Sunday, May 28, 2017

Victoria Day at Bon Echo

We don't make a habit of getting away for the long weekend in May but this year we decided to head to Bon Echo Provincial Park. The kids love it there and we always have a great time when we visit. It's also fairly close which meant we could get there early Friday night.

Large Saddle Shaped Rock at the Gate House
 We checked in and made our way to our site. Upon arriving we decided that we needed more clothes since there were a lot of bugs. We setup our site and had some delicious chicken sandwiches for dinner. We then went for a walk around the campground and to the boat launch to get a look at the rock.

All Setup
 Upon returning to our site we got all bundled up and settled in for the night. The low for the night was forecast to be in the low single digits. Although it was cold we all seemed quite comfortable.

The morning sun made it easy to get out of our tents and get moving the next morning. We cooked up some oatmeal then headed for the High Pines Trail. The trail is a nice trail and at 1.7 km almost all of use could do it quite comfortably. The four year old did catch a short ride a couple of times but other than that she was fine. The highlight of the hike was seeing a small deer trying to cross the trail, only to realize we were on the trail. It stopped and watched us a bit then took off. A few hundred metres up the trail, as we stopped for a rest we could hear the deer coming towards us. It crossed the trail about 30 metres behind us. What a great reward!

Heading Up the High Pines Trail
After the hike we headed back to our site for lunch. As we were eating the cousins and family showed up, followed shortly by the grandparents. It was a beautiful day so we carried the canoes to the water and headed for the rock. We paddled right along the rock to see the amazing pictographs.

This View Never Gets Old

As an added bonus we were able to see some rock climbers.

Sunday was a bit wet with showers on and off for the morning and the first part of the afternoon. We made hiked to the visitor centre and gift shop. Although there was no scheduled show at the amphitheatre some of the kids decided to put on their own show.

We Even Pack the Entertainment
We had planned to cook fajitas over the fire but as dinner time neared the rain grew stronger. We debated about cooking over the fire or using the stove instead. It's hard to pass up a delicious meal cooked over the fire so that is what we opted for. We had decided before the trip that we would work on our bushcraft skills a bit. We wanted to try starting all of our fires with a fire steel and we were successful. It was fairly easy to do given that we had paper and our wood had been under cover all day. Now to work on that skill a bit more for the backcountry.

Fajita Time
We headed for bed with the sound of rain pounding the tent and cars leaving the park. I spoke with one of the park staff the following morning and she said there was a steady stream of traffic leaving the park Sunday night.

When we awoke on Monday the rain had stopped and we were all mostly dry. It was very cloudy and it looked like it might rain on and off throughout the day. The weather didn't bother the kids at all they were happy to be outside, playing. The girls wanted to play at the water so we headed to the boat launch where we were greeted by this cool fog/mist/low clouds. We stayed for a bit then headed back to the site to start the packing up process.

 We packed up some stuff, had lunch, packed up the rest of our stuff and left the site at 2:00. The girls really wanted to play at the beach so that's where we headed. They didn't seem to mind that it was sprinkling. They had the entire beach to themselves.

Deserted Beach
We had an amazing time. You can have a lot of fun outside in what many people would typically call bad weather. The right attitude and a bit of planning go a long way.

Where are you headed next?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Hike At Frontenac Provincial Park

We took advantage of the nice weather over Easter weekend to do some hiking at Frontenac Provincial Park. On Sunday we headed to the park. The forecast was for a mix of sun and clouds with a high of 18°C. There was an increasing chance of showers as the afternoon progressed, but we figured we'd be finished before the greatest chance arrived.

As luck would have it, as we pulled into the parking lot it started raining. We made our way to the park office, purchased our permits and used the facilities. We had a look at some of the displays in the office then decided to head out. The rain had stopped by this point and it looked as though the skies were clearing a bit.

We've hiked the Arab Lake Gorge trail (an easy 1.5 km hike) in the past so this time we opted for something a little more challenging. We decided to hike the 3 km Doe Lake trail.  

Checking Out the Trailhead
The Doe Lake Trail (along with the Arab Lake trail) starts with a section of boardwalk that passes through a swamp that was teaming with the sounds of frogs. We heard northern leopard frogs, wood frogs and tree frogs. It was great to hear these signs of spring.

Stairs leading to the Boardwalk
Along the Boardwalk
A Fork in the Trail
 The Doe Lake trail starts by meandering nicely along the shore of South Otter Lake. On this day, the lake looked so inviting. It was quite calm and the light breeze off the water was welcome given that the temperature in the sun was 24°C. Our son kept saying that he wanted to swim so I encouraged him to walk down to the water and put his hand in. After doing so he still said he wanted to swim. When I mentioned he should try it, he didn't take me up on the offer.

South Otter Lake
The lake looked so inviting. I wished that we had brought a canoe with us. Next time!

Looking out Over South Otter Lake
The trail branches off to head up to see the Kemp Mine, an old mica mine. We were able to see deep into the mine, where there was water and some snow. Outside the mine it's very easy to see small bits of mica. We had fun looking at the different forms of mica. I didn't get any pictures of the mine. We have a new camera and the kids were enjoying having a turn.

Garter Snake 'Captured' by the Four Year Old
Huge Rock
Through The Woods

Looking Out Over Doe Lake
As we left the Doe Lake lookout I noticed some dark clouds off in the distance. We picked up the pace as the clouds started to roll in. It did start raining lightly on us for the last 500 m or so. It didn't much matter since we had come prepared to hike in the rain.

We all had a great time enjoying the fresh air and taking in the sights of the forest as it awakens from its winter slumber. Next time we'll be sure to bring the canoe along.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Family Day in Algonquin Park

We made an effort this year to get to Algonquin Park's Winter in the Wild held on the Family day weekend. We didn't decide to go until quite recently so there weren't any yurts available. Instead we booked a room just outside the park. We arrived on Friday night and were very excited to see more and more snow on the ground as we headed north.

Saturday we took in a number of the Winter in the Wild activities. The first was a great talk by one of the park staff about bears. He talked about bears, their habitat, their habits, etc. but he also talked about the research going on in the park about the bears. He showed some amazing pictures showing how the park staff attach collars to the bears so they can be studied. Listening to the talk make me wish I was a biologist so that I could do some of this cool sounding research.

Following the talk we had lunch in the Visitor Centre and checked out the viewing platform. It was a great view. There were a huge number of evening grosbeaks enjoying the bird feeders. We also saw some woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and ravens.

Beautiful View

View from the Visitor Centre
Our next stop was the Spruce Bog Trail for a guided bird hike. The weather was amazing, we saw a lot of birds (including ravens, crows, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and gray jays) at the beginning of the hike and the guide was a wealth of knowledge. We haven't done many guided hikes recently. It was so great to have an expert travelling with us.

One of the Spruce Bog

Ice Formation
Following the hike there were some winter camping demonstrations at Mew Lake so naturally we headed to the campground to check it out. I was amazed by what we saw. There were far more people camping in the campground than I would have imagined. We saw such a variety of winter accommodations. We saw regular tents, tent trailers, campers, a tipi and a good number of hot tents. We visited and toured a number of the tents and also had the chance to meet some of the great outdoor people that we follow online. We talked about winter camping and the amazing community that springs up at MewLake in the winter. It was incredible. A huge thanks to The Camping Family for giving us the scoop on winter camping at Mew Lake. I'm sure we will be back. Also a big thanks to Camper Christina for showing us her homemade tipi.

After checking out the accommodations we headed to the BBQ hosted by Friends Of Algonquin Park. We bought some burgers and hot dogs then made our way to the campfire to eat and roast marshmallows. It had been an action packed day and the youngest among us were exhausted so we skipped the fireside talk and night hike (hopefully we'll make it next time). Instead we headed made our way back to our lodging.

When we got back to our room we began talking about what the next day might look like. We all decided that it would be best to ski in the morning before the snow got too slushy (the forecast high was 9°C). The plan was to ski the Leaf Lake Trail, get an early start, ski to Dee's cabin for lunch and then ski back. Once the kids were in bed it occurred to me that I didn't remember seeing the ski boots in our room. I went and checked the van but they weren't there either. I would have to wait until morning to do a thorough search of our room, but I was feeling pretty confident that we had left the boots at home. Sure enough that's exactly what happened. I was very disappointed at myself for forgetting the boots but eventually realized that it just meant we'd have to come back next year.

Needless to say we changed the plan. We opted to skate at the Mew Lake rink in the morning since the ice was likely to be slushy later in the day. We had a great time. It wasn't very crowded, everyone we did see was very friendly. Our kids were laughing, giggling and just having a great time.

Super Excited to be Skating

Round and Round She Goes

Going Solo

Break Time
Once we finished skating we headed over to the camp fire and ate lunch. It was such a beautiful day we were happy to be taking our time eating and soaking up the sun. We had a couple of campers stop by to chat with us which was great. We asked a lot of questions and there were all great at promoting winter camping.
Lunch by the Fire
With our bellies full and our bodies rested we decided to head back to the Spruce Bog Traill. We hiked to the bird feeder then followed a small path that meandered through the woods. There were a number of suet ball setup along the path and the gray jays would move back and forth between the feeders. They really didn't seem to mind that we were there.

Gray Jay Enjoying  a Snack
After a full day outside it was time to head back to our room, have a bite to eat and get a good night's sleep.

On our final day we packed up and decided to snowshoe the Logging Museum Trial. What a great trail. There was a lot to see and tons of information about logging in the area. We will have to return in the summer to see the museum itself and the displays that are not accessible in the winter. The weather was great, though the temperature was much more seasonal with a bit of a breeze. There were a ton of chickadees around the parking lot so we gave them a snack before we headed out. Some of us decided to snowshoe along the well worn path and others decided to walk (or on occasion run) the path.
Snack Time
Running Free
Checking Out Giant Woodpecker Holes
Small Lake Along the Trail
Alligator Paddle Wheel

Checking Out the Alligator
Log Chute
After the hike we were ready for lunch. We had spotted some picnic tables on the other side of the snowbank across the parking lot so we beat a path through the snow to a table. Although it was a bit cool with the breeze the snowbank offered a good wind break and the sun warmed us up nicely. While we were having lunch the a pair of gray jays thought they'd see what we were eating. They were very interested. One landed on the table and plucked a small piece of bread off one of the kids' plates.

Lunchtime Visitor

Friendly, Feathered and a Bit Heavy
Such Beautiful Birds
Seasonal Bird Feeder
We built a snowman and left some seeds for the chickadees. Then we packed up and headed for home. We had such an amazing weekend. The weather was outstanding and it was great to be able to spend most of the weekend outside. We will certainly be back...hopefully in a tent of some sort.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Winter Weekend at Home

We often wander great distances to find adventure, but sometimes it can be found right in our own backyard...literally.

Last week we had the first snow that we'd had in a while. Friday night we received about 7 cm of snow. I didn't think much about it given that the high for Saturday was forecast to be 5°C. We took care of our Saturday morning errands and came home and our son was so keen to build a quinzee that we could sleep in. Fortunately, the forecast had changed and the high was now only supposed to be 1°C. So we decided to go for it.

We scraped the ground clean of snow and piled it into a large pile then let it settle for a few hours.

Giant Pile of Snow
Then came the hard part of digging out the quinzee. I worked on the inside while our son worked at moving all of the snow out of the doorway. It was tough at first since there was so little room for the shovel, but it seemed to get easier as we went. Before long the quinzee was dug out and we were soaked, both from the inside and the outside. I'm not sure how we'd manage all our wet gear if we were out in the woods.

All Dug Out
We headed inside for a warm meal and some dry clothes. We dug out our warmest pyjamas, a pair of sleeping bags each and a bottle of hot water to throw in our sleeping bags. Before heading out our son said to me "If we survive, we'll be able to go winter camping". I hope he realizes that I had no intention of not surviving. Once setup we were both too warm. We peeled back a layer or two and turned in. The temperature outside dropped to -10°C but we were quite comfortable in the quinzee. We woke up around 6:30 and headed in for a pancake breakfast. Our outing was a successful one and we are ready to give it a try in the wild.

It snowed all day on Sunday and the puddles had been around as a result of the rain, freezing rain and thawing from before were now buried and frozen solid. The kids decided to shovel them off and slide around them on their boots. They were having a great time so I suggested they get their skates out. So they did.

Just the Right Size

Rink-side Seating

Having a Blast

It's All About Balance
So much fun right in our own backyard! We were so grateful that winter decided to make an appearance. We all seem to enjoy winter so much more where there's snow.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

We Found Winter at Arrowhead!

If you're a fan of snowy winters and live in southern Ontario, this likely has not been much of a fun winter for you. We've had a lot of rain and freezing rain this winter along with some mild temperatures. Recently we decided to set out to find winter by booking a cabin at Arrowhead Provincial Park for the middle of the week. We had such a blast there last winter we thought we'd go back.

We couldn't have asked for better weather. The Ice Skating Trail reopened the day before we arrived and there was lots of snow for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The temperature was below zero every day we were there and as it seems to do every time we go, it snowed every day. The first couple of days brought a couple of centimetres each and on our last day we must have received close to 10 cm. All of the extra snow meant that the tubing hill opened on our last day.

Snowshoeing at Mayflower Lake

Time for a Rest

Mayflower Lake Trail

Short Loop or Long Loop?

Taking a Break at the Amphitheatre

Resting on the Way Back

Walking Hemlock Ridge

Happy Together

Hurray for Winter!

Friendly Chickadees

Table for Two

So Many Chickadees

Family Skate

One Stride at a Time
Staying at the cabins at Arrowhead Provincial Park provided us with an amazing winter location. The scenery was spectacular, the activities were plentiful and the company couldn't be beat. The time away allowed us to really connect as a family. The distractions of work, school, extra curricular activities, jobs around the house, etc. all faded away for a few days. The only important things for those days were being together and being outside. We can't wait to do it again.

What are your favourite winter destinations?