Thursday, July 30, 2015

Family Adventure to Kawartha Highlands

Last year we visited Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. I took our two older kids (Bob & Not-Bob) for a few days and we all had a great time. The only thing missing was...the rest of the family. The kids wanted to show their younger sister (Still-Not-Bob) and mom what this great park was all about. Given that Still-Not-Bob is now two years old we figured it was time to introduce her to the backcountry.

How could we not want to go back to this?
Our visit was only three days long and as far as backcountry trips go, it was a very simple trip. We booked two nights at Bottle Lake. Aside from the 210 m portage from the parking lot to the lake there were no portages and it was a fairly easy paddle up the lake. We chose to stay on Bottle Lake because of the amazing beaches at a number of the sites. We figured that the beach would be a lot of fun for the kids. As it turns out the kids were a able to occupy themselves both on and off the beach. Next time I would be more inclined to travel further into the park.

Day 1:
We arrived at the park around noon. We unloaded and carried our belongings across the 210 m portage. Nobody had any difficulty with the portage and we all could have done at least double the length without any trouble. After lunch we put the canoe in the water and started paddling to our site (site 107). The paddle took longer than might have been expected since we were battling a very strong head wind. Regardless we were all very happy to be in the canoe. Once we arrived at our campsite we unloaded and started setting up. The kids had a great time playing as we took our time getting setup. Once the site was setup I wandered back into the woods to find a good spot to hang our food. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to get something setup. It felt like a comedy of errors: broken rope, not high enough, too close to the branch at the top, etc. Perhaps I was being too picky but I felt that this was one thing to be over cautious about.

Upon my return from the food hanging adventure I discovered my wife and son testing out our new stick stove. What a great piece of gear. If you haven't tried one you really should. Bob was so excited by the stick stove that he made it his responsibility. He setup the fire and kept it well fed with sticks from around the site. We had frozen some sloppy joe mix the night before. It was now thawed and just needed to be heated. We dumped the meat in the pot, put it on the stick stove and left Bob in charge. It was fast, easy and delicious.

Taking care of dinner!
Once things were cleaned up we headed down to the beach to watch the sunset. What a beautiful spot.
Beautiful sunset
We headed into the tent to play some cards and get the kids set for bed. As they were falling asleep I heard a noise in the woods so I got up and made my way back to the food bag to find everything in tact. It was a beautiful night so I decided to take some pictures. This is when I discovered that I had forgotten the tripod. I managed to make do with the camera case.

Night Sky
Day 2:
We woke up then cooked some bannock for breakfast. We cooked it like thick pancakes. We made one per person so it was a lot faster than cooking pancakes. After breakfast we decided to paddle up Stoney Creek at the north end of the lake. While we were at home we thought this might make for a nice paddle so we checked it out on Google Earth. We saw a small beaver dam that we would have to lift over and further upstream was what looked like a waterfall. Our goal was to check out the waterfall. We made it to the beaver dam. The kids were so excited about us lifting them over as they sat in the canoe. So much so that when we were done they asked if we could do it again. We knew the waterfall wasn't too much further so we pressed on. As we rounded a corner we could see a rock strewn creek that marked the end of our trip in the canoe. We got out and made our way up the sometimes loose and sometimes solid boulders with water running between them. We covered the 40 or so metres to get to the beaver dam. Such a beautiful spot. The kids had a great time playing among the rocks, both in and out of the water. They looked to find where the water was coming from, what kind of insects were living where and noticed some of the plants that were growing along the shore. These are the rewards that we seek! Such a beautiful spot and we all had such a great time. We had lunch at the waterfall then made our way back to the campsite.

Dam at the top of the falls
Playing at the waterfall

A lunch time visitor
While Still-Not-Bob was napping at the campsite, Bob and I paddled to the portage into Sucker Lake. We wanted to see if by chance there was a Paddle In The Park Contest paddle hidden there. The portage was short at only 80 m but it's does go uphill. It would be very doable for the entire family. Sucker Lake looked just beautiful. It has a number of islands and nice bays to explore. It's also a motorboat free lake. After admiring the view into Sucker Lake we made our way back to the canoe and then paddled to the portage that leads to the parking lot just to see if a paddle had been hidden there. We came up empty handed so we turned around and battled a strong headwind to the campsite.

Back at the campsite we started a fire and the stick stove. The kids manned the stick stove to hydrate some dried vegetables, Sarah made a cheese sauce (I think she called it a roux) for our mac & cheese while I cooked the sausages. Dinner was a real team effort and it was delicious. After dinner we had a swim and did a little fishing. What a great day.

Day 3:
We had some oatmeal for breakfast then began packing up. The kids helped a little and played a little. As we were about to leave the woman who had stayed on the site next to ours (108) paddled over to tell us that her food, which had been hung in a tree, was completely destroyed. The only thing untouched by the animal(s) were her dill pickles. She wanted to warn us to be careful. Somehow I felt better about spending all the time I did to get our food bag 'just right'.

Just about ready to leave
We left the site and thought we'd paddle Bottle Creek on the way out. It was nice, but not as interesting as Stoney Creek was. I think it would be a great fishing spot. We made it to the dam that leads into Catchacoma Lake, had a snack and paddled to the portage leading to our van. The portage was very busy: a clear indication that it must be Friday!

We all had a great time and on the ride home the kids began asking when we could go again. We heard "Can we go back tomorrow?".  I love it and clearly they do too. #RewardsAreOutThere

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Visit to Bon Echo

We recently spent 5 days at Bon Echo Provincial Park. The entire family had a great time. There was so much to do that we didn't even scratch the surface of our to-do list. It was the first time that we brought our bikes camping with us and we certainly put them to good use. I feel as though we biked 20 km in our first 24 hours, but that could be a bit of an exaggeration.

On our fist day we had lunch at the main beach then headed to our site to setup. Once we were setup we biked and did some swimming at the North Beach. The North Beach is much smaller than the Main Beach, the sand isn't as fine and there are lots of pebbles in the water but the view is far superior to that of the Main Beach.

North Beach with Mazinaw Rock in the background
Once everyone was shivering we headed back to the campsite to prepare our dinner. We had made some kabobs the night before, put them in a resealable bag (double then triple bagged) with some marinade. Come dinner time we just needed to start a fire and pop them on the grill. In addition to the kabobs we had bannock roasted on a stick. The kids really enjoy helping out. They get really excited when they can help prepare the food.

Bob, Not-Bob & Still-Not-Bob roasting bannock on a stick
Once we finished eating I took the two older kids (Bob & Not-Bob) for a bike ride to the Narrows while Sarah got Still-Not-Bob ready for bed. The Narrows is a great place to be while the sun is setting. Although you are looking East, the reflection of the sun off the rock creates an incredible view.

While we were at Bon Echo we took in a lot of the programming offered. On our second day Kevin Callan, The Happy Camper, was giving a 1 hour canoe tripping talk. We paddled from the North Beach (which was close to our site) to the Lagoon (map) where the presentation was being held. We weren't sure the kids would enjoy it but we thought we would give it a try, figuring we could always leave if they got bored. As it turns out they loved it. The presentation was very informative, humorous and really kept the kids' attention.
Kevin Callan helping Not-Bob with a heavy pack
Following the presentation we walked over to the Main Beach where we all had a great time swimming and playing in the sand. We made our way back to our site for a late lunch and a nap for the youngest member of the group, Still-Not-Bob. The others biked and played soccer at the grassy area of the comfort station. After nap time it was time to start preparing for dinner. We made nachos for dinner and S'mores for dessert.

Still-Not-Bob enjoying a S'more
After dinner we headed to the amphitheatre to see Kevin Callan give a talk about his family trip around Killarney last summer. You can find his videos of the trip here. Again the presentation was informative, entertaining and inspiring for the kids. One of the first things they said when we left was "When can we go to Killarney?". It's nice when they're asking to go places rather than us asking.

On the third day we decided that we would hike to the top of the Cliff Top Trail. You can take the Mugwump Ferry over for a small fee ($4 for adults/$3 for children) or you can paddle over and tie up at the dock. The ferry does not run on Tuesday or Thursdays making them good days to paddle over. We went on a Tuesday and only saw three other groups of people. The trail is only 1.5 km but is steep in places and has a lot of stairs. Having said that the kids did great. They got a little tired close to the top but nothing major. The trip was certainly a lot faster this time than it was two years ago. We made our way back down the trail and paddled along the rock for a bit observing some of the pictographs before heading back to the boat launch. Bob, Not-Bob & Sarah went for ice (outside the park) and then went to the visitor centre while I stayed behind while Still-Not-Bob was napping.

Snack at the top
We had pizza roasted over the fire for dinner. We've done this before with some success. Sadly this was probably our worst attempt. Not-Bob and Still-Not-Bob's pizzas were up first. They came off the grill just fine. For the most part the rest of us ended up with pizza that was either under-cooked in some spots or burnt in some (or even most) spots. I guess that's what happens when you forget to pack the make shift reflector oven. We'll work on it for next time.

The morning of the fourth day was cool so we got a fire going, which did little to heat us up but provided a great chance for cooking pancakes. It was a slow process but the pancakes turned out great. Once again everyone had a role in the cooking process. With our bellies full we biked to the High Pines Trail for the 1.7 km hike. As we arrived in the parking lot we spotted a baby snapping turtle. Once again the kids were great on the hike. The afternoon was filled with some biking, a stop at the gift shop and some burgers for dinner. After dinner we saw David Archibald perform at the amphitheatre. He's always popular with our kids. We make sure to see him at least once every summer at some park.

Snack time on the High Pines trail
On our final day Sarah took the kids to see a Living Fossils program while I packed up a bit. They really enjoyed the program and headed to the Visitor Centre afterwards to learn more about the native history of the park. Bob was very keen to learn about the pictograph and the stories behind them. Once we were done at the visitor centre we headed to our site to finish packing up and to have lunch. After lunch we were off to the main beach for an afternoon of swimming and playing in the sand. What a way to finish off the trip.

We had a busy five days but there were a few things that we didn't get to do. We didn't do any fishing. We had intended to but it seems that biking took over as the activity of choice. We saw lots of people fishing and heard from some of them say that Mazinaw Lake was a tough lake to fish. We'll have to give it a try next time.

In addition to car camping Bon Echo also offers some paddle-in/hike-in sites on Joeperry Lake. It's a neat lake with a beautiful beach at the North end. I thought it might be fun to paddle Joeperry and stop at the beach for lunch. It might also be worth testing out the fishing there.

Another point of interest in the park is the Kishkebus Canoe Route. It's a 21 km canoe route that essentially goes around the rock. The toughest part of the route would be a 1500 m portage from Mazinaw Lake to Kishkebus Lake. From there you could paddle across Kishkebus Lake and do a short portage into Shabomeka Lake. As you go into Shabomeka you leave the park and the shoreline is dotted with cottages. From Shabomeka Lake there is a 60 m portage around a dam into Semicircle Lake. Paddling across Semicircle Lake takes you to a 40 m lift over into Campbell Creek. The final lift over takes you from Cambell Creek back into Mazinaw Lake. With young kids I would likely do the route in reverse order in case we decided not to finish it. The lift overs and small lakes could make for some fun paddling. There are also a number of geocaches along the route that would be fun to try and find.

There is certainly lots to do at Bon Echo. We'll have to go back and do some more exploring.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paddle in the Park Contest

If you like getting outside in the summer (and who doesn't?) you should check out the Paddle in the Park Contest. The contest involves finding paddles that have been hidden around parks in Ontario. When you find a paddle you get to keep it and you get a prize package. Clues are periodically posted online about where the paddles might be found. It then becomes a puzzle and a race to find the paddles. I've followed the contests for the past couple of years and have found it very interesting. However, given the age or our youngest daughter (she's two), we're not super mobile as a family. We're not likely to pack up on a whim drive a long distance in the hopes of finding a paddle (we'll get there one day). We still like to follow along and see if we can figure out where the paddles are.

This year in addition to the paddle hunt, the organizer are offering Paddle Points. The goal is to get us all 'out there'. They have created a huge list of things to do outdoors. Go do them, take pictures, upload them and potentially win prizes, including a canoe. You can double your points if you include the Paddle in the Park Flag in your photos. Although winning prizes would be really cool, the real rewards are experienced by everyone getting 'out there'. Enjoy. #RewardsAreOutThere