Sunday, May 29, 2016

First Family Trip To Algonquin

Kearney Lake
We don't make a habit of camping on the Victoria Day weekend. This could be for many reasons: the weather can be awful; the bugs can be bad; the parks can be crowded; etc. This year we decided that we really wanted to camp for the long weekend. We made a decision a few weeks before the weekend but decided we would check the weather before booking anything. I don't mind camping in terrible weather but I'm not sure how much fun it would have been for the kids. A week after we made the decision to camp we checked the long range forecast. It looked decent so we decided we should go. My wife and I were really hoping for an interior trip but when we checked the parks close by there weren't a lot of sites left. We decided this would be a great opportunity to take the kids to Algonquin for the first time. For whatever reason, they were not excited about the Algonquin backcountry. We decided to compromise and do some front country camping in Algonquin. This way we could take the kids to see the park but they would also be excited to go.

We looked online at the Ontario Parks Reservation page and discovered (to no one's surprise) that the best sites were all booked. We're generally not too picky about sites and noticed that there were some non-reservable campsites on the water available. We decided on Kearney Lake but had some alternatives in mind just in case. My wife was a little apprehensive about just showing up and hoping to get a site on the long weekend. I showed her some maps and the number of sites available. This combined with the fact we would be arriving early Friday seemed to set her mind at ease.

Friday of the long weekend was a P.A. Day for the kids so we left Friday morning and were on our site before noon. The weather was amazing. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the mid twenties and it didn't look as though there was anyone in the campground. Our site was perfect. We stayed at K238. It was certainly one of the best sites in the whole campground.

Home for the Weekend
We setup our site and discovered there was a boil water advisory for the campground. My first thought was "We should have brought the Katadyn Base Camp Filter. My second thought was to bike to the Pog Lake Campground and see if there was a boil water advisory there. It turns out the water there was fine and the bike ride was only about 400 metres, although biking with 10 litres of water in one hand (and not the other) created an interesting balancing situation. Physics and free-body diagrams came to mind. Later it occurred to me that perhaps we should have check the Ontario Parks Alerts page before we left the house. In the end it didn't matter. Everything worked out just fine.

While I was sorting out the drinking water, the kids were checking out the beach. There was a nice sandy area for playing and the kids even ended up in the water. Brrr. Ice out in Algonquin was about three weeks prior to our visit.
In the Water 
Beach Visitors

Time for a Dip
Running Along the Beach
Once the kids were cold from being in the water they decided they wanted to bike. We biked around the campground and then biked across the highway to the Pog Lake campground. We saw some nice big sites right along the water. Pog Lake seemed busier than Kearney Lake.

The next morning we put the canoe in the water and paddled the lake. We found a swampy area on the south east corner of the lake. We followed it towards the highway as it narrowed. We lifted over a couple of beaver dams but the path narrowed so much that it was going to be a tough go. We headed back to the lake paddled around until we came to the north west corner. As we neared we could hear the sound of water flowing. We discovered that it was the sound of a stream emptying into the lake. Our son really likes to explore streams and waterfalls so he and my wife got out and headed upstream to see what they could find.
Up a Creek
Our daughters and I stayed in the canoe and all took turns paddling the canoe around by ourselves.

Hanging Out
We didn't stay for too long but my wife and son were very keen to come back and explore further. We paddled over to the portage leading to Pond Lake so we could check it out. We made it a couple of hundred metres in before we realized the ground was too muddy for the footwear we were wearing. We did manage to find some scat that looked like it could be from a wolf. The girls were quite interested in having a look.
Checking out Some Scat
We headed back to our site for some lunch, then packed up and headed for the Lookout Trail. The trail was only about 2 km, but it was a bit of a climb to the lookout. The black flies were out in full force (much more so than at our site) but they didn't seem to be biting much. We enjoyed the view, found the geocache at the top and headed back down.

Glacial Erratic
View from the Lookout
On the drive back to our site we spotted cars pulled of to the side of the road. We figured that meant there was a moose close by. Normally I would have kept on driving. I'd much rather see moose as I'm paddling or along a portage than next to the highway. However, given that none of our kids had ever seen a moose I decided we'd have a look. Our three year old was very intrigued. She was very good about being quiet. She really didn't want to scare it off.

The Kids' First Moose
We spent the rest of the day paddling around the lake, doing some fishing and enjoying being outside. After dinner my son wanted to paddle down the creek that divides the campground in two. I didn't think we'd get very far given how shallow it was at the bridge but once we lined that section it was pretty good. We pulled over some beaver dams, went under the highway and eventually decided to turn around. We had a great time exploring.

The next morning we had a quick bike ride to Whitefish Lake. We discovered when we got there that Whitefish Lake is a group campground meant for large groups. The beach looked great and when we arrived there were about a dozen canoes just leaving. We biked back to our site then headed for the Visitor Centre. It was amazing how busy it was. That being said the displays were great and we spent quite some time there. The kids (and adults) were curious to learn more about the park.

After the Visitor Centre we headed back to our site so our three year old could have a nap. Our son decided he wanted to further explore the creek we had paddled the night before. So off we went. Again, I didn't think we'd get too far so I didn't bring any snacks, water, a map or a camera. Next time I'll know better. We paddled and paddled and paddled. There were lots of lift-overs, some downed trees and some tight spaces but we managed to make it all the way to Whitefish Lake. Our son's draw, pry and cross draw strokes improved a great deal, but even better he started to know when to use the strokes.

The creek meets Whitefish at a meandering river that runs from Pog Lake to Whitefish. As we moved from the creek to the river my paddling partner asked if we could take the portage to get back. It had been a tough, lengthy slog. The portage would be much quicker.

Not having looked at a map, I wasn't sure which way to head where the creek met the river. We paddled up river and ended up at the dam that leads to Pog Lake. We opted not to portage into Pog Lake. So we turned around and headed downstream to Whitefish Lake. The lake was very picturesque. At the one end of the lake there was a narrow passageway into another section. Over the narrow passage was a bridge; presumably the Rail Trail. We located the beach we had seen in the morning and managed the 1175 m portage without any issues.

When our youngest awoke from her nap she wanted to go for a bike ride. My wife and other daughter stayed at the site and painted while the rest of us headed for the Rail Trail. I thought it would be fun to bike to Whitefish Lake and check out the bridge. It was a cool looking bridge and we were not disappointed. We stopped to look in the water. We saw a few fish, then in the distance spotted what looked like a beaver swimming towards us. We were very quiet and watched as it got closer and closer. We confirmed it was a beaver and it looked like it was going to swim right under us. Just before it got to the bridge it noticed us. It tried to turn and swim the other way but the passage was too narrow. Frightened, it smacked its tail and dove. It was so neat for us to see this beaver up so close. Too bad I didn't bring the camera.

We went back to the site dinner and then paddled the lake as the sun was setting. What a great day of adventuring.

Messy Dessert
Paddling at Dusk

The following day was our last day so we did a bit of everything. We biked around the campground. Then we paddled to the creek at the north end of the lake. Both our son and my wife wanted to explore further. They made their way upstream and found the remnants of an old concrete dam. We headed back to our site, had lunch and packed up. By the time we were ready to leave it was almost 2:00 (checkout time). We were among the last to leave the campground. 

On the way out of the park we had enough time to hike the Spruce Bog Trail. It was a hot day and the sun was beating down on us while we were on the boardwalk. It was a little reminiscent of being on the Serengeti.  

Leading the Way

Spruce Bog
We had an amazing trip. We were able to see and do a ton and there is still so much more for us to explore. We're all really excited to go back. One of the things that surprised me the most was the writing the kids did. We never asked them to but whenever something interesting or exciting would happen they wrote about it in their journals. I'm sure our son wrote more in the four days than he did at school the week before. Cleary he was inspired!