The Best of 2016

It’s hard to believe 2016 is drawing to a close. And it was quite a year when it comes to outdoor adventures, both close and far. With a three-week road trip all the way to Los Angeles, lots of camping with family and friends, my first solo trip and endless microadventures, it is next to impossible to narrow down ten best. But I’ll still try.

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Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands on Victoria Day weekend: an unlikely combination of queens and backpacking

Our younger son likes to share stories, solve math problems and study new scientific concepts while hiking. So during last weekend’s backpacking trip his dad was teaching him about factorials and permutations. Don’t ask me to explain what those are because I wasn’t really listening. I was working on a scientific formula of my own, one that would explain why backpacking works so well as a de-stressor. My theory is that there is only a certain amount of baggage our bodies can handle. So the more weight you pile up on your back and the longer you lug it around, the faster you shed the other kind of weight, the one that is made up of schedules, deadlines, to-do lists and digital noise. Add a few dozen bug bites and there is little else you can think about.

Ganaraska Trail at Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands

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It’s not all fun and games: Our worst camping moments

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that my son accused me of always focusing on the positive aspects of camping while consistently ignoring everything that ever goes wrong. And he is not the only one who has charged me with practicing “joy-washing” as I called it. My friend says that whenever she asks about a trip, my answer is always: “It was great!”

Well, I’ve never denied that camping involves certain hardships and inconveniences but to me they are insignificant compared to all the joys that every trip brings.

However, in the spirit of total disclosure, I decided to pull together some stories when things didn’t exactly go as planned starting with…

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The Best Camping Moments of 2015

It is the season to tally up accomplishments over the past year and make plans for the next one. Our New Year resolutions are usually summed up with “camp as much possible, visit as many new places as possible, try as many new things as possible.” Putting together a list of 2015 best camping moments is a slightly more difficult task since there were so many of them. Nonetheless, here is my attempt to narrow the list to our 10 favourite camping memories of 2015 (in no particular order).

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Almost Backpacking in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Sleeping Giant is one of our favourite Ontario Parks. It boasts some of the highest cliffs in the province that look like a enormous lying figure, hence Sleeping Giant (although to me, it looks more like a giantess). Add lots of amazing views of Lake Superior, over 100 kilometres of hiking and biking trails, swimming and canoeing, and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and you’ve got Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. (Read my post on Parks Blogger Ontario to learn more about Sleeping Giant and all the fun things you can do there.)

view of Sleeping Giant across Marie Louise Lake

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Hiking the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park

backpackAnyone who has ever tried backpacking knows that it comes with many challenges. Trekking through the woods with a heavy backpack is a major trial of physical fitness and stamina. It is also a test of character: ability to keep going even if your backpack seems to be getting heavier with every step, readiness to pitch in with campsite chores even when you’d rather collapse in your tent after a long day on the trail, willingness to adjust your expectations, remain patient and find ways to enjoy the experience through every rugged turn of the trail, pouring rain, relentless mosquitoes and occasional complaints from the youngest members of the group.

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The Best of 2014

With 2014 almost done, I went through my photos and put together my top 10 camping moments of the year. It was a bit hard to rank them since it was such a great year for camping but I am pretty confident about my number 1 picks (yes, there are two of them).

2014 written with glowing sticks

10. Thanksgiving Weekend at Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Lots to be thankful for: Gorgeous fall colours, picturesque trails, great friends, roaring campfires in the evening and a hearty thanksgiving meal. What else can you wish for on a beautiful fall day?

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fall leaf bruning in the fire

9. Early flowers and happy moose at Algonquin

Victoria Day weekend was a bit chilly this year (temperatures were around freezing most nights). It didn’t stop us from enjoying dainty spring flowers and a great bike ride from Mew Lake to Rock Lake. We even came across a very happy-looking moose on our way back.

red trillium  fiddleheads

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happy moose in Algonquin  moose

8. Easter at MacGregor Point Provincial Park

Since Easter is all about nature awakening and rejuvenation, we decided to head for the woods to celebrate it. It was the first time we did it and it is bound to become one of our favourite family traditions. Kids got to do an Easter egg hunt in the actual forest and we did lots of hiking even though there were still heaps of snow around.

kids with a basket  easter eggs on a branch

heron near the lake

7. Sunsets at Pinery

Sunsets at Pinery Provincial Park are always gorgeous whether you watch them on the beach or over the Old Ausable Channel.

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6. Family Day weekend at Arrowhead Provincial Park

Arrowhead is often called the best kept secret in Ontario. Well, I think the secret is out as this February we had to spend over an hour in a car lineup to get to the park entrance. It’s easy to see why the park is so popular in the winter: with hiking, snowshoeing, tubing, skiing and skating around the torch-lit loop, you never run out of things to do.

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skating at night at Arrowhead

5. Backpacking at Bon Echo Provincial Park

It was our first backpacking trip and in spite of hordes of mosquitoes and a sprained ankle, we are planning more and longer hiking trips.

family with backpacks

4. Canoeing at Kawartha Highlands

Canoeing is probably my favourite outdoor activity. Remoteness, beauty, loons at night, tranquility – all of these make any canoe trip irresistible, especially in a beautiful park like Kawartha Highlands.

