Yes, another trip to Pinery with just as much snow as before, which is none. Well, maybe not exactly none. There was some white dust mixed in with brown leaves along the trails and sand on the beach. But not nearly enough for traditional winter pursuits. Not that it mattered, though. We were looking for an escape from the growing avalanche of quite often depressing news and a trip into the woods away from Facebook feeds and news reports, with or without snow, was all we needed. So when I stumbled across a last minute yurt cancellation at Pinery, I didn’t think twice and booked it.
The end of November and beginning of December is a festive time in our family complete with two birthdays and a wedding anniversary. This year we decided to celebrate the way we enjoy most – by going camping, or should I say glamping.
It is the season to tally up accomplishments over the past year and make plans for the next one. Our New Year resolutions are usually summed up with “camp as much possible, visit as many new places as possible, try as many new things as possible.” Putting together a list of 2015 best camping moments is a slightly more difficult task since there were so many of them. Nonetheless, here is my attempt to narrow the list to our 10 favourite camping memories of 2015 (in no particular order).
Camping at Pinery Provincial Park during the Labour Day Weekend has now become a tradition. This beautiful park with its endless sand dunes and inviting waters of Lake Huron is an excellent place to cap off the adventure-filled camping season. This year was no different. With firm support from weather gods, we spent the last few school-free days trying to wring every last drop of the fleeting summer out of the unusually hot September weekend.
Easter weekend camping is a relatively new tradition. This is our second year, to be exact. Last year, we started pondering over the meaning of Easter and it being the symbol of rejuvenation and rebirth. So we decided that there was no better place to celebrate it than in nature where the magic of rebirth happens every spring. Plus kids love Easter egg hunt in the actual forest even though they have long outgrown the age of believing in Easter bunny.
This year we chose Pinery Provincial Park as our camping destination for a number of reasons. There was more chance that it would be snow free compared to, say, Algonquin or Killarney. The route to Pinery conveniently lies through Waterloo where we could pick up our older son and then drop him off on the way back. We were also hoping to catch tundra swans taking a break on their way north. Finally, it is always fun to see some of our favourite parks during a different season. So far Pinery has been the destination for many enjoyable summer trips and one memorable New Year celebration. This was a chance to see it on the cusp of season change.
We left late Thursday night and with a stop at Waterloo, we arrived at the park close to one in the morning to find our yurt locked. In the hindsight, we should have called the park to warn them about our late arrival but on previous late arrivals at other parks we would find the yurt open with the key left inside or alternately locked but with the key left in an envelope near the registration office. We spent an hour driving around the park trying to locate someone to open the yurt for us, found an emergency phone, alerted the guard, woke up the ranger on duty. In short, it was quite an adventurous start to our trip.
Needless to say, we slept in the next morning. When we finally got outside, it was a nice and warm day. The park was surprisingly busy with almost all yurts occupied, and trailers and a few tents visible on the surrounding campsites.
We spent the first half of the day biking around the park. In the summer, riding the 14-kilometre Savannah trail and finishing with ice-cream is a long established tradition. But since the ice-cream counter and the store were closed for the season, our younger son proclaimed that riding the trail would be pointless. We biked along park roads instead, explored the Old Ausable River Channel, which was still frozen on one side of the bridge and completely ice-free on the other. We even saw a lonely canoeist on the water and felt quite jealous of him but canoes were chained for the season as well.
We then biked over to the beach. Lake Huron looked strikingly different from its usually cheerful summer self. Covered in ice and dusted with sand with a narrow strip of turquoise water in the distance and clouds overhead, it was eerily beautiful.
By then, the wind picked up and it was quite chilly, so we rode back to the campsite. Right on time too. Because the moment we finished cooking the soup, it started to rain and we retreated inside the yurt. With a bowl of hearty soup inside our bellies and the patter of rain on the yurt roof, we enjoyed restful time reading and napping. Once it cleared up, we ate veggie burgers around the campfire and then back inside played our favourite game, Settlers of Catan, well into the night.
Day 2 was gorgeous, all beautiful spring sunshine and blue skies. We rode over to the visitor centre to watch all sorts of birds twittering and chirping around the bird feeders.
We then hiked Cedar Trail, which is only 2.3 km long and starts right near the visitor centre. It has a great lookout platform over the channel, where we spotted an otter in the water (or at least we think it was an otter since it was pretty far away).
There is also a trail extension that leads to the beach. That day, the beach looked brighter with the sunlight against the blue sky. The ice cover alternated between sand dusted frozen waves, long stretches of white and then ice chunks as far as the eye could see. One brave, or maybe just stupid, kid actually rode a fat bike over the lake.
That day we also drove to the field behind the Lambton Museum to see tundra swans. Yes, they were still there! Because the winter was so cold, they arrived later than usual this year (so cold winters do have their bright sides). I was really excited to see them, something I wanted to do ever since I read about tundra swans on the Friends of Pinery website. It was quite a sight and a noisy one too. At night, we could hear them honking overhead while the guy at the next campsite played drums. Those were much better sounds to fall asleep to than the humming of cars back home.
On Easter Sunday, winter staged a short comeback as we woke up to a snow cover outside.
It didn’t stop us from having an Easter egg hunt. In fact, it was quite fun.
As always, we didn’t want to leave. After we packed, we decided to do another hike, this time on the Nipissing Trail, which took us to the top of the oldest and highest dune ridge and also provided great views of the park with a bit of Lake Huron in the distance.
We stopped at Denny’s Drive-in, our favourite fish and chips place at Grand Bend. We were happy to see that they were already open for 2015 season. We brought our blankets and enjoyed our meal outside.
Good-bye, Pinery, till Labour Day!
Our Labour Day weekend trip to Pinery Provincial Park is always bitter-sweet. As we are soaking in the last bits of summer, we also have to come to terms with the fact that our busy life of school lunches, after-school activities and bus schedules is just around the corner. This year the bitter-sweet flavour was even stronger than usual. And not because the summer finally decided to show up as we were about to say goodbye to it. We were also saying goodbye to our older son who is starting university this year and moving to Waterloo. Since camping has always been such a great part of our lives, it seemed very fitting for him to leave for college from a campground.
We have been coming to Pinery every summer (and once in the winter) for the past seven years. I still remember the first time we camped there. Our campsite turned out to be in one of those rare for Pinery clusters where all your neighbours are in plain view and where you are awakened by the sound of tents being unzipped as people hurry on their early morning, or occasional middle of the night, trips to the bathroom. After giving up on trying to go back to sleep, I crawled out of the tent and decided to go for a walk. I found the closest dune crossing and headed for the beach. Crunchy, coarse sand between my toes. Gentle warmth of the early morning sun at the back of my neck. The way all sounds cease to exist once you descend between the sand dunes. The feeling of awe as I climbed the dune and looked around.
To me, Pinery has something that speaks directly to a kid in each of us. It is home of quintessential summer and childlike joy. It’s the land of water fun, sandcastles, spectacular sand dunes and mesmerizing sunsets. It’s made of mid-summer dreams and languid musings.
This year was no different. The slightly colder than usual waters of Lake Huron were still filled with excited splashes and delighted screams. The sandy beach (or, as our friends’ three-year-old son once called it, a huge sandbox) with its endless building possibilities was full of adults and kids alike working on their sandcastles and forts. In the evening, as the excitement of the day faded away, crowds of campers would return to the beach to watch the sun dip into the lake. It’s always inspiring to see people waiting for something other than a traffic light change or their double-double in the Tim Hortons drive-through.
While the beach is one of the main park attractions, there are lots of other things to do at Pinery: hike trails, check out the Visitor Centre, watch wildlife, paddle along the Old Ausable Channel or go fishing. One of our favourite activities is biking along the 14-kilometre Savannah Trail followed by ice-cream. This year was no exception. The trail was fun, the ice-cream was delicious.
Unfortunately, as all things in life, the trip came to an end. Our son moved to Waterloo. We took our ritual end-of-summer dip in Lake Huron, stopped for fish’n’chips at Denny’s in Grand Bend and headed towards our back-to-school life. Until next year!