The end of November and beginning of December is a festive time in our family complete with two birthdays and a wedding anniversary. This year we decided to celebrate the way we enjoy most – by going camping, or should I say glamping.
I combed through the Ontario Parks website and managed to book a yurt at Pinery Provincial Park. Pinery with its sandy beach and beautiful Lake Huron is a great place for summer fun. It also offers lots of winter activities: skiing, snowshoeing, skating and tobogganing, which we have yet to experience. The only time we came here in the winter to celebrate New Year’s, snow was in short supply. Although the beach with sand-dusted snow boulders and scultures was a sight to behold.
When I was booking a yurt, I was looking for a more northern park, like Algonquin, which would almost guarantee snow or at least lots of challenging hiking trails to choose from. Unfortunately, all the yurts in Algonquin were booked. And while we don’t have an issue with staying in a tent any time of the year, this time we didn’t mind to get a bit spoiled. So we went with a yurt at Pinery. Turned out I had nothing to worry about – Pinery proved to be lots of fun even at the beginning of December, which, I guess, is not surprising because any day in nature is better than one spent in the city.
I keep saying that visiting parks in a different season allows to see them in a different light both literally and figuratively. That was certainly the case with Pinery: stripped of its greenery and usual summer crowds, it was subdued and serene. With only about six yurts and three campsites occupied and a distant noise of the raging Lake Huron in the background, human civilization seemed to have disappeared for the weekend. Our first morning in the park with a book, a campfire and a cup of coffee was the epitome of happiness.
There are 12 yurts in Pinery, plus a cabin and a soft-sided shelter, which is just a larger, fancier yurt. All of these roofed accommodations are grouped in the Riverside Campground not far from the comfort station. We booked yurt #481. It turned out to be one of the few with an added little porch, which was a perfect place for storing food and gear.
Pinery has a long list of short hiking trails. To avoid driving, we decided to go with the one closest to the campground – Cedar Trail, which starts near the Visitor Centre. A walk to the Visitor Centre took us past the Old Ausable Channel, a hive of activity in the summer with canoes, paddle boats and kayaks dotting the narrow strip of water. Now the channel was smooth and undisturbed, canoes resting on the side, waiting for another summer.
The Visitor Centre was open, so we decided to stop by and spent most of the time watching birds and squirrels around the feeders.
We then set out on the Cedar Trail. It wasn’t our first time here but if you look closely enough, there are always new things to be discovered.
The trail extension took us all the way to Lake Huron, which was restless and loud that day. Instead of heading back the same way, we decided to walk along the beach all the way to the next dune crossing.
The narrow strip of the beach looked empty as far the eye could see. Only faithful poplars continued to stand guard, separating the yellow sea of grasses to the right from the crushing waves on the left, their long roots stretching all the way to the lake. A few lay defeated by the mighty combination of wind and water.
Driftwood and rocks were scattered along the way.
The days of summer fun seemed but a distant memory. And yet our younger son kept himself busy skipping rocks, doing cartwheels and rolling in the sand, digging with a shovel someone had left behind and scaling the stair railings like a ninja.
Eventually we ended up at the main road at the Dunes campground and took a shortcut past the amphitheatre back to the campground.
The evening brought good food, more campfire time, two rounds of Settlers of Catan, and, of course, lots of cake.
The next morning we kept procrastinating by the campfire, putting off packing as long as we could, while our son was finishing his school assignment.
We were the last to leave the park. Before heading home, we stopped in Grand Bend to celebrate with traditional fish and chips at Smackwater Jacks Taphouse and take one final walk along the beach.