Posts Tagged ‘national park’

1000 Islands National Park…The Fairy Tale Trip

This is not one of my usual post-trip posts.  If you follow along on our family adventures, you’re used to hearing epic stories of family vs. nature…big bad storms and clouds of biting bugs, wading through ice-cold swollen rivers and marathon portages.  This is NOT one of those stories.  I’m not one to gush, and I always give the straight story, so believe me when I say that our trip to 1000 Islands National Park last week was perhaps the best family trip that we have ever taken.

The fairy tale trip goes something like this…Once upon a time (namely last Saturday morning) in the most charming town of Gananoque  (side note: I loved this town so much, I want to move here.  Anyway, back to the story) began the vacation of all vacations.  We checked into the gorgeous stone home of 1000 Islands Kayaking, the company that was going to be taking us on a tour of this BEAUTIFUL area of Ontario.  All the staff that we had contact with were funny and personable and helpful.  We bought a parking pass at the local marina for a whopping $6 a day, got set up with drybags for the gear we’d be bringing and headed out for a lesson on kayaking 101.  The weather was perfect…sunny and not too hot, not too cold.  It was hard to believe that we were on a trip and it wasn’t raining!  I’d also like to note that all of our trusty steeds (the boats, pfd’s and drybags) looked brand new and were in mint condition.DSC_0134

After shoving off from the dock,  Scott (owner and our guide for the day) had us play a game of ball tag in order to get the hang of controlling our boats.  It was ingenious and hilarious and it broke the ice with all of the participants.  I could go on and on, but let me just hit the highlights instead…we paddled over a sunken ship, into an outdoor chapel in Half Moon Bay that still holds services on Sunday afternoons and heard stories about whatever cottage, island, channel and bird that struck our interest.  Scott and all of the guides have an arsenal of history on the area not to be rivaled.  It was so much fun and so interesting, the time just flew by.  We parked our rides on an island and hiked around exploring while Scott put together a dreamy lunch feast of assorted meats, cheeses, fruit, veggies and juices.  A quick online form submitted before the trip allows the guide to tailor the menu to accommodate any dietary restrictions.  Total class act.  After lunch we hit some bigger water and it was like a roller coaster ride complete with squealing and face-cramping grins.  It was all over far too soon.  We were escorted over to McDonald Island where we were staying for the next couple of nights and waved goodbye to the rest of the crew.  The boats however, stayed with us.  1000 Island Kayaking not only offers tours, courses, certifications and camps, but also just plain up rentals for those lone wolves that like to explore solo.  I’ve got to say though, the tour should not be missed.  To top it all off, when we got home, we got an email with a link to pictures that Scott took throughout the day, which meant that I was actually in one of our trip pictures!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

Next?  How about we didn’t have to set up camp!  Our castle awaited us in the form of an oTENTik tent/cabin.  It was getting muggy outside but there are tons of windows that can be used with just screens and the breeze off the water kept us perfectly comfortable.  This is no B&B and is quite a rustic structure, but beds with mattresses and a table and chairs inside are camp luxuries.  A small solar panel also powers up a battery inside that runs a light when necessary.  This park without doubt and without exception, has the cleanest bathrooms of any park we have ever visited.  Not fancy…no running water, no showers, no flush toilets, but clean composting toilets and a hand sanitizer dispensor in each and every one.   There is a lovely covered outdoor eating area, adirondak chairs, fire pit and wood fuel bbq for cooking up tasty meals.  The most impressive feature though, is the setting amongst the trees, no neighbours in sight and the water laid out in front just tempting one more dip and one more paddle.1000 Islands National Park

We didn’t complete the quest to find the castle, but rest assured there is one on one of the thousand islands.  It’s just an excuse to go back and go back we will.  We have found a place that we not only want to visit again, but maybe one that we’d like to make a more permanent situation.  Dreamy? yes.  A fairy tale?  Happily ever after remains to be seen, but it’s looking pretty good to this princess.1000 Islands oTENTik

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National Parks In Ontario: Thousand Islands (formerly St. Lawrence Islands)

oTENTik  photo: pc.gc.ca

oTENTik
photo: pc.gc.ca

At least once a year we plan a “vacation” trip rather than an epic adventure.  What is the difference you ask?  Comfort and fun.  This year’s trip is to the Thousand Islands National Park.  This will be our first visit and we are doing it up in style.  We’re going to be staying in the parks newly offered oTENTik accommodations on McDonald Island.  If you’ve never seen an oTENTik, it is half tent, half rustic cabin and all comfort.  No sleeping on the ground, we’ll be in comfy bunk beds and eating at a table!  It’s the perfect base for day paddles amongst the islands.

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

Because this is our first family kayak trip and we have very little experience kayaking, we are looking to the expertise of the crew at 1000 Islands Kayaking to show us the ropes.  We first met the gang from 1000 Islands Kayaking at the Toronto MEC Paddlefest and they are super skilled (and certified) and equally friendly and fun.  They run a number of courses, classes and tours and we’ll be visiting them at their headquarters in Gananoque.  The plan is to get schooled on the ins and outs of kayaking and then hit the beautiful waters of Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.  We don’t even have to tote our gear around with us as they are going to shuttle it over to our campsite for us.  This allows us to bring any luxury items that we would usually leave at home.  It’s a perfect service for a comfy get-away and especially helpful for family camping.  After a morning of exploring, get this, we land on one of the parks islands to enjoy time on our own while our guide prepares a gourmet lunch with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of our location!  Paddling really doesn’t get more indulgent than that!

1000 Islands Bridge photo: visit1000islands.com

1000 Islands Bridge
photo: visit1000islands.com

The rest of our trip to the park will be spent further touring the Thousand Islands by kayak.  There is no end to the wonders to be found…sunken ships, castles and wildlife galore.  When we tire of paddling (is that even possible?), there are tons of hiking trails for a different perspective.  Fishing, geocaching, bird watching, scuba diving, swimming, interpretive programs and the Xplorers program for the kiddies, it’s like a natural and cultural wonderland.

Boldt Castle photo: visit1000islands.com

Boldt Castle
photo: visit1000islands.com

We can’t wait to visit this gorgeous part of Ontario and have a relaxing vacation in what is sure to be one of our new favourite parks.  Cross your fingers for us that we get good weather and you know that I’m going to have my camera ready, so stay tuned for post-trip pictures.

 

Lead Me To An Outdoor Adventure and I Will Follow

This past Saturday I grabbed the kids and headed over to the Outdoor Adventure Show here in Toronto.  What an inspiring day!

Our first stop was to watch a presentation by Lyn Elliott on the Top Ten Adventures in Ontario’s National Parks. Loved it!  While I proudly thought to myself, “done that, done that”, there were a number of things that have been added to my “must do” list…namely visiting the St. Lawrence Islands National Park. The kids took one look at the new oTENTik accommodations that are being offered and their eyes lit up.  If you haven’t seen one, picture a soft sided rustic cabin.  Truth be told, after our amazing trip to Georgian Bay Islands last year and the cozy cabin we stayed in there, it wasn’t a hard sell to get me to agree that we must go and try an oTENTik…and soon!

oTENTik accommodation available in St. Lawrence Islandsphoto: Parks Canada

oTENTik accommodation available in St. Lawrence Islands
photo: Parks Canada

As we made our way up and down the aisles of the show, I picked up maps and planners for all sorts of dreamy places, the kind of places that I’ve pictured exploring since I was a kid.  Gros Morne National Park out in Newfoundland looks absolutely gorgeous and I guarantee we’ll make it there some day. But the most intriguing and bucket list worthy destinations (because of distance and exotic local) are the National Parks in Northern Canada. Wild, breathtaking and untouched, the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut seem so out of reach to the average “southern Canadian”.  Getting there is possible though if we put our minds to it.  With some planning, saving and training, Fraser and I have every intention of making it there with the kids.

In the meanwhile, there are oodles of fabulous places in my beloved Ontario that are calling out to me.  I walked away with an Ontario Parks Guide and a pamphlet listing the National Parks Historic Sites and Marine Conservation Areas here. Now I’ve got a couple more maps for the house and we can start checking off all of the places that we’ve visited.

