And it’s a wrap: Celebrating the end of canoe season in Algonquin

Very few things can ground you like a long portage. Nothing exists in this moment but the trail under your feet and the pressure of the pack straps against your shoulders. An inch-long line on the map stretches on forever, turning into rocks and streams and upward climbs, pools of mud in the low areas, rickety boards thrown across. You count every step as the portage unspools in front of you – Ariadne’s thread leading to the shiny waters.

prepared for portage from Rock Lake to Louisa Lake

All set for our longest portage yet

startign portage from Rock Lake to Lake Louisa

And away we go – only 2,895 metres till Lake Louisa Continue reading

Fall weekend in Algonquin: a case for getting outside in any weather

The weather forecast for Thanksgiving weekend didn’t look good. No matter how many times I refreshed the page, there was nothing but clouds and rain over the three days we planned to spend canoeing in Algonquin. The sun peeked in for a bit but then quickly disappeared behind clouds. Rain and clouds it was. Oh, and single digit temperatures. Nonetheless,we kept packing because barring some natural disaster, like a hurricane, we weren’t going to bail out.

Our plans caused all sorts of reactions: from raised eyebrows to horrified high-pitched “you will freeze” warnings. There were also expressions of admiration accompanied by badly concealed “you are nuts” looks. You’d think we were heading on a month-long mission to North Pole in nothing but shorts and t-shirts with a newborn in tow.

But seriously, why subject ourselves to what many may consider misery? Except to prove that we are not fair weather campers, of course. I had a lot of time to think about it as we paddled back through persistent rain, feeling drops forming rivulets down my face and water inevitably soaking through my underwear. Would I prefer a warmer weather? Sure, a bit of sun would be nice. Maybe a glimpse of sky, just a sliver, a bit of a silver lining so to say. Was it an enjoyable trip anyway? Absolutely.

canoe on the lake in the fall Continue reading

Algonquin Park, the in-between season

November is when the restlessness usually sets in. Darkness slowly eats up the daylight hours. Camping trips get shorter and far apart. Even Saturday microadventures are sacrificed to accommodate other engagements. Somehow the month passed by without a single nature outing. I could feel November’s foggy vagueness making a permanent camp inside me. I needed a deep nature therapy. Fast. Luckily we had a yurt booked in Algonquin for the first weekend of December. I was counting days till I could start my morning with coffee and campfire instead of an overcrowded bus ride.

cup of coffee near the campfire Continue reading

Our camping weekend at Algonquin: itchy bodies and soothed souls

Camping is always good for my body and soul. Occasionally, though, along comes a trip so perfect and emotionally satisfying it feels like a dream. Our most recent trip to Algonquin was one of those. Minus the bugs. But then bugs are part of the camping package this time of the year.

view of Madawaska river from site 471 Continue reading

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.

2016 written in sparkles Continue reading

Easter Weekend in Algonquin

I am writing this post surrounded by camping gear at various stages of dryness: tents spread across the floor, shoes propped up against the radiator, clothes hanging on chairs. It’s one of the less glorious parts of camping – having to sort out the gear after the trip, especially one that ended in frantic packing in the pouring rain. Our cat is enjoying it, though.

cat lying on a tent

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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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Happy Birthday to Algonquin, land of beauty, memories and adventures!

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.

Lake of Two Rivers in the spring

Lake of Two Rivers in the spring

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Winter in Algonquin: Camping in a Tent

We really love winter camping with its frozen beauty, fun activities in the snow and smaller crowds (add absence of bugs for my husband and our younger son). Usually we stay in a yurt or a cabin, which still sounds extreme to some people. At the beginning of this winter though, we decided to take it to the next level and try camping in a tent. But as the winter was progressing with temperatures dropping lower and lower, we were close to giving up on the idea with the usual ‘maybe next year.’ And then this past weekend, we decided that there was no better time than now, packed all our stuff Saturday morning and headed to Algonquin Provincial Park.

Algonquin’s Mew Lake campground is open year round with seven yurts, which need to be reserved in advance online or over the phone, as well as electrical and non-electrical campsites available on the first come first serve basis. Campsite permits can be purchased at the West or East Gate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After four, there is a self-serve registration kiosk at the entrance to the Mew Lake Campground.

The weather didn’t look very promising on Saturday. It was grey and drizzling but at least not too cold. Luckily, there was still a lot of snow left at Algonquin, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a winter camping. We arrived at the campground around 5. Quite a few campsites boasted all sorts of tents, some with chimneys sticking out, others just regular ones. We snatched a waterfront site with a view of the lake, frozen and beautiful.

tent in the winter, Mew Lake Campground, Algonquin

We don’t have a winter tent and, after reading all about it, I decided we could get away with our three-season one. There was no heavy snowfall in the forecast so we didn’t have to worry whether the frame would hold. The tent has a fly that extends all the way to the ground so it provides pretty good protection from the wind. We also added a tarp on top of it for some extra protection ensuring there was a good flow of fresh air. We added a tarp under the tent as well, plus two layers of sleeping pads for additional insulation from the ground. We also brought two sets of sleeping bags for everyone for extra warmth. And we did bring our small electrical heater so it wasn’t nearly as extreme as it sounds. In the end, no one was cold, although it was a bit chilly around dawn. The hardest part was getting out of the tent in the morning but with nature calling (pun intended) and a promise of coffee it was doable.

kid in front of the tent in winter

kid eating in a camping chairCooking also presented a bit of a challenge without roofed accommodations to do food prep. So anything that could be just dumped into the pot, mixed with water and cooked quickly worked best. We made our favourite minestrone soup with the soup mix from Bulk Barn: we cut the recommended dose of the mix in half to reduce the salt content and add red lentils and dehydrated vegetables from Bulk Barn as well. We also made veggie burgers the second night and cooked eggs with beans in the morning.

On Sunday, the weather improved considerably. It was sunny and crisp with a hint of spring.

winter sky

winter forest

buds

We decided to hike the Bat Lake Trail since it was very close to the Mew Lake Campground. That way we didn’t have to drive anywhere. It’s a perfect trail for a winter hike with frozen waterfalls (our son called them Elsa’s castle), a beautiful lookout point and a few lakes along the way.

frozen waterfalls, Bat Lake Trail in Algonquin   frozen waterfalls, Bat Lake Trail in Algonquin

looking at a frozen waterfall   frozen waterfall

lookout on Bat Lake trail in Algonquin

on the trail   on the trail

Along the trail, our son kept practicing his hide mode technique, which consisted of jumping sideways and disappearing into the snow banks.

jumping into a snow bank   lying in the snow

running in the snow   jumping into snow

jumping into snow   hiding in the snow

Upon our return, we headed to the skating rink and played a game of shinny. It was my first hockey game, if you can call it that since I didn’t even have skates on. But it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

skating at mew lake campground in algonquin

playing hockey  playing hockey

playing hockey   playing hockey

playig hockey

The highlight of the trip was the blue jays that visited our campsite.

blue jay

blue jay  blue jay

We took our time packing Monday morning, watching the last logs burn, savouring the last moments of our trip. On the way home, we stopped at Westside Fish and Chips in Huntsville, which has become our favourite food stop whenever we go to Arrowhead or Algonquin. After a three-hour drive, we were back in snowless Toronto.

Overall, the trip was a great success and we are definitely coming back next year. All my doubts regarding dragging my family into the cold of the winter to sleep on the ground dissipated one morning when our son mused that he couldn’t understand why some people thought that staying in a hotel was better than camping. That warmed me better than the hot tea I was sipping.

happy child   child eatig a clif bar