Canadian Park Hound

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Georgian Bay Islands National Park, August 2015

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Well, this was a pleasant surprise. We were cottaging in Honey Harbour for the week and saw the Parks Canada office right across the street from the Town Center general store so, of course, I had to check it out. I had no idea that we were staying so close to a national park. I’d heard of Georgian Bay Islands National Park, but I wasn’t expecting to stumble into it during a cottage trip. There is a small Parks Canada kiosk sitting at the boat launch and we got some info on the Daytripper boat ferry schedule and planned a quick trip.

View from the Daytripper leaving Honey Harbour on the way to Georgian Bay Islands National Park.

For $15/per person, the Daytripper will take you into the park and come back to get you 4 hours later. As mentioned in a previous post, my partner is pregnant, so this was a perfect amount of time for us although, at any other time, 4 hours would feel like a mere “amuse-bouche”. Because of its popularity, the boat is often full, so reservations are highly recommended. You have your choice of several “ports of call” around the island, and we visited the central landing point of Cedar Spring. Here, you will find the Head Office and main campground. There are a few cabins for rent (about $150/night, 2 night minimum) and tent camping sites.

The view from a tent site just behind the main office. A bit too close for my comfort, but still… it’s well maintained and very close to the toilets if you have little ones.

Upon reaching the dock at Cedar Spring, you walk along the boardwalk to get to the main office. Along the way, you’ll pass by a few of the cabins, which are interspersed with tent sites. Personally, I recommend the sites elsewhere on the island since these cabins would have *a lot* of foot traffic passing in front of them all day long. If you choose to camp at Cedar Spring, be forewarned that you’ll have every boat load of the Daytripper walking right in front of you from 9:00 am – 5:30 pm. If you don’t care about that and want the convenience of a short walk with your bags, then… this is the place for you.

The start of the "Lookout Trail".

The start of the “Lookout Trail”.

Just behind the main office, you’ll find the trail junction where you can head off in a few directions. We chose to take the loop of the southern part of the island, over to Christian Beach, down to Beausoleil Point and back up to Cedar Spring. The park map isn’t great at offering info on the real distances, but I can tell you now, we ended up hiking for about 12 kms. Suffice it to say, I’m very impressed with the mother of my child! In my mind, a pregnant woman is the strongest creature in the world. The trail is relatively flat, so it wasn’t that challenging. It was a bit longer than we expected, but it was worth it! Beautiful scenery. The bugs got to be a bit much on the final stretch coming back up to Cedar Spring from Beausoleil Point, so stick to the outskirts of the park in warm weather if you want to avoid them.

FYI, the “lookout” on the Lookout Trail, is no longer a lookout now that the trees have matured. There’s still a wooden landing, but you’ll be staring into the forest. It’s a good connector trail to Christian Beach.

View from the Lookout Trail along the way to Christian Beach.

Christian Beach on the west side of the island.

An island just off the coast of the park.

There are a few cabins for rent on Christian Beach, and while they are still along the trail (meaning: you’ll see some foot traffic passing in front of you), it’s a more remote part of the island and therefore, more secluded. These cabins look quite new and well maintained. Each has a nice veranda. As I understand it, you have to arrange your own transportation there. I heard that water taxis cost about $60 each way.

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Beausoleil Point is a nice wide spot with a gazebo, several picnic tables, BBQ stands and a porta-potty.

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As you get back up towards Cedar Spring, you can take the Heritage Trail, a side trail that passes by a First Nations (Anishnaabe) cemetary and the site of a former settlement. One feature is a lovely flag stone walkway.DSCN0172

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Georgian Bay Islands National Park is a fantastic park. I really can’t wait to get back here to explore the rest of the island and spend a few nights. One of the crown jewels of our park system, for sure.

Written by canadianparkhound

August 15, 2015 at 10:56 am

Wawanosh Valley Conservation Area

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I gave myself the moniker “Canadian Parkhound” for a reason: I search for parks. It began while living in Toronto and my desire to find trails that were fun to hike (meaning: beautiful and hopefully a bit challenging) as well as private and secluded. It’s pretty much impossible to find a hiking trail in the big city that could be classified as private or secluded. So, I began to explore the Caledon region and the Bruce Trail when and where possible. Of course, I love the big National and Provincial Parks, but I’ll take a good conservation area any day. Forks of the Credit is a nice hike, but it’s pretty busy. Whenever I’m driving through a new area, I’m always on the lookout for a local trail. No park is too big or too small for me.

