Our dog turned one, just before his first big canoe trip. He had been to Bon Echo for a weekend to learn to sleep in a tent; then he had been to Mountain Lake in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park for his first canoe camping trip. Now for the test, a 12 day trip to Massasauga Provincial Park. At the start of the trip we didn’t know the test was actually going to be ours – the humans had to survive a very rainy trip.
Before heading down to Three Legged Lake we stopped and checked in at Oastler Lake Provincial Park. When we were checking in, the park staff drew our attention to a sign about “active bears” in the area. We’ve had that warning before when checking in for a Killarney trip.
After signing in we drove to the Three Legged Leg launch and did the first portage without incident. On the paddle down Spider Lake, the Rangers pulled up in a boat and asked if we were aware that there were “active bears” in the area. They reminded us of the importance of hanging our food.
We were heading to Site 23 in the south end of Spider Lake, so we had a bit of a paddle; we were thankful it was a nice calm day.
We’ve camped on Spider Lake many times, but this was our first time camping in the southern section of the lake. Spider Lake is really like three lakes connected by channels, so depending where you stay, it can feel like an entirely different lake.
The day was very hot and humid. We had to stop for a little cooling “dog paddle” along the way. It can get pretty hot in the canoe for a dog. We also keep a towel in the canoe that we dunk in the lake then drape over him.
For his first big trip, he actually did well and didn’t wiggle as much as he had his first few times in the canoe.
Spider Lake – Site 23 (4 days)
We arrived at Site 23 to find a very nice sandy area for landing the canoes; unloading was a breeze. We definitely welcomed the shelter of the trees after such a hot paddle.
We unloaded quickly, then jumped in the water for a nice cooling swim. Little did we know that this swim would be the only ‘hot day swim’ on the entire 12 day trip.
I have mentioned in previous posts that one of the things I like about Massasauga Provincial Park is the speed in which the Rangers arrive to the site to check permits and do a site survey. I think we were only at the site about 30 minutes before their visit.
One of the Rangers told us that Site 23 was his favorite site on the lake. It was easy to see why.
Although there are not a lot of flat areas for tents, we were able to find three good spots – one large and two small sites that were nicely spread out. This is a rocky site with lots of little ups and downs, but the tents were on flat ground
The trail to the KYBO is very interesting too, with rocks and a bit of a hill. The wood is plentiful on this site, if you walk far enough back in the forest.
It is a private site because the other sites are quite far away. The rolling rocks down by the water provide a lot of sitting options, which can be great for watching the night sky … unless of course the clouds move in.
The view from this site is nice in every direction. I always like a view with islands; it adds perspective and gives your eye a place to land.
The swimming options were also great, with a spot right out at the front of the site, off the rocks. The water is easy to access and nice and deep. There is also a private area for swimming facing the channel on the north side of the site. There is a ledge that makes it easy to get in and out. It is also a great place to stand and fish.
This was the site where our dog learned to fish (this means watching someone cast without chasing the lure).
We also found a disk hanging in a tree, which was the best dog toy ever. However, it didn’t float, so it had to be rescued from the water more than a few times.
The only draw back to the site that I could see was the lack of a flat, wide open area for a dog to play ball.
On the second morning I woke to find I had a bite on my back that had a red ring around it. Of course I was thinking about ticks. Although we are careful, having a dog sleeping in the tent adds another level of concern. I decided that I wasn’t going to let worry ruin my trip, although it was on my mind off and on. It turned out to be a spider bite.
The second day of our trip was nice, but very windy. Apparently, the wind should have warned us that a cold front was coming in.
We decided to explore the southern end of Spider Lake, but as soon as we turned the corner, we saw a wall of black clouds coming in from Georgian Bay. We turned around and paddled quickly back to our site. We laughed at the people watching us from Site 26 on the point we had just passed. They must have wondered why we turned around and paddled past them at full speed; they couldn’t see the storm from where they were facing, only sunshine.
We decided to put up a tarp, but the wind was so strong it took four people and a lot of rope. It didn’t rain at the site that day, but we could hear storms all around us and the temperature continued to drop.
The next morning we had rain, wind and very cold temperatures. My sister-in-law had socks on her hands for most of the day. We huddled under the tarp. We had a fire going at the edge of the tarp to provide some warmth, or at least the illusion of warmth. It rained off and on all day. It was a long underwear day for sure.
We always pack long underwear, and wool socks and something we call “double down”, a packable down vest, worn under a down jacket. One person in our group wore shorts as long as possible, but finally gave in.
On the last day at Site 23, we woke to rain. It is always hard packing up in the rain. We waited a bit, because the rain had stopped after breakfast and we wanted the tents to dry a bit. Luckily the rain held off until the tents were down.
We had lunch before we left. We left the tarp up so we could eat lunch out of the drizzle. It was our first time having dehydrated salsa and it took longer than we expected to rehydrate but it was well worth the wait.
Clear Lake – Site 34 (4 days)
Just as we started the short paddle toward the portage into Frog Pond, it started to rain hard. We had our gear covered, but the dog was not amused. It was his first time in a canoe in the rain.
We always do the two short portages between Spider Lake, Frog Pond and Clear Lake. There is another longer portage into Clear Lake that is straight through. This longer portage is very pretty. We have taken it once and hiked it once. There isn’t any muck to contend with, however, we prefer the shorter, muckier option. Not to mention the muck is usually good for a few laughs.
Unfortunately, this time the portage was very wet and slick and one person in our group experienced an injury on the hill. It was not a “trip ending” injury, but an injury that took a few months to heal.
The trip into Site 34, on Clear Lake, did not take long at all, but the rain, winds and extreme cold made it feel like a very long day. Luckily we didn’t need to deal with lightening.
We were not lucky enough to book Site 31 (the island site). The island on Clear Lake has long been the “site to get”. This was the first time we’ve stayed on Clear Lake on a site other than the island. Site 34 is on the “point” across from the island. Although we do love the island, it is also nice to try new sites.
The day we arrived, we were too focused on “surviving” to notice just how beautiful Site 34 really is.
We arrived to find a great landing spot – another sand area that was sheltered from the wind. That made it very easy to unload.
There is a clearing in the trees that creates one big flat area for tents. It was perfect for all three of our tents.
The site has a rock point where we found the picnic table. We struggled to get a tarp up in the wind and quickly realized we would need a tarp wall too. It was not our finest tarp, but it worked. It gave us a dry place to eat, out of the wind.
The entire day was wet, cold and windy. Luckily we had some nice hot meals and some tea. We also decided it was a great day for a nap and an early night. A campfire wasn’t really even an option. We were so thankful for our warm cloths and dry sleeping bags. I must admit, I love being in the tent at night listening to the rain. I also don’t mind hearing a storm off in the distance; that night we got to listen to a storm out over Georgian Bay.
Luckily, we woke to sun the next day. It was still very cold and windy and our morning swim was painful, but at least we had the sunshine.
The swimming off the rock point is OK, but it was hard to get in and out on the side that offered shelter from the wind. We did swim but it was more out of necessity – just a quick dip, then we tucked into the shelter of a rock.
Finally, the day warmed enough to exchange our down jackets for t-shirts.
We decided to head out and explore the lake. Clear Lake is a very pretty lake. There were people camped on the island, but the other sites were empty. We wanted to check out the two empty sites for future reference, but neither one appealed to us.
Although we love the island site, Site 34 really is a close second. Even the walk to the KYBO is nice – it is very wide open. Lots of wood at this site too, if you walk far enough back into the forest.
This site was also great because there is a beach on one side, flat rock on the other and a rocky point in the middle. Lots of variety.
The next day we woke to the sound of rain on the tent AGAIN. So lying in the tent listening to rain at night IS nice, but standing under a tarp all day in the cold, the rain and the wind … is another story entirely.
The best part of the day happened later in the morning during a break in the weather. We saw 22 loons playing in the long bay next to the campsite. It was one of the most spectacular loon sightings any of us had ever experienced. They were singing, and putting on quite a show. It was a great memory.
Although it rained all that day, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset, a great dinner, red wine, Brix chocolate and a campfire. Luckily we had fire-starters and some dry wood, so we were able to get a fire going to dry things out.
Unfortunately, we had some wood stacked under a tree and someone in our group hit their head on a broken tree branch, ending up with a big gouge on the top of his head. Being bald made it worse. So, why is it, that when it is cold and wet there are more injuries?
We were happy to discover that we had put our tents in exactly the right spot – all our tents were dry, but there were several huge puddles in the middle area.
A story about Site 34 on Clear Lake would not be complete without mention of the water-snakes.
Before we booked, we had heard that this site was known for it’s family of water-snakes. We were not too concerned. However, these snakes were huge and looked exactly like roots. This made it hard to walk around the site, not to mention terrifying the poor dog. At one point he was frozen, afraid to move because he was surrounded by roots. He seemed to be expecting them to move at any moment.
The snakes were no problem otherwise, they just hung out on the rocks.
They are water-snakes, so they do swim, but they won’t bother you if you leave them alone.
I must admit, I do have this thing about keeping the tent zipped up tight. Back in the 1950’s my grandfather was living in a tent for the summer. He jumped into his bed roll one night, only to jump right back out when he thought there was a snake curled in the bottom; turns out it was his belt. That story sticks with me and really, why take any chances?
Luckily, on the day we were leaving Site 34 the sun was actually out, so we were able to pack up dry. It was not warm, but it was sunny. We were off to the only site on this trip that we were familiar with – our ‘go to’ site, Site 16 on Spider Lake.
The nice thing about bad weather, you often get great sunsets as a reward.
Site 16, Spider Lake (4 nights)
On the portage from Frog Pond to Spider Lake we met some young men, who looked to be around 14 or 16. They had been on Clear Lake on their own for a night; their parents were staying on Spider Lake. We though, what a nice safe way for them to gain experience camping on their own.
When they paddled away from the portage we noticed that they had left a bag. We yelled for them, but they didn’t hear us. We decided to take it with us in hopes of catching them. Someone in our group looked in the bag – apparently they took some drugs on their unsupervised trip.
We started paddling and found them at the first site we passed. When we told them we had their bag, they denied it was theirs – then one of them walked down and took the bag, looking pretty sheepish. The look on their faces was priceless. No one said a word and we paddled away with a big smile.
We arrived at Site 16 and spent a nice afternoon setting up. We even had dinner without needing to huddle under a tarp. The next day we had a bit of sun – enough for a nice morning swim. We could finally take off our long underwear too. We got out the solar chargers, we hung out our sleeping bags and sat in the sun. Heaven!
However, the rain started again in the afternoon. Seriously? It rained – it was cold again – so it was nap time. It was all we could do to drag ourselves out of the tent to cook dinner that night. If felt like we had spent the entire trip cooking huddled under the tarp,trying to deal with the rain blowing in.
The next day was overcast, with only a few showers, so we decided we needed to get moving. All this sitting under a tarp was making us a bit stiff, we needed to be active.
We paddled to the end of the channel near Site 18 and did the very short 100 metre portage into a creek that leads to Spider Bay.
What a great paddle! We were all so happy to be moving, not to mention paddling without rain. We saw so many flowers. There was a “path” down the middle of the channel which made it quite magical.
We didn’t go too far into the Bay because of the high winds, but it was nice to be on the water and moving. We paddled back to the portage, then decided to explore the creek further up, back toward Spider Lake. It was challenging and provided some chuckles as we tried to navigate in a few tight spaces. Then back to the portage and ‘home’.
That afternoon the sun came out – for a while anyway. It was warm too. The mood of the group improved.
The day we were leaving it was dry and even warm enough to wear shorts – but still overcast.
For years, we camped in sunshine. On one trip to Killarney we had sun the whole time, and the week after our trip it rained for about 5 days. So we have been very lucky.
While this was the coldest, wettest trip in our 15+ years of camping as a group, we did have excellent campsites, some amazing sunsets and some great memories. It is also nice to know we could “tough it out” and manage any type of weather, while still remaining friends.
We often say you have more stories from challenging trips than you do from nice trips, but I will take a sunny and warm trip any day.
Rating: Very nice, private campsites, on great lakes. Lots of paddling, with only a few short portages. Although it is not a loop, there was lots of variety.
Lakes: Spider (Site 23 for 4 days), Clear Lake (Site 34 for 4 days), Spider (Site 16 for 4 days)
Map: Google Map with site ratings and Ontario Parks Map