May long weekend camping is always a gamble. Will it be cold? Will it rain? Will the temperature drop down to freezing at night? Where to go? Which park to book? This year, we decided to go to Wheatley Provincial Park with the intention to also visit Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island located nearby. When we arrived in the park late Friday night, the trip didn’t look very promising. The weather forecast showed high chance of rain and thunderstorms for the next couple of days. Our campsite was soggy and wet. On top of it, our neighbours turned out to be Top 40 fans (not my type of music, especially in the woods, where I want to listen to birds not Taylor Swift). On the plus side, the weather gods waited patiently till we finished setting up (it started to rain the exact moment I zipped up the tent door behind me) and the sound of rain drowned out our neighbours’ music.
The next morning, we woke up to a drizzle that would occasionally intensify to a medium strength rain. After finishing our breakfast under the umbrellas and playing a dice game (I lost), we started wondering whether we should put up a tarp to get some protection from the rain. Miraculously, it stopped raining sometime around noon and the rest of our stay was rain-free. I am even happier to report that our neighbours didn’t turn on their music after that first night. The mud on our campsite never went away, though. In fact, the ground seemed to be getting soggier and muddier the more we walked on it and we brought back a good deal of Wheatley mud caked onto our boots and tents. But then you can’t have everything.
Wheatley Provincial Park
Wheatley Provincial Park is located in Ontario’s “deep south” on the shore of Lake Erie. It boasts a beautiful sandy beach and a tangle of creeks with picturesque foot bridges connecting campgrounds to the beach.
Even though it wasn’t exactly beach weather with numbingly cold water and thick foggy blanket over the lake, our younger son enjoyed digging and playing in the sand.
The park was filled with dainty spring flowers and a wide variety of birds. Every morning we would wake up to their whistles, chirps and trills – my favourite part of this trip.
Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park is Canada’s smallest national park. It is located on a peninsula that extends 15 kilometres into Lake Erie making its tip the southernmost point of mainland Canada. A mix of marshes and woodland, this park is home to rich flora and fauna. Its location on the crossroads of two major migratory routes also makes it an excellent spot for bird watching (it is one of the Top 15 Birding spots in North America according to Birder’s World Magazine, October 2002, and is often called the “Warbler Capital of Canada”). Up to 360 different species of migratory birds have been recorded here. So bird watching aficionados with impressive lenses and binoculars are just as abundant as birds.
It was our second visit to the park and we started it with exploring the Marsh Boardwalk. When our younger son saw it, his first reaction was: “I remember it but I always thought it was in Florida.” The boardwalk did remind the famous Anhinga Trail in Everglades minus the alligators but turtles and birds were plentiful.
We then rode our bikes to the tip of the Peninsula. The Centennial Bike and Hike Trail extends all the way from the Marsh Boardwalk to the Visitor Centre. It is a pleasant 4 km ride through the forest.
The trail has multiple accesses to the beach along the way so we made a short stop for some more digging and playing in the sand.
Once you reach the Visitor Centre, it is another 2 km (you can either bike, walk or take a free shuttle) and then a short walk before you reach the tip. Because of the currents, the appearance of the tip constantly changes. Last time we visited it was a narrowing sandspit that ended in a sharp point. This time the tip was pointless (literally).
The trip itself was not pointless at all. On the contrary, it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed watching birds of all shapes and sizes and listening to their songs. We spotted some cacti along the trail (the park is on the same latitude as North California after all). We bathed in the intoxicating smells of multicoloured flowers and the green intensity of the forest that’s only possible in the spring.
Back at our campsite, we had some s’mores, a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Pelee Island is the largest island in Lake Erie and southernmost populated point in Canada (this was a trip of southernmost locales, including a southernmost school on the island that accommodates 30 to 40 students). To get to the island, you can take a ferry from either Leamington or Kingsville (click here to learn more about the ferry service). Some people bring their cars with them. Because our plan was to bike around the island, we only took our bicycles.
The route around the island is 30 km long and is a mix of mostly flat paved and gravel roads. The ride was quiet (even though it was a shared road, less than ten cars passed by us) and incredibly picturesque. Idyllic cottages on the one side with beautiful lake vistas on the other, light breeze from the lake and rich smell of soil, joyous bird songs and blooming trees – all made the ride an unforgettable experience. To be honest, I was ready to move to the island permanently. Our younger son called it a perfect day. According to him, only ice-cream could make it better but unfortunately the ice-cream place was closed by the time we reached it.
Because we missed the morning ferry, we only arrived at the island around 4 in the afternoon. That didn’t give us a lot of time to explore and also meant less time to stop and take pictures. We did manage to take a hike through the Fish Point Nature Reserve: beautiful trilliums, nice beach and southernmost tip of the island with the actual point this time.
We also stopped for a fish’n’chips dinner at Scudder Beach Bar and Grill: excellent perch, decent fries, coleslaw could be better plus an entertaining game of giant Jenga happening on the patio and a beautiful view. We did regret not having enough time to visit Pelee Island’s numerous attractions, including the Lighthouse Point, Stone Road Alvar, Heritage Centre and many beautiful beaches. But then we decided it gave us an additional incentive to come back here, stay longer and do more exploring.
We managed to catch a beautiful sunset before leaving the island on a late night ferry. Another perfect day, another perfect ending.