After finding out there were two yurts in the backcountry at Kejimkujik National Park available for winter camping, I couldn’t help but want to get into one for a couple of nights. Winter camping can be a good time if you’re prepared, it can be even better when you have a ready-made shelter and wood stove ready for you when you arrive. A few stories in the local media made these two yurts a hot commodity so they weren’t easy to reserve on or near the weekends. I had some spare time come up unexpectedly so I decided to book a couple of nights in the middle of the week when they were open and I could convice a friend to come along with me.
There are two yurts available currently, one at Eel Weir, an 8km hike from the trailhead, and one at Peskowesk Brook, about a 15km hike in. We chose to hike as far as we could so reserved the yurt at Peskowesk Brook. The two yurts are of different design, at Eel Weir it seems to be a more traditional design with a wood structure, thin canvas skin and wool blankets as insulation. The Peskowesk yurt is a more modern design with aluminum structure and padded vinyl as both the skin and insulation. Both yurts have wood stoves, the Peskowesk stove is much larger than the one at Eel Weir, something we were thankful for on our cold nights.
We arrived at the visitor centre on a Monday morning and registered with the front desk and heard any last minute details. After registration, we got back in the car and drove all the way to the parking lot at Grafton Brook. That’s the trailhead in the winter, in the warmer months the road keeps going all the way to Eel Weir. Being a road, the trail is wide and flat. This winter we haven’t had much snow, so the hiking was easy, even with our packs.
The hiking was wonderful, exactly what I was looking for. It was quiet the entire way, we only came across three couples, one who were hiking in to check out the Eel Weir yurt, and the two couples coming out from the two yurts after their weekends in the woods. Other than that, the only tracks we came across were from the animals. We were warned that there might be a coyote sighting but we only came across their tracks. After a few hours of hiking we made it the almost 15km to the Peskowesk yurt. We were very happy to see it!
And because of our timing, there were still a few coals left in the stove, making it a snap to get a fire going so we could warm up and dry off. Even in the cold of February I get very damp from hiking, and I was happy to get my boots off and sit next to a hot stove.
Upon arrival we filled up a pot with water from the brook and filled up our wood box with logs supplied by the park. I wanted to get the chores out of the way before any soreness settled in. The yurts are well-equipped for a stay in the backcountry. Each has a wood stove, two bunk beds, a table and two benches, as well as a pot, bucket and broom. It’s very cozy. They even supply toilet paper for the privy and a guest book to sign.
After warming up, doing our chores and unpacking our backpacks we decided to make a cup of tea and get on to making supper. We were both very hungry and there’s nothing like a hot meal at the end of the day. After supper we played some cards, drank a couple of beer each — yes, we each brought in four cans of beer — it was time to turn in for the night. I was very tired and was happy to get into my sleeping bag. We loaded up the stove with wood, turned off our headlamps and fell asleep.
We woke early to a cold yurt. That’ll open your eyes in the morning! It had been a chilly night with a few centimetres of new snow. Neither one of us got up in the night to reload the stove, so it was very close to being compeltely cold. Taking one for the team I got out of my warm, comfy sleeping bag and got the stove going again. Before long the yurt was back to being warm and cozy. After a tasty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee we decided to venture outside and take some photos of the brook and the new snow. It was a magical winter wonderland and a strange feeling to not see any footprints.
We hiked a few kilometres up the trail to get to a canoe portage between two lakes. We checked out both lakes, but it was windy and very cold so we didn’t stick around for too long. We eventually made it back to the yurt for a warmup and a cup of tea. After a quick snack, we went back out and explored the banks of the brook a little more. A quick walk through the woods south of the bridge brought us to a waterfall where we spent quite a bit of time taking photos.
After that we made it back inside the yurt for another cup of tea and game of cards before starting supper. After supper, it was another few games of cards, another couple of beers and before we knew it, it was time to crawl back into our sleeping bags for our final night’s sleep.
The next morning after breakfast and coffee it was time to pack up, clean up and hike back to civilization. It was a bit of a sad morning, the little yurt had become a little home for a couple of days. The day was beautiful, clear blue skies and little wind. The hike back was a quick one, again hiking over trails with fresh snow and only the tracks of the animals to keep us company. We made it back to the car and unloaded our packs. After checking in at the visitor centre we drove back to the city.
As you can see, these yurts are a great addition to the park. I’d recommend them to anyone who doesn’t mind trading in a little of the luxuries of modern life for some very quiet time in the woods. The trail is fairly easy and the yurts themselves are a pleasure to stay in. Many of our national parks are seeing a decline in visitor numbers. People just don’t seem to be interested in the exploring and enjoying the natural world anymore and I think that’s a real shame. I hope these yurts show people that you can get into the backcountry and enjoy yourself. Get outside and enjoy these places and the adventure they have to offer. You won’t regret it!
Update: The park has removed the yurt from the backcountry. It was fun while it lasted.