Posts Tagged ‘Ontario’

Our Pukaskwa Family Adventure

We are an adventure loving family. We’ve tripped here, we’ve tripped there, we’ve tripped just about everywhere. But never have we been to a place quite like Pukaskwa National Park. While we’ve always been outdoorsy, the kids are old enough now at 8 and 10 to allow the family to challenge ourselves with some more advanced fare. On May 26th we launch our year of great Ontario Outdoor adventures by making the long drive north from our home in Toronto to Ontario’s most remote national park to take on the Coastal Hiking Trail.

Hiking with the kids is nothing new to my husband and myself, but this particular trail is gonna be a doozy. Its sixty rugged kilometers stretch along the north-eastern coast of Ontario’s inland sea, Lake Superior. The terrain is rough and remains relatively untouched and the weather can be strong-willed. Those who choose to make the journey here do so for the beauty, the experience and let’s face it, the bragging rights. Trekking this trail is certainly more difficult than a simple walk in the park.

By all accounts our boys will be the youngest hikers to ever complete the trail end-to-end. We did not plan it this way. That revelation was an eyebrow raising hint at the complexity of the feat before us; a not so subtle cue to come well prepared. And we will not be taking any aspect of readiness for granted. With the trip just a few days away I’m confident that we are well practiced and that we are equipped for almost every potential predicament. As parents we are role models and what better lessons are there to impart to our children than to dream big, train hard, come prepared and follow through.

Sure we do trips like this for the fun and adventure, but there is another side to getting into the backcountry with your kids. Not every classroom has walls. Spending time in a wilderness classroom teaches more than survival skills, it teaches life skills. Spending time in the outdoors with your family is valuable for fostering a meaningful connection to each other. Each member is able to rely on the others and kids feel empowered when they know that we trust and believe in them. Tripping allows kids to push their limits and discover physical and mental strength. They learn to problem solve and to trust their instincts. And they find that there is an abundance of ways to occupy their time without all of the gadgets they’ve left at home. They use their imaginations.

Taking your kids on a big adventure takes a ton of planning, preparation and sacrifice. It’s all worth it though to demonstrate that the most rewarding experiences are earned through hard work and perseverance, the best memories are the ones created with family and friends and the best rewards are the ones that reveal a deeper understanding of ourselves, the world and our place in it. Pukaskwa is going to be our greatest challenge to date, but with all of us doing our part it is sure to be our greatest success.

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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!

National Parks in Ontario…Georgian Bay Islands

Although 2011 marked Parks Canada‘s 100th anniversary, 2012 is shaping up to be my family’s year of the national park system. We will be visiting two of the five national parks within Ontario’s borders.  With the newly launched Xplore program aimed at engaging youth participation in the outdoors targeting 6-11 year olds, there will be plenty to discover.  Here’s an excerpt from their website.

When you arrive at a participating national park, national historic site or national marine conservation area, your children will receive an Xplorers booklet filled with fun activities that will guide their discovery of the place. When they complete the requested number of activities they will be recognized as an official Xplorer with a certificate and a special souvenir!

This program is something that my kids will definitely be participating in.  It helps take the pressure off of us parents to entertain them and they’ll be learning about the history, culture and geography of the area, all the while thinking it’s a treasure hunt (suckers).  They can try their hand at geocaching, identifying local flora and fauna and learning an appreciation for the beauty and importance of our environment.  The program is included with the regular entry fee.

Our national parks of choice this year will be Pukaskwa and Georgian Bay Islands.  Both have recently been revamped.  The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa has new suspension bridges and improved trails and walkways, plus free wifi at the visitors centre (expect to see a couple of pictures while we’re checking in and out)!  While Georgian Bay Islands have newly built rustic cabins available on Beausoleil Island (they’re called rustic but from the pictures look incredibly well-appointed and cottage-like, although don’t have indoor plumbing).

photo: Parks Canada

A real effort seems to have been put into making the parks more accessible to anyone with the desire to experience all the beauty that Ontario has to offer, regardless of experience.  This park also has a program that I’ve never seen before.  They have an all-inclusive option offering pre-assembled tents, all necessary gear, some food and guided hikes, canoeing and campfires!  If you’ve never been camping or it’s been years and years since your last trip, this one-on-one attention from park staff will provide an awesome experience as well as the confidence to venture out on your own next time.

Georgian Bay Islands National Park

photo: Parks Canada

As you know, I am a huge proponent of getting kids into the outdoors.   With Georgian Bay Islands just a two-hour drive from Toronto and offering serviced sites, interpretive programming and cabins that even include dishes and cookware, there is no excuse to put off your resolution to go camping this year.  The park is open year round, but services are available starting Victoria Day weekend and run until Thanksgiving Monday in October.  The islands are a mix of classic Georgian Bay rocky outcrops and long sandy beaches as well as hardwood forests.  There are numerous hiking trails and even a couple of bike trails.  Access to the islands is by boat only.  There is parking available on the mainland at Honey Harbour, and if you don’t have your own boat you can take the park’s passenger ferry, the DayTripper, across for a small fee (parking and ferry are included in cabin rental fees).  The ferry is seasonal, so you should contact the park for dates and times.

So for a quick day trip or an exciting overnighter in either a tent or a cabin, don’t overlook Georgian Bay Islands National Park!  As for Pukaskwa, well that’s a story for another post.  Stay tuned!

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