It is the time of the year when we look back at the great adventures of 2017 and start planning for the year ahead. With numerous camping trips, countless microadventures and a three-week road trip to Newfoundland, choosing the most memorable moments wasn’t easy. Every nature outing, no matter how short or close to home, is an opportunity to stop time, breathe deeper and marvel. Some trips, however, stick in your memory more than others. Here is my attempt at capturing ten best nature adventures of the year.
I am way behind on my writing. It’s been two weeks since our Easter camping trip and I am only just getting to it. But before I begin, I have a confession to make: I am not a very religious person, more of a questioning agnostic, but I love Easter. Its message of rebirth and transformation lifts my spirits and brings hope. And nowhere is this message more pertinent than in nature so that’s where we choose to spend our Easter holidays. This year I welcomed Easter morning watching the yellow Easter egg of the sun roll out of Lake Erie and right into my heart, sparkling a fire akin to religious devotion, a feeling I haven’t experienced in any of the churches except for Nature’s cathedral.
I zoom in on a lonely red leaf tucked in between bare branches. Not ready to let go of the tree that has been its home for the past several months, it is basking in the sun, blushing under its fiery gaze. Eventually, it will get whisked away by the wind and twirl its way onto the ground, adding its warmth to an already thick blanket. Or it will zigzag through the air and end up on the steely surface of the lake below, a tiny red boat gliding into winter. I wish good luck to a brave little traveller and continue on my way.
Camping at Pinery Provincial Park during the Labour Day Weekend has now become a tradition. This beautiful park with its endless sand dunes and inviting waters of Lake Huron is an excellent place to cap off the adventure-filled camping season. This year was no different. With firm support from weather gods, we spent the last few school-free days trying to wring every last drop of the fleeting summer out of the unusually hot September weekend.
Summer is finally here, and it is meant to be spent outside soaking up the warmth of the sun and storing it up for the upcoming winter. You don’t need to go away on a long extravagant vacation to the Caribbean or an African safari to get closer to nature. There are many ways to add more vitamin N to your everyday life, even in the city.
So Algonquin Park is turning 122 today! Established in 1983, Algonquin is the oldest provincial park in Canada and it’s becoming even more beautiful and attractive with every passing year.
I couldn’t miss such an important occasion since it’s the place of so many favourite memories: our first trip into the interior, our first four-day canoe trip, our first winter camping adventure in a tent. Beautiful sunny skies, stormy weather, rainbows, fall colours, spring flowers and moose sightings, incredible sunsets and loon calls at night. We’ve visited Algonquin in all seasons, experienced it in every type of weather, explored it on foot, in a canoe and on a bike and it is always beautiful and exciting.
May long weekend camping is always a gamble. Will it be cold? Will it rain? Will the temperature drop down to freezing at night? Where to go? Which park to book? This year, we decided to go to Wheatley Provincial Park with the intention to also visit Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island located nearby. When we arrived in the park late Friday night, the trip didn’t look very promising. The weather forecast showed high chance of rain and thunderstorms for the next couple of days. Our campsite was soggy and wet. On top of it, our neighbours turned out to be Top 40 fans (not my type of music, especially in the woods, where I want to listen to birds not Taylor Swift). On the plus side, the weather gods waited patiently till we finished setting up (it started to rain the exact moment I zipped up the tent door behind me) and the sound of rain drowned out our neighbours’ music.
The next morning, we woke up to a drizzle that would occasionally intensify to a medium strength rain. After finishing our breakfast under the umbrellas and playing a dice game (I lost), we started wondering whether we should put up a tarp to get some protection from the rain. Miraculously, it stopped raining sometime around noon and the rest of our stay was rain-free. I am even happier to report that our neighbours didn’t turn on their music after that first night. The mud on our campsite never went away, though. In fact, the ground seemed to be getting soggier and muddier the more we walked on it and we brought back a good deal of Wheatley mud caked onto our boots and tents. But then you can’t have everything. Continue reading
Green and camping seem to go together naturally. What can be greener than spending time in nature? Unfortunately, every time we go camping, we witness activities that are the complete opposite. I am always perplexed by people who insist on driving their cars everywhere in the park: store, wood yard, trail, comfort station? Isn’t the whole point of getting outside to get some exercise? I am appalled by the amount of disposable plates, cups and cutlery that often piles up on some of the sites and disgusted by garbage found on the beach and along trails. And why do people feel they have the right to turn lakes into their personal bathtubs even if there are no shower facilities nearby?
Camping is a great way to connect with nature, relieve stress, get some exercise and fresh air. The benefits are endless. Yet we shouldn’t forget that our mere presence in the parks can be damaging, so we have to make every effort to minimize our impact. If we want to ensure that our children have an opportunity to enjoy nature the way we do, we need to adopt camping practices that promote nature preservation and sustainability.
Here are some ways we try to make our camping trips greener.
Ditch your car, walk or bike instead
Ontario Parks encourage their visitors to park once and walk or bike the rest of the stay. Last year, we finally managed to do that. We used our bikes or feet to get to park stores, beaches, trail heads, even to bring fire wood. Granted it is sometimes hard to do it in larger parks, like Algonquin or Lake Superior. Several national parks in the United States, including Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon, offer free shuttle bus service to their visitors in an effort to reduce traffic on their roads. Hopefully, parks in Canada will consider introducing a similar service. In the meantime, we try to focus on exploring nearby trails and lakes and plan stops at faraway attractions on our way home.
Dispose of your garbage properly
I am not just talking about not littering here. That should be engrained. It is also important to properly dispose of your garbage at recycling centres available in most camping parks. Sorting your recyclables doesn’t take too long and ensures they don’t end up in a landfill.
Last year, we also tried to reduce the amount of garbage we produce. We buy a lot of our food in bulk and then bring the necessary amount in reusable containers. We try to buy less packaged food and cook more from scratch (there are lots of simple delicious camping recipes that don’t require a lot of time or preparation).
Forgo disposable products
Sometimes I wish parks and conservation areas just banned disposable products all together. This summer, we watched our neighbours accumulate four huge garbage bags of disposable plates, cups and cutlery over two days. Yes, they were a large group of people but that also means they had more than enough people to do the dishes. Yes, washing the dishes isn’t fun, especially in the woods. But isn’t removing yourself from the conveniences of civilization part of the attraction? Just think of it as part of the wilderness survival challenge.
We haven’t used disposable eating utensils in years. Last summer, together with our friends, we decided to ditch foil roasting pans as well. Even with reusing them a couple of times, it was still a waste. The regular roasting pan we use at home works just fine outside. We also bring kitchen towels instead of paper ones because we prefer our trees in their original form and not on our table in the form of paper napkins.
Use biodegradable dishwashing products and toiletries
We don’t use any commercial chemicals-packed dishwashing liquids or beauty products at home and it’s even more important to avoid them in nature. Baking soda can do the job just fine or if you need some bubbles, you can make your own dishwashing liquid using Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (we just dilute it in water 1:3 and add 1 tablespoon of washing soda for each liter of liquid plus a few drops of any essential oil for smell). Castile soap is also great for washing yourself. Your skin will thank you. If you are not into making your own dishwashing liquid, shampoo or toothpaste, you can always buy eco-friendly biodegradable options. And avoid using any toiletries around rivers and lakes. A few days without a shower will not kill you.
There are lots of other ways to make your camping more eco-friendly, like buying used equipment or renting it from an outfitter, staying on trails and using marked campsites, using proper firewood, respecting wildlife, taking nothing but pictures and memories. Visit Leave No Trace Canada website to learn more about what you can do to reduce your environmental impact. Parks and conservation areas are here for us to not only enjoy but also protect nature. Let’s remember that!
Easter weekend camping is a relatively new tradition. This is our second year, to be exact. Last year, we started pondering over the meaning of Easter and it being the symbol of rejuvenation and rebirth. So we decided that there was no better place to celebrate it than in nature where the magic of rebirth happens every spring. Plus kids love Easter egg hunt in the actual forest even though they have long outgrown the age of believing in Easter bunny.
