Algonquin Park Camping: Day 1

Last week I had the pleasure of camping with my family at the Achray Campground on Grand Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. I’ve been camping most of my life (my first camping trip was when I was only a couple of weeks old, and apparently it was the only time I wasn’t colicky for quite some time), but somehow I’d never been to Algonquin Park, which is one of our most famous. At 7,653km², the park is larger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island (5,660 km²), and it was perhaps made the most famous for being the main inspiration for the Group of Seven. In fact, the Jack Pine Trail, which begins and ends in Achray, takes you to the location where Tom Thomson was inspired to paint The Jack Pine.

We arrived around 5:00pm the first night, despite every effort to get out earlier. We had originally planned to take my parents’ Sportspal canoe with us, but it really got to vibrating on the top of our car when we hit 100km/hr, despite having it tied down so tight that it actually dented the roof of the car. So before we even got across town we had to head back home and drop off the canoe, putting a bit of a kaibosh on that part of the plan. The Weather Network was predicting one heck of a thunderstorm that night, so we desperately wanted to arrive before it. Luckily we weren’t planning on hiking or canoeing to our campsite (we were just car camping), which shaved off some time. We checked in, got our tent put up…

And the kids’ tent put up…


(That’s the view of the lake from our campsite before the clouds rolled in, by the way.)

And the cook tent put up and dinner started, and then with a CRACK-BOOM! the skies opened up. I was so thankful that we managed to get a roof over our heads before the rain started, because there is very little that is more miserable than setting up in the rain. As it was, despite all our rain gear we were all drenched as soon as we stepped out from under cover, and the Coleman tent and the cook tent leaked despite bringing extra tarps to protect them… But at least we slept dry.

I cooked dinner that night on a combination of camp stoves. If the yellow one looks like an antique, well, it might very well be; it’s from the 1950’s at the very latest. My dad used to pick up old Coleman stoves at garage sales and Frankenstein them together until he had a stove for me, one for my brother, one for my mom and dad, and then I think even a few extras. He also painted mine yellow so I could tell it apart from everyone else’s (this was a bit of an issue back in Pathfinders when every camping group brought their own gear, and things could get mixed up). The little stove on the left is one that my husband used to use when he went canoe camping with his brother and father in the Algonquin interior, and it’s much newer and much more compact. Given how long it had been since either of us had fired up our respective stoves, I think it’s fantastic that they both still worked with no repairs needed. In retrospect, we should have tested them in advance of our trip… Just as we should have tested the waterproofing on our tents beforehand. Hindsight is 20/20.

Our first meal while camping was spaghetti. The sauce was canned, and I fried a package of lean ground beef the night before, so once we were on site it was more a matter of reheating than cooking. Even so, Thing 1 declared that it was the best spaghetti she’d ever eaten (although I think hunger and fresh air may have contributed to her opinion).

I would highly recommend pre-cooking any food that you can when camping, by the way. It saves so much time and mess. I mean, sure, if I’d been cooking over the fire I’d have loved to have the juices from the meat to work with, but we knew in advance that there was a total fire ban in place. No campfires, no sparklers, no propane lanterns, no charcoal barbecues, no candles. Nothing but portable stoves/barbecues with a control valve, and only that permitted I think because otherwise nobody would be able to cook their food. Fire is a huge part of camping, at least the way that I was brought up, but we had had so little rain and everything was so darned dry that it just wasn’t safe. As it turned out, there was actually a a small forest fire about 4km away from our campground — of which we were completely unaware until we returned home and checked out the Ontario Forest Fire Info Map.

According to The Weather Network, Over 800 wildfires have been recorded this season, far higher than last year’s 221 fires at this time of year, and well above the 10-year average of 458. Fires this year have consumed more than 180,000 hectares of the province.

Fish Stories

According to Wikipedia, the Canadian province of Ontario contains approximately 250,000 lakes annd 100,000 plus kilometers of rivers. This means that about 1/5 of the world’s fresh water is in this province. So I guess it should come as no surprise that many people raised here spend a lot of their recreational time out at “the lake” or “the river”. A lot of us learn to fish from a very young age, which is funny when you realize how few of us ever actually catch enough to cook even a single meal.


Thing 1 fishing.

My father started taking me fishing when I was about five years old, so you’d think that that would mean that I’m an expert by now. Not even close. I mean, I can go fishing in a shallow, weedy area using a spinner lure and worms as bait, and I can catch yellow perch, northern sunfish, and pumpkinseed sunfish like there’s no tomorrow. But I was always taught that, except on those rare occasions where you get a huge specimen, it just wasn’t worth it to take these fish home for dinner. I’ve also caught some monster pike, but they’re not good eating unless you’re truly desperate, as they are slimy, bony, and difficult to clean. Upon occasion, I’ve caught decent-sized walleye and carp, but only in waterways adjoining major cities that I consider too polluted for safe eating.


Thing 2 fishing.

Only in the last few years have I become truly interested in eating the fish that I catch; before that it was 100% catch-and-release. The prize fish for eating around here are smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and trout, with the latter being the most desirable. Of course, this means that this year so far I’ve only caught the one smallmouth bass, which started flopping on the line while I was trying to get a picture and somehow broke my wire leader (which I attached to my line on the off chance that I’d catch a pike, which can bite through a normal line). No, the metal did not snap; the ferrule securing the wire loop slipped open, and not only did the fish get away, it took my lure with it! So that means that really, this year so far anyway, I have been skunked for edible fish. How demoralizing.

It’s still a lot of fun to fish though, especially with my kids. Thing 1 prefers to root through her tackle box and sort through her lures rather than fish. Thing 2 generally alternates between running along the shoreline and seemingly trying to hook herself with her wildly-cast lures. Even so, we have a great time. I’m lucky enough that my lack of fishing success doesn’t mean that my family will go hungry, so we have the luxury of being pretty terrible at it but enjoying ourselves anyway.