This summer, I’m working at the Blyth Festival in Blyth Ontario (come see “Seeds” or “Fury”, folks! You’ll see the Canadian Parkhound in action on stage!). When I’m here, I live in the small town of Auburn, just 10 minutes west of Blyth towards Lake Huron. This area is peppered with Provincial Parks (i.e. – The Pinery, Point Farms) and they’re quite lovely. There are also a few Conservation Areas around here (Falls Reserve) and Wawanosh is just up the Donnybrook Line, about 10 minutes north of my place. There is something about a conservation area that I just love. Usually, they’re quite small and can often be found in unexpected places. As such, these parks are not heavily traveled.

Wawanosh Valley Conservation Area

Wawanosh Valley Conservation Area is a well-kept, forested area situated along the Maitland River. There is a simple trail system consisting of a large loop that has a few secondary trails that will take you through different parts of the forest with a nice section that follows along the river.

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Starting off at the Nature Centre, you’ll begin with a nicely groomed trail. Early on and close to the Nature Centre, you can go down to the creek…

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I’ve been here at least a dozen times over the past two years and I have never seen another soul (save, of course, for birds and two deer). Aside from myself, I think that the only other folks who show up here in the summer are the maintenance crew. It’s obviously a great educational center, so I imagine that there is more traffic here during the school year. It’s a perfect place for a quiet hike by yourself.

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Taking the large loop, you can circumnavigate the entire area, or you can cut through the forest at a few different points. The forest is beautiful and will take you through a variety of tree stands. The scenery is quite diverse.

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Ultimately, the trail will bring alongside the Maitland River. A gorgeous and pristine area.

There is a camping area available, but the access to that portion of the park is further north along the Donnybrook Line by a few kilometres. I’ve driven through it and, at the time, there were about 8-10 trailers there that looked like they were seasonal guests. It’s small and cute, but you kind of get the feeling that you’d be moving into a small village that already exists. I’m sure you’d feel welcome there, but you’d definitely be in the company of others if you chose to stay there. If you want to have some privacy, you might be better off at Falls Reserve or Point Farms.

Wawanosh is in the heart of Huron County farmland. I think that it’s really only known by locals, and if you want a place for a nice hike, picnic, and a short visit, make sure to take the time to visit Wawanosh.

Degree of difficulty: Easy. I’ve managed to eke out about 90 minutes of hiking by exploring the various side trails and have done the large loop in about 35 minutes while power-hiking. I usually hike with my large backpack on. I do this to add resistance. It’s my “gym membership” as it were. It adds about 50 pounds and doubles as training for when I actually get out into the backwoods and helps my body to not be shocked when I hike with that amount of weight on my back. If you’re just going out for a leisurely stroll, you could probably spend the better part of two hours on these trails and also speed out of there quickly if you needed to.

Next up: Falls Reserve and Point Farms reviews!

Written by canadianparkhound

July 30, 2015 at 9:48 am

Canoe Lake to Tom Thomson Lake, May 2015

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Yes… it has been awhile, hasn’t it? Ah, life. It gets in the way of camping. Finding the time to get into the backcountry is a real challenge. Luckily, I made sure to *make time* last month and I got back in the proverbial saddle and hauled ass into the bush once again. This time, I made the pilgrimage. I mean *THE* pilgrimage. That’s right… Canoe Lake. Granted, Canoe Lake is probably the most traveled lake in all of Algonquin, and the chances are good that most readers have kicked off here more than once. Anyway, it’s an iconic place. Here’s my take on it…

Day 1:

After a week of cooking and dehydrating food, packing and re-packing, we got in the car at 5:00 am and headed north. We made great time and were booking our permit at the Canoe Lake access by about 9:30. And, for the first time ever, stopped for breakfast at the restaurant above The Portage Store. Why not? The scenery is great and it was going to be the last feed of fried eggs for a few days.

This really was a trip of a few firsts. Without getting too expository here… this was my first time on Canoe Lake and it was my partner’s first canoe trip in her adult life (she had been on a 5-day trip to the park way back in highschool)… and she’s expecting our first child this fall! Our first family canoe trip, as it were. As such, I planned a route that wasn’t going to be too demanding, and one that would enable us to get out quickly if necessary. After all, we were carrying precious cargo.

So, our permit had us staying on Tom Thomson Lake the first night, Sunbeam Lake on the second and Burnt Island Lake for the third and fourth nights. We’d paddle out the loop through the Joe Lakes and back through to Canoe Lake. Well, that was the plan anyway… but I digress.

We finished breakfast, went downstairs to rent the canoe (16′ ultralight Kevlar – spend the extra few bucks… your back will thank you), loaded up, parked the car and kicked off. Ah, wilderness!

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Full disclosure – I’m a full on Tom Thomson nerd. The mystery, yes. The mystery of his death intrigues me, but I’m even more fascinated by the man himself. I couldn’t help but imagine Thomson as I paddled into Canoe Lake. It’s what I went for, and I was immersed in my imagination right away. Heavy canoes and packs… art supplies, food, dishes, fishing gear, canvas tents… respect, man… Respect! I try to go as ultralight as possible. How they traveled back then just makes me wince at the thought.

We kept to the east end of the lake as there was some chop to the water and this was my partner’s first time in a canoe in decades. We passed by sweet cottages and one even had a woman painting the landscape on a canvas and easel set up on her dock. We passed her silently, so as not to disturb her.  A beautiful sight. The wind was strong enough to make us take the long way around to the entrance into the Joe Lake portage, but that was fine by me. I suggested that we take in the Tom Thomson cairn if possible. However… we couldn’t find it. I couldn’t figure it out. I double and triple checked the map, but we couldn’t see it. Ah, well. On the way back, I promised myself.

Admiring the cottages all along the way, we found the sign directing us to Joe Lake and made it easily to the sandy approach of the portage. It’s an easy 360m. Didn’t even change out of the canoe shoes into the hikers. It’s flat and, with the exception of a slightly mucky spot, there aren’t any roots or rocks or uphill sections. It’s a breeze.

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Within half an hour, we were ready to go on the other side of the portage and kicking off into Joe Lake.

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Along the way, there are some really impressive cottages to get jealous of and daydream over. Keeping to the left of the lake, we paddled by Camp Arowhon, through Teepee Lake, Fawn Lake, Little Doe and found the left turn into Tom Thomson Lake. A mostly completed beaver dam prevented us from paddling straight through, so we had to get out and drag the canoe over in order to continue into Tom Thomson.

Tom Thomson Lake

According to the “Names of Algonquin” book issued by The Friends of Algonquin:

Named (1958) in honour of Tom Thomson (1877-1917), pioneer artist of Algonquin Park, who drowned in Canoe Lake in July 1917. A move to have a lake in Algonquin Park named after Thomson was started by the Canadian Federation of Artists in 1946. The proposal was strongly supported by the late Mark Robinson, at that time retired Park Ranger and Acting Superintendent. It was Robinson who proposed that this lake, formerly known as “Black Bear Lake,” would be appropriate to carry the name. Thomson travelled and painted over much of the area surrounding Canoe Lake and there is no reason to believe that Tom Thomson Lake was in any way special to him.

Once we hit Tom Thomson Lake proper, we were facing some strong winds. We forgot about checking any of the sites along the south and western parts of the lake and seeing as the first three were taken already (some good sites there, by the way), we inspected the fourth one (on the north side of the creek that heads into Bartlett Lake). It was a decent site, but we could hear the guests across the way, who were high school kids with a teacher. We weren’t crazy about the idea of having to listen to them all day and night, and the wind was pretty strong blowing right through the camp. Out of curiosity, we continued onto Bartlett Lake to see what our options were.

Bartlett Lake is a small lake with 4 campsites, at the end of which begins a series of portages. Completely sheltered from the wind, we decided to set up camp here instead of on Tom Thomson Lake. We chose the 3rd site on the south east side of the lake.

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After setting up camp, I got straight to preparing dinner:

Thai Noodles with Peanut Sauce

All measurements are just ballparked here. I can’t find the original recipe and I tend to modify as I go anyway. Measure to suit your own taste.

1 cup egg noodles

1/4 cup mixed dehydrated veg (i.e. – corn, peas)

1 teaspoon garlic salt or powder

1 teaspoon ginger

1/8th teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons peanut butter

Combine all ingredients in a pot with about 1 1/2 cups of water. Soak for 15 – 20 minutes then add medium heat. Allow for rehydration, adding water if necessary. If it’s too watery, just keep on the heat and allow it to reduce a bit.

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It’s amazing how great food tastes in the bush. Even a package of Lipton’s Cup-A-Soup will lift your spirits, but if you put even a small amount of effort into creating your own backcountry menu, you’ll be over the moon with the return on investment. One of the great joys in (my) life is eating real food out in the middle of nowhere. The thai noodles were spectacular.

Sun began to set, we cleaned up and hung our “bear bag”. The mosquitoes and just arrived days before we did, so we dove into the tent pretty much right away. As we settled in, my partner remarked at how surprised she was with the workout that her arms received that day. At this point I said, “You know… being pregnant and all… you’re in charge of this trip. If you want to head back at any point, just say the word. I won’t be disappointed. Safety first.” Our surroundings were beautiful and the workout wasn’t so hard on her that she couldn’t continue, but the bugs were… a challenge. We decided to sleep on it and see what the next day would bring.

At about 2:30 – 3:00 am, I woke up to Nicole sitting upright trying to kill a rogue mosquito. “Are you OK?”, I asked. “This f***ing mosquito won’t DIE! I have to pee. My back’s sore. The baby’s doing a gymnastic routine. I am NOT A HAPPY CAMPER.”, was her reply. I couldn’t help myself, but I laughed so hard at hearing the “not a happy camper” line used in the correct setting. I’d never heard the phrase used while actually camping. It works well in its intended setting. I said, “well, go pee… we’ll wait until sunlight to make any decisions.”

Day 2:

When morning finally came, she had slept the worst of it off and I made chocolate chip pancakes to take the edge off.

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Nicole felt much better and we talked about what to do with our day. Our planned route had us portaging through to Sunbeam Lake and spending the night there. Environment Canada was forecasting a thunderstorm that afternoon, so we opted to stay put and just rest. We ate and paddled and napped. We didn’t see a single canoe come through to access the portage.

At this point I want to address a comment that I received on an earlier blog post about straying from the itinerary that we gave at the Permit Office. A reader expressed some concern about the perception of disrespect to fellow campers by veering from “the plan” and possibly depriving others of a site.

If, and I have to emphasize *if*, we were ever in a situation that had us taking up the last available site on a lake that we weren’t booked on and another group came along needing the site and held a permit for it, we would most definitely concede and offer it up (weather and safety permitting, of course). If it were an unsafe situation to leave, we would make room and offer all the hospitality that we could. That said, I have never, ever, found myself in a situation like this. Especially in Algonquin Park, whenever I amend my original plan, I’ve always been the only person on the lake with extra campsites aplenty.

That night, we ate pasta with ratatouille and tomato sauce. Sorry, no pictures. Again, we hit the sack agreeing to decide on the next day when we woke up. For this trip, we bought two new Thermarest sleeping pads. Nice, thick red ones that velcro together and provide amazing comfort while sleeping on the ground. I usually prefer to sleep in a hammock, but these pads are great for tent sleeping. They’re bulky and heavy, but easy enough for a canoe trip.

Day 3:

Upon waking, Nicole knew that she wanted to leave the backwoods despite having a better sleep the night before. There were some clouds and again, Environment Canada was calling for that elusive thunderstorm to hit. Portaging in the rain would have been too much, and ensconcing ourselves deeper into the bush wasn’t appealing to my mosquito-weary partner.

We packed up camp and pushed off back into Tom Thomson Lake, retracing our steps back through to Canoe Lake. Determined to find the cairn to Thomson, it was much easier to spot coming from the other direction. In fact, I had to laugh at my ability to miss it the first time through. It’s really quite well marked and obvious.

We came down the other side of Canoe Lake on the way back to the Portage Store, passing Camp Wapomeo and the old site of the village of Mowat. I daydreamed of the places that Tom Thomson would have graced back in the day.

Sure, we didn’t get through our planned itinerary, but it was our first “family” canoe trip. Mom’s safety and happiness was the most important thing for me and we’re really looking forward to heading back as a trio. Even though we cut the backwoods camping short, we did stick around for another day driving through the park and getting a motel just outside of Dwight that evening. The following day, we visited antique stores and saw a few more sights. The locals that we encountered were all complaining about how fierce the bugs were this year. So… that helped ease the pain of the welts we were sporting…

In my estimation, it was a great trip. I got a few days in the backwoods with my partner, and I finally got my Tom Thomson pilgrimage.

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Written by canadianparkhound

July 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm