18 Sep

Travelling to the Kiso Valley Japan

After four nights and three days in Tokyo, we continued our trip by travelling to the Kiso Valley Japan. We took off via the Limited Express Super Asuza 5 from Shinjuku station to Shiojiri, then transferred to the JR Chuo Line bound for the Kiso Valley.

This valley follows the Kiso River (the strongest in Japan, a kindly man told me on the train) through the Nagano prefecture in the Japan Alps. It’s a relatively quiet area with several small farming towns and a few preserved Edo period towns like the Narai, Magome, and Tsumago. We visited all three and the latter two being ones where we stayed the night in ryokan (traditional inns) with tatami mat floors, futon beds, delicious food and intensely hot baths.

The three towns were all beautiful, quiet, and like stepping into a Japanese time warp. It was a great way to escape from Tokyo and I think some city slickers felt the same way as the area drew large crowds of Japanese tourists on the weekend as we were leaving.

There isn’t much to do but eat soba, buy souvenirs, and generally ‘get away from it all’, but that didn’t stop the Kiso Valley from being my favourite region that we visited.

Narai

Narai was just a lunch break on our way to Magome. We hopped off the train in Narai at about 11am to stretch our legs and take a couple hours to explore the town and eat. The main road in the town is mostly made up of shops peddling sweets, sake, laquerware, wooden combs (they’re known for combs, historically) or other souvenirs.

Narai

We visited all the shops and stopped for lunch at Kokoro-ne for a soba noodle lunch which, for just noodles, was borderline pricey (something I noticed to be common in Japan).

Soba at Kokoro-ne in NaraiSoba at Kokoro-ne in Narai

We then headed back to the train station to get back on the 1:30pm JR Chuo to Nakatsugawa where we caught a bus for Magome.

Magome

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By the time we made it to Magome and checked into our ryokan, Magomechaya, it was 5pm and all the shops were closing and there wasn’t much left to do so we relaxed in our room until dinner time.

Dinner in the ryokan (in both Magome and Tsumago, and later in Koyasan) was a treat. They serve a kaiseki-ryori or multiple course meal with a variety of locally sourced foods and Kiso Valley specialties. We sampled some interesting foods like raw horsemeat in Magome and wasp larvae in Tsumago. (Both of which I enjoyed, by the way).

Dinner in MagomeDinner in Magome

The ryokan dinners (and even breakfasts) are part of what I loved so much about the Kiso Valley.

After tucking into our tempura, and salted fish, and omelette, and mochi, and pickles, and raw horsemeat(!) we donned our yukata robes, bathed, and read until lights out.

The next morning, after a solid breakfast of fish and rice, we left on foot for our next destination:

The Hike

We took advantage of the 500yen luggage forwarding service (even though we each only brought a backpack with us to Japan) between Magome and Tsumago so we could hike without the extra weight.

MagomeRice Patties in Magome

The best part of our visit to the Kiso Valley was the 8km Magome to Tsumago “hike” (more like a moderate intensity walk) that Matt and I tackled along the Nakasendo Road, a route that connected Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo period.

The hike takes you through rice patties, woodlands of cedar and bamboo, and very (very!) tiny towns. The forests are home to bear and there are bells dispersed at regular intervals to ring loudly and warn bears away.

Bear BellDon't go chasing waterfalls
Don’t go chasing bears. Or waterfalls.

About halfway through the hike an elderly man in a conical straw hat stopped us and asked us where we were from and invited us inside for tea and watermelon and pickles.

Offerings at the official rest stop of the Nakasendo TrailOfferings at the official rest stop of the Nakasendo Trail

He was the official rest stop on the Nakasendo road. Literally. He offered us a few pamphlets about Tsumago and told us to write our name in his guestbook and sit as long as we would like before moving on. It was adorable.

If I were to do the hike again (and I would love to do it again) I would start in Nakatsugawa then hike to Magome and Tsumago from there. There seemed to be a lot of historic sights to see near Nakatsugawa that we missed by going straight to Magome. That, and it would have been nice to spend more time hiking.

Tsumago

Tsumago was our last stop in the Kiso Valley.

Tsumago

We arrived on foot a just past noon and spent the afternoon visiting the souvenir shops which were not unlike those in Narai. I bought myself a wooden canister for tea.

We tried to kill time by stopping for a drink in a small coffee shop in town where the owner who spoke decent English was surprised that I wanted my coffee hot (this wasn’t the first time I got that reaction in Japan) and didn’t want, say, a beer instead. After we told him that we thought his town was beautiful he also told us that he hated it. He was easily the only outwardly disgruntled person we met in Japan, but over course he was disgruntled with a smile.

We checked into our ryokan, Fujioto, where the proprietor gave us their best room (maybe because I booked, like, 5 months in advance?). We sat drinking tea on our balcony overlooking a manicured garden, a koi pond, and the main street in Tsumago while we waited for dinner.

Our room at FujiotoFujioto Ryokan

Dinner at Fujioto was slightly better that Magomechaya because there were more courses and the servers went to lengths to give you great detail about everything that you were eating, where it came from, and why it’s relevant to the region.

DSCF7454Sampler, first course of 8

DSCF7462Shinshu Wagyu (Beef), course 3 of 8

The whole dinner reminded me of our experience at Grant Achatz’s Next in Chicago, but cheaper and more authentic.

Gohei-mochi: The BEST thing I ate in JapanGohei-mochi: The BEST thing I ate in Japan

I was a bit sad to leave the Kiso Valley the next day but we had more sightseeing to do. .

. . . this time in Kyoto. Stay tuned!

22 Feb

Snowshoes!

I’ve been talking about snowshoeing for a long time but I’ve never gone because winters in Essex County tend to be dry and have huge temperature ranges so that any snow that does fall melts in about the time it takes to make a snowman.
Not so much this year, with temperatures on par with Iqaluit and more snow than we’ve seen in, um, ever.
So this past family day long weekend I bought my first pair of snowshoes (on sale, by the way) and headed off into the winter wilderness. I’m trying to take advantage of this weather