Category Archives: 2015

Places: Little River State Park, VT

While an extra week of summer vacation for the kids last year caused angst for some parents, we decided to make the best of it and enjoy every last day, culminating with a Labour Day trip to one of our favourite spots from the summer before; Waterbury, Vermont.

Since we had been spending a lot of time in the tent in August, we decided to go for one of the small cabins that are offered at Little River State Park. These are pretty basic, offering a set of bunkbeds, a full-size bed and a table inside. They remind me a lot of Kamping Kabins that we used as a family when I was a kid at KOA campgrounds.dscf4816

For this trip, our friend Chris flew up from Toronto to come on the drive with us. For a while, it looked like it just might be him, myself and the kids making the trip as H was having some serious dental issues. However, nobody can ever accuse her of bailing out on a trip easily as she toughed it out, threw back some Tylenol and hopped in the car!

It’s a smooth drive down to Waterbury and we chose to go interstate all the way since we had gotten a bit of a slow start.

Our weather for the entire weekend was perfect – warm for early September and no chance of rain. While our family bunked down in the cabin, Chris set up our small tent outside. One thing that can’t seem to be avoided at this campground is that many of the good sites, including this one, are located right beside a huge cliff that leads down to the lake. Although there was plenty of calls to ‘be careful!’ – there were no incidents.

Although the campground was full for Labour Day, it is not overly large so it never felt busy and the kids were able to run over to the playground and the washrooms by themselves.dscf4835

Our first night there we bought an enormous amount of firewood and were ready to go for the weekend. That went well with our pretty fantastic selection of craft beers that we had picked up as well. We had great fires every night with the kiln-dried wood that I appreciate so much at Vermont State Parks.dscf4800

On our first full day, we spent a lot of it swimming in the reservoir, doing some of the nature hikes in the area and then went into Waterbury for a delicious meal at the Prohibition Pig. The popularity of this place is amazing – we had to wait almost 2 hours for a table but were able to relax on the patio of their new brewery which also offers a few snacks and watch the people go by.

We went back into Burlington on the morning of our second full day, spending some time on Church Street and picking up dinner for the campsite at the City Market. We managed to make it back for another swim since it was a gorgeous day and had a relaxing evening around the fire again.dscf4836

On our way back to Ottawa, we took the route through Stowe and over the mountain pass. This is such a crazy narrow and twisting road – it is pretty hilarious to drive, as long as you don’t have someone running into you!

This was a great end to the summer vacation as the kids headed back to school the next day. We will certainly plan something similar for next year!

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Places: Achray Provincial Park, Algonquin

For many years I have heard great things about Achray Provincial Park. My former boss used to head to Achray summer after summer and talk about what a great spot it was. I determined last summer was finally going to be the year we made it up there and so five months to the day before we wanted to arrive, I woke up early and made my reservation on the Ontario Parks website. Later, I found some other local blogs such as Coffee with Julie that talked about what a great spot it was.

Although we had originally made our reservation for four nights, we ended up having having to cancel the first couple of nights due to pouring rain and some other commitments in Ottawa. Always one of the difficulties of booking five months in advance….

We left early Friday morning in perfect sunshine and stopped along the way for lunch at Lakeview Deli and Meatery in Cobden per the advice of another great local blog, A Peek Inside the Fishbowl.  Although I had read all sorts of horror stories about driving the gravel road into Achray once you get past the Algonquin gate, I can only think these were written by people who have never driven gravel roads. As a kid who grew up driving on all sorts of narrow gravel tracks, this is the Autobahn of unpaved roads. It shouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting. Overall, the trip from Ottawa took less than three hours – a smooth ride.dscf4711

As soon as we arrived, I realized why people enjoy this campground so much. There are a very limited number of sites, about 45, and ours was a huge site that backed right on to the beach and the beautiful lake. The canopy of huge pine trees was idyllic. On the Friday afternoon, there were dozens of people heading out in canoes and kayaks for campsites around the lake and further abound that require a paddle in.

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Nice backyard

By the end of August when we went, the lake is plenty warm to swim in and we had no problems at all with mosquitoes – I don’t think any of us used repellant all weekend.

One of our neighbours had the most extensive camp setups that I had seen and had been staying at the park for two weeks. They were really friendly with kids about our age and were more than willing to share their awesome zipline setup and slack line. The kids were thrilled to see it and the only question we heard for the next 48 hours was whether we could get a zipline for the backyard.

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Zipline in action

On the Saturday, we rented a canoe from the camp store – I had worried that they might run out but the girl said they hadn’t sold out all summer so I guess that isn’t an issue. It seemed like most people used a service from outside the park that delivers them to the water’s edge. For the sake of convenience, and if only for a day or two, I would just rent one from the camp store again. We had a great day out on the water, mostly just exploring Grand Lake and enjoying a picnic on the other side.

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A fine group of paddlers

One thing about that camp store, and Algonquin in general, which  may also make it unattractive for some campers is that there are very limited supplies for sale and there is no easy access to another store or even to a restaurant due to the vastness of the park that surrounds you. For a change of pace though, I would say this is a great advantage.

Between the perfect weather and setting, this was one of my favourite weekends of the summer. The whole family had lots of fun, ate well, enjoyed the beach and were happy to finally explore this gem of the Ontario Parks system. We will certainly be back next year!

 

Places: New Brunswick’s National Parks

I had promised I would come back to our time in New Brunswick and here we are. Our experiences in New Brunswick were really focused around the two National Parks we camped at and both of them left us wanting to go back.

On our way east through New Brunswick, we stayed on the north shore and spent two days at Kouchibouguac National Park – or as I described it, the one that starts with a ‘K’, kouchi-something…(koo-chi-boo-gu-ack).

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Site #136 with some sort of lightsabre battle going on

The weather was threatening a bit as we arrived at Kouchibouguac so we got the tarp over our site right away. Just as we were tying off the last rope, it started to pour! For about a half-hour it was a full downpour but once it was done, it was the last rain that we saw in New Brunswick and our next two days were beautiful.

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Headed to the beach

The facilities at Kouchibouguac National Park were not quite as deluxe as we had experienced at Gaspe National Park but there was still a great playground for the kids, clean bathrooms and the dish sinks that make washing up after meals so much more enjoyable.

dscf4051We only really spent one full day in the park but got a good sense of the area and enjoyed learning about the natural area through the kid’s junior ranger program. We went to two of the beaches and unfortunately, Kelly’s Beach was overrun with jellyfish the day we were there so we did not get into the water. Depending on the currents this seems to happen along the Northumberland Strait from time to time due to the high concentration. Regardless, the sand bar is very beautiful and there is an excellent boardwalk system for walking out to the beach to limit the erosion.

The kids also enjoyed the variety show that was put on by the park staff at the amphitheatre that night featuring Parka, the official mascot of the National Parks. We were there during the middle of the week so it may not have been indicative but availability seemed pretty easy to come by as there were many empty sites around us.

dscf4067Overall, a great campsite and although you are pretty isolated, it is part of the fun. We stayed on site #136 and it was very nice; private and a good size.

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On our way west from Halifax we debated for a while what to do; whether to stay there for a couple more days, whether to stop in Fredricton or Quebec City but in the end, with the weather looking good we decided to book in for two nights in Fundy National Park and it was one of the last sites remaining.

Stopping just outside of Fundy National Park in Alma, before we even arrived we had a delicious dinner of lobster rolls and seafood chowder at the Alma Lobster Shop. dscf4617On the main road in to the campground they were doing major construction so it was a kind of an unsightly mess with dust and dirt everywhere but it was hard to complain with views like the one below right off the road.dscf4680

Our site was one of the better we saw so we must have gotten awfully lucky – some had hardly any privacy but ours worked out really well. (site #253 – Chignecto North) Even when our neighbours pulled back into their site at 1 in the morning and then decided to start a campfire, at least they were quiet!

dscf4675Knowing we only had one day to explore Fundy, we made the best of it. The kids loved exploring the rocks and caves at low tide and the National Park actually has a giant outdoor pool that overlooks the Bay of Fundy and is constantly refreshed by water from the bay and heated by solar panels. It was a really fun way to spend the afternoon and even included in the price of our park pass. There was also a giant playground that the kids made very good use of.  In the evening, we took in the show that was put on at the amphitheatre and headed home for our last campfire of the trip.

dscf4628The National Parks we stayed in were really a highlight of our trip and made us anxious to try and explore more of Canada’s National Parks. Each of them were new for us and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the facilities and of course Canada’s beauty is on display at each of them as well.

We said goodbye to Bay of Fundy the next morning before daybreak – taking down the tent in the dark and heading for home. Fifteen hours and 1300kms later, we pulled into our driveway with another vacation in the books.

 

Places: South Shore, Nova Scotia

Wow – Labour Day weekend ended and then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving and now the end of October is in sight! I am not sure what happened in between but enough that I didn’t seem to have time to keep up with this! As a result, I will be going back in time to capture some of our other summer adventures and maybe there will be enough of a lull now that I won’t fall behind on anything else.

Continuing on from our train car experience, we headed to the south shore of Nova Scotia – just outside of Lunenburg on an ocean-front site at Risser’s Beach Provincial Park. While being oceanfront provided an incredible view, but it also provided an incredible wind! As we stepped out of our car, it nearly knocked us over and it took a fair amount of patience to even get the tent up.

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We went to bed pretty early the first night and then a couple of hours later we were awoken by a thunderstorm that was right on top of us. It was the most intense that I can remember and sounded even worse with the crashing of waves on the rocks as the tide was coming in. After a few minutes of waiting for it to pass, we were all certain we were only moments away from a bolt of lightning hitting our tent, or a tree falling on it, so we made a break for the car and waited it out there. That is the only time I can ever remember doing that but it certainly seemed like a good idea. While E, H, and I watched anxiously out the windows, N just slept right through and didn’t remember a thing in the morning.

Although we got off to a rough start, we awoke to a beautful morning the next day and the kids played around on the rocks that separated our site from the ocean before we took off to Lunenburg.

In Lunenburg, we enjoyed exploring the waterfront and the Bluenose II was actually in port so we got to go on board that as well. After a delicious lunch at the Salt Shaker Deli overlooking the harbour, we went to the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum. This has to be one of the best value museums there is. We spent a full four hours exploring the many exhibits, the touch tank and listening to presentations for less than $20 for the four of us. The kids loved the exhibits and it was a great experience.

We returned to a much more calm evening at our campsite and enjoyed our view and the beautiful setting.

From Lunenburg we headed to Halifax, a city I’ve never spent much time in – and we didn’t spend much this trip either. After arriving at our hotel right downtown, we cleaned up for camping and then were ready to head out. We ate on the patio at the Stubborn Goat in beautiful weather and then set off for the harbourfront to do the tourist circuit. We rode the ferry over to Dartmouth, ate some Cows ice cream and climbed up and slid down the big wave before finally making it back to our hotel.

The next morning, after debating whether to spend another night, we made a break for Fundy National Park and the last couple of nights of our trip after finding a campsite that had opened up. Before leaving Halifax though, we took advantage of our National Park Pass one more time and visited the Halifax Citadel. Although I thought the soldiers would be a hit with N, it was actually E that enjoyed all the exhibits and the participants in period clothing. After a couple of hours there, we were on our way again – headed west.

The Stay: Train Station Inn, Tatamagouche, NS

Who could possibly give up the opportunity to sleep in a train caboose? In planning her trip, my mom had come across the Train Station Inn and suggested that it might be quite a hit for our kids as we left Prince Edward Island. To call it a hit would be underselling it; I am pretty sure they would still be there if they could be and they weren’t the only ones that were impressed with this unique accommodation.

Caboose #9

The Train Station Inn is a collection of cabooses and train cars that have been renovated into unique hotel rooms and located on the tracks surrounding the century-old Tatamagouche train station. The Inn opened up in 1989 and has been chosen before as the most unique place to stay in Canada.

We stayed in Caboose #9 – a two-bedroom caboose with 2 conductor seats in the cupola where the kids spent most of their time. It also featured a private deck on the back and somehow also had a shower and bathroom squished in there.

I don’t believe the caboose had the deck while in service.

We also enjoyed breakfast in the train station the next morning and exploring the small town of Tatamagouche, complete with excellent bakery and their own microbrewery Although we were only in Tatamagouche for one night, the caboose accommodation provided a memorable experience that I would certainly recommend. 

Places: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

This trip recap will go a little out of order now, and if anyone reading this blog is from New Brunswick I know that they are going to be upset that it is being skipped for the time being but I certainly will come back to it.

Our visit to PEI was the anchor of the trip, our first thing we booked that let us get started with everything else. My parents had also planned a trip to Maritimes this summer and after scoping out dozens of places to meet up, we found a great spot in Charlottetown to stay for four days that would hold all of us.

On our way into Charlottetown, we stopped on the south shore of the Island beside Argyle Shore Provincial Park to spend the the afternoon with our friends from Ottawa – they had rented a place for the week and our arrival coincided with the arrival of good weather. After a miserable three weeks of weather for the island in July, our stay had some of the hottest weather of the summer so we were very lucky. After the day on the beach exploring tide pools and even having a swim, we stopped before arriving at our house at Pizza Delight for some garlic fingers, a genuine Maritime tradition.

Endless red sand at Argyle Shore

On our first morning we headed north to to see Anne of Green Gables – a recent interest of our daughter’s since she has just started reading the books so the timing was excellent. More surprisingly, our son was also fascinated by the farm and the old house. My memory of the last time I visited this site about twenty years ago was of huge crowds and tour buses but it was not like that at all. In fact, this was a general theme on the island – it did not seem to be very busy at all despite it being the height of tourist season. I am sure this does not bode well for the local economy and people were certainly talking about it. We spent a couple of hours at the site but didn’t really take the time to explore this part of the island much on this trip.

What a job…

On Saturday, it was a beautiful day and we found out where all the people were in PEI – they were at Basin Head beach just past Souris on the east side of the island. This is a beach that I had first read about here and although it is about an hour outside of Charlottetown, it certainly doesn’t hurt it’s popularity. Although I am sure there were a good number of tourists there, the crowd seemed to mostly be made up of locals. Once we made our way through the crowds, the kids really enjoyed walking out to the sandbars, making castles and finding little sea critters.

Hanging out at the Lobster Shack in Souris

On our way out to Basin Head, we stopped at the Lobster Shack in Souris for some excellent lobster rolls and local oysters. Even little E tried an oyster! And despite her distaste for it, she managed to keep it down which is probably more than I could have done at that age – I would have ordered the grilled cheese. As an aside, I have never seen anyone eat more lobster than little E did on this trip – whole lobsters, lobster rolls, lobster mac n’ cheese – she was willing to take any delivery mechanism to get her favorite crustacean.

Exploring Basin Head

On Sunday, we spent some more time in Charlottetown, exploring the harbour area and some of the historic sites downtown including the area around Province House since it is currently undergoing a massive renovation. We also had lunch at the famous Water & Prince Corner Shop, an excellent seafood feast on the picnic tables they have outside. H and I split a seafood chowder that was my favourite of the trip. Later that day we went back out to Argyle Shore Provincial Park, stopping first at the Dream Park in Cornwall just outside of Charlottetown. This massive park could entertain the kids for hours and had many elements that we just don’t see in our cookie-cutter parks here in Ottawa anymore. A good run there helped everyone work off one of their multiple Cows ice cream trips.

To me, the Argyle Shore beach is quintessentially Prince Edward Island. The red sand and the tide pools make it look like a postcard. On a future trip, I would be tempted to spend my time on this shore. And again, despite the beautiful weather, there couldn’t have been more than a dozen people at the park. 

On our way from PEI on our final morning we took the time to tour Government House, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor and also got in a final lobster roll at Dave’s Lobster near the water. Overall, PEI was certainly one of the kids’ favourite stops on the trip and although small, we will still have more to do next time we return since our four days just let us put a small dent in the activities that it offers.