You know things are bad when the dog won’t get out of the canoe. We arrived at our site and told him he could jump out, but he just sat there. It was the strangest thing. He is usually just raring to go stretch his legs and do some serious sniffing. I was wondering if there was an animal on the site – but no – it was bad karma he was smelling. The site had been trashed by the people who had just left. We have camped for years and have NEVER seen a site left in such bad shape.
We try to camp alone at least once a year. We love travelling with friends and family but it is important to us to have time alone as well. This was our trip – well the two of us + “The Dude”.
We decided to head into Vixen Lake in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park for a couple days. My first trip into this series of lakes was in 1978, long before it was a Provincial Park. We wanted to relax but also explore the lake. It is a lake we had only paddled through years before, before there were even campsites on the lake. In the old days Vixen was just a lake you passed through on the way to Shark Lake.
The trip started out a bit rocky when we realized, while sitting in the parking lot, that we had forgotten to print the permit. I called Ontario Parks but the Call Centre staff were less than helpful when I told them I left my credit card at home – I rarely need my credit card on a back country trip. Anyway we got it all worked out and off we went.
We purposely took our time so we could enjoy the paddle in – we miss so much when we rush to get to our site. We parked at the Long Lake put-in, paddled down the lake enjoying the view and the sun. The portage into Buzzard Lake is steep at both ends but wide, short and easy as portages go. We actually met a group of young people with canoes – they were pulling suitcases on wheels. I love the wide variety of folks we meet on the portages. We also had a nice chat with a couple from Toronto. It was their first trip to the Kawartha Highlands and they were raving. They had such a great time and loved the sites.
The trip down Buzzard Lake was perfect and the portage into Vixen was short and pretty. As we paddled through the marshy area away from the portage we met several canoes filled with young men drinking beer. Their canoes were loaded with garbage bags filled with what sounded like beer cans. We exchanged pleasantries. What we didn’t know then was we were heading to the site they had just left.
Site 440 – Vixen Lake
When we arrived at the island – Site 440 – and finally convinced the dog to get out of the canoe we were shocked at what we found. Food everywhere, garbage, forgotten bags of stuff, barbecue paraphernalia and what was really upsetting – White Pine branches smoldering in the fire. We are always amazed that people don’t know that green wood doesn’t burn, it just smoulders. There is no need to cut down or limb live trees. A short walk (or paddle) from any campsite will turn up enough dead limbs for a campfire.
Thank goodness for cell phones. I took a lot of pictures and then called the Ontario Parks Call Centre to explain the situation. Now normally we would have cleaned things up but this clean-up would have taken hours. We also knew that Oreo (AKA The Dude) would continue to find things in the forest that I’d rather not talk about, not to mention the local dorito-loving raccoons and bears would be all over this place.
The Call Centre staff told us we could move to another site on the lake but they would need my credit card in order to charge us to “change our reservation”. Are you kidding me? Did I mention I don’t bring my credit card into the back-country? Did I mention that we were very tired and hungry? (OK that sounds a bit “winey”). It took a while but they finally agreed to move us to another site as long as we promised to call the Kawartha Highlands office in the morning to arrange payment. The Kawartha Highlands phone number is printed on the site markers – very handy!
Site 442 Vixen Lake
We arrived at Site 442 and were faced with a small take out area and a very steep climb to the site. But I must say it was one of the most beautiful sites I have ever been on (once we cleaned up after the person who was confused between a tent site and a Thunderbox). Oh yeah, and the hornet that got in the tent and did some stinging before it left.
Serious bad karma day – all around.
Our view was great but I was worried about Oreo falling off the cliff. (We keep him leashed on portages but like to give him some freedom to run once we get to the campsite – during the daytime anyway.) The words “he is too smart to do that” were not fully uttered before we heard the scrambling, followed by a splash. He learned a good lesson – luckily it was a lesson learned on a steep area and thankfully not the actual cliff.
We did not discover the big cliff at the back of the site until much later in the trip. This cliff is so steep I can’t let myself think about what could have happened – it is so steep that we will never go back to that site with little kids, dogs or anyone prone to sleepwalking. However, aside from all this, Site 442 remains one of my favorite sites.
The trek from the kitchen area to the water was a workout; however, the swimming was fantastic and apparently we had the entire lake to ourselves. We sat up on the cliff watching the sunset and listening to thunder in the distance. We knew that after all we had been through that day it would not rain, could not rain. It didn’t. That is when the trip started to turn around.
In the morning I called the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park office. I was ready for someone to give me a hard time so I was pleasantly surprised. The person I spoke with was amazing. She took all the information and asked me to send pictures of the trashed site as soon as I returned home. She said there would be no charge for changing sites and they would send someone in to clean up as soon as possible. She said they would follow up with the previous campers. Now that is good customer service!
On our way out we actually met the next group coming into site 440. A family new to Canada and new to camping. Thank goodness park staff came in the day before and thoroughly cleaned the site before the family arrived. That would have definitely turned them off camping.
Once we had survived that first day, the trip was fantastic. We spend a few days relaxing, playing ball and Frisbee with the dog. We had excellent meals too. Freshly made salsa and burritos, hot cereal and lots of chocolate and red wine. This was also the trip that we tried Marshmallow Cups and Baileys for the first time. We also did lots of reading and sitting – just enjoying the view.
The paddle out was amazing, lots of thunder but no rain.
Again we met some interesting people. One young couple was heading in for a week without a map. They asked us if we could tell them the best way to get to Stoplog Lake. The “safety first” person in me thought they were being dangerous; but I must admit I was also a bit envious – I have never EVER in my life been that laid back and spontaneous.
Rating: 2-3 day trip. Two fairly easy portages (only two hills)
Lakes: Long Lake to Buzzard Lake to Vixen Lake and back
Map: Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/kawarthahighlands/maps