other motorsports.  

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