The first paddle of the year: Our backcountry trip to The Massasauga

The May long weekend made us sweat. Not literally – the weather was a bit on a cool side, actually, with generous helpings of rain. But the run-up to the weekend was marked with uncertainty and seemingly endless waiting as spring refused to show up and the late ice out kept pushing back the park opening date. Till about a couple of weeks before the trip it wasn’t clear whether we’d need to turn our canoe into an icebreaker. In the end, spring decided to grace us with her presence, albeit reluctantly, melting the remainder of ice, along with our worries, and the trip was a go.

canoeing at the Massasauga provincial park

Our first canoe trip of the year was marked with uncertainty, rain and moments of pure magic

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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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Fall Weekend at Killbear Provincial Park

Last week, our family displayed acute symptoms of camping withdrawal disorder: desire to sleep on the hard ground, cravings for slightly burned food prepared over a campfire, constant attempts to block out the noisy city to hear the birds. With the next camping trip two whole weeks away, we knew we couldn’t last that long. We needed our camping fix now. So on Friday night we threw our gear into the back of our car and headed to Killbear.

rocky shoreline at Killbear Provincial Park

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Four Days in Paddling Heaven: Canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park

Humbling is the first word that comes to mind when I think of our canoe trip in Quetico. Our most challenging camping experience so far, it was also exhilarating, spectacular and awe-inspiring but, first and foremost, it was humbling. The couple that we met right after finishing the route echoed our sentiments. As the guy put it, any delusions he may have had about being a tough outdoorsman that never gives up and keeps battling the elements were put to rest. And I have to agree. If I were to pick the most important lesson learned, or rather reinforced, during our Quetico canoe trip, it would be respect for the power of nature.

Quetico Lake

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Time to Spring into Camping

So spring is officially here! And it comes with warmer weather, longer days and a promise of more camping trips. While April and May with melting snow, uncertain weather, lots of mud and quite often still cold nights may not seem like the best choice to head into the woods, there are lots of things that make spring camping special. Here is what I am looking forward to as we are preparing for our first spring camping trip of the year.

Rebirth of nature

After a long winter sleep, nature finally shakes off its white blanket and springs into a burst of colours, smells and sounds. Even though I know it’s coming, every year I am mesmerized by this magic act of rebirth, by the vigour of spring flowers pushing their way through the ground, by the tenderness of swelling buds. The blues, yellows and purples of spring ephemerals and bright greens of first leaves look like drops of paint spattered by a careless artist around the otherwise still bare forest. So put on a pair of waterproof boots and head to the forest. Walk slowly and look for signs of spring awakening.

boardwalk at Presqu'ile Provincial park

flower   first leaves

spring flowers   spring flowers

tree in the spring   willow in the spring

spring flowers


Yes, it is a flower and could be mentioned above but in my book of spring camping it deserves a separate chapter. It is Ontario’s official flower and spring is the only time when you can see it. Imagine forest floor covered by a blanket of snow-white curvy petals with occasional pinks or reds peeking through. It is a sight worth seeing, practically a must if you live in Ontario.

red trillium   white trillium



Not the one on your phone, of course, the original one produced by birds. In the spring, woods and lakeshores are filled with chirps, cheeps, peeps and tweets. Ontario Parks offer excellent birdwatching opportunities. Some parks, like Presqu’ile, Long Point or Point Pelee are practically birders’ meccas. So if birdwatching is your thing, grab your camera and binoculars and head to one of the parks. And even if you are not a birder, waking up to a birdsong is way more pleasant than to an alarm on your phone.

heron near the lake


warbler   warbler

family of geese

Wildlife sightings

As more and more animals wake up from their winter slumber and right before summer crowds hit the parks, spring offers a great window for wildlife viewing. For instance, spring is the best season for moose watching in Algonquin. You don’t even have to go far. You are almost certain to see these animals along Highway 60 as they are attracted by the salt in road ditches. As always, it is important to remember that wildlife may pose danger. So exercise caution when you are driving in or close to the parks, and give animals lots of space whenever you come across them in the woods.

moose in algonquin park

moose in algonquin   groundhog

More daylight

Longer days mean more outdoor activities. While there is a certain charm to long winter evenings by the fire and there are lots of enjoyable activities to fill the time, as the days are getting longer I am looking forward to spending more time outside and can now plan for longer hikes or bike rides.

More sun

After a long and cold winter, we all deserve a bit more sun. And with more sun come better moods, warmer weather and more Vitamin D. Spring weather with its gentle sun, a bit of a breeze and without the usual summer humidity is perfect for outdoor activities.

Fewer layers

As the weather gets warmer, we can start shedding all those winter layers. As much as I enjoy winter, I won’t miss extra sweaters, snowpants, scarves, hats and gloves and I am looking forward to spending less than ten minutes getting dressed before going outside. Spring nights can still be pretty chilly so don’t put away your sweaters and hats too far away just yet. If you are concerned about spring chill at night, consider booking roofed accommodations at one of Ontario Parks. They are much easier to book in the spring as more people are choosing to stay in tents.

awenda in the spring   Macgregor point

walking over a log   on the beach at awenda in spring


Yes, you can bike in the summer and fall too, but there is nothing like the first bike ride of the season. After a long cycling gap (unless, of course, you are a winter biking enthusiast), the sensation of pushing pedals is always new and exciting. With a breeze in your hair and a birdsong in your ear, spring cycling is filled with childlike joy. So dust off your bike, tune it up and head outside. A lot of Ontario Parks have excellent biking trails, for instance, Pinery, Algonquin, MacGregor Point. Quite a few also offer bike rentals.

biking in algonquin   biking at craigleth provincial park


Just like cycling, canoeing is not a strictly spring activity. But just like with cycling, I can’t wait till the first paddle of the year: the slight resistance of water as my paddle cuts through it, the splash, the feeling of gliding on the surface. Plus rivers and lakes are at their fullest in the spring after the snow melts making them easier to navigate. Some routes can only be paddled in the spring or early summer at the latest and they become almost impassable as the water levels drop later in the season.

paddle in the water

Finally, the best cure for cabin fever

Even though we go camping in the winter too, with only two or three trips over the whole season I feel like we spend too much time in the city. So why wait till summer if you can go camping now. Nothing can chase those winter blues away like the orange crackling of a campfire, the bright yellow of first spring flowers  and the tender green spirals of fiddleheads.

marshmellow in the campfire

yellow spring flowers   fiddleheads

Time to start packing! Remember that Ontario Parks have different opening dates while some are open year round. Check Ontario Parks website for help with your trip planning and to book campsites.