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Sandbanks Provincial Park, September 2011

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Editor’s note: unfortunately, we lost our pictures of this trip. The photos used in this blog post are taken from a Google images search of “Sandbanks Provincial Park”.

Some weekends, you just need to get out of the city. For us, ‘some weekends’ = ‘many weekends’. However, it isn’t always feasible to put life on hold to the extent that is required for a backwoods experience in a place like Algonquin and, depending on the season, it isn’t always worth it (read: bugs). Sandbanks Provincial Park is the perfect park for getting to a beautiful beach with warm, clean water. Sure, the park is usually crowded, but it’s still the best Provincial Park getaway in Southern Ontario within decent driving distance of the GTA.

Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park

Even though it was September and a week after Labour Day, the park was pretty full. We drove around the campground and were able to snag a good campsite that was private. It was set in from the road and had good tree coverage. Many of the sites in the loops are completely exposed and better for families or large groups. Every single site that abutted the beach was taken, primarily by truck campers and trailers.

Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of “car camping”. With the exception of our “Gaspé to New Brunswick” week long journey, we avoid car camping in favour of getting into the woods. That said, my girlfriend and I have been on the hunt for the best swimming hole within a few hours of Toronto. So far, Sandbanks is the only park where we’re willing to brave the crowds and noise to spend an evening.

Dune at Sandbanks

As soon as we set up our site, we went and lounged on the Dunes Beach at West Lake and swam until dinner time. Considering how busy the park was, we were happy to see that the beach wasn’t totally packed. The water here is warm and clean. It’s quite shallow for the first few hundred meters, making it very family friendly and ideal for frisbee-throwing.

After dinner, we headed for a sunset drive around the park and checked out the beach that is directly on Lake Ontario. The water here is more rough, not being protected by land the same way that West Lake is. Still gorgeous and great for strong swimmers.

The next day, we packed up our site and headed for the easy hike along the Cedar Sands Trail. There are many interpretive signs along the way describing the habitat and history of the Sandbanks.

We had a good dose of the beach and, as the clouds started to roll in, my girlfriend went into Lake Ontario for one more wrestle with the waves.

Beach at Sandbanks – Lake Ontario

If you’re looking for a great, quick getaway – this is it. Look no further. The only park (in my estimation), that comes close would be, Long Point Provincial Park (similar beach, although the water is better in Sandbanks).

Sandbanks Provincial Park:

Pros: swimming, beaches

Cons: heavily populated


Written by canadianparkhound

December 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspe to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 5/5 (Fundy)

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Kouchibouguac -> Fundy

Having lived in Nova Scotia for a few years, I’ve become well-acquainted with the drive through New Brunswick. NB is often referred to as the “pass through” province on account of the long, long stretches of the Trans-Canada highway and trees. Don’t get me wrong – I love New Brunswick, but driving through the interior isn’t the most dynamic, scenery-wise.

I had been to Fundy National Park the year before and drove down through the north end of the park, coming from Fredericton. This time, we came south through Moncton, following the river and then taking the more scenic Fundy view trail. If you can approach the park through the south-east at Alma, give that a try. It’s a beautiful drive.

At this point in our week-long trip, we were damp (and getting weary of it) and looking at another day of the same. The drive was mostly overcast with a few sunny breaks, but the forecast called for rain. Pitching a wet tent in the rain wasn’t in the cards, this much we were sure of.

We made a deal with ourselves at the outset to get a motel room whenever we felt that we needed it. Considering that a car camping “front country” tent pad (without electrical) in a Canada park only costs $25 – $50 less than a cheap motel room (depending on location and season), it has never been difficult to opt out of tenting in miserable conditions. The objective is to have fun, oui?

We stopped in the town of Alma, just outside of the Park gate and found a room at The Alpine Motor Inn for about $100. It’s a pricey little town, but there aren’t many options outside of the park or a local B&B. Alma is known as a fishing village where you can see the boats sitting on the floor of the Bay of Fundy due to the highest tides in the world. There is a diner across the street from The Alpine Motor Inn that serves a decent breakfast.

Town of Alma

We woke up the next day to sunshine and got into the park in the late morning. I had stayed at the Chignecto North campground the year previous. We chose a site at Point Wolfe this time that sat along a high ridge with a good view and fairly decent privacy. We were able to set up and start drying out in the mid-day sun.

Point Wolfe Campsite in Fundy National Park.

Once set up and bellies filled, we took a stroll down to Point Wolfe to see the tide while it was low. During my visit the year before, I had seen the tide while it was out, but missed seeing it while it was back in. I was familiar with the walk already and looking forward to doing it again.

It’s nice to have a site right at Point Wolfe if you’re planning to see both high and low tides. The parking lot is busy with day trippers and campers from around the park, so it’s a treat to just walk from your own site. During low tide, you can expect a good 20 to 30 minute walk out to the low tide marker if it’s at its lowest. The terrain underfoot is mostly rocks with barnacles which can be slippery and sharp. Choose good footwear.

Along the way to the water’s edge, you’ll pass by some very cool rock formations that spend half their time under salt water.

If you plan to explore, be mindful of the timing of high tide. You don’t want to get caught!

Point Wolfe beach at low tide.

Point Wolfe Beach at low tide.

Point Wolfe Beach at low tide.

To access Point Wolfe, there is a large, wide and well-maintained staircase. Book-ending the short hike (90 mintues) in the hot sun, this natural Stairmaster got us hankering for a swim.

We drove up towards the north end of the park to have a picnic and a dip at Bennett Lake. This is a sweet spot for families and paddlers. It’s a small, calm lake with beautiful water.

Bennett Lake

After a couple of hours spent lounging by the lake, we packed up and went back to the site for a change of clothes and some dinner. The tide was due back in for sunset and we headed back for Point Wolfe to see what high tide looked like.

The point that I’m looking at in the picture below is basically the point where the water is at low tide. The volume and speed of the incoming tide is quite something. It’s definitely worth catching if the timing is right during your trip.

Self-portrait at Point Wolfe beach during high tide.

High tide at Point Wolfe

The Bay of Fundy as seen at the main parking lot after the entry point near the town of Alma.

Another side trip worth taking is the short loop to Dickson Falls. At the trail head, there is a great lookout towards the Bay of Fundy. Also, you’ll find an interpretive sign that reminds hikers to take note of the climate change at the very bottom of the loop. It’s noticeably cooler due to the surroundings. This is a nice 20-minute hike. Short and very sweet.

Dickson Falls.

As the sun went down on our final day of our Gaspé to New Brunswick adventure, we opened a bottle of wine and celebrated with a fire under a clear sky that was full of stars. If you’ve never experienced a starry sky by a Maritime ocean: put it on your list!

Nice and dry, we crawled into our tent with the rain fly off and fell asleep with a view of the stars.

Early the next morning, we woke to… rain pelting us in the face. We jumped out of bed and broke camp with record speed. We ended our trip by, once again, throwing our wet gear into the back of the car. Luckily, our destination was Fredericton, only a 2 hour drive away (taking the scenic route, of course). The clouds broke and we were drying our gear out on our friend’s lawn in the early afternoon, already recounting stories of the fantastic week that we had just experienced.

Part Four: Kouchibouguac

Part Three: Forillon

Part Two: Forillon

Part One: Le Bic

Written by canadianparkhound

September 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Killarney: (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/3Mile-Balsam-Deacon) 4 days/3 nights. August 6th – 9th 2012.

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I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my camping habits. The schedule that I start out with as a plan is rarely (if ever), the schedule that ends up being the trip that I end up taking. This particular trip into Killarney started out on paper as 6 – 7 day trip, but ended up as a 3 night/4 day stay for a variety of reasons. My friend Danny joined me and this was the first time that either of us had been to the park.

Killarney Provincial Park is beautiful and busy. Very busy. We were lucky to get permits for 6 nights just walking in without reservations on the day, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. Next time, we’ll book well in advance.

Johnnie Lake access point

Day 1 (Carlyle Lake):

We arrived at the park around 10:00 am, having left Waterloo at 5:30 am. The staff at the permit office on George Lake were very helpful in choosing a route, but the pickin’s were slim as the park was nearly full. The plan at this point being for 6 nights, we were given the following route:

Day 1: Carlyle Lake – Day 2: Bell/Three Mile Lake – Day 3: Deacon Lake – Days 4 & 5: Balsam Lake – Day 6: Boundary Lake – Day 7: out.
We put in at Johnnie Lake between 12:30 – 1:00 pm and paddled into Carlyle Lake. It was a quick paddle (less than an hour), with a small beaver dam that we had to get out and walk over. The wind was strong coming into Carlyle and Danny had already realized that he had too much gear, so we landed on the first site that we came across. (Site #60).

Making dinner at the Carlyle Lake site

Our route had us doubling back through Johnnie the next day, so we planned to make a pit stop at the car and dump the unnecessary gear. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll notice a theme of “too much gear”. I’ve never dreamed to be an ultra-lightweight interior paddler or hiker, but now that the sport has its hooks in me, I’m quickly realizing that traveling light is the way to go for a whole host of reasons. This was Danny’s first time in the backcountry and I was supplying all of the gear and food, if only to keep the weight down. I prepared dehydrated meals and we used both of my Hennessey hammocks. I sent a very sparse list of necessities (clothing, toiletries, book… no more) to Danny a week prior to our trip, but… he’s his own man and prefers to make his own lists. Anyway, the decision was made to stop at the car and dump gear on our way past the access point the next morning.

Campsite at Carlyle Lake

Our site, the last one on Carlyle Lake before heading into Johnnie, was a nice one with a great rock formation that came out to a point, facing a small island with a sweet cottage on it.
After a meal of cheesy beefy macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, we cleaned up, hung our food bag and went for a paddle around the island at sunset.

Rock formation on Carlyle Lake

We ended the evening with a small campfire and were in our hammocks by 10:00 pm.

Day 2 (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/Three Mile):

We woke up to cloudy skies and light wind. The forecast had called for the next two days to include rain with possible thunderstorms in the evening. Knowing that we had a significant day of paddling ahead, we loaded up the canoe and readied to kick off. Just before we left, Danny turned around to adjust his backpack, and in doing so, set off a cloud that was unmistakeably bear spray. The canister only discharged for about 2 seconds, but that was enough to set us up for a challenging next several hours which we couldn’t even begin to imagine this early in the day. Suffice it to say, we had a brief conversation about the need for safety when traveling and handling bear spray and Danny had a cough and burning eyes and ears to scold him.

We stopped at the Johnnie Lake access as planned for Danny to do a gear dump. What with the intense burning and general misery of having just gassed yourself and your buddy with bear spray, the gear dump took a bit longer than initially hoped for. We were back on the water by about 12:30 pm.

Heading out on Johnnie towards Bell happened without too much of a headwind. Johnnie is a nice lake that zig-zags its way towards Bell. You get to pass quite a few cottages along the way. It’s hard not to envy those lucky cottage owners!

A quick storm approaches towards the end of Johnnie Lake.

Towards the end of Johnnie Lake, the thunder signaled some serious business and we pulled on our rain gear just in time for the onslaught. We pulled over to the shore and debated our options. During a small break in the torrential downfall, we made a break to one of the two campsites nearby. Perhaps not the smartest thing to do with the threat of lightening, but we saw another canoe making the same choices and decided that we’d take those odds. We finished setting up a tarp just in time for the rain to stop. The sun came out, and all of a sudden, the burning from the bear spray that had gotten on our rain gear and canoe bag that we unloaded during the rain, took the pain to a new level. We chilled out on the campsite for an hour and once again, debated our options.

Temporary rain shelter on Johnnie Lake

I use a quick and easy method for keeping my tarp taught on a tight ridgeline. I’ve attached an alloy climbing ring (MEC – $4?) to a loop of rope using a prusik knot and clipped it to a carabiner attached directly to the tarp.

As you’ll see in the pictures, we took a belt of whiskey and decided to push on. We had no desire to turn back, our permits were strictly for the next lake and it was pushing 3:00 pm. We had to find our home for the night.

The portage into Bell Lake is a short one (300), but you will have to do short one (10-15. We did a full carry, just picked up the canoe, bags and all and dead-lifted it) around a beaver dam just prior to the actual portage. The portage goes through the parking lot at the Bell Lake access and has a wide, flat nice entry point into Bell. There is also a park office here as well as an office for Killarney Kanoes.

Our plan was to stop at the first site that we liked. We canoed the length of Bell, checking out each site and each site was taken. We entered into the narrower Three Mile Lake by 4:30 and found each and every site taken, except for the very last one at the end of the lake. After setting up and getting our dinner ready, it finally occurred to me that my bear spray rash and the burning that accompanied it was pretty much gone. Good to know, eh? Note to self: the pain and discomfort of a quick blast of bear spray will dissipate by the end of the day. Unless you touch your eyes…

Sunset on Three Mile Lake. Site #70

We set up our hammocks by the water again. The Hennessey Hammock really does help ease the pain of a backwoods trip. So comfortable.

Inside the Hennessey Hammock

Campsite on Three Mile Lake

Day 3 (Three Mile-Balsam-Deacon):

Having covered a lot of our distance the day previous, we took our time over coffee in the morning before setting out for Balsam Lake. Aside from the 30m portage into Balsam, we could only see having to deal with a low-lying area getting into Deacon. Easy-peasy.

The portage from Three Mile Lake to Balsam Lake (looking into Three Mile)

During our 10:00 am coffee, a couple canoed our way and asked if we were staying the night. They were relieved to find out that we were soon to be on our way since ours was, still, the last available site on the lake. We invited them to set up while we packed, but they opted to hang out a ways down the shore and enjoy the morning on their own. We pushed off and promptly lost 45 minutes by paddling up the low-lying creek to the south of the low-lying area that approaches the portage into Balsam. So glad to get out of the low-lying creek, I thought to myself, “thank God that’s over with. I won’t do that again.”

We finally found our way into the right creek leading us to the portage. When we approached we met a group of 4 guys carrying their canoes over the old cart track, coming out of Balsam. They told us that there wasn’t a soul to be seen on Deacon or Fox Lake (they spent the last night on Fox) and said that they thought Fox was the more scenic of the two and to watch out for the wasp’s nest that was on the site if we did make it that far.

Balsam Lake as seen from the end of the 30m portage from Three Mile Lake.

It took about an hour and a half to paddle the length of Balsam and, once again, every single site was taken. We were certain of our course into Deacon and there was no way that the map could be wrong. However, once in the low area, we felt as if we were up the wrong creek again, just like we started out the day! Danny kept asking me, “are you sure?“, but the map couldn’t be wrong. It was hard to tell at the roughly 0.5 km distance to the “shore”, but I reassured him that we needed to follow the path through the lily pads. We were navigating the canoe more like a gondola in a river of mud. The stench of putrid organic muck right at the surface had me worried at the notion of standing in it if need be. We finally reached a point where the muck wasn’t as bad as it was in the middle and we could jump out and scout ahead to see if there was, in fact, a passage into Deacon. We were in deep and out of options it seemed, if there wasn’t a passage.

The low lying bog between Balsam & Deacon. Behind Danny, you’ll see about 500m of muck. We managed to stay in the canoe up until the end of the lilypads.

Sure enough, we found fresh footprints and saw how close we were to Deacon. Again, we deadlifted the canoe and carried it in short spurts to the lake. Mucky, tired and wet, we landed on the first island site on Deacon to spend the night. As we unpacked the canoe, we thanked that group of 4 guys on the Balsam Lake portage for the helpful info about the wasp’s next on Fox Lake… and wondered aloud why they kept the part about the boggy portage into Deacon to themselves.

Heading into Deacon Lake

We figured, quite certainly, that we’d have the lake to ourselves, but around 6:30 pm, we saw a canoe make its way out of the bog and into Deacon. As they got near to our site I called out to them, “how was that?”. “Holy f***!! What was that?!” was their reply. We chatted briefly with the campers and they marveled at how busy the park was. They were headed to David Lake the next day and thought that it was perhaps a bit too much work to get in and out of Deacon for a one-night stay. I guess Deacon is a bit of an “overflow” lake for last minute campers, or for those who are looking for more solitude than the bigger lakes.

Cooking shepard’s pie at the site on Deacon Lake.

For dinner, we polished off a cheesy beefy macaroni and a package of shepard’s pie. After cleaning up and hanging the food bag, we hung out by the water’s edge where I gave my feet a much needed soaking.  The noise of my feet in the water attracted a small school of fish and one large turtle who came right up to us for a close-up.

The turtle who came for an after dinner visit on Deacon Lake.

Home for the night on Deacon Lake. Site #123

Day 4 (Deacon-Balsam-Three Mile/Bell-Johnnie-out):

Overnight, the weather turned from clear to overcast and windy. When we woke up, we decided over coffee that we didn’t want to spend the next two nights on Balsam Lake or do all of the portaging over the following days with the amount of gear that we had. Having paddled the length of Balsam the day before, we were acquainted with it and we weren’t totally thrilled with the idea of hanging out on the same site for two days (or even one) with the wind that was beginning to pick up. We opted to pass on making a hot breakfast and agreed to make the push to paddle all the way back to the Johnnie Lake access point, retracing our route rather than attempting the loop through David Lake with all of its portages. This meant that we would only have to deal with the bog between Deacon and Balsam and the easy 30 metre portage from Balsam into Three Mile, as well as the 300 metre between Bell and Johnnie.

Packing to start the trip from Deacon back to Johnnie.

Using the map of Killarney and my compass (which has markings to measure in kilometers on a 1:50,000 scale map), I calculated that we had about 29 km to cover and budgeted between 6-7 hours for us to complete the journey. Luckily, we had a tailwind for the majority of the trip and covered the distance in 5.5 hours. At the Bell Lake portage we met 4 older women in 2 canoes who were setting out (at 2:30 pm!) for David Lake against a strong headwind. I’ve since wondered many times about how they fared on such an arduous task so late in the day. There were a few tricky crosswinds to be encountered during the trip as we came around the occasional point of land and a couple of challenging headwinds in some areas, but the wind pushed us through large waves during the home stretch on Johnnie.

At the Johnnie Lake end of the 300m portage from Bell Lake.

Filtering a couple of litres of Lake Johnny water before heading home.

We made it to the George Lake permit office in time to get our refund for the remaining unused days, and the staff told us that we had made the right decision in leaving early as the weather was only going to get worse. Within the hour, the rain came and stayed for two days (according to the Environment Canada webpage). The rain stayed with us for almost the entire drive back home.

Even though the trip was cut short by a few days of our own accord, we were very happy with what we’d undertaken. Aside from the bear spray incident, we considered it to be a success. I told Danny that my definition of a successful canoe trip is when you: 1) don’t dump the canoe and gear and, 2) have more fun than stress. This was definitely a success.

People spotted: Dozens.

Wildlife spotted: Loons. A turtle.

Unnecessary gear: Books (again… why do I think that I’ll get bored?), backgammon board.

Gear wishlist: Weather radio

Written by canadianparkhound

August 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm