A few years ago, as I was looking through Wilderness Ontario, a beautiful book of images by photojournalists and explorers Gary and Joanie McGuffin, I came across a picture of a canoe gliding across a vast expanse of a blue lake with a rocky outcrop and a lone pine in the foreground. According to the caption, the picture was taken in Quetico Provincial Park. I didn’t know much about Quetico back then and we were just novice canoeists but I knew I wanted to go there. So imagine my excitement when we finally arrived in this remote northern park on a beautiful August evening.
With over 450,000 hectares of secluded wilderness that boasts just as much blue as green on the map, Quetico is famous for its backcountry canoe tripping. You could spend months travelling through Quetico and adjacent Boundary Waters located south of the border and would probably never cross the same lake or river twice. We weren’t ready for months of backcountry canoeing just yet. Our goal was considerably more modest – five days to explore the Cirrus-Sue Falls-Quetico route. Before we headed into the bush, though, we decided to spend a couple of days at Dawson Trail Campground as a way of introduction to the park.
Dawson Trail Campground
Dawson Trail Campground is located in the north-eastern corner of the park on the shores of French Lake. Like most campgrounds in Ontario Parks, Dawson Trail offers electrical and non-electrical campsites, roofed accommodations, and comfort stations with flush toilets, showers and laundry facilities. There are many hiking trails in the park, a few sandy beaches, canoe launch, a small visitor centre, and our personal favourite – John B. Ridley Research Library. As the two days we intended to stay at the campground turned into three because of endless rains, strong winds, and most importantly, high waves, we spent a couple of mornings at the library playing board games, like Birdopoly (a version of Monopoly but with birds) and Boundary Waters Canoe Trip (because if you can’t go canoeing, you can at least pretend you are).
During our stay in the park we also did a couple of easy trails, like the Boardwalk behind the Information Pavilion and the Teaching Trail, to explore local flora and fauna.
As I mentioned above, the weather wasn’t particularly conducive to outdoor activities. Many hours were spent under our tarp, warming up by the fire, reading books and treating ourselves to fancy meals in preparation for days of dehydrated soups and ramen noodles.
On one of the mornings, with ominous clouds, low temperatures and a yellow birch by the lake, it felt like we overslept and woke up in October.
Still, despite the bad weather or maybe even because of it, we loved our stay at Dawson Trail campground. There is something about Quetico that inspires you to slow down and breathe deeper. Our favourite spot was a rock at the foot of our site where we spent our first two rain-free evenings reading, doing puzzles and watching the sun hide behind an island casting its pink shadow across the sky. Later, the moon would carve a crescent slit in the purple canvas while its twin shimmered in the lake below and the night coated the world in peace and quiet.
After two days of poor weather, the skies finally cleared up and the wind died. All of a sudden, the whole forest came back to life: chirping, tweeting and trilling with joy. Later that night, a much thicker crescent descended into the lake and stars pierced the black dome, their light sipping towards the earth through millions of tiny holes.
The next morning, it was back to overcast skies but at least it was warm and the lake was calm. It was time to pack up and head for our Quetico canoe adventure. Come back soon to read all about it.