Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

Poll question: Killarney or Algonquin?

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Written by canadianparkhound

December 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

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

Food Review: Harvest Foodworks Spaghettini Italiano

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Food, the amount and weight of, has been a constant source of meditation for me when I decide to tackle the trail. Even though I envision my backcountry trips to be full of awe and wonderment during the planning stages, in reality, the food that you bring has a pretty big impact on the experience. I’ve broken my back carrying too much food, and sat in the backwoods, looking at a ridiculous assortment of spices and grains for too long not to consider what prepared backwoods meals that might be available out there. Join me as I buy and taste what offerings I find during my search…

Harvest FoodworksSpaghettini Italiano

Packaging:

At first glance, this product looks like it can be prepared in the bag (perhaps due to the convenient volume measurements printed on the outer bag), but this is not a “prepare in bag” recipe. Inside, you’ll find three additional packages (plastic, mylar, foil/paper). These are wrapped in a sheet of plain 8×11″ paper containing the description, nutritional facts, ingredients and cooking instructions.

Image

Preparation:

Stir the pasta and veg into a pot of boiling water and reduce to medium for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and and the sauce and spice packages (to taste). Return to heat for 3 minutes or until thickened.

Spice package, Harvest Foodworks Spaghettini Italiano

Taste:

Salty. During preparation, it wasn’t the most appealing smell. It smelled heavily of soup base, reminiscent of Lipton Cup-A-Soup or the soup base found at The Bulk Barn. However, on first taste, it was not as disappointing as the initial smell. The texture of the pasta was al dente and the soy-based “ground beef” was acceptable*. It was quite saucy and the fact that it is a powder-based tomato sauce wasn’t so appealing. It was tangy as opposed to dynamic. There were strong overtones of soup base-type flavours throughout the tomato sauce.

Portion:

Two people.

Price:

$8.95 CAN

Ratings:

Backwoods: One thumb (out of two). If you can’t prepare a meal in time, this will suffice and the portion is definitely for two people (or one really hungry camper). You’ll probably be grateful for the first few mouthfuls and spend the rest of the time wondering why you’re paying pub-style prices for less than pub-style pasta. All the same, if you didn’t have time to prepare your own, Harvest Foodworks Spaghettini will more than likely warm your belly when you need it most.

RV/ car camping: Skip it.

(according to this person’s taste)

Written by canadianparkhound

September 28, 2012 at 9:22 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

La Mauricie Nat’l Park (Les Deux Criques Trail), Shawinigan Quebec, August 2011

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About six weeks after my “One Week/Four Parks” Gaspé to Fundy car camping trip, I took a quick stop in La Mauricie National Park in the Laurentian Mountains. I was heading back home to Toronto with a friend who wanted to join me to hike Les Deux-Criques Trail.

We stayed at one of the campgrounds and, as is with all campgrounds in Quebec, the sites were very well maintained. It was busy but not crowded. The sites are well-treed and give enough privacy so as not to feel like you’re on display for all passersby.

The campsite at La Mauricie

Les Deux-Criques Trail is rated as “difficult” and I would agree with that. The difficulty has more to do with the 17km length and several demanding up and down climbs, sometimes over difficult rock. For the most part, it is very passable and well-maintained. Be sure to leave room to check out every lookout.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

At one of the waterfalls along the trail.

One of the lookouts along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Another small waterfall along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie National Park.

A lookout on Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Not every lookout has a platform and a bench, but there are plenty of spots for a rest break along the way.

Lunch at a lookout.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

A lookout along Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie, Shawinigan Que.

Les Deux-Criques Trail, La Mauricie National Park

We had perfect weather for the entire day and the entire hike lasted about 7 hours. If the weather is against you, the hike would be quite difficult through certain passages. It’s a great choice for a full day hike.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/qc/mauricie/visit/carte-map/snowshoeing_raquette.aspx#Mekinac

Kananaskis Country: Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake – Sept. 2012

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Labour Day, 2012

I’m fortunate right now to be getting the chance to spend a few months in Calgary, so of course, my next hike had to be in the mountains. I’ve never hiked in a mountain range before and the options here are endless. One of the first things I did upon arrival was to buy a few trail books. I had never heard of Gillean Daffern before, but she and her husband Tony, are trail-blazers of the highest order. I bought the 2nd edition of their Kananaskis Trail guide (published in the mid-’80’s) at a used bookstore and, though it was exhaustive, I wasn’t sure how up-to-date it would be. Luckily, Gillean and Tony maintain one of the best hiking blogs I’ve ever come across at: http://kananaskisblog.com/

I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of trails that there are to choose from. My hiking partner and I decided to just get ourselves into K-Country and ask for trail suggestions at the Info Centre. The Info Centre at Barrier Lake is just a few short kilometres south of the TransCanada highway, on Hwy. 40. I had read previously that the folks there are super helpful and friendly and that info was bang on. It’s nice to encounter park staff who are avid hikers themselves.

While standing in line, we overheard the attendant, Bob, telling a group of fellow tourists how to minimize their chances of a bear encounter. Their was a sign in the lobby saying, “Bear in the area”, but I would imagine that you should always be thinking that an encounter is possible. Seems to me that a more appropriate sign might read as follows: “There are always bears in the area. We happened to see one of them recently.”

We asked Bob if he could recommend a good 3-4 hour hike with a lookout or two. He immediately pointed us towards the Prairie View Trail at Barrier Lake and described to a tee, what we would be looking for along the way. The signage is clear and the trail is wide and well traveled.

Wondering whether we should carry bear spray or not, Bob explained that, while its a personal choice, this was the time of year that the bears were focused on packing in as much food as they could before winter. Therefore, they were out looking for food. He also admitted to carrying bear spray with him on every hike. That was good enough for me, and I was happy to buy a canister. $45 and it fits on your belt. Of course, we didn’t see a bear as the trail was really busy. It was Labour Day and we expected to see a lot of traffic. Either way, I’m planning for multiple hikes in the Rockies and I’m always happy to have an extra can of spray to offer a fellow hiker.

In Ontario, I find having a can of bear spray or a bear bell jangling can get you some sideways looks by fellow campers. We have primarily Black bears to deal with and they aren’t Grizzlies. That said, more deaths have occurred with black rather than grizzly, but really, who’s keeping score? I hope to discard a full can of bear spray when its expired, untouched. As for the bear bell, I keep that going mostly to let fellow campers that someone is nearby. Some of the thunderboxes in Algonquin are pretty close to the trail, if you know what I mean.

The trailhead, crossing the dam.

The parking lot at Barrier Lake is 2 km south of the Info Centre. The trailhead is at the parking lot, beginning with crossing the dam. Once over and into the trees, you stick to the right and follow the signs.

It’s not a terribly long hike, about 6 kms up to the first peak, and you can take another 700m trail up to a second peak that gives you a full panoramic view. As it turned out, we only hiked to the first peak and were very satisfied with the 3/4 view of our surroundings.

The start of the trail is very well maintained and relatively flat. Wide enough to accommodate the heavy traffic in both directions.

Prairie View Trail

About 500m or so, before the first peak, the wide trail ends and confused us for a moment as we thought we had reached the end. The lookout was impressive. Soon though, we saw a group of people above us at the actual peak.

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

The last bit of trail up to the peak is quite steep, making me wish that I had brought two poles for each of us. As it was, we got by with one each. We watched several people face the challenge of coming downhill without the assistance of poles. I’ve said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again: I admire the strength of those who hike without poles, but my knees can’t take it otherwise. We were plenty happy to have the assistance of our poles on the way back down.

The “Prairie View” from the 1st peak.

view of Barrier Lake from 1st peak

view of the mountain valley looking west from the 1st peak.

another view from the 1st peak

another view from the 1st peak.

I don’t know what compelled me not to pack my hiking shoes for my trip out West. It was a poor choice for me to go at it in my Blundtstones as the insoles (albeit well worn already) got shredded on the descent. At least it wasn’t a long and arduous hike. All in all, it took us about 3 1/2 hours to climb up and back down.

I’m looking forward to more hiking in the Rockies. I can see what all the fuss is about.

Back at Barrier Lake at the end of the hike.

Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake, Kananaskis AB at EveryTrail

Written by canadianparkhound

September 4, 2012 at 4:51 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