Tag Archives: roadtrip

Places: Driving West

After returning from our epic four-province, five-state, 8800km roadtrip I’ve struggled with how to break this up into manageable posts but I will do my best and start with our journey out to Edmonton, Alberta.

Heading out in the pouring rain, we made it to just east of Sault Ste. Marie on our first day. Before our first campground we stopped at a great Canadian icon, the giant nickel of Sudbury. Somehow, this is still as impressive as it was when I was a kid and it was fun to revisit it with my own kids who were equally as impressed.img_1532

We spent our first night at Chutes Provincial Park and once set up had a fun evening doing their scavenger hunt, eating dinner at our site and making marshmallows over our campfire. Despite the bear warnings, we managed to avoid those.

Starting the day right with a cup of coffee

Heading north through Ontario, we knew we had to be a bit more strategic about where we stopped since campgrounds are few and far between. The weather seemed more unsettled further north so we decided to make it a short day and stay about an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie at the beautiful Pancake Bay for our second night. Before we did though, we took our time in the Soo, checking out the locks and the highly recommended Pino’s grocery. At our beautiful site on Pancake Bay, Ella and I hit the lake for a swim. After that experience, all cold water will now be compared to the glacial waters of Lake Superior.

Pancake Bay
No trip across Canada is complete without a stop at the Wawa Goose

Our third night was spent in Thunder Bay after driving over the top of Lake Superior and the next morning we didn’t drive far before checking out the impressive Kakabeka Fallsimg_1594

After all that time on the road, we took a break in Winnipeg, settling down at the Fort Garry hotel for a couple of nights. The hotel, in the style of old CP hotels was a pleasant break from the road and we really enjoyed our time in the city. Highlights included hitting the Bridge Drive-In on the way into town, touring the Legislature Building, visiting the Canadian Human Rights Museum and eating dinner at the new Forks Market.

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From Winnipeg, we continued west to my birthplace, Saskatoon. This city is such a beautiful one in the summer with the river valley and the sunset that doesn’t start until 10:30. Even though we didn’t roll into the Gordie Howe Campground (a classic that I last stayed in 20 years ago) until about dinner time we had plenty of time to tour the University, eat a delicious dinner at Primal and enjoy the beautiful views over the river valley. img_1747

Finally, from Saskatoon we made the final push to Edmonton, a quick five-hour jaunt over the beautiful prairie. Despite the length of this overall journey, our impression was that it didn’t feel overly long – our longest day was from Winnipeg to Saskatoon which took a little over 9 hours and this was slowed down by construction outside of Winnipeg. Most other days we were able to limit our driving to about 7 hours at the most and this made for a pretty comfortable pace. img_1755


Places: Lake Placid, NY 

One of the places I have camped the most since I’ve moved out east is Meadowbrook, situated right between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid in the Adirondack mountains. I’ve probably stayed there a dozen times over the years and although it is hardly the nicest place to camp – situated right off the highway beside a BBQ restaurant and a car dealership – it is comfortable and within the small campground there are a few really nice sites.

This year for Fathers Day we were able to snag my favourite site, #26, a huge site in deep trees at the terminus of the campground road.IMG_1336

We drove down with H’s brother, while her sister and parents arrived in different vehicles bound for their own accommodations.

We pitched our new tentropolis, which is the size of a small apartment and settled in to relax on the Friday night with perfect weather. On Saturday morning, after a lazy start we headed out to climb Haystack Mountain. This is a relatively easy and short climb (even for kids) just outside of Saranac Lake that has a pretty good payoff in terms of the view from the top.IMG_1331

After our hike we went just north of Saranac Lake to Lake Clear to cool off. This mountain lake was still pretty chilly for swimming but with the heat it didn’t take long for us all to get in.

For dinner on Saturday we went in to Lake Placid to eat on the main strip at H’s parents’ favourite spot, The Dancing Bears, and afterward we enjoyed a nice walk along Mirror Lake with the beautiful weather. We capped the night off with another great campfire at our site.IMG_1310

After taking down the site on Sunday, we stopped in Saranac Lake for ice cream and also to check out the restored Adirondack Carousel – something I’ve meant to do for years when we’ve visited but thought we better get done this time before our kids were too old to ride. It was another great weekend in Lake Placid – so I’m sure we will be back again soon.


Places: Toronto, Ontario

At the beginning of December we headed down to Toronto and it had been quite a while since we had made the trip. We stayed at our friend’s new condo on the East end of downtown which was a great location for our activities. We were right at the junction of the King Street and Queen Street streetcars and since Noah’s goal for the trip was just to ride the streetcar again and again, it worked out pretty well.

On our first night there we headed down to the relatively new Barhop Brewco which was a great choice. Although we were the only ones to have kids in there – not the first time that’s happened – it was a perfect spot for a great selection of beer and really good food. One of the things the new Barhop is known for is their ‘pig-head nachos’ which actually consist of a full, cooked pig head served with fully loaded nachos. Obviously this is something that must be ordered when the opportunity presents itself.  The kids squealed with delight when it arrived, H made the waiter turn the platter so the pig wasn’t looking at her and we were off! The nachos were delicious and SO filling – even Lil’ E helped herself. I would certainly go back to this spot – great service, food and lots of beer selection.

After dinner we headed down to Ripley’s Aquarium. I had heard lots of good things – and apparently it is all the buzz amongst 8-year olds as well so we were curious to check it out. It didn’t disappoint – the whole thing is really well done. Saturday night was a great time to go as well because it wasn’t busy at all. To go through the whole thing took almost three hours but we really took our time. Despite the ticket prices adding up a bit, it is well worth the visit.

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On Sunday, we took it pretty easy, eating a nice brunch on Queen Street East and then watching football for most of the afternoon. The kids have both really taken to basketball this year and have been anxious to go to a Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre. They both seemed to really enjoy themselves, especially once we tracked down the last foam fingers in the stadium. A live basketball game is fantastic for kids, there is always something going on and lots of action to keep their attention.IMG_0207

The Raptors beat the lowly 76ers and after a late-night pizza at One Pizza on King Street, the kids were exhausted. We wanted to get back to Ottawa pretty early the next day so after an early breakfast at a coffee spot Lil’E had scouted out (only she would do that…) we hit the road and were back in Ottawa by 2pm.

A great weekend in Toronto overall – although I am pretty sure I could never live there, it is a pretty fun place to visit, and especially when you have such an awesome place to stay.IMG_0219


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!

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: Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

During our Maritimes adventure, we spent time in four Canadian provinces and the first of these was of course Quebec. Sometime last summer I had my interest sparked in going to the Gaspe by this article in the Globe and Mail. The funny part is that the article really doesn’t cover anything that we actually did in the Gaspe but the inspiration did manage to get us there.

One thing we found out about the Gaspe during the first couple of days is that it is a LONG way out there. To get to Forillon National Park, our first destination of the trip, took us about fourteen hours of driving with two distinct components. Until Riviere-du-Loup, it is an easy drive flying along four-lane highway but after that it moves to more tedious, but much more interesting and beautiful, driving along rising and falling two-lane highways with limited passing lanes until reaching the tip of the Gaspe peninsula where Forillon lies.

This drive really peaked my interest in returning to the area, there are so many beautiful scenes along the St. Lawrence Seaway and tiny towns that could be explored. One thing that started to strike me as we drove is how isolated this area of Canada could be, particularly before the Internet and during the winter. We stopped for groceries about two and a half hours from our campground and it was the last grocery store of any size that we saw.

Our morning view

We arrived around dinner time to Forillon National Park and everyone’s eyes lit up when they realized I had booked an Otentik rather than sleeping in our own tent. This counts as luxury on an adventure like this!

Our four-season canvas tent could not have had a more beautiful view, looking out toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence from our front porch. We really enjoyed our two nights at Forillon – there were very few people and the facilities at the National Park were excellent. The weather was pretty funny – it changed constantly, from hot and sunny to rainy and windy and back again in a matter of minutes as different systems blew in off the ocean.

One of the six weather patterns we experienced that day.

Our campground provided a rocky beach, a playground overlooking the ocean, and excellent facilities to make it a very comfortable experience.

We did the eight-kilometre Les Graves trail to the lighthouse at Cape Gaspe – this was a fun hike although it did make us come to the realization that our kids are probably still more suited to six kilometre long hikes…

On the way back to the campsite, after spotting a seal and some foxes earlier, we also saw a black bear which brought traffic to a halt and let E check another animal off her list for the trip.

The next day, from Forillon, we drove west on the south side of the Gaspe Peninsula, passing by the famous Perce Rock and other beautiful scenery. We stopped at a nameless beach for an hour or so and the lack of people in this wonderful landscape continued to amaze us. The only place we saw any people was in Perce, which actually seemed like sort of an aberration as we arrived to a town that was packed with tourists. We made that a very short stop and as soon as we were on our way, the crowds disappeared once again.

Our last night in the Gaspe was spent in Carleton-sur-Mer at the Manoir Belle Plage. This small town again provided nice views over the water and although we didn’t have a lot of time to spend, we enjoyed some excellent coffee the next morning from La Brulerie du Quai while the kids explored one of the largest playgrounds that we saw all trip along with its 200-foot zipline.

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From Carleton, it was only about an hour until we were into New Brunswick, ending our Gaspe portion of the trip. I think we would all welcome going back to the Gaspe – there were so many idyllic little towns that we sailed through because of a lack of time but each one we stopped in provided an interesting glimpse into the history and culture of this isolated part of Canada.

Places: Quebec City, QC

The last time I had been in Quebec City was more than ten years ago when I stopped in for a night with friends on our way to a wedding in Nova Scotia so it was certainly time for a return visit.

Given the preciptious drop in the Canadian dollar and a bit of patriotic guilt, we decided this year to put a priority on travelling in Canada with the kids. Quebec City is often referrred to as a kind of ‘encapsulated’ Europe within Canada. I think that may be a bit of a stretch but it certainly has a unique culture – or some might say it is a ‘distinct society.’ It is just about a five-hour drive from Ottawa to Quebec City so we decided that it was worth a three-night stay and we also put a priority on trying not to do too much in one day since we have been busy at home and at work lately. Our weather represented a true Canadian spring – you name it, we had it. Rain, some flurries, clouds, sun, warmth, cold, wind – it was all there.

On Friday night when we arrived it was cool enough that we were happy to find the Chez Ashton across the street for a poutine and then retreat to our condo to watch the Senators game on TV.

Poutine #1

On Saturday, we woke up to sunshine and set out to explore our neighbourhood of Saint-Roch. Most of the activity seems to be focused on Rue St. Joseph so we walked the length of it until we were drawn in by Benjo, a giant toy store. In the last seven years I have been in plenty of toy stores but this was certainly one of the most impressive with giant displays, a racetrack that we had to drag the big guy off, and even a train that the kids could ride around the store on. After that, H found her own version of a toy store, some unique furniture shops!


In the afternoon we hiked up to the old city and wandered through the streets before visiting the Chateau Frontenac, a most impressive old Canadian Pacific hotel. From there, we took the stairs down to Petit-Champlain and then boarded the ferry to Levis that crosses the St. Lawrence river. The ferry provides quite an impressive view of Quebec City, much like taking the Staten Island ferry out of Manhattan, and although the ice was out of the water when we were there, it is impressive that this thing manages to run all year. After taking the ferry back since there really isn’t anything to do in Levis beyond getting back on the ferry, we took the funicular back up to the walled city instead of the stairs. By the time we walked all the way back to our neighbourhood we had covered a pretty good distance.

Chateau Frontenac

Despite this, we thought it was a good idea to try out a fancier place for dinner, Les Salles Gosses, right near our place. The staff was excellent, the food was really good, and the kids were complete contrasts as Lil’ E downed lobster linguini while the big guy declared everything on the menu ‘disgusting’. Things really went downhill when we discoverd that the ‘veal balls’ were not actually a meatball made with veal, but a more literal translation. Perhaps not our finest parenting decision to try and push for this meal, but the snow crab croquettes were delicious!

On Sunday morning we set out to Montmorency Falls, about 15 minutes east of Quebec City. This is quite an impressive sight that is actually slightly higher than Niagara Falls. Although the stairs that allow you to go down right beside the falls were still closed for the season, the suspension bridge was still open and it provided quite an amazing perspective. Although we didn’t make use of it, there is also an old lodge there that houses a restaurant and a small interpretative centre that we toured through. From the top of the falls, there are also impressive views of the St. Lawerence River and Ile d’Orleans.

Montmorency Falls

Later the same day, we went up to check out the Plains of Abraham, the site of Canada’s most famous battle that eventually led to the fall of the French troops and victory of the British Empire. Although historically significant, the Plains are essentially just a large, open expanse of grass which while lovely in the summer was just plain cold and miserable with the wind whipping off the river. However, while checking out some of the historic cannons we were offered passes to the National Museum of Fine Arts by a kind lady who had extras. While we only had a little time to check out the museum before it closed, we did manage to explore the Bryan Adams photography exhibit which exceeded my expectations and was pretty interesting to see. Even the kids enjoyed the large-scale photos and took turns picking their favorites. Overall, despite the weather being a bit dicey, we had a great time in this unique city. On Monday we returned to a couple of our favorite shops in our neighbourhood, picked up lunch for the ride home and headed back to Ottawa around noon, flying through Montreal on the bypass that makes travel through the city a much more reasonable proposition again.