Saturday, August 24, 2013

Turkey Point Provincial Park is a Turkey

Not all parks are what Beverley and I like.  I wouldn't say that we're Ebenezer's or Murtaugh's yet -- but we are definitely getting there.  For example, we're not really into party camping where late teens, early twenties get together at a camp site to drink, play loud music, and eventually fall down to sleep.  In my day that was called a "bush party", where one would drink all night dancing around a fire until somebody finally fell into it and was engulfed in flames crying "Why me?" but that's the way it was and you liked it, you loved it! (and for anyone not my age that is a Dana Carvey SNL reference) Oh, and you didn't have to pay for a camp site to do it, but every once and a while the police would come and break it up.

"Hey, Stop that bush partying!" Howie Fidler

Turkey Point Provincial Park is located near Lake Erie about an hour and a half south west of Hamilton.  There are 235 campsites in total with 124 electrical sites.  Turkey Point is the only Provincial Park with it's own golf course and if you show them your pink permit for camping your golf club rental is free (bring some balls though).  It only costs $16 (weekdays) or $17 (Weekends and Holidays) to golf a 9 hole golf course.  Beverley doesn't golf normally and we didn't even know there was a golf course at Turkey Point Provincial Park until we got home, which is a good lesson for all the campers out there.  Read the program!  I still don't think we would have gone, but at least I would have known.

There it is in black and white... and colour.

 Now here is the rub.  The beach for the campsite is about 2-3 kilometres away from the park. So by car it takes you about 10 minutes to go from your site to the beach (which is cool, but not if you are going to be drinking), about 40 minutes to walk by a trail/roadway, or 30 minutes walking on the highway. Your best mode of transport would be a bike, I'm sure it's only 10 minutes and even though it's a bit uphill on the way back, it would be worth it.  We did swim a couple of times and the beach is great and the water is warm, but I just wish there was a trail from the campground to the beach since they do have property all the way to the water.  Maybe in future.

Build the trail over there! For some reason I think that rhymes?
As far as hiking goes I think Turkey Point thinks you'll get enough exercise going back and forth to the beach because there is three trails but all together they would take a relatively healthy person as long as it would take to get to the beach and back -- Once.  The Oak Savannah Trail (1km) -- prescribed burning of conifers in an attempt to recover an oak savannah forest.  I found this one cool, but it was really short and didn't have any more information than what was given in the guide.

Tree racists.

 The Lookout Bluff Trail (2.2 km) -- takes you on a trip through the history of the forest to a lookout over Lake Erie and the Long Point Peninsula. I found some pretty cool mushrooms on this hike, but still can't get over how they could just put a staircase at the midpoint of this trail to get to the beach.

Still don't know if they are flowers or mushrooms?

Lastly the Fin and Feather trail (2 km) is a walk to the Normandale fish culture station which would be cool if my parents didn't live within a mile of a fish culture station near Chatsworth Ontario.

Turkey Point is built in a Oak Savannah forest so privacy isn't easy -- that being said sites 18, 23, and 47 in Walking Stick Woods Campground, 214, 226, and 235 in Fin and Feather Campground, and 117, 118, 122, 166, 172, 174, and 175 in Whippoorwill Campground are the best sites.

Whenever you are camping it is what you make it and, by that token, we made the best of Turkey Point swimming, hiking and just being together.

Site Cleanliness: O.K.  Took some time to clean up from previous campers.

Privacy: Difficult to find.  The numbers I have highlighted are good but everything else is not.

Hiking and Activities: Good.  There is a three decent trails and a good walk to the beach (Man I wish I could let it go already).

Fire Pit and Amenities: Excellent.  All the fire pits are great, a picnic table or two for all the sites, and the comfort stations are excellent.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Sucks. But the beach is amazing.

Overall Impression: It is what you make of it.  I want to be clear that there is no such thing as a bad provincial park.  If you like golf it would be great. If you bring bicycles it would be great. If you are a partying youth it's awesome. For us we won't be back.

Rating out of 107: So this is the first one that is not going near the top so again it's difficult. I'm giving it #101 for the 101 proof Wild Turkey which is a blend of 6, 7, and 8 year old bourbons with an explosion of vanilla and caramel and hints of orange and honey.

Run for the bushes!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Weird and Wonderful World of Wakami Lake Provincial Park

On our way back from Thunder Bay, we stopped at Wakami Lake Provincial Park located south of Chapleau off of highway 667 (Yeah I bet you've never heard of that one).  If you'd like a better idea of where it is then think about mid-way between Wawa and Sudbury as the Crow flies.  They have 59 campsites at Wakami and 20 backcountry sites.  Now, there is a 76 kilometre (4 days-ish) shoreline hiking trail and there has always been great fishing in May and October.  I say 'now' about the hike, because when we visited the park three years ago the rangers were just clearing the trail and getting it ready to be used again.  When we visited this park we knew nothing about it, but colour me impressed.  First on the road into the park (the illustrious highway 667) we saw foxes,

"Are you cussing with me?"

Something remarkable called a Sandhill Crane.  Supposedly they fly above the clouds so people rarely see them and their call sounds crazily prehistoric according to my father (I think he likes to make things up too). Fossil records for the Sandhill Crane date back at the least 2.5 million years ago and maybe as long as 10 million years ago.

Beautiful bird and I know it's bad, but I wonder what it tastes like.
And of course Bears, oh my.  And really when we were staying at the park a bear reached into the back of another camper's truck, shoved his claws through their cooler to lift it out of the back of his truck, and took his peanut butter (even though his fresh fish was right beside it).

"I can catch all the fish I want, but do you have any peanut butter?"

Once inside the park we couldn't believe how great the sites are. Each one is private, has it's own boat launch, and the fire pits all face the lake so when you are kicking back at night you can watch the lake while you are cooking your dinner. 

I just wish we had stayed for more than one night.

There are not really bad sites at this park but in my opinion the best ones are just like the one we stayed on. Numbers 30 to 37 and 55 to 65 are the best.  Some of these do not have a clear view of the lake (55 &57), but I'm sure they would be better for not perfect weather, and some are fairly wide open to the roadway (60, 61, 63, & 65), but they will be better for larger campers or families with more than one tent.  

Tree and rock doing something dirty.

Wakami had four trails when we were there: Beaver Meadow Discovery Trail (20 min.) -- check out the  dam beavers-- oh I mean beaver dams, Transitional Forest Trail (20 min.) -- a tree mixer where everyones dance cards are confused, Hidden Bog Trail (5 min.) -- check out some of the native plants, and the Historic Logging Exhibit Trail(? min.) -- the most interesting trail where you can learn about the logging practices in the area. Some of the equipment and buildings are still standing and in pretty good shape.

I've wanted to go back to this park ever since I left, but because there are so many more to see it may be some time before I can return.  I think the four day hike sounds unbelievable, but I think I would bring some bear spray and just bathe in it before bed every night.

Site Cleanliness: Excellent.

Privacy: Excellent.  There are a few that are more open than others, but I imagine that is because some people need room for their pick-up truck's and their boat's.

Hiking and Activities: Good.  And it sound like it became great since we were there last.

Fire Pit and Amenities: Excellent.  All the fire pits are positioned smartly, a picnic table for all the sites, there are fish cleaning stations for the campers to use so one doesn't have to clean their fish at their site and possibly attract animals and flies,  and the washrooms are very good.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Unbelievable.  For the sites I have highlighted it is unreal and for all of the other sites it is a short walk to the water.  As well, Wakami does have an excellent beach near the Ranger station, but the water is cool.

Overall Impression: I loved it and wish we could visit this park every time we venture to Thunder Bay.  Everyone at this park was friendly as well, which isn't always the case.

Rating out of 107: I am partial to Wakami Lake Provincial Park, and I know it's one of those far away places that not many people will see -- one of those northern parks with so much to give, but it takes two days to get there.  I know this is a high rating but #21 is what I'm giving it -- Old enough for everyone to drink it in.

What is she planning down there? Oh that bearded woman.
(Just outside Thunder Bay near Ouimet Canyon)

If you're keeping track:
#2 Algonquin
#21 Wakami Lake
#29 Pancake Bay

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pancake Bay Provincial Park : A Little Slice of Wonderful

It will become evident Beverley and I go north more often then most people (from what I understand most young men go west).  The reason for this is Beverley was born in Thunder Bay and therefore we travel to see her family every couple of years and when we do so, we camp.  After a great and tumultuous time in Algonquin we decided our next stop was Pancake Bay Provincial Park on Highway 17 north between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa.  Supposedly, Coeur de Bois used to stop here with only enough flour to make pancakes before restocking their supplies in the Sault.  Personally, I think there could be a lot more reasons such as, the bay is shaped like a pancake, the sand is beautifully smooth like pancake batter and I like to make things up.

Wow! What a beach. I'm feeling hungry for breakfast.

Pancake Bay is like one of those oases (who knew the plural of oasis was that?) along the up and down crazy road between north and northern.  The beach is gorgeous, sandy and long with enough room to have your own private space, but if you want to get in the water I would suggest to arrive in either August or September or on one of those more and more frequent plus 40ยบ celsius days.  It is Lake Superior after all.

Trying to look excited about not swimming. June 2010.

At Pancake Bay there are 325 campsites with 160 of them with electricity, but the best ones are along the water.  Which means even numbers from 102 to 122 for trailer camping, 124 if you want a yurt, 151 to 160 the closer to 151 the closer to the comfort station, 229 to 241the closer to 241 the closer to the comfort station, and 369 to 372 with a bonus number 367.  All of these sites you can walk right off and site onto the beach.  There are other sites that are great in this park, but if you are going to go all the way to Pancake Bay these are the preferred sites.  My personal favourites are 157, 232-238, and 367.

The view from our site. #236.

I would also suggest to spend at least two days at Pancake Bay because there is definitely enough to do in the area.  Agawa Rock is a great hike and as long as you are wearing non slip shoes you can check out the Ojibwe pictographs.  I do have to point out that if you do slip they have ropes in the water you can climb to get back on the ledge.  Thanks.  Slowly these pictographs are being eroded so take the time to see a glimpse of Canadian history.  Just a note that Agawa Rock is actually in Lake Superior Provincial Park so you may want to check this out if you stay at Agawa Bay Campground.

See what I mean by non slip shoes?

There are two trails if you like hiking.  The first is the Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail which can be tailored to fit the length of time you wish to hike from 2 hours to 7 hours. There is a lookout where you get a great view of Lake Superior, plants, wildlife, and lakes, marshes and falls, oh my!  This is more of a hike for hikers, but it doesn't disappoint.  The Pancake Bay Nature Trail is right inside the park and is suitable for everyone.  It is lined with nine different educational signs that tell you all about the area surrounding Pancake Bay.  Things like the pitcher plant;

Natures insect trap.

Or conglomerate rocks that have been dragged by glaciers.

Run the glacier's trying to kill us.

I have a soft spot for Pancake Bay and I'm sure I'll be back here more than once after this ten year experiment, but trying to be objective here it goes.

Site Cleanliness: Good.  Just a little left over from previous campers.

Privacy: Depends on the site.  The numbers I have highlighted are good but others are not.

Hiking and Activities: Great.  There is a ton of hiking and they offer programs throughout the summer for campers of all ages.

Fire Pit and Amenities: Excellent.  All the fire pits are great, a picnic table for all the sites, and the comfort stations are very good.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Amazing.  Again for the sites I have highlighted it is amazing, but for all the sites it is easy to get to the water and the beach is beautiful.

Overall Impression: I love this spot, maybe because my wife loves it so much, but also because it is beautiful.

Rating out of 107: Well, I have to be honest this is tough.  I'm going to put it at 29 for all women who wish not to age past that number, but as I'm sure you are aware it is going to be difficult to rank these until I have seen more.

Our blazer!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Algonquin Provincial Park North Tea Lake Backcountry Camping and Canoeing

Algonquin Park is the crown jewel of the Ontario Provincial Parks and I don't ever to expect to see it all.  Covering 7653 square kilometres it is larger than Prince Edward Island and has nine parks for camping to choose from.  During the G20 back in 2010, Beverley and I chose this as our first excursion into the Provincial Parks. We just wanted to get out of Toronto during the G20. Now before we start patting ourselves on the back for being so brilliant let me tell you that while we were on the water there was a 5.0 magnitude earthquake and a tornado that touched down in Huntsville.



To get to North Tea Lake you take Highway 11 to South River and then take Chemical Road until you reach the ranger's station where you can buy wood and ice.  There are two relatively easy portages and then you can canoe around until you find a spot you like.  In the middle of North Tea Lake there is a large island with a sandy beach where we stayed the first night.

Pretty sweet spot (but no cover if it rains and it did).

The next morning we chose a different island site pretty much due east of the first one which was more suited for rain.

Trees are natures umbrellas.

There really isn't a bad spot when you are backcountry camping there is just a choice of what you like and what you need to be comfortable.  This spot was perfect for us and we felt like kings because we had an island all to ourselves.  We were able to pick some freshwater mussels for a dinner snack and we caught a bunch of large mouth bass.  See we were able to plan it out for four days where we would always have breakfast and a snack for lunch but if you couldn't catch a fish or something else you'd starve for dinner.

A typical breakfast.

Not starving dinner.

Alright now hear comes the critical criteria for judging the Ontario Provincial Parks;

Site Cleanliness: Immaculate.  Every site we went to was pristine and I don't know how since you could only get there by boat and we never saw a ranger once.

Privacy: Couldn't get more private. Wouldn't be surprised if there were hermits in the surrounding forest.

Hiking and Activities: Not really applicable for this because you would hike for years but you should bring some bear spray and watch out for mama moose. Activities wise there was tonnes of canoeing.

Fire Pit and Amenities: Amazing.  No picnic tables as such but always tree benches and some nice people have left cooking implements behind.  There was a fish fryer at one of our spots! Note: This is what the toilets look like so if you are squeamish you may have to think twice.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Great, but the water is awful cold.

Overall Impression: This to me is the best.  But I wouldn't want to get in trouble there because without a satellite phone I don't know how one would get help.

Rating out of 107: #2. This maybe the best in all of Ontario, but I still have 106 to see so I'm hedging my bets.

Introduction and Reasoning behind this Blog

Like many families in Ontario, when I was growing up summer was a time for camping. My mother, Marg Fidler and my father, Howie would load up the Starcraft (still love that name) and we would visit as many of the provincial campgrounds as my father's holiday schedule would allow.  I can remember going to Killbear Provincial Park, Sauble Falls Provincial Park and hiking along the Bruce trail from Cyprus Campground, now Bruce Peninsula National Park.  My memories of those times are mainly about swimming and hiking and picking wild blueberries.

A family that wears short shorts together stays cool together.
(from left to right, Robert, Brent, Howie, and Derek Fidler)

Now, I'm married and luckily enough my wife Beverley loves camping too.  Three years ago, I thought it would be good fun to try to see all the Ontario Provincial Campsites in 10 years.  I know what many of you must be thinking... Good Luck!  After doing a little research I found out that there are 107 operating parks in Ontario and unless I was a teacher and had my summers off I was doomed to fail.  Well lucky for me I am qualified as a teacher -- now if I could only get a job in my field...  So as a part time bartender, part time farmer, and part time writer/performer I embark on this quest.

I have as much chance of catching that seagull as seeing all the Provincial Parks in 10 years.

Now I know it's about as much fun watching vacation slides with your Grandparents as it is hearing about someone else's camping trips so I have created a criteria for evaluating all the Provincial Parks and I will be giving you advice on which sites are the best at each of the parks.  If nothing else; if you are reading this you will hear about some of the favourite and least favourite provincial parks Ontario has to offer.  So buckle up and here goes nothing.

Hang on for dear life!