The show was a great way to spend a day and inspiration for how to spend a lifetime.  And to that woman who looked skeptical that I was going to run out and buy that yogurt after she gave me a sample…I did.  It was good yogurt.  Reeeally good.  Thanks for another great show!

Georgian Bay Islands…Make a Quick Getaway!

Many things impressed us about Georgian Bay Islands National Park.  The two-hour drive from Toronto was perfect…long enough to feel like we were “getting away”, but close enough not to waste a whole day driving and we saved money not having to gas up repeatedly or to stop and stuff our faces with deep-fried greasy goodness.  Finding the boat launch was super easy and if you take the Daytripper park boat, there is dedicated parking right next to the water.  Sweet!

After a short ride over to Beausoleil Island, we were greeted by park staff person extraordinaire, Katie, right at the dock.  All of the staff couldn’t be nicer or more helpful.  Katie gave us our cabin key and answered all of our questions.  There are these cool carts that you can borrow to transport your gear from the boat to your cabin or site and according to Zach, they provide a smooth ride.

The cabin was spotless and gorgeous and had a playground just outside the door.  The cabins are cleaned top to bottom after each visitor and it shows.  They are built completely of wood with vaulted ceilings and ours had two bedrooms, one for the folks and bunks for the kiddies.  Fraser and I honestly didn’t know how to pack for this trip.  We’re so used to bringing everything that we need, it made us feel strange leaving the details and gear to someone else, but it worked out great!  Every time we needed something we worried over not having brought it but sure enough the cabin’s compact kitchen hid all of the necessities…dishes, cutlery, pots, glasses, kettle, large water carrier, big knives, tongs, oven mitt, dish drainer, mini fridge, tea towel, coffee maker and filters. I really could go on and on.  Perfect.  It’s nice not to have to worry about packing.  Just bring food and clothes and a sleeping bag and you’re all set!

We dumped our bags and set off to start exploring the trails that run all over the island.  The kids worked on their Xplorer booklets (I’ll write all about that in a later post) and we got caught in the rain for the first time that trip…lol!  We went back to the cabin and barbecued up some steaks and corn on the cob for dinner and lit a fire for the marshmallows.  Luke must have said “I love this place” a hundred times and tried to secure a promise that we’ll return every year from now on.  I’d say that’s a rave review.

Day two started off with a hot breakfast and a plan to hike to the north end of the island.  It was overcast so we grabbed our raincoats and packed a lunch and headed out.  As we hiked past the tent sites we made note of the ones that we’d like to stay on and there were plenty of them.  The park has a really nice layout and even had a food building where you can lock away your goodies safe from bears and other animals.  What a great idea!  The views are spectacular and the trails are well maintained with some ideal for travel by foot and some ideal for bicycles.  We would definitely bring bikes next time.

As was our luck this year, just as we were pulling out our lunch, the skies opened up.  It was a cold, hard fall rain and we were far from our camp.  It was fine though.  Knowing that we had a dry cabin waiting for us at the end made the hike back no big deal and the weather cleared long enough in the afternoon to squeeze in some fishing.  We later found out from park staff that over 60mm of rain fell that day…more than the last three months combined.  It was suggested that since we have such a great record of attracting rainy weather, we should hire our services out to other parks in need of the wet stuff…lol!

The verdict?  Positive all around.  Easy to get to, great staff, beautiful cabin, gorgeous island and a good time was had by all.  I definitely recommend a visit to this park.  It’s a must do and is accessible to all campers regardless of outdoor experience.  Put it on the list and make plans to visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

Check out some pictures on Flickr!

Georgian Bay Islands On My Mind

I’m feeling pretty smug.  Earlier this year when we were planning our adventures for the summer, we decided to schedule our trip to Georgian Bay Islands National Park for early September.  After a challenging tripping season we now have beautiful Georgian Bay in our sights.

Just a short drive from Toronto, we get to start enjoying our trip right out of the blocks and save a bit of coin on gas money to boot.  If it rains, or if it’s cold or if those pesky bugs outlast the hot nights and come looking for us, I won’t mind.  We are going to be staying in a rustic cabin sheltered from the elements.  We’re going on vacation!

September has always been my favourite month for tripping.  The nights are cool, the leaves are changing and the crowds have thinned out.  Algonquin is our usual fall destination, but not only are we changing up the venue, we are going to a park that none of us have visited before.  That makes it extra exciting.  Friends that have been to Georgian Bay Islands before tell us that we’re in for a treat.  It is simply a gorgeous park.

Our plan is to take it easy.  We are going to explore the hiking trails on Beausoleil Island to take advantage of the mixed topography, Canadian shield on the north end and forests in the south.  With the boys hooked on fishing, we will definitely be spending time on shore trying to hook a big one.  Picnicking, barbeque, campfires, hiking, fishing, cozy cabin, pictures…lot of pictures.  Yeah, I’m feeling pretty smug.

Life Lessons – Teachable Moments Courtesy of Pukaskwa National Park

I love teachers and my boys have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of the best. I respect and appreciate their dedication and hard work and I feel that real world experiences can really serve to support and enhance a teacher’s efforts in the classroom.

This is how I justify sometimes taking my boys out of their classrooms and into the wilderness. Tripping reinforces our family commitment to a healthy outdoor lifestyle and demonstrates firsthand the importance of environmental protection and stewardship. Not to mention the kids get a little bit of science, geography, math, history, geology…you name it, snuck in there too. Not that they’d ever realise they were actually learning anything, they are having too much fun to notice!

I wrote notes to my boys’ teachers explaining that they would be absent from school for a week while tackling the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park and suggested that they do projects chronicling their journeys to make up for missed classes. Both teachers were incredibly supportive and I received an unexpected invitation to speak to my older son’s class before we leave. I am no public speaker and the thought of getting up there with all eyes on me brings on a wave of nausea, but of course I agreed. All children benefit from exposure to the outdoors and maybe my presentation will spark an interest in some of those kids that will get them exploring the possibility of visiting one of Ontario’s parks themselves. Whether it is tomorrow with their parents or years from now when they are grown, I hope that the pictures I paint of wild adventures and far flung vistas stay with them and spur them on to journeys of their own.

I won’t yet have pictures of the trail to show, but I will bring along my computer so that I can share the park’s Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. It will allow me to show the class maps of the trail and to point out the lack of any roads. Many of the children in class have never been outside of large urban areas. Can a child who has never ventured beyond the city limits imagine such an expanse without any roads or cars? The planner mentions the Pukaskwa Pits,the unexplained rock-lined pits clustered along the coast. I bet the kids will have some good guesses what they were used for! We will talk about packing for the trip, what we’ll be bringing and what we’ll be eating. We will discuss the wildlife that lives there and how to be bear aware. I’m going to run out of presentation time long before I ever run out of wonderful things about Ontario to explore.

While we are gone, the class will spend a part of each day speculating on what we are up to. My son Luke will be journaling about his experiences on the trail and when they are reunited the following week they will compare notes. What a great idea Ms. Taris! The class will also be able to follow our progress real-time with transmissions from ourSpot GPS Satellite Messenger. And I think it would be fun to send a picture of the family holding a sign sending a personal message back to the class and email it to them from the guest center at Hattie Cove.

And so our trip to Pukaskwa will not just be a family adventure, it will be a community adventure. Our parks and our province have lessons to impart and we can all be teachers in our own way if we are willing to put in the time and effort. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with the class. But I am especially thankful for the enthusiasm of teachers who inspire kids everyday in their urban classrooms.

National Parks In Ontario: Pukaskwa…Our Kids Try to Set a Record!

This is our inaugural BIG trip year. We feel that the kids are ready to take on some serious expeditions and we’re milking this coming of age for all it’s worth. 2012 is chocked full of back to back awesome trips. Come the end of January though, it felt like we were just killing time until the fun would begin. The spring looked lean and long. I opened our complimentary 2012 Ontario Outdoor Adventures calendar and started flipping through the pages, counting the weeks until our first trip of the year was planned. It hit me like a slap in the face. Right there on the square reserved for May 23rdwas the answer to our spring tripping drought. Hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Trail, it read. Yeah baby, let’s do it! With only four months until our departure, the race was on to prepare ourselves for what some people spend years planning for.

Pukaskwa National Park © Klaus Rossler Photography 2011

The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa Provincial Parkis Ontario’s answer to B.C.’s West Coast Trail. Rated as an advanced hike, my husband Fraser and I had put thoughts of it on the back burner after our boys were born in favour of short hikes, canoe trips and winter camping. Well, we dusted off the dream this spring and put it back on our plates. With Zach and Luke a strong and well experienced 8 and 10 respectively, we felt confident that we could tackle the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that Pukaskwa is notorious for. Perched on the edge of Lake Superior’s wild north shore, it is Ontario’s only wilderness national park and the trail includes suspension bridges, river crossings and boulder fields.

courtesy of Parks Canada

I began researching our chances of a successful expedition. I lucked out and made quick friends with Lyn Elliot, a super friendly kindred spirit from the Parks office in Pukaskwa. What a wealth of information! We talked weather, trail conditions, bugs, packing considerations…and then the clincher. She mentioned in an early email that if we completed the entire trail, we were most likely the “youngest” family to have done so. By all accounts, our boys will be the youngest hikers to complete the trail end-to-end. That was it, we were thoroughly hooked. It was like a first accent and a World Record rolled into one ambitious but doable hiking first. We were going to be the first to realise this achievement, the perfect motivation for a firm commitment. We are going to Pukaskwa, we are going to hike the whole 60km Coastal Trail and because of other commitments, we only have seven days to accomplish it in. Hikers, start your engines!

There are only two options for approaching a hike on this single access point trail, the “double-back” method (hike in and then turn around and hike back) and the boat shuttle. We waffled on which to choose. The double back meant that the pressure was off. If we didn’t make the progress that we hoped for, we could just turn around when half of our time had been eaten up and safely assume that it would take an equal amount of time to get back. Other points in the “pro” double back column… the first half of the trail is well travelled, better maintained and technically less advanced, plus we could avoid the added expense of the boat shuttle. However, and most anyone who knows me can attest to this, I have an aversion to the easy way. To me, only hiking half of the trail would mean that someday I would need to return and complete the entire thing in order to check it off my list. If I’m going to drive 14 hours to get to the park, there is simply no way that I’m not doing the whole trail and so we are going with longtime water taxi operator Keith at McCuaig Marine Services. Luckily for me, Fraser is always willing and more than able to entertain my tripping whims. The question then remained, what about the kids? Will they want to go? Are they capable? Will the frustration of a trip too far above their abilities sour them for all future crazy proposals? Well they certainly want to go, they couldn’t be more excited and it’s not just because they will be missing a week of school! As for the other concerns, I suppose the answers to those questions await us at the end of this journey.

courtesy of Parks Canada

If you want to start planning your own visit to Pukaskwa, check out the AMAZING trip planners that the park has just come out with. They really are the most comprehensive, helpful and easily navigable trip planners that I have ever had the pleasure of using. There is the Coastal Paddling Route Trip Planner and the Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. Every single question that we had was answered in this document. Everything from driving distances between major cities and the park to hiking distances in kilometers and hours between camp sites, weather conditions and sunrise and sunset times. And you don’t have to be crazy like us as there is car camping in Hattie’s Cove (with free WIFI at the visitor’s centre) and you can do day trips on the hiking trail or any number of shorter overnighters. They offer tons of interpretive programs, a junior naturalist program for the young and young at heart as well as an Art in the Park series. Really fabulous. No, really. Check it out. Really

Stay tuned because our trip is in two short weeks! You can watch our progress real-time on a Google map by way of our SPOT Connect (satellite GPS messenger) and I will be tweeting and updating Facebook from the trail…you gotta love technology! Here is a link to the SPOT map page. Of course there is nothing much to look at right now, but starting on May 26th I’ll be doing regular location check-ins. Also look for a complete trip report and some spectacular pictures when we get back. Wish us luck!

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