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tent at the lake

3. Stars at Bruce Peninsula

Bruce Peninsula is beautiful any time of the day, but at night under the star strewn skies, it is spectacular.

milky way over Cyprus Lake

2. Celebrating New Year at Allegany State Park

What can be a better way to ring in the New Year than in the woods, around a campfire with your family.

around a campfire in the winter

1. Foggy morning paddle with my younger son

During our canoe trip this year, my younger son woke me up early so we could go for a paddle. As we cut through the thick morning fog, it felt like we were the only people in the world.

canoeing on a foggy morning

1. University send-off party for our older son

Our son going to University and moving out was the biggest family event of the year. Since camping has always been such a big part of our lives, it seemed appropriate to celebrate this big achievement while camping.

swimming in Lake Huron

Looking forward to new adventures in 2015!

A Different Side of Bon Echo: Hiking the Abes and Essens Trail

Every year, we like to try a new outdoor activity. Last year, we went white-water rafting at Glacier National Park in Montana. The year before, we tried sea kayaking at Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. And before that, it was our first multi-day canoe trip through Algonquin’s Barron Canyon. This year, we decided to go on an overnight backpacking trip. We’ve done a fair share of hiking but all of the trails were short and could be finished in one day.

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Abes EssensFor our overnight adventure, we picked the Abes and Essens Lake Trail in Bon Echo Provincial Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to experience a different side of Bon Echo. We camped at this park before but stayed at one of the campgrounds close to Mazinaw Lake and those tend to get overcrowded, especially on weekends.

The trail is only 17 km long and can certainly be covered in a day but also has five campsites along the way for those who’d like to camp overnight. We booked site #530 on Little Rock Lake. Our plan was to cover most of the trail on the first day. That way we wouldn’t have to rush packing the next morning and still have plenty of time to finish the trail and drive back to Toronto.

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We arrived in Bon Echo late on Friday and stayed the first night on one of the sites at the Hardwood Hills campground. In all our years of front-country camping, we have never been anywhere this quiet. That was probably why we slept in. Even our younger son, who usually wakes sometime between six and seven, slept until 11. So if you are looking for peace and quiet but without all the work of back-country camping you should check it out. Plus the campsites are pretty big and private, especially further away from the comfort station.

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The next morning, we packed up our tent, made our favourite Power Breakfast to keep us going, picked up our permit from the office and set out on a trail around 1:30. We started at the trail end, which is a bit down the road from the trail parking lot. The Abes and Essens Lake Trail has three loops: 4, 9 and 17 km. At the beginning we met quite a few people finishing the first loop. As we passed the first fork, the number of people dropped significantly. We met lovely campers at site 526 and there were a bunch of tents set up on site 527. Once we got to loop three, we stopped for lunch and some rest.

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The scenery wasn’t breathtaking but it was pretty with small lakes, rocky shores and beautiful flowers. As for the terrain, there were some ups and downs but overall the trail was not difficult. We had to take off our shoes to cross the stream leading into Abes. There were a few rocks you could use to skip across but we didn’t want to risk getting all our stuff wet.

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There were two more sites on Abes Lake, both occupied and looking pretty big. Once we got past Abes, the trail became really overgrown and that’s where I tumbled over and hurt my ankle. Even as I was falling down, two thoughts shot through my mind: What if I broke something? How are we getting out of here? Once the pain became less intense, we figured it wasn’t a fracture after all and since the only way to get out of there was to keep walking we had to move on. My husband piled up my backpack on top of his own, my kids found me a nice stick and I just hopped along.

The chunk of the trail between Abes and Little Rock Lake was probably the worst part of our trip. And not only because I was hurting and slow. It was really overgrown and at times hard to see the trail. Mosquitoes were ruthless and after a while our younger son, who is a human mosquito magnet, got really cranky. So after two hours of mosquitoes buzzing, my ankle throbbing and my son complaining, an orange campsite sign was a welcome sight. Since it was already almost seven and my foot didn’t look too bad, we decided to stick to our original plan and camp there.

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Site 530 is the only one on the lake and since no one seems to be hiking along loop three, not a single person passed our site during our stay there. As I was lying on the rocky shore with my foot stuck into the lake, breathing in the solitude and tranquility, I realized that’s what happiness felt like. There were clouds of dragon flies and damselflies swooshing above and it made our son very happy since they eat mosquitoes. The way he put it: this is a blessing and it’s beautiful too.

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Just to recap the rest of our stay. The site had a beautiful view of the lake but hardly any space for a tent. After some turning this way and that, we managed to squeeze it onto a tiny piece of soil between the rocks. On our way out, further down the trail, we did find more space that could be used for a tent and someone had obvious done that before. After the tent was up, we made a minestrone soup but added too much lentils and dried vegetables so it turned into a minestrone stew. Our kids proclaimed it the best meal ever. The next day, while my husband and kids were packing, I was soaking up vitamin D, cooling my ankle in the lake and making friends with minnows and tadpoles.

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It took us two hours to finish the trail. We stopped at Mazinaw Lake for a swim to wash off dirt and sweat, grabbed some ice-cream in Cloyne, dropped off kids at home and headed to an emergency room.

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Ah, memories…