2018 had a lot going for it. It started with a magnificent sunrise from a hill-top cabin in Quebec. We travelled to California to spend time with my brother and his family. We visited many new parks, finally making it to Yosemite and Sequoia, and new cities, like San Francisco. We got to explore familiar places and see different sides of them. My essay about gardening appeared in The Globe and Mail connecting me with fellow gardeners and yielding a free bag of compost.
In the past year, I also struggled with writing. Some of the trip reports never made it onto paper, or rather my blog, and lack of time was only partly to blame. Mostly, the words just couldn’t find a way out. I could feel them darting in my head like fish in a bowl, inevitably bumping against the glass, unable to escape my thoughts. At times, I felt I was trapped in a fish bowl too, disconnected from the world, images distorted and sounds muffled by a thick layer of water.
Even things I like the most, like getting outside, became less enjoyable. Sometimes weeks went by without a nature outing creating a vicious cycle: the less time we spent outside, the less energy I had to get out. When I cancelled my planned solo trip in the summer, because the idea of calling to book a canoe, packing and driving somewhere felt like too much work, I knew something wasn’t right. In all our years of camping, I only cancelled a trip once, because I had a high fever and just couldn’t get out of bed. This year, it looked like I was running a mental health equivalent of a fever and it was time to do something about it. Since then, with the help of my family, my wonderful friend Fancy Boots, time in nature made a priority, and my rediscovered love of dancing and Zumba, I am now back on track to feeling more like myself.
Now, even with fewer trips and even fewer trip reports, the task of choosing the best adventures of the year wasn’t less of a challenge. After hours of reminiscing with my family, we finally came up with the list below.
Best outdoor experience: celebrating New Year at d’Aiguebelle
Yes, the best outdoor experience of the year happened right at the beginning. (There was also that four-week road trip to California but it seemed like a bit of a cheat to nominate the entire trip, especially since we spent 10 days in Los Angeles and San Francisco). The first trip of 2018 set the bar very high with a rustic backcountry cabin, a magnificent view, and lots of snow and solitude.
For more photos and a trip report, click here.
Best backcountry trip: Canoeing in Killarney
If there is Killarney in the mix, you know it will always win. This year, we headed to a different part of the park – its north-west corner where we got to explore some of the Group of Seven paintings come to life.
For a full trip report, go here.
Best worst portage: Loucks Lake to Cox Lake at Kawartha Highlands
With two long portages (1.7 and 2 kilometres), our Killarney adventure seemed like a winner but in the end the honour went to our May long weekend trip at Kawartha Highlands. With an obstacle course of a creek, where beaver dams seemed to emerge from the water every five minutes, and with a brand-new rented canoe, which we had to return in the same condition, we couldn’t just do what other people were doing – ram through the damn (pun intended) thing. Instead of “one-two-three-scooch,” we had to portage around every single one of them resulting in four short but incredibly annoying portages within a 500-metre stretch.
To read about that particular adventure, click here.
Best glamping trip: cabins at Arrowhead
Arrowhead is one of the best parks to visit in the winter. With every imaginable activity and comfy cabins, you are guaranteed a blast. After years of unsuccessful attempts to book a cabin at Arrowhead, we managed to reserve one on three different occasions this year.
Best hike: Half Dome Trail
This one was a no-brainer. This 22-kilometre round-trip trail that involved scrambling up a sleek, almost vertical granite surface of the iconic peak in Yosemite had no competition this year.
Best views: The Narrows in Zion
I fell in love with Zion National Park in Utah the first time we visited it two years ago. This year, it firmly established itself as one of my all-time favourite parks. Unlike last time, when we took in the views from the top of Angel’s Landing, this year we got to experience the park from the bottom up, wading through the Narrows, mesmerized by the power of water that broke through all these layers of rock. And then at night, we got to fall asleep watching the Watchman.
Best campsite: Campsite # 36 at Dead Horse Point State Park
When we missed the booking deadline for Arches National Park, I started looking for alternatives. That’s how we ended up at the nearby Dead Horse Point. The last walk-in site on the loop, it offered lots of privacy, and with Utah’s warm temperatures, we could leave the fly off our tent and fall asleep counting shooting stars.
Best worst campsite: Campsite # 45 at Capitol Reef
During our road trip, we were looking to break up our drive from Dead Horse Point to Zion so we booked a campsite at Capitol Reef. The campsite was a walk-in, which was promising. What we couldn’t predict was ending up right by some repair works. In addition to a magnificent red rock, our backdrop also featured an excavator and a large hole in the ground. The worst part was when the excavator sprang to life at 7 a.m. the next morning so we had to get up whether we wanted to or not. We quickly packed and moved to a day-use area to make breakfast. Pies from the park store sweetened the disappointment.
Best microadventure: hiking at Sleeping Giant
I know a park that is a 15-hour drive away from home hardly counts as a microadventure. But since I was already in Thunder Bay for work and it was only a day hike, not an overnight adventure, it still fits the category. We visited Sleeping Giant twice before, both times in the summer. Witnessing the park in its winter slumber was a new and exhilarating experience.
A full microadventure report can be found here.
Best discovery: oTENTiks at Point Pelee
This year we ended up at Point Pelee three times, all thanks to the new oTENTiks. These permanent structures offer an excellent glamping experience and are a great base to explore one of Canada’s smallest but most biodiverse national park.
Best new experience: sand boarding and sledding at Great Sand Dunes
Who knew you could go sledding in the summer? Our trip to Great Sand Dunes Park in Colorado awakened a child in all of us as we sled and sand boarded our way down these giant sand mountains.
Best wildlife encounter: sea lions and elephant seals in California
Watching sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco and elephant seals along the coast of California was not only the highlight of our road trip, but also the entire year. All that barking, fighting for a spot on a platform, frolicking in the water, huffing and puffing, burying themselves in the sand, hugging – there was so much entertainment, it was hard to pull ourselves away.
Honorary mention: Ravens
Yes, ravens may not seem like exotic animals but after attending a ranger talk at Canyonlands we gained a new appreciation for these birds. Ravens are extremely smart and often trick other animals by pretending to hide food caches. They can open containers and reportedly in some parks learned how to get inside bear-proof garbage cans. They mate for life but will usually wait before starting a family. Unlike other animals that only play while they are young, ravens continue to do so even after they grow up, often using sticks and rocks. So the next time you come across these tricksters, take some time to observe them and if you are lucky, maybe you’ll get to see them doing their silly flying tricks.
Best plant life encounter: sequoias
This was a year of the tree for me. After reading a lot about the way trees communicate, share and build communities, I started paying even closer attention to these forest dwellers. The highlight, of course, was visiting the giants at Sequoia National Park. The trees so big and so old that it was impossible to wrap our arms around them or our minds around the fact that some of them were alive when Cleopatra ruled Egypt.
And as we wrap up another year of outdoor adventures, I want to thank all of you for continuing to follow along, read and comment. In 2019, we wish everyone happy trails, both literally and figuratively, new adventures and colourful sunsets. I look forward to connecting in the wilds of the Internet but also out in the wilderness of Ontario and beyond. Happy New Year!