The Best of 2019

Here we are again: another year, another “best of” post. 2019 didn’t feature any big road trips but it doesn’t mean there were no memorable adventures – they were just shorter and close to home. The only exception was our trip to Ukraine with my younger son. The trip didn’t involve any camping so didn’t make it into this blog but it did bring some interesting insights. It was a disconcerting experience at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country. Everything looked familiar, yet unrecognizable, as if I lost the key and could no longer decipher the code.

Near Kyiv sign in Ukraine

My trip to Ukraine was a little disorienting at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country

One afternoon we took a break from sightseeing and decided to hike down to the River Prut that runs through my home town of Chernivtsi. I’d walked that path so many times before with my older son, back then still a baby, but it was as if I landed in a new place. What used to be open fields was now a tightly woven jungle of trees and grasses. Yet, in this disorienting landscape, I felt less lost and confused than when I was twenty or so years ago when the surroundings were open and clear. That twenty-year-old person didn’t feel like me; she was more of a faint memory, someone I once knew. We all change as we grow up but usually that transformation is slow and gradual and not immediately apparent. It is only when we return to the places that knew us when we were younger, that we are confronted with those distant versions of ourselves.

walking through the grass

The trail I often walked with my older son when he was still a baby looked completely different this time around

It wasn’t until we reached the river that I started to feel at home again. And I thought that home for me doesn’t have exact geographical coordinates. It’s wherever there is water and hills and trees – be it the river of my childhood, the lakes of Algonquin, the forest behind my grandparents’ house, Killarney’s white cliffs or the Carpathian Mountains where I hiked with my classmates. Every camping trip for me is not just an adventure or escape from the city. It is about coming home.

River Prut in Chernivtsi in Ukraine

Once I got to the river of my childhood, I finally started to feel at home

And with that preamble, here is a list of the best “coming home” experiences of 2019.

Best outdoor experience: Solo trip to Killarney

This was my third birthday solo trip and the best one yet. It featured long paddles at dawn, a hike to the Crack and, most importantly, lots of time to dream, read and write.

More about my solo time at my soul place here.

after the sunset on Killarney Lake

Every time I come to Killarney, I leave a part of me here

Best backcountry trip: Romantic getaway in Killarney

This summer, my husband and I headed to Killarney for our second backcountry trip as a couple. After eight days, more than 90 kilometres, 13 lakes, a bit of Georgian Bay and endless creeks and swamps, we came back with close to 2,000 photos and countless memories. It was our longest and one the best backcountry trips yet.

Read more about it here.

kissing under a canoe

A week-long trip in Killarney brought countless incredible memories

Best glamping trip: Cabin Spica at Mont-Mégantic

Spica is a star in the constellation of Virgo. It is also the name of a cabin at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic where we rang in 2019.

To see pictures of this great cabin and read all about the fun hikes we did in this Quebec park, check out this post.

Rustic shelter Spica at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic inQuebec in the winter

We rang in 2019 among the stars at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic

Best hike: Lakeshore Trail at Silent Lake

This 15-kilometre trail at Silent Lake Provincial Park has been on our list for a while. We even attempted to hike it a few times but weren’t able to cover more than a couple kilometres. Until this fall that is.

Read all about his epic hike here.

hiking Lakeshore Trail at Silent Lake

We finally finished the Lakeshore Trail at Silent Lake: it only took us five and a half hours plus a few years

Best campsite: Campsite on Nellie Lake

Nellie Lake is one of the most beautiful and clearest lakes in Killarney. But with only three campsites, it’s very hard to book. During our week long canoe trip this summer, we were lucky to grab one of the sites, midway through our trip in fact. That required calling the park office using the last of our phone battery but it was so worth it: the site was one of the best we’ve ever stayed at. We will definitely be coming back.

site 143 on Nellie Lake in Killarney

Our campsite on Lake Nellie was one of the best we’ve ever stayed on

enjoying coffee on site 143 on Nellie Lake in Killarney

Coffee with a view is the best part of any trip

Best worst campsite: Campsite at Restoule

At first, I thought about our site on MacGregor Bay where we ended up one of the nights while canoeing in Killarney. But then I remembered being woken up every morning by an overpowering hum of a generator while front-camping in Restoule. And yes, front-country camping comes with certain give-and-takes but this trip convinced me that RVs and generators have no place in provincial parks. The only thing that got us through that trip was fantasizing about how we could silence that generator forever.

campsite in Restoule Provincial Park

Don’t be fooled by how great this campsite looks: it came with a constant hum of our neighbour’s generator

Best worst portage: mud walks and beaver dams in Killarney

We had a fair share of long portages this year, including an almost three-kilometre trail between Rock Lake and Lake Louisa in Algonquin. But the prize goes to a series of endless portages, carry-overs, lift-overs and canoe pushing in Killarney – all courtesy of beavers, shallow waters and about a dozen of different kinds of mud.

put in at Great Mountain Lake after the portage from Fish Lake

Our portage into Great Mountain Lake capped a long day of getting around dams and trudging through mud

Best wildlife encounter: Loons on Killarney Lake

Wildlife encounters are always exciting, no matter what the animals are. This year, we were lucky to see sandhill cranes for the first time and make friends with a heron during our Killarney trip. Witnessing a trout run and butterfly migration were among other memorable firsts. There were also a few close-up encounters with beavers, a family of merganser ducks and grey jays.

great blue heron

This beautiful heron followed us for half a day during our paddle through Kirk Creek in Killarney

sandhill cranes in Killarney

We were very excited to see sandhill cranes for the first time, one of the two species that live in North America

trout in a creek at Hockley Valley

On a hike at Hockley Valley this fall we were startled by loud splashing: turned out it was brook trout trying to get upstream

monarch butterflies in a tree

This year I was finally able to see butterflies roosting at one of Toronto’s lakeshore parks before their trip south

beaver on the shore in Killarney

Beavers rarely allow people to get close; this one, however, didn’t seem to mind me and just kept going on with his day

merganser ducks on grace Lake in Killarney

This merganser ducks family of 14 lived on an island across from our site on Grace Lake

grey jay

This little fellow tried to photobomb our selfie, then posed for pictures

The prize, however, goes to loons. Yes, I know loons are not that rare on a backcountry trip. But seeing 11 of them in one spot is. Being surrounded by loons during my morning paddle was one of the highlights of my solo trip and one of my favourite memories of this year.

eleven loons on Killarney Lake

I was in awe of seeing eleven loons during my solo trip in Killarney

Best microadventure: Ojibway Prairie in Windsor

I’ve wanted to visit the Ojibway Prairie Nature Complex for a while but with Windsor being a four-hour-drive away, it’s not a quick weekend trip. So during my business trip to this southern Ontario city I made sure to schedule some nature time. This particular microadventure did live up to the adventure part – I managed to get lost in the tall grass. I also learned a lot about this important habitat that has mostly disappeared in southern Ontario.

Read all about this microadventure here.

ojibway prairie provincial nature reserve

My microadventure at Ojibway Prairie Nature Complex in Windsor was exciting and educational

Best discovery: Cabins at Silent Lake Provincial Park

This year, we managed to book one of the Silent Lake cabins. And sure, the cabins were similar to those at other parks. The only difference is that the cabins at Silent Lake have names. Ours was called Black Bear’s Den and it became an inspiration for our first ever video.

To see more pictures of the cabin and read about our stay there, check out this post.

insode Black Bear's Cabin at Silent Lake Provincial Park

Our Black Bear’s Den cabin at Silent Lake featured 19 bears

And speaking of videos, one of the highlights of the year was working on the final project for my video course during our return trip to Gatineau. My wonderful family got on board and the result below is all about out love for the outdoors and why we keep coming back in spite of all the challenges. Because it is about coming home.

2019 is leaving behind lots of great memories and I am sad to see it go but I am also excited about 2020 and what it has in store. Thank you, everyone, for continuing to follow along on our adventures near and far. We wish you winding trails that lead to breathtaking views, smooth waters and reliable travel companions in the new year. Now time to get outside and make new memories!

jumping at the tip at Point Pelee National Park

Happy New Year!