Posts Tagged ‘Ontario’

Paddling Away to Hudson Bay

Every once in a while, it’s time to do some housecleaning.  Generally speaking I am NOT a clean freak and am happy to wallow in a wee bit of filth.  However the family finally got around to doing our spring cleaning (yeah I know it’s July) and along with being able to see under the beds again, all this open airy space has allowed my mind to wander to more dreamy places.

Last year I told you that there were only two places on earth that I still dreamed of visiting…the Yukon and Norway.  Well now that I’ve checked the Yukon off of my list (and YES, I swear I will get around to telling you all about it!) there’s room to slot in a new dream destination.

York Factory, 1770's by Samuel Hearne. Engraving coloured, March 1, 1797. © Hudson's Bay Co. Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba / Engraver: Wise / HBCA P-228 (N8317)

York Factory, 1770’s by Samuel Hearne. Engraving coloured, March 1, 1797.
© Hudson’s Bay Co. Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba / Engraver: Wise / HBCA P-228 (N8317)

When I attended the Wilderness Canoe Symposium in February, I saw a presentation by Katie Tanz about a canoe trip she co-lead through Keewaydin Camp, that started from Windigo Lake and finished in York Factory on the Hudson Bay.  This punishment by paddle culminated in a visit to the original Hudson Bay Company post and a camp-out in the adjoining polar bear-safe enclosure.  This presentation has lived in my subconscious for months and with room for dreams to grow, has made its way to the forefront of my mind, permeating most of my quiet moments with images of grand adventure.  I WANT this!

I consider myself blessed to have been born in such a grand and awesome country (happy belated Canada Day!) and most especially to be a native and current resident of beautiful Ontario.  Of all the corners of this earth, with all the wonders to see and experiences that they offer, I still dream in Canadian.  How could a girl get any luckier than to live in a place that after decades of exploring, still holds so many treasures yet to be discovered…

Mark my words folks, the wheels are turning…I’m putting my strongest brain cells on the task of figuring out how to get the family paddling their way to Hudson Bay.

hudson bay map

Advertisements

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

First Family Canoe Trips : Where to go in Southern Ontario

So you want to take junior on their first canoe trip…good for you!  I often get asked for suggestions on where to take the kiddies for their first outing in Ontario.  For a first canoe trip with younger children, I suggest lakes that have paddle in sites to warm up to the paddling experience, or try one short portage into a second lake.  You can get a sense for how your little one is going to “take” to the boat without the risk of pushing it too far.  You can always take a longer trip next time.

The following lakes don’t see super big water like some larger ones and if needed, can have you back to your car in an hour or less.  May I also suggest sticking to the summer months so the water and air are warm and inviting?  If circumstances require that your first trip happens in the spring or fall, remember that it can be really cold and you MUST dress and gear-up for the elements.  Stay warm out there!

all together in one boat

all together in one boat

Algonquin Provincial Park

From the west side of the park near Kearney, enter at Rain Lake (really pretty) and stay at a paddle in site or do a short portage into Sawyer Lake.

Enter at Magnetawan Lake (also on the west side) and portage into Hambone Lake or push on into Ralph  Bice.

Off of the Hwy 60 corridor, you can check out Cannisbay.  It doesn’t feel very backcountry, but it’ll get the family into a canoe and into a tent.

Use the Achray Campground access on Grand Lake and stay, or pull a very short portage (30m) into Stratton Lake where there are numerous sites and you can visit beautiful High Falls, a swimming area with a naturally formed water slide.

Killarney Provincial Park

This park requires a bit more portaging, but you can still go to Bell Lake.  Use the Bell Lake access point and stay, or paddle through into Three Mile Lake.

Two words…George Lake.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Stay on Big Salmon Lake.  The lake has paddle in sites and no portages.

If you have any suggestions of your own for getting out on a canoe trip for the first time, be sure to let me know!  For all those families who are getting out for the first time this year, good luck and have fun!

Do You Know What I’d Like to Do?

Oh that familiar line of questioning that inevitably lands us smack dab in the middle of our most ambitious adventures.

Just last night I heard those magic words and so a new adventure begins.  Our big hike in Pukaskwa  last spring lit a fire in our tripping bellies.  Our newest plan, hatched by my hubby, will see us clambering over the peaks of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park.  Too late in the season to attempt it this year, we plan on tackling it next spring.

Our hike in May of this year has taught us that spring hiking is where it’s at.  While we were plagued by black flies and rain, the temperature was ideal for lugging heavy packs and scaling steep slopes.  While we have visited Killarney many many times, it has always been by canoe.  We did get a small taste of La Cloche when we climbed silver peak in 2011.  It was much harder than we anticipated, but with Pukaskwa under our belts, we’re not concerned whether the boys can do it or not.  We KNOW they can!
We are looking at a 7-10 day route covering 100km and I can’t imagine that we can get our packs any lighter than last time (I’m looking at you Thermarest Neoair XLite, the love of my tripping life), but the boys will be that much bigger and stronger (I picked up a 55 litre pack for Luke!) so Fraser and I will get a little bit of a break on this hike…phew!  We can’t wait and now that I’ve officially agreed to another serious hike after vowing that Pukaskwa was my last (don’t worry, I always swear off tripping after a tough one…lol!) I’ve been told that there are no take-backs.

And the boys, how do they feel about lacing up the hikers again?  Zach says he only wishes that it could be harder.  He wants to set another record.  That’s my boy.

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!

The Unabashed Tourist

In less than two weeks our family is headed out on another BIG trip.  Almost as much as the trip itself, I love the looong drive to our destination.  Some people hate it and I suppose that if you simply jump in your vehicle and go from point A to point B, it would be pretty awful.

I however love to play the tourist.  I eat fast food and drink gallons of roadside coffee.  There is always a camera in hand and a pocketful of coin just waiting to be spent on the tackiest souvenirs that I can find.  My family teases me about my t-shirt collection, but I love every loud and obnoxious one of them.

I also have a fondness for diners.  They always seem to know how to make the best all-day breakfasts.  This was never more true than our stop at the Continental Motel and Dining Lounge in White River.  We were on our way back from Pukaskwa National Park and couldn’t wait to dive into some bacon and eggs.  Sure enough they served up the BEST diner breakfast we had ever eaten.  We ate every scrap including the orange garnishes and the little packets of peanut butter and jam.  Only as we were pulling away from the restaurant did Fraser mention that he had seen trucker hats for sale with the diners logo on them!  Nooooo!  That’s one souvenir that got away.

The key to enjoying a road trip is knowing that you will likely never see anyone that you meet again.  Not only do you get to see new things and visit new places, you get to check your ego at the car door and find your fun-loving side.  No need to play tough or cool like you do at home if you live in a gritty city.

Here is my road-tripping advice; be silly, have fun and take pictures… lots and lots of pictures.  May I also suggest buying souvenirs and participating in all of the local goofy traditions whether they were designed for the tourist trade or are actually authentic to the region?  I mean, who cares if eating a giant pickle from the barrel at Young’s General Store in Wawa, Ontario is something that a local would never do?  It’s fun and kinda gross, it made the kids and I laugh and of course I bought a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion!

I’ve goosed the Big Goose in Wawa and admired the Big Nickel in Sudbury.  I’ve  visited all kinds of “biggest” and “first” attractions.  I’ve sampled jams and pies and pickles and world-famous summer sausage.  It’s all added to the charm of tripping.  And we get our chance again in just over a week. I’m packing an extra camera battery and saving my pennies…it’s road tripping time!

Pukaskwa Wild, Winsome and Wonderful

Our boys are always up for a challenge, especially if it involves the outdoors. But we tripled checked that they really wanted to go and hike the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. We tried our best to paint a realistic picture of just how difficult it would be.  Little did I know that even I had underestimated the challenges that lay ahead.

After a 14 hour drive north we pitched a tent in Hattie Cove for the night and woke at a painfully early hour to catch our boat shuttle with Keith and Melissa from McCuaig Marine Services. We were dropped at North Swallow River in a steady rain to start our hike back. Note to self, the end of May is black fly season.

The trail was a very rugged constant gain and loss of elevation. It was rocky and dense and we relied heavily on our hiking poles for balance and grip. There was a substantial amount of rock-hopping to avoid any number of hazards, and felled trees to climb under and over and around. There was never a moment of tedium as a constant stream of obstacles kept us on our toes at all times. We were rewarded for our efforts with some of the most beautiful and breathtaking backcountry that I’ve ever seen. Lake Superior stretches on forever and truly resembles the sea. The sandy beaches sweep out like private playgrounds to explore and enjoy at the end of a long day. Almost all of our campsites landed us smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous beach with sunset views to die for. Even after hiking an eight-hour day, the boys ran out into the sand to dig and build and explore.

I admit that at times the terrain was so demanding and exhausting that witty banter fell by the wayside and was replaced with rhythmic pants of exertion and the sounds of heavily weighted boots drumming against the rock. There were a couple of tears of frustration and “somebody” collapsed at camp one night leaving the burden of set-up and cooking to the others (yes that was me). But with the effort, we could see the confidence growing in the boys. Their steps became less timid and their placement more precise. They called out warnings of upcoming hazards to the group and held back branches and offered a steady hand to each other. They leaned into headwinds and wiped the rain and bugs from their faces. Despite the formidable demands there wasn’t one whine or complaint or outright tantrum. Still they ended every day with hugs and kisses and smiles and thanks.  For possibly the first time in their lives our guys faced real adversity. They learned that by not giving up even when things got exceedingly difficult, they could achieve their goals. They proved to themselves just how strong and capable they really are. It also made it impossible for me to complain. If they could do it with such grace, then so could I.

Our original plan was to hike the trail in seven days. In the beginning we found that our family took about one hour longer to hike each section than was suggested in the Coastal Hiking Trail Planner. The further that we went on the trail though, the better time we made. On the sixth day we completed our section one hour ahead of schedule and the kids asked if we could push on and finish our journey that day instead of making camp. We decided that it was doable and agreed.

After more than 16km on that sixth day, we made our way back into the Hattie Cove campground giddy with the exhilaration of our accomplishment as well as the prospect of a fast-food dinner with all of the fixings. After gorging ourselves on poutine and root beer floats, we rolled back into camp and were treated to a night in gorgeous teepee courtesy of Bonnie Couchie from the Pic River Guest Suite. Even though we arrived earlier than planned, Bonnie had our night’s accommodations waiting for us and we had the warmest and most comfortable night’s sleep in a week.

Before we left on our adventure the possibility existed that we might not be able to finish and that someday we would need to return and give it another go. I know now that regardless of having realized the goal of hiking the entire trail, we will definitely be returning to Pukaskwa.  Not out of an obligation to complete unfinished business, but rather for the love of a newfound gem.  One visit to this magical park simply isn’t enough. Our Ontario Outdoor calendar didn’t steer us wrong when it suggested that we visit. That leaves 11 more months of inspiration hanging on my wall.

To see more of our trip pictures, check out the Pukaskwa National Park set on Flickr!

A special thank you to Mountain Equipment Co-op, Pukaskwa National Park and Ontario Outdoors.  Your support allowed for a successful and memorable trip.

%d bloggers like this: