Just imagine, you are lying in your tent, wide awake because you need to go to the bathroom AND there is a big storm raging. The rain is pouring down and there is a lot of lightening … then, you hear your phone beep; you look to find a “tornado warning”. What do you do?
Do you go to the bathroom? Do you warn your fellow campers? Do you turnover and try to go to sleep?
This happened to my brother-in-law on our last trip. He decided to go to the bathroom, but not warn the rest of us about the potential tornado. Wise man!
There was nothing we could have done anyway – well except worry. At the time, only one other person was awake (sadly, it was me) and of course one dog wondering why the tent was lighting up. The storm finally passed, after what seemed like hours. Fortunately, there wasn’t a tornado. Everyone had a little bit of water in their tent, but nothing that caused any problems.
We have camped as early as the first weekend in April (described in the “In Tents” post) but the usual start of the camping season for us is the May 24th weekend. This year we couldn’t go, so we rescheduled for June, arranging our own long weekend.
For years, we have camped on the May 24th long weekend to make sure we didn’t miss any of the camping season. The idea was to have something that motivated us to get the gear out of the attic and get into the spirit, before the summer slipped past.
In the early days, we went to the walk-in sites at Bon Echo, and loved it. The bugs are never too bad there for some reason, the view of the ‘rock’ was mesmerizing and we always found the hiking and canoeing unique. Site 167 is our favorite. It’s a bit further to walk but private and close to the water.
We often talk about the few years at Bon Echo where we had snow. We would hike and hang out in the museum and gift shop or head into town. One year we experienced a major thunderstorm. If you want to experience a cool thunderstorm with an echo, lakeside at Bon Echo is the place to be.
However, ever since getting our fantastic, but misanthropic dog, we have been going on back-country trips to avoid close proximity to others. The bugs are bad – blackflies mostly – on back-country trips in May. But we went anyway.
At first, missing May 24th camping this year made me feel old, but after this trip I think June will become our new start to the camping season. Turns out that camping in June is a treat. We had mosquitoes and deer flies, but they are way more manageable than blackflies.
The plan had been to go to Crab Lake, but it was already booked, so we ended up booking Site 236 on Copper Lake in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.
It was a grey day when we put our canoes in at Anstruther Lake. We were launching at the same time as two OPP officers. They asked if we were just getting back and we said we were just heading in – their response was a concerned “OH”. Nothing worse than a concerned sounding OH from a police officer. They were likely wondering what we were doing heading in to a back-country site when the forecast was calling for storms all weekend. They joked that we must be going far into the back-country to get away from the cops.
We had indeed heard the forecast calling for storms all weekend – but, in the past, we have cancelled trips because of the forecast, only to regret it when the storms didn’t happen. We decided to take the chance, knowing that we could likely get to our site and get set up before the rain. In our experience, thunderstorms are followed by sunshine, so although we don’t like them, we preferred them to all-day rains.
We had tarps, a bug shelter and good tents, so we were all set.
The trip in to Copper took 3.5 hours, at a leisurely pace. We had to stopped often to put on bug jackets and reapply bug spray, since the mosquitoes like damp, grey days. The bug spray went from the Essential Oil kind to the heavy duty spray. The Essential Oil works great, but for shorter periods of time.
The portages into Copper are all uphill and in some spots it’s pretty steep, but two of the portages are short (201 and 214 metres). On the first portage between Anstruther Lake and Rathbun Lake, watch for the poison ivy along the trail on the climb up from Anstruther.
If I had to pick my ‘all time’ favorite portage (can you have a favorite portage?) it would be the one out of Rathbun Lake. A sheltered landing, a rocky hill and a waterfalls make it interesting; I also like it because it’s short. This year the other end of the portage was very mucky, but there is a rock to stand on to load and unload.
The portage into Copper is pretty steep, which makes it feel a bit longer than 370 metres. It’s easier to do this portage when the ground is dry and the mosquitoes are manageable.
The paddling part of the trip in was great. Anstruther Lake was quiet and pretty calm. It is a big lake but there are nice rock cliffs, and islands and nice cottages to checkout.
In Rathbun Lake, the paddle between portages is very short, about 5 minutes around the first point. The swampy area between Rathbun and Copper Lakes was a very easy paddle too. Because it’s spring the water level is high, so it was a straight paddle, rather than the normal meandering path through the marsh. Copper is always a pretty paddle starting with the little creek at the end of the portage. This year we saw hundreds of Pitcher Plants, we think the flowers look prehistoric.
Copper Lake – Site 236
We arrived at our destination, Site 236 on Copper Lake. Luckily, the weather cleared at the last portage and we paddled across Copper in the sunshine.
We’ve stayed at Site 236 before as part of a two week trip. It’s a great site, up on a rock hill with a nice view of the lake. Lots of flat tent sites, lots of open areas. There are two excellent take out areas behind the little island. Low and flat takeouts are always welcome. Site 236 is not the first site that gets booked, so the other sites must be nice too. Next year we will check out a new site.
We discovered that in the spring there are many very pretty flowers; Lady Slippers, Irises, Blackberry, and several others I didn’t recognize, but will search. The spring flowers are often so tiny, but the irises and Lady Slippers are very big. I had recently heard a show on the CBC that talked about Lady Slippers – I didn’t know they were Orchids.
The deer flies came out soon after we arrived so we were happy to have deer fly patches. I had 29 caught by the end of the first night – the clear winner in the contest. The mosquitoes came out a bit later.
Even though our bug tent is heavy we decided to bring it along on this trip. Although we were not in it a lot, when we did use it, it was our only option other than going to bed, so we were happy to have it with us.
The last time we were on Copper Lake we could not get to Anderson Lake because of the low water levels; the only option was traveling into Serpentine Lake and taking the portage from Serpentine to Anderson. On this trip we knew that the water level would be high enough to get into Anderson Lake from Copper Lake, because the spring had been so wet. Saturday morning we decided to go and explore. It was a pretty paddle and fun.
We picked our way through the marsh on the north side of the island. We took our time and just enjoyed being away from the bugs. We saw lots of flowers and heard many different bird songs and saw turtles. Spring is so active.
We came to an open area that we thought was Anderson Lake, only to find another small channel at the far north end, that led to a beaver dam lift-over that actually ended at Anderson Lake.
Anderson Lake is small; from the centre of the lake we could see the portage into Rock Lake and the two campsites. Both sites were unoccupied. We needed to stop so the dogs could go for a swim and cool off, so without another option, we chose to stop at a campsite; we picked Site 240.
I have often commented that people shouldn’t use sites if they don’t have them booked, but sometimes you need to break your own rules. We knew we would see a canoe coming, so we thought it would be OK for a quick stop.
This site did not look well used. The pink rock near the water was nice, but the fire-pit and tent pads were set well back in the forest, away from the waters edge. We didn’t swim, but it looked like it would be hard getting in and out, at least from the point anyway. We only stayed long enough to cool off then we started back to Copper Lake.
We determined that although Anderson Lake was very private and pretty, it would not be a lake we would select; however, on the Ontario Parks map, Site 241 does look like a nicer site. We didn’t go to Rock Lake, maybe next time. The poison ivy warning on one of the Rock Lake sites isn’t appealing, but the pictures of the lake look very nice.
On the paddle back to our site we saw a porcupine wandering into the forest from the shore near the beaver dam. We always hope we don’t see one of those at our campsite, especially with the dogs.
On the way out we saw black clouds coming in, so we didn’t spend too much time looking around. We paddled out on the south side of the island because it opened up quicker. We wanted a fast paddle back to our site.
Back on Copper Lake
We didn’t do much more exploring the rest of the weekend, because the storms were always threatening. We did however relax at our site with some wine, some great food, our books and a few naps. I had trouble putting my book down – ‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donahue, but I did find time for an excellent nap in the hammock.
We saw beavers many times that trip, swimming past the site, than across the lake. We heard a lot of birds and saw squirrels but no other animals, which is just fine with us. On occasion the dogs looked off into the forest and growled. I really wish they wouldn’t do that – it makes me jumpy. It was likely a red squirrel that they were growling at, but you never know.
Then Saturday night, just after we crawled into the tent, the big storm hit and lasted for hours. So much rain! The lightening and thunder was never directly overhead and luckily only one of us knew about the tornado warning.
Sunday we woke to the most beautiful morning. However, we saw four canoes heading toward the portage before 8:30, so we knew there must be a bad forecast. Then we got a text from a family member telling us about the storm warnings. We check the weather and sure enough there was a tornado watch for the entire day. See, phones do come in handy on canoe trips.
Not long after breakfast it started to storm. Not a lot of wind or lightening, but lots of rain. We sat under the tarp, dumping the water occasionally. We kept thinking about the folks we saw paddling out – it would have been a wet and windy trip home.
It cleared near noon and the rest of the day was sunny, warm and beautiful. The wind was high and created whitecaps, but on shore we were grateful for the wind – it kept the bugs at bay. We were glad we were not paddling out today!
The thing about storms, they create the most beautiful skies. We had many unique views over the four days.
Sunday night, we were all sitting around the picnic table, when the dog ran to the shore barking and looking up at the sky. One of the advantages of having a Boarder Collie around, they don’t miss a thing. He was telling us that there was a double rainbow. We took hundreds of pictures, but could not get back far enough to capture both ends of the rainbow.
Something else about June trips, is the amazing amount of pollen in the air and the water. The water at the shore is yellow. It did make it hard to get drinking water from shore. We also had to swim in the bay to avoid getting out covered in pollen. However, the yellow shoreline was pretty. When the storm cleared, we noticed that the pollen was almost all gone. By Sunday there was just a bit of yellow left.
We all went swimming, something we never do on the May 24th weekend; another advantage of going in June. Although the water was still pretty cold, it was refreshing. Nothing like swimming in a lake!
In the bay, toward Site 235, there is a private swimming spot off some unique rocks. Site 235 is not the best site on the lake, so it isn’t used often. This means that if there isn’t anyone fishing in the bay, you can skinny-dip with some privacy. It is pretty easy to climb in and out on the rock steps. There are a lot of shallow rocks, so even when you swim out a bit, you will still hit rocks with your feet. This is definitely not a jumping in or diving in site.
Monday we woke to another beautiful morning. We all like packing up slowly, so it’s relaxing. After several days of relaxing, it is hard to rush anyway. We had a great lunch that included wine that had to be consumed before paddling out. Who wants to portage wine home? After lunch we headed for home.
The mosquitoes were not as intense on the portages on our way out,. Our packs were lighter and the sun was shining. We had a bit of wind on Rathbun to contend with, but all in all it was an easy paddle out.
I bought new Merrell hiking shoes this year and love them EXCEPT on wet rocks. Vibrem soles are the worst! I wish I had remembered that when I bought them. They slide on wet rocks. So I was very happy to find the portages dry. I think these shoes may become my city hiking shoes. I may need to look for another option for canoe trips.
On one portage we stopped for a snack, only to discover that if you put a square of Lindt Swiss chocolate between two halves of a homemade peanut butter cookie, your life will be forever changed.
On Anstruther Lake, at the bend going toward the parking lot, our paddling partners hit rocks – hard – with a new canoe – ouch. Christened. Both paddlers were admiring a cottage and didn’t see the rocks just beneath the surface.
On the drive home we were all commenting on how lucky we are to live so close to back-country canoe options. One hour and we were home and unpacking.
Rating: Very nice site, great view, good swimming. Portages are steep but short.
Lakes: Anstruther Lake > Rathbun Lake > Copper Lake (3 nights) with a visit to Anderson Lake. Same route out.
Map: Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/kawarthahighlands/map