This year we chose Pinery Provincial Park as our camping destination for a number of reasons. There was more chance that it would be snow free compared to, say, Algonquin or Killarney. The route to Pinery conveniently lies through Waterloo where we could pick up our older son and then drop him off on the way back. We were also hoping to catch tundra swans taking a break on their way north. Finally, it is always fun to see some of our favourite parks during a different season. So far Pinery has been the destination for many enjoyable summer trips and one memorable New Year celebration. This was a chance to see it on the cusp of season change.
We left late Thursday night and with a stop at Waterloo, we arrived at the park close to one in the morning to find our yurt locked. In the hindsight, we should have called the park to warn them about our late arrival but on previous late arrivals at other parks we would find the yurt open with the key left inside or alternately locked but with the key left in an envelope near the registration office. We spent an hour driving around the park trying to locate someone to open the yurt for us, found an emergency phone, alerted the guard, woke up the ranger on duty. In short, it was quite an adventurous start to our trip.
Needless to say, we slept in the next morning. When we finally got outside, it was a nice and warm day. The park was surprisingly busy with almost all yurts occupied, and trailers and a few tents visible on the surrounding campsites.
We spent the first half of the day biking around the park. In the summer, riding the 14-kilometre Savannah trail and finishing with ice-cream is a long established tradition. But since the ice-cream counter and the store were closed for the season, our younger son proclaimed that riding the trail would be pointless. We biked along park roads instead, explored the Old Ausable River Channel, which was still frozen on one side of the bridge and completely ice-free on the other. We even saw a lonely canoeist on the water and felt quite jealous of him but canoes were chained for the season as well.
We then biked over to the beach. Lake Huron looked strikingly different from its usually cheerful summer self. Covered in ice and dusted with sand with a narrow strip of turquoise water in the distance and clouds overhead, it was eerily beautiful.
By then, the wind picked up and it was quite chilly, so we rode back to the campsite. Right on time too. Because the moment we finished cooking the soup, it started to rain and we retreated inside the yurt. With a bowl of hearty soup inside our bellies and the patter of rain on the yurt roof, we enjoyed restful time reading and napping. Once it cleared up, we ate veggie burgers around the campfire and then back inside played our favourite game, Settlers of Catan, well into the night.
Day 2 was gorgeous, all beautiful spring sunshine and blue skies. We rode over to the visitor centre to watch all sorts of birds twittering and chirping around the bird feeders.
We then hiked Cedar Trail, which is only 2.3 km long and starts right near the visitor centre. It has a great lookout platform over the channel, where we spotted an otter in the water (or at least we think it was an otter since it was pretty far away).
There is also a trail extension that leads to the beach. That day, the beach looked brighter with the sunlight against the blue sky. The ice cover alternated between sand dusted frozen waves, long stretches of white and then ice chunks as far as the eye could see. One brave, or maybe just stupid, kid actually rode a fat bike over the lake.
That day we also drove to the field behind the Lambton Museum to see tundra swans. Yes, they were still there! Because the winter was so cold, they arrived later than usual this year (so cold winters do have their bright sides). I was really excited to see them, something I wanted to do ever since I read about tundra swans on the Friends of Pinery website. It was quite a sight and a noisy one too. At night, we could hear them honking overhead while the guy at the next campsite played drums. Those were much better sounds to fall asleep to than the humming of cars back home.
On Easter Sunday, winter staged a short comeback as we woke up to a snow cover outside.
It didn’t stop us from having an Easter egg hunt. In fact, it was quite fun.
As always, we didn’t want to leave. After we packed, we decided to do another hike, this time on the Nipissing Trail, which took us to the top of the oldest and highest dune ridge and also provided great views of the park with a bit of Lake Huron in the distance.
We stopped at Denny’s Drive-in, our favourite fish and chips place at Grand Bend. We were happy to see that they were already open for 2015 season. We brought our blankets and enjoyed our meal outside.
Good-bye, Pinery, till Labour Day!