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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.

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Written by canadianparkhound

August 15, 2015 at 10:56 am

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

Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park and the Lake Erie coast, June 2012

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The southernmost tip of Point Pelee National Park (and the southernmost tip of mainland Canada)

We needed a quick weekend trip outside of the city and, being the height of bug season, we chose to head south instead of our usual direction out of Toronto. Knowing that Sandbanks would be packed to the gills, we decided to check out what Point Pelee National Park and the surrounding area had to offer.

It’s a solid 3 – 3 1/2 hour drive from Toronto right into the agricultural heart of Southwestern Ontario. You have to head through Leamington (the home of Heinz Ketchup) to get to the park gates. Point Pelee Nat’l Park does not offer any camping opportunities (it’s a tiny bird sanctuary, for the most part), so we got ourselves a motel room in town and drove to the park to catch sunset at “the tip”.

It’s a short trail from the parking lot, but the mosquitoes in the wooded sections made the most of their tiny window of opportunity with us. The pay-off, of course, was the beautiful little beach and sunset view that met us at the end. With only one other family there, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. This would be a perfect spot for lunch, but there are plenty of warnings against swimming in this area due to the strong cross currents that occur around this land formation.

Beach at Point Pelee on the west side of the park (not the tip)

Before the sun went down for the night, we took half an hour to walk along the other beach on the west side of the park. Great for “long walks on the beach” and views of Great Lake Erie.

On our way back to the motel, we stopped at an “All You Can Eat” fish place. It was NOT Paula’s Fish Place. I forget the name of the place, but if you’re driving towards Leamington from the park, this place is BEFORE Paula’s. Go to Paula’s. On our way into the park, we noticed that Paula’s was full of guests. The place that we went to was not full of guests. Without boring you with the details of our sterile meal and bad service, I’ll just offer to you that Paula’s Fish Place was probably the busier of the two for good reason.

The motel was no great accommodation either, so I’ll pass on suggesting it to you. Our idea was to get up early the next morning and, hopefully, catch the ferry over to the island. Finding info on how to get the ferry was proving to be a real challenge. My partner spent a good portion of our car ride from Toronto searching the web for ferry schedules, fees and contact info to reserve a spot. Again, without boring you with specifics, let me suggest that if you’re planning on visiting Point Pelee Island with no prior experience; call ahead and book your spot on the ferry in advance.

We woke up to meet the ferry operator as soon as the window was open. Driving into the parking lot and loading area, we could see that the line-up of vehicles and boat trailers that we may not be seeing the island. And again… I won’t ruin the scenery by describing in detail just how rude the girl in charge of running the window was to us. In a word: appalling. Suffice it to say; book well in advance.

At this point, my partner dubbed the area: Disappoint Pelee.

After a diner breakfast, we opted to drive the coast of Lake Erie and see if we made it home before anything caught our eye. As nice as Pelee Nat’l Park is, we’re not bird enthusiasts. Sure, birds are great to observe in their natural habitat, but we’re just not the type of people to crack out our khaki shorts and binoculars to spot birds (no disrespect to birders!)

Our first (and as it turned out, only) stop on our coastal drive was Rondeau Provincial Park, just a short drive north on the coast from Leamington. This area is a “birder’s paradise”, but we had just missed the peak season and the park was relatively empty. We made our way to the beach at the southernmost end of the park and camped out by the water for the afternoon with books, beer and (she, not me, went) swimming.

Our tent as a beach/sun shelter

This was our first opportunity to use our Black Diamond Mesa tent as a shelter. By setting up just the fly with the footprint (see picture above), and leaving out the tent, you can create a quick and easy ultra-lite shelter (or sun-shelter in our case). It was quite a scorcher on this day, so the shelter was fantastic.

Beach at Rondeau Provincial Park

Rondeau Provincial Park

Enjoying the beach at Rondeau Provincial Park

After several hours of getting sun and loafing about, we hit the road again with the notion of possibly staying in Port Stanley or Port Burwell. Port Stanley was a bit too expensive and boutique-y for our tastes. As a child, I had spent many days in Port Burwell, either going out fishing or killing time at the beach. As an adult, the beach at Burwell no longer appeals and I don’t fish anymore. There is a campground at Port Burwell, but again, it really isn’t the way that we like to camp. The only way that I can really enjoy the provincial campgrounds is if it is attached to a stunning beach (i.e. – Sandbanks), or if I need a place to stay on my way into the backcountry or on my way out (i.e. – Algonquin).

As for driving the coast of Lake Erie… the route along the shore takes you through some beautiful farm land which is definitely worth seeing. Next time (if there is a next time), we’ll make sure to have a few extra bucks to put ourselves up in a better than cheap motel or a decent B&B.

All in all, we got out of the city for a weekend…. and reaffirmed our love of exploring the backcountry.

Written by canadianparkhound

September 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspe to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 4/5 (Kouchibouguac)

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The Part 4: Kouchibouguac

Kouchibouguac National Park, New Brunswick

With a car full of wet gear, we continued our drive along the Gaspé coast, heading south for the first time in days. Since you’re on a two-lane, often under construction highway, the drive can take a few more hours than you might expect. The scenery is stunning and, at times, beautifully bleak.

We made it to Kouchibouguac by early afternoon and the campground was the emptiest that we had seen yet. It seemed that we’d have our choice of site. The sites range from wooded to wide open. Our gear had been festering in the back seat all day, so we requested a site that was good and open to dry out.

Being July, it was bug season. We broke down, drove to Miramichi, and bought what we saw on just about every other site over the past few days: a bug tent.  We may be slow to learn, but we do learn.

After setting up camp, we went for a sunset stroll along the boardwalk to the beach.

The boardwalk in Kouchibouguac

Fox on the beach

Fox on the beach take 2

We had a clear night, and were able to dry out.

Day 2

We had a lazy morning the next day, drinking coffee and sorting our gear. The plan was to walk the length of the dune.

Beach dune

We had flirted with the idea of renting a kayak or canoe, but the weather was threatening rain so we decided just to walk and take our time. We walked south along the dune about 3/4 of the way to the tip until the rain started. The rain wasn’t terrible, and it let up by the time we got back to camp… for a little bit. We made dinner in our bug shelter and attempted a fire.

Our site in Kouchibouguac. #24, I think.

Even though the fire looks decent in the picture, it didn’t last long. We found, consistently throughout this trip, that buying wood directly from the park often resulted in wet wood. Lots of hissing and very little flame.

Kickin’ back in front of the fire.

Despite the wide open spaces of the campground, for some reason, a family of four was sent to the site directly beside us. There were loads of sites available, but they (or the staff) chose the site beside us. It’s not that we’re anti-social campers, but a little bit of privacy is always welcome. What made the situation more difficult was the constant arguing and bickering that went on between the parents. Who wants to hear that when you’re looking for a bit of solitude?

As our mediocre luck would have it, it rained again on our last night in Kouchibouguac. We were beginning to identify a pattern in the weather: 1st day dry, 2nd day and night – rain.

In the morning, we did what we do best: load the car full of loose wet gear and head to the next destination.

Part Five: Fundy National Park

Part Three: Forillon

Part Two: Forillon

Part One: Le Bic

Written by canadianparkhound

September 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspe to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 3/5 (Forillon Nat’l Park))

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Part 3: Forillion Day 2

Battle of the St. Lawrence, memorial plaque.

I find Forillon National Park to be exceptional. It is well maintained and though relatively small, it has a lot to offer. Seeing as we only had the day (and one more night), we chose to hike the trail to the tip of the park. The trailhead is at the parking lot at the end of the road, past the campgrounds. You really can’t miss it.

The trail starts at the look out point by the memorial plaque. It’s a quick ascent up the rocky path with the view of the St. Lawrence fading as you start to cut inland to cross to the other side of the point, heading towards the small community of Grande-Grave. This trail was once a portage for fisherman getting supplies between Grande-Grave and Forillon. What a treacherous portage when you consider the weight of the gear at that time

Hike route to the tip of Forillon

It’s a little over 9 km from the trailhead to the tip. Once you pass through Grande-Grave, you can follow the footpath that takes you closer to the water than if you were to merely walk along the road. We had plenty of whale sightings from the footpath, though, they don’t show up in any pictures.

Trail to the tip of Forillon

It was an overcast day, which made it pleasant for a long walk but, like any good Maritime day, it threatened to rain most of the way.

View along the Gulf of St. Lawrence

When we neared the tip, the reality of rain was beginning to set in and we were started to worry about the 9 km return trip, while having to cut back through the forest and end with a challenging rocky descent back at the trailhead at dusk. Ah, the things you wish you would have thought about at the start of the hike…

View from the tip of Forillon

The rain held out for our visit to the tip, where we rested for a few minutes and had a snack. It’s an impressive view and worth the effort. It is possible to take an easier route that can be done by driving to Grande-Grave and through to the parking lot at the very tip of the park, skipping the hike from the campground side of the park altogether.

About ten minutes into our return trip, the rain started. It started out fairly gently, and quickly opened into a steady downpour. We were lucky enough to catch a ride with a sympathetic solo photographer who was camping nearby us. I’m happy to be ending this part of our blog by not having to recount a harrowing journey in the rain and dark, full of misery and blisters.

We spent our second and final night in Forillon playing cribbage by candlelight, sharing the communal building by our site with a young family, waiting out the rain together. Luckily, it didn’t pour all night, but it stayed wet. The next morning, we woke up and threw all of our wet gear, loose, in the back of our Honda Element. We’d dry it out in Kouchibouguac.

What I liked about Forillon:

– well maintained tent sites with more privacy than any park that I’ve experienced yet. The facilities are very well maintained.

– the viewpoints and sites are all worth visiting.

What I didn’t like about Forillon:

– nothing, it was all good!

 

Part Four: Kouchibouguac

Part Two: Forillon

Part One: Le Bic

Written by canadianparkhound

August 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspé to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 2/5 (Gaspé coast to Forillon Nat’l Park)

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Tuesday July 5th, 2011 (Le Bic -> Forillon)

9:30 am. Break camp at Le Bic after a cup of coffee and we begin the first day of really driving the Gaspé. Wow. In a word, that’s all you need to know.

The long version though, is this:

Gaspésie is one drive that every Canadian should make in their lifetime. The north coast of Gaspésie is right up there with driving the Cabot Trail. The main difference between the two is sea level. On the Cabot Trail, you’re high above the water. In Gaspésie, you’re right on the water.

We had idyllic weather and a fantastic view of the St. Lawrence, but I can imagine that the warning signs should not be taken lightly in bad weather. You’re completely exposed to the water on one side and have a sheer cliff on the other. Thrilling! And unbelievably beautiful.

Our first stop for food was in Sainte Maxime-du-Mont-Louis. There is a town in every bay that provides a natural harbour. Their borders are dictated by the landscape. It’s quite the sight to see. You can’t help but smile when you come around a corner and see a little town that looks just like the last one. Guess what they must do for a living?

We pulled over for a lunch of lobster poutine. Fries, cheese, béchamel & lobster. Yes.

From this point, it still took us the better part of 5 1/2 hours to get to Forillon National Park. The highway is two-lane, often under construction and follows the coast. Leave lots of time and enjoy the journey. Forillon is located right at the north-east tip of Gaspésie with the southern border of the park following along the Gaspé harbour.

We were hoping to get a campsite at Cap Bon Ami, which has sites right by the water, but unfortunately it has been closed for the entire season due to cliff erosion. We couldn’t even hike the area, it was closed off. Instead, we stayed at the Des-Rosiers campsite (A-16, for those keeping score).

As with all car-camping, you don’t have a ton of privacy between sites, but Forillon is the best I’ve experienced to date. Our site was tucked back from the road a bit, and had good tree cover between the car and tent. The tent pad itself was grass, which is a nice change from the dirt and/or limestone pads that you usually get.

The facilities were well-kept and clean, if a little dated (though, that doesn’t matter to us at all). The communal building in our loop was big enough to hold at least 10 families if necessary and provided a good place to sit and eat in bad weather or play games at night if you didn’t want to be stuck at your campsite for whatever reason.

After setting up camp, we walked down to the beach and did what everyone else seemed to be doing: watch the sunset with a bottle of wine.

Part Three: Forillon, Day Two

Part One

Written by canadianparkhound

August 25, 2011 at 8:42 pm

One week, Four parks. Gaspe to New Brunswick. July 2011 Pt. 1/5 (Le Bic Nat’l Park)

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Monday July 4th, 2011 (Toronto -> Le Bic)

4:30 am. The car is already packed and we hit the highway for the long drive that takes you through Ontario and Quebec. Our first park is Le Bic. The nearest town is Bic. The closest town that you’ve heard of before is Rimouski. We arrived in the park by 3:00pm. Jill & I were only going to spend the one evening in Le Bic, in favour of getting to the park that we really wanted to get to, Forillon. That said, we wanted to get to Le Bic early enough to see what we would be missing. The park itself is very beautiful, as is the town of Bic. One thing that we regularly caught ourselves saying out loud was, “Well done Quebec!” The people of Quebec really take pride in their property and facilities and it shows. Take the rest stops along the Trans-Canada for instance. These small stops are perfect for the long drive and have nothing to do with selling you corporate crappy fast food. It’s about picnics, resting and relief. I sure wish we had those in Ontario…

If I had the chance to return to Le Bic (and I would), there would be plenty of trails to explore, on foot or bike, but I think that I’d be most tempted to kayak. It’s on a pretty magnificent stretch of the St. Lawrence Estuary. We took about two hours to check out some of the lookouts before heading back to the campsite for dinner.

Dinner @ Le Bic: Israeli couscous w/mushrooms.

What I liked about Le Bic:

  • Well maintained trails, great views
  • Great bathroom facilities, very clean. Laundry as well.

What I didn’t like as much:

  • Small campsites that are very close together (we stayed at #82)
  • Busy, busy, busy

One other thing that should be noted about Le Bic “National” Park; it’s not run by Parks Canada. Turns out, every park in Quebec is called a “national park”. Le Bic is run by Sepaq. This probably explains a lot about the attention to detail that we witnessed throughout the park. Not that Parks Canada does a bad job, it’s just that Le Bic was the swankiest of all of the parks that we visited on this trip.

But this was just Day One. We had no idea what the other parks were going to look like. We were ready to settle for half as nice if we saw half as many people. All the same, it’s great to see people enjoying the great outdoors!

Part Two: Forillon

Written by canadianparkhound

August 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm