Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I'll raise your Huron with an Inverhuron Provincial Park

Back when we all thought the Blue Jays had a World Series team the last week of June 2013, Bev and I were out camping for a week along lake Huron.  Our first stop was Inverhuron Provincial Park, just north of Kincardine.  The start of camping season for us is always an exciting time when money is just paper and at that time it still was.  And I can remember back in aught 9 when we still had a penny too, but I digress.  On the way to the park, we found Hoity Toity Cellars on Kings Highway 9 just south of Walkerton, where we decided to stock up on some Ciders to enjoy during our trip (made solely with fruit, I asked -- no water involved, if anybody's watching).

No, I'm not getting paid for this plug.
It was just great ciders with unassuming names like '66 Pick-up' and 'Paint the Shed Red'.
Now for any of you out there without young children, the last week of June is one of the best times of the year for camping. The weather is warm enough for swimming (in the twenties most days), most campgrounds are quiet during the week (with students still in school), the beaches, trails and campsites are pristine (freshly cleaned for the season), fishing is good (not yet spooked by a culling), and the staff are all super friendly and helpful (not jaded by the job yet).  You will miss out on the campground programs, which I get so much information out of, but understandably they are usually geared towards children (For example Flashy feathers and bashful birds talk at Bronte Creek or Invasive species talk at Darlington which I'll talk about in future blogs).

And no, I'm not getting paid for this plug.  View of Bruce Nuclear Plant from the trail at Inverhuron
-- couldn't they just put up a big blue curtain?
And now a short history lesson:  Inverhuron opened in 1956 with 351 campsites and offered families a campground with a beautiful beach, hiking and overnight camping and there was much rejoicing. Yah!  Then in 1970 the province of Ontario decided to place Bruce Nuclear power plant on it's northern border. Why not?  I'm sure some people loved watching the construction in the early days but in 1976 concerns rose about the production of heavy water. Eleven percent denser water means more floating, but don't drink more than 50% of your body weight or you'll shuffle off this mortal coil.  And Inverhuron was reduced to a day use park only.  Boo!  Bruce Nuclear stopped producing heavy water in 1998 when they started using enriched uranium.  Yeah?  And overnight camping resumed in 2005 with 125 campsites.  Whew!  Inverhuron is redeveloping and eventually wants to have 250 campsites, new trails, and an amphitheatre.  By my count only 90 more sites and an amphitheatre to go.

The back exit of our site, right onto the trail.  It's not the beach but you can get your feet wet anytime you want.
The sites at this park are excellent when it comes to privacy, other than the gaping hole to the trail.  One can easily solve this problem by putting a tent up to block any looky-loo's or maybe a curtain.  The best sites at Inverhuron were chosen for privacy and not necessarily because of their proximity to the water since there are no sites right on the beach, but 7 and 72 are really close.  The best sites are #7, 27, 68, 72 (the best), 113, 159, and 169.  Bev and I were both pleased with the site we chose and the beach. And here they are in that order.

Site 159, left side.  Obviously after dishes, as our towel racks are full.
Site 159, right side.  You'll notice we plugged the hole with our sleeping tent and put up a choke wire for any raiders.
The trail right out of the back of 27 of the campsites leads south to the beach which at most could be a kilometre away.  Not crazy convenient, but not Turkey Point.

The beach at Inverhuron and as an added bonus; a boat launch.
Before this trip, I thought lake Huron would be freezing cold at this time of year and I was happily mistaken.  All along the coast of Huron there are sand dunes and because of that there are mini sand dune/bars in the water.  So you go out the first 20 feet and the water is beautifully warm and probably only 3-4 feet deep, then there is a sand bar, then there's another 20 feet of tepid water about 4-5 feet deep, and then another sand bar, then it's swimming time in cool to frigid cold water.  And I guess that's how sand dunes work.  The single hike the campground offers, Scenic Drive Trail (4km) was an easy hike that goes the full distance of the park and could be done by mountain bike if you're into that sort of thing.  As a side note, this was the first time I saw a Yellow Lady's Slipper wild orchid and it made me smile because I have killed/given up on so many orchids in the last few years.

Obviously if this one can live here I'm doing something wrong at home.
All in all this was a good start to the trip.

Site Cleanliness:  Excellent.  This maybe because it was the start of the season, but it still was way above average.

Privacy:  All the sites are trying to be private, but some are succeeding more than others.  There are also a lot of pull through sites which to me was curious.

Hiking and Activities:  Beach and a hike is a little sub-par, but they are trying to improve this with more hikes -- coming soon.

Park Class:  I have to guess historical (because there's not enough recreation, wilderness, area for nature reserve or natural environment, and there isn't a waterway) and the answer is... historical.  There is proof that this area has been used for 4500 years for fishing and hunting by First Nations peoples.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water:  Beach quality is very good, but ease to get to the water falls on the poor side.

Recommended Length of Stay:  I'm going to be kind and say 3 days, 2 nights.  If you bring a boat and want to fish then it could be much longer.  I think this is a great relaxation park, but I can't wait to see it in a couple of years.

Overall Impression: Good, but meh.  But hey, it's only been reopened for 8 years.

Rating out of 107:  As much as I'm trying to be nice to Inverhuron it's still has to fall in the 50's so let's give it #56 for the year it opened in all it's glory and hope that it can get back there, so when we are doing MacGregor Point we can pop in for a surprise visit.

Again if you're keeping track:
#2 Algonquin
#3 Quetico
#19 Sandbanks
#21 Neys
#22 Wakami Lake
#23 Nagagamisis
#29 Pancake Bay
#33 Chutes
#56 Inverhuron
#93 Rainbow Falls
#101 Turkey Point

Trying to get a tan, while reading Bob Newhart's autobiography (Thanks Jason Enberg) and carrying around a baby squirrel on my chest.  He was just interested in the nuts.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Quetico Provincial Park : A Hermit's Haven, A Canoeist's Cornucopia and A Wild Mushroom Wonderland

Welcome to Quetico Provincial Park, the Algonquin of the north (or Algonquin is the Quetico of the South) and the park you should plan for.  In this trip, Beverley and I planned to stay for 3 nights and that wasn’t enough, period, dot the i and cross the e, because the t is already a cross.  Similar to Algonquin you could spend a lifetime exploring this park, but if you only have three days – you shouldn’t only have three days.  When we arrived early September 2013, there were more cars parked in the canoe launch than there were in the rest of the park and that is because Quetico is a canoeist’s paradise.  "We spent three days, living in a canoeist paradise," thanks Coolio.  Lake upon beautiful lake abound in this northern park and the fishing, I hazard to say, is better than Algonquin, just not for us.

Why didn't we get a canoe?  Oh Yeah 3 days.
Our site was the best in the park (always a good first step, #11 in Chippewa) and nightly we went to bed listening to the water and the lovely loons. All of the sites next to the water in Chippewa Campground have a private canoe launch, where you can tie up for the night or tie one on as the canoeists say.  Everyone talks about the fishing here, but because we didn’t have a canoe all we caught were a couple of babies close to shore.

From Left to Right: Tyler Whale, Robert Fidler, Korb Whale, and Derek Fidler.
Looks like Tyler has been out of the water for too long and Korb looks exactly the same 38 years later.
If you want to hike, the trans-Canada trail travels over 90 km south through this park to the U.S. border, but there are also four family friendly hikes you could do straight from the campsites. I promise not to talk too much about mushrooms, but I can’t guarantee anything.  Teaching Trail (3.4 km) was the first of the three hikes we attacked during our stay and here was the first time I have found Chanterelles (Cinibar Chanterelle).  Bright orange, they stick out in the forest like a hermit relieving themselves.

Cinibar Chanterelle; cook with butter and salt and pepper, sweet, earthy and solid.

O.k. not about mushrooms.  This moderate hike was a length and a loop following the water and joining the two campgrounds. Gorgeously overgrown forest and abundant wildlife surround this trail. 

Quetico, Quetico, Quetico, it's the campground for me.
Mushroom hiking or fishing or just beating Beverley (in Cards).
Can you guess the song? Answer at the end of the Blog.
Second the Whiskey Jack Nature Trail (1.7 km) is a partially boardwalked trail that takes you through marsh, rock and forest.  Again a moderate trail it is a bird, blueberry, and mushroom cornucopia.  

Now Beverley and I originally wanted to do some back-country camping but it would have meant a 5km hike on The Pines Hike in and out with all of our gear.  I’m glad we chose to forgo it, but we did hike in to the first backcountry site to see what we were missing.  We found more boletes than two people would ever be able to eat. There were easily 30 different varieties of mushrooms along the trail, we literally stopped every two minutes to check out a different variety.

Strap Shaped Coral Mushrooms getting ready to attack.  Fun Fact under each of these mushrooms is a worm trying to escape.  (Inedible)
Wait, STOP! Remember no mushroom talk.  The backcountry campsite was as nice as we’ve seen since Algonquin.

The spacious back country site with seating and a fire pit.  Washroom? -- dig a hole.

And we found this extremely strange mushroom;

Blue Tooth Hydnellum Caeruleum,  I put my ear next to this mushroom and I swear my computer was talking to me.


Then we found the private beach.

Life styles of the rich and famous camper... where's Robin Leach when you need him?
The third hike we did is simply called Boardwalk (1.6 km).  It was a really easy length and loop hike following the Pickerel River from the day use beach to the information pavilion. There were quotes about nature all along the Boardwalk mostly from naturalists and First Nations sources, that I found really cool.  And we found Studded Puffballs!  Smaller than the giant puffballs of southern Ontario in my opinion they are similarly bland.

Edible, but only great when soaked in butter.

Man I think I have a problem with mushrooms.  The last hike was The French Falls Hike (6.8 km) a meandering stroll with a wide path, a beaver dam in the middle and a falls at the end.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (I assume) swam around their pond as if we were not even there.

It felt like a real Hinterlands Who's Who.
The falls were water descending over rocks and a fine destination but the highlight of the hike I really shouldn't mention. Here's what the falls looked like.

I wonder what make these falls French?  Maybe the river just wanted another crossed e?

Ah screw it -- There were Bolete's over 20 cm's tall and at least that wide. The slugs had gotten to them so we only took a couple, but I'd never seen them that big before. Fun Fact: Bolete's are any mushroom that has a sponge like underside and all of them are edible in Ontario apart from one that will turn black within minutes after its cut. This one is an orange Bolete.

I don't blame you if you've quit reading the mushroom Blog.
Quetico turned 100 years old the year we visited and was originally formed to save waining moose populations from being shot for food.  It is a gem, it is a jewel, and it is a place I recommend everyone to visit -- Newfoundland first, Quetico second.

On our last night, a couple pulled in just before dark and the rain and in true Beverley form she invited them over to our site to hang out.  Well, before I knew it we were playing euchre with our new friends, Robin and Louis, until it was past the time to sleep.  Camping is such that it is soo easy to make new friends, then it's just up to you to keep the friendship going.

Beverley showing off the fives she never got to use when Robin and I skunked them.
Bev wants me to add that they lost every single game of euchre and crib and she blames Louis.
The best sites at Quetico are in Ojibwa campground 55, 56, 79, 80, and 100 are the best, 50-54 and 90,92, 94, 96, and 98 are all beautiful, but very wide open.  At Chippewa campground 11e*, 13-16 and 21 are best but everything by the water is great, but not as private.  Here's our site.

A car park above your site.
Down the stairs to the eating and sleeping tents (yes we have an eating tent). 
And once you're set up with a fire going...
The view from the fire. It doesn't get better than this.

Site Cleanliness: Perfect.  It really doesn't get better than this.

Privacy: We could barely see one site before we set up, but after setting up the tent it was just us and the lake.

Hiking and Activities: If you had unlimited time you would have unlimited hikes.  They actually have a "Birds of Quetico" book you can get from the park office so you could go on a bird treasure hunt throughout the park.  There was also a mushroom program they held right before we got there -- darn.

Park Class:  This is a wilderness park -- of course.  But I also thought it could be a nature reserve and a natural environment park.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Beach.  There is one for the regular campers and it's o.k., but the one at the back country site was amazing.  Ease of getting to the water was excellent, but not necessarily for swimming, even though Beverley did.

Recommended Length of Stay:  Two weeks is my recommendation because I don't think most people will get here more than once in their lifetime.  There are canoe trips lasting 30 days, fishing for at least two weeks, hiking for a week and relaxing forever.

Overall Impression: I love Quetico, it's just how long it takes to get there.  If only it was in Oakville I'd be there every weekend.

Rating out of 107: #3 for Jason Hannley and because I want to keep my options open.  Jason Hannley is a friend of mine who loved the number three and because I think that this park has everything in three's.  1. Oh Lord this is beautiful.  2. Thank Jesus this is in Canada.  3. And if only the ghosts of this place could tell you a story.

Again if you're keeping track:
#2 Algonquin
#3 Quetico
#19 Sandbanks
#21 Neys
#22 Wakami Lake
#23 Nagagamisis
#29 Pancake Bay
#33 Chutes
#93 Rainbow Falls
#101 Turkey Point

The answer is "Finland" by Monty Python.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Yeas Outnumber the Neys Provincial Park

We arrived at Neys Provincial Park September 3, 2013, after a six hour drive along the coast of Lake Superior, and we immediately knew we should have stayed for longer than a night (but maybe in the summer).  Neys is situated about dead centre between Wawa and Thunder Bay off the Trans-Canada Highway #17 and used to be a POW camp, yes a prisoner of war camp; “Neys Camp 100” a camp for rowdy Germans during WWII.  After that it was turned into a minimum security work camp for civilian prisoners from the Thunder Bay Area.  So I guess you could say it has always been a camp.  The best sites at Neys follow the norms – close to the water and not too wide open, but at Neys there are no beachfront views and thank Jebus.  At times a cold wind can blow off Superior making camping less than enjoyable, so at Neys they have left a wind-break.

Chairs, check.  Cooler, Check. What else do you need?
Our night at Neys wind wasn’t the issue, cold was, it went down to 1ÂșC during the evening -- I guess summer ends August 31st?  I’ve never been winter camping, but what temperature does it have to be to be considered winter camping?  Luckily, my body runs on broil after the lights go out (That's what the fox said), so everything but my face was fine.  However, Bev buried herself in the sleeping bag only coming up for air when completely necessary... brussel sprouts are a funny thing, don’t you think?

The Bobrick for morning head warming.  Originally I thought, who's using these for their head?  I thought it was for your hands.
 Other than the night weather, Neys was wondrous.  On the first night, we went for a half hour long hike on the beach and I found some more boletes and a couple of puffballs to cook for dinner.  

Neys beach au naturel near sunset.
On the second day, we only had time for a hike and a half before hopping on the road.  The first was Lookout Trail (2.5km) a trail of medium difficulty to a lookout of Lake Superior.  

"I can see my house from here!" Tired of the panoramic shots yet?
Again there were a fair amount of mushrooms, but the highlight of this hike, other than the view, were the wild blueberries. Right at the end of the hike we were able to pick about two pints in 15 minutes while eating as many as we wanted.

Bev's attempt at a panorama or she was trying to tell me not so subtly I have my head in my own _____.
 The second hike, or the half hike, was the Under the Volcano Trail (1km).   One billion years ago there was an active shield volcano located near Neys.  Throughout the trail there are information signs explaining interesting geological events you can see in the rocks right before your eyes and that's without hallucinogenics.  If you have someone in your family interested in geology it is fascinating, but for the average person the walk along the water is what you're going for.  Turn around when you feel like it because this trail joins the Coastal Trail (19km) which could take you all day to finish or if you're feeling like some adventure to one of three interior/backcountry campsites.  Next time.

Under the Volcano at Neys.
Before leaving, I chose to visit the campsite clean-up station. I originally thought this was just a clever joke of an employee at Neys until I saw the same thing at Quetico, Lake Nagagamisis and, I’m sure many other northern provincial parks.  

Someone must have borrowed the second tool or they are one.
I succumbed to my OCD by cleaning our entire campsite turning it into a facsimile of a Japanese rock garden.  

It's an illness, but the next people will have the cleanest campsite in all of Ontario.
I know most people will only ever get to Neys Provincial Park once in their lifetime, but I highly recommend it.  If it helps you’re only 5 hours from Quetico Provincial Park (The Algonquin of the North) so this is a perfect stop before one would get there.

The best sites at Neys are as follows: Area 2 68 to 72, 75 to 77, Area 3 29e, 43e-46, 48, 50-53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 66, and 68, Area 4 99, 103, 106, 113, 120, 122, 127, and 138. In my opinion #53 and 68 are the absolute best.  I think this park is a recreational park as there is so much to do here, but it also has an historical element.  I guess recreation.  And the answer is...  Natural Environment.  Ahhhh.

Site Cleanliness: Excellent.  After we left it was #1 out of all the parks.

Privacy: Great.  Again with the northern parks there is more space and therefore more privacy -- we could see our neighbours a tiny bit, but with proper placement of a tent they all but disappear.

Hiking and Activities: Amazing.  There is so much to do at Neys, but the water is still Lake Superior and therefore swimming is going to be a bit cool. There is fishing and canoeing here as well.

Park Class:  This 5384 hectare park is a natural environment class park that includes Pic Island, Detention Island and the Sullivan Islands.  The ghost village of Coldwell is just on the eastern border of the park consisting of some foundations, shipwrecks in the harbour and a cemetery if you're not afraid.

Beach Quality or Ease of Getting to the Water: Excellent.  Each of the recommended sites have beach access or less than a 2 minute walk to the beach.  The beach itself may not look like much from the photo but it is gorgeous.

Recommended Length of Stay: 4 to 5 nights. 3 great hikes, good Beach, fishing and canoeing in the area, and loads of nature to check out.

Overall Impression: I loved Neys and I also loved the historical and geological elements of this park.  This would be a great park to teach out of in those two disciplines.  We went at the wrong time of year and still had one of the best camping experiences, and oh... the blueberries.

Rating out of 107: #21 this is a true coming of age park and should be treated as such.  I have a troubling concern though as I think I may have to move the 20s up to accommodate parks that I have yet to see, but for now I am happy with where they sit.

If you're keeping track:
#2 Algonquin
#19 Sandbanks
#21 Neys
#22 Wakami Lake
#23 Nagagamisis
#29 Pancake Bay
#33 Chutes
#93 Rainbow Falls
#101 Turkey Point