We did a happy dance around the computer the night we booked this trip. On our first try we got all the sites we wanted, in the order we wanted them, for the length of time we wanted. This has never happened in all the years we have been booking long trips through the Ontario Parks reservation system. It happens on short trips, but for long trips, you usually need to compromise.
The Ontario Parks online reservation system is good, even calling for help has been a good experience (with the exception of the Vixen Lake trip). However, the parks are busy so even though we are all very flexible and have the luxury of changing weeks and start and end days, it can be tricky.
We always start planning our trip in January. First we pick a park. We do love Massasauga Provincial Park; however, this park is very busy which makes trip planning even harder.
We plan our trip to include a mix of old and new sites, easy portages, weekday move days and a mix of two, three and four days on sites. We also like to start and end on a weekday to avoid busy traffic on portages and highways.
So by the time we head to the computer to book the trip, we already have a plan. You can book 5 months in advance of the start of your trip. Once we are logged in to the reservation system we make changes, adjusting the trip by picking alternate sites and adjusting the number of days and the order of the sites, depending on availability.
So when we got our planned trip on the first try, it only took about 10 minutes from log in to payment. Not only that, we were able to book “hard to get’ sites for more than a night. We got the island on Clear Lake for four days and Site 17 on Spider Lake for 3; so it was a double happy dance.
Spider Lake – Site 23 (4 days)
We decided to start this trip by heading back to Site 23 on Spider Lake. We really liked the site and hoped that this year we would experience the site with warm and dry weather. Last time we were on Site 23, it was very cold and wet.
On this trip, the weather for our stay on 23 was actually perfect and we loved the site even more.
We had a very small amount of rain one day – just enough to realize we were all suffering from a little bit of ‘rain trauma’. A sprinkle was enough to send terror through the group. It took a long time before we all stopped obsessively checking the weather on our phones. This was the year we started comparing the different weather reports and picking the best report. It is surprising how different these reports can be.
We were able to take advantage of the weather to do a lot of swimming, fishing, paddling, hiking, reading and relaxing in the hammock.
One day we decided to hike the 645 metre portage into Clear Lake. It was a very pretty hike, very interesting forest. There is a steep start and end to the portage, but the rest of the portage is pretty good. The take out and put in were pretty accessible. We all agreed, however, that we would stick to our normal route into Clear Lake, that includes two portages and the frog pond.
The next day we hiked the 780 metre portage into Clear Bay (Georgian Bay). It is a very flat portage. This pretty hike included a welcomed boardwalk through a muddy area. The Clear Bay side is very pretty with a real Georgian Bay look. A little poison ivy on the portage, but it was not a problem keeping the dog on a short leash and in the middle of the portage. We also had him go for a swim before jumping back into the canoe, just to be on the safe side. This portage does not look well used. I checked the Google Map and the sites in Clear Bay get great reviews; however, because of what is described as ‘heavy boat traffic’ we won’t be trying them out.
On our move day we had a bit of light morning rain, followed by sunshine. Although the forecast called for rain later in the day, our move was dry. We enjoyed a lovely trip into Clear Lake. This route is always mucky, so we had lots of good laughs as we tried to stay out of the mud while we loaded and launched the canoes.
When we arrived we had a full rainbow even though we didn’t have the rain. Now that is a nice way to get a rainbow.
Clear Lake – Site 31(4 days)
We arrived on Clear Lake for four highly anticipated days on the island. We were very lucky to get Site 31; it’s a popular site and securing it for one day, let alone four days, is pretty unusual.
We have stayed on the island twice before, many years apart. The last time we were on the island, the campsite was actually on the other side of the island. I guess they rotate to let the sites recover a bit.
We like the East side the best because the swimming is better and it is a bit more open and visually interesting. There is also a beach and several good spots for landing, loading and unloading. There are better tent sites on the East side as well.
We did a walk over to the West side to check out the old site and try to remember where things were, like the picnic table and our tents. The site looks to be recovering pretty well; it was all grown up.
It is wise to manage these sites, it would be a shame to close the island down for camping. Many of the old island sites are closed now like the one on Cox Lake, but this island is very large, so that helps. We didn’t walk around the island much, it is likely still pretty delicate. We also paddled to find wood rather than trying to find dead-fall on the island. It is best to leave the wood on the ground.
The only thing missing on the East side are the views of the amazing Clear Lake sunsets. So each night after dinner we would take a glass of wine and walk the path over to what became known as ‘Sunset Rock’. It is a rock on the trail that passes the Thunderbox. Standing on the rock gives you a perfect view of the sunset. The sunsets on Clear Lake never disappoint. The fisherman in our group usually chooses to enjoy the sunsets from his canoe.
Site 31 is very unique with a rock point and a rock shelf, a flat area on the way to the Thunderbox, a sandy area, steep drops to the water, a channel and smaller islands just off shore on both sides. Just behind the site, our dog discovered a 6-foot drop, which he accidentally jumped off. (Yes, I admit he was off leash at that point.) Luckily no injuries, except to our hearts.
There are some great ‘reading rocks’ just to the north side of the site – the flat rocks extend out into the lake. The channel offers a private swimming area as well. This site is actually very private; you can just barely see people on the point at Site 34, which is the only campsite visible from the east side of the island. The campfire is out on the rocks so the view of the night sky is also pretty amazing.
“They” were calling for rain when we arrived so we put up a tarp and covered some wood. Luckily, we didn’t have any rain for the four days we were there. The island is also covered with little flowers, some pink and some yellow, which are very pretty. There is an entire area at the front of the site that was covered in clam shells. Apparently someone uses the site for snacking.
One night our dog was looking at the point across the bay, barking. We all thought he must smell an animal. But it turns out that he was barking at the moon. A little habit that we have tried to deal with quickly, because although we think it’s funny, I am sure our neighbours on the lake don’t find it amusing at all.
One morning we had a visit from the Rangers and had a great chat – you can learn a lot from them. They told us about berries on the portage into Georgian Bay, so later in the day we decided to go for a hike along the flat, 1200 metre portage into Port Rawson. It was a perfect hike on a perfect day, with lots of sunshine and no humidity. The view at the Port Rawson side isn’t great because you can’t see much, but we did find a few berries. However, a lot of the berries had been picked by something large. hmmmmm
I checked the Google Map and both Sites 212 and 217 in Port Rawson get great reviews. However, the long portage and boat traffic will keep us from heading there.
We had a fantastic time, which of course means not too many stories to share. We swam, napped, hiked, paddled, enjoyed campfires, great food and mediocre wine.
Were our memories of the island correct? Yes – it is a pretty special site; a lovely spot. However, we all admit that we liked the point (Site 34) as much, even though we were there in the rain. We are going to go back to 34 someday to see if it is even nicer in the sunshine.
One of my favorite expressions is ‘the days are long and the years are short”. This is true for camping as well. The days are nice and long; while there is a lot to do (cooking, dishes, wood, tarp, packing, unpacking….) there is always plenty of time for relaxing. However, it doesn’t seem like very long before it’s time to pack up and move to the next site.
Spider Lake – Site 17 (3 days)
Everyone in our group loves site 17 on Spider Lake, except for me. They are not alone; it’s a hard site to book. We stayed there one night years ago and have never been able to book it since. I guess there’s lots of reasons to like this site; it is very private because it faces a small bay, it’s definitely cozy. There are great tent sites, a sandy landing and easy takeout. There is a rock face that provides the most amazing view of Spider Lake.
So why am I not so enthusiastic about Site 17? I don’t find the swimming great, it is dark and you need to paddle to get wood. However, these are just little things, the main reason I don’t like this site is the rock cliff. Yes, it is beautiful and there is even a tent site right on the top, but it also means our dog needs to be tied up – always! Remember, I mentioned he accidentally went off a 6-foot ledge on Clear Lake, and, of course there are the memories of his fall into the water at Vixen Lake. He would not survive a fall off this rock face.
OK, I also need to tell you a secret; if you do book Site 17, be prepared for rain, it ALWAYS rains on this site. After eight days of sunshine, it started to rain our first evening on 17.
I also want to make a confession, we ‘seasoned’ paddlers made some mistakes on our way to 17.
On the day we paddled to Site 17 we had quite the adventure. When we left Clear Lake it was a very still, hot day; the lake was like glass. But by the time we got to Spider Lake, we were paddling into a significant head wind. One of the people we paddle with, paddles solo – we have no idea how he manages, especially on windy days.
When we got out into high winds on the open part of Spider Lake, we all just put our heads down and paddled (past Site 23) until we got to the narrow channel leading north. The channel was nice and calm which gave us a bit of a break, however, when we came back out into the large part of Spider Lake again, the winds were wicked. We just kept paddling. We also had to keep the dog down in the bottom of the boat.
We paddled up Spider, past the rock face and then past the entrance of the bay to Site 17, we realized we could not turn into the bay without capsizing. When we were able to turn the canoe, we got to surf back up Spider and into the bay beside 17. When we arrived, one group had already arrived but, we anxiously waited for the solo paddler.
Once we had all arrived safely, we spent some time discussing all the things we had done wrong. We didn’t put our life jackets on – crazy – AND we didn’t stick together – mistake! We had lots of reasons why we didn’t do these things, but the bottom line, we had made some errors in judgement because of our desire to keep paddling. If we had to do it again, we would do it differently.
As I mentioned, it wasn’t a great site for wood. When the first of our group arrived at the site, the people who had been at the site were just leaving. Their canoe was full of wood. We always try to leave wood for the next group of campers, so we thought it was funny they were taking wood with them. We had to chuckle because they looked sheepish.
The day we arrived the weather was lovely (except for the wind) but it was Site 17, so we knew it was going to rain (OK, that and the fact that the forecast was calling for rain). We got set up and put up a tarp before dinner. When we get high winds we assume there is a change in the weather coming. This was also true in this case.
We had a couple days of rain and cold. In fact, one night it was raining so hard we were flooded out even under the tarp. The site is a dark/cozy site so it is best enjoyed on sunny days – or so I can imagine. We spent a lot of time under the tarp watching the rain on the bay.
Finally, we had to do something. We decided to go for a paddle. It was raining, but it wasn’t stormy, so off we went. When we were out in the canoe we looked back at our site to see it in full sun. The only time it would be in the sun all day, and we missed it. However, our rainy paddle did result in a fish. We also explored a bit and found cranberries. We also enjoyed moving and we definitely enjoyed the change of scenery.
Even though it rained, we did enjoy the lovely view from the cliff and the clouds were pretty. It was cold and damp, so it did help that the site was in the shelter of the bay.
We discovered that the best swimming was just to the left of the beach, in the bay. There is a spot on the trail past the Thunderbox too, but we haven’t tried swimming there yet. There is a small resident water snake, but nothing like the snakes on Site 34 on Clear Lake.
The day we were scheduled to move on we woke to sun; Site 17 was playing with us. Sun to arrive and sun to leave but rain the rest of the time. The mist was pretty and the bay was nice with the sun shining on it.
We do appreciate the sun on the days we are packing up.
I think we will need to book Site 17 again sometime, just so we can experience it with one full day of sunshine.
We left, heading to Site 5 for the final few days of our trip. Site 5 is a beach site, something we normally avoid, but it was time for a new experience. Variety is the spice of life, right? So we thought we would try it for a few days.
Spider Lake – Site 5 (2 days)
On the very short paddle to Site 5, the lake was perfectly still, so it was a peaceful, relaxing paddle. A loon surfaced inches from one of our canoes. I have never seen a loon that close to a canoe before. Very cool.
Years ago, we camped on the beach at Killbear Provincial Park. It seemed like a very romantic idea, but we ended up with sand throughout the tent, and all our stuff.
Also, many of the people in our group like jumping into the water rather than walking in, so we prefer a rocky shore. Not to mention, that my brother-in-law always says bears like beaches. Personally, I think it’s just that you see paw prints on beaches because the sand holds the prints, so you know the bear has been there. On a rocky shore, you just don’t have any evidence of a bear visit – I am going with that anyway.
We have friends who always book beach sites because they have kids and it is great for the kids to play, not to mention being much safer. And really, what kid doesn’t like a sand beach?
Turns out that our group also loved camping on the beach! We will definitely book a beach site again.
The sand on this site was perfect because it was hard packed so it didn’t end up in the tent.
We discovered there are definitely some advantages to a beach site. You get to put your tent beside the water, the campfire is near the water too. This means you get the sound of the waves on the beach – so beautiful.
We spent a lot of time sitting on the beach warming up from the past few days of rain. It was not hot, but it was sunny. We did a lot of reading too.
The dog was pretty tired by this point – it takes days to tire out a Border Collie, but by the end of a trip he is pretty sleepy. He was happy to hang out with us on the beach.
While on Site 5, we hiked the 540 metre portage into Canoe Lake. It is a very nice flat, straight portage. Lots of pretty flowers at the end too. We would like to camp on Canoe Lake sometime, but have not had the chance yet.
Site 5 had some garbage – a surprise in Massasauga Provincial Park, but we were near the end of the trip so we set it aside and packed a bag out with us.
Overall, the weather on this trip was fantastic, with the exception of the rain on Site 17. The final morning was overcast when we packed up and paddled out. It was a nice paddle out even with a bit of rain. No storms on this trip, which was great too.
As usual, we drove into Perry Sound for a burger and fries at Harvey’s. It was sprinkling, but we still sat outside at the picnic table anyway, because none of us were ready to head inside yet.
Rating: Excellent trip, great campsites, on great lakes. Just the right amount of paddling, with only a few short portages. Although it is not a loop, there was lots of variety.
Lakes: Spider Lake (Site 23 for 4 days), Clear Lake (Site 31 for 4 days), Spider Lake (Site 17 for 3 days), Spider Lake (Site 5 for 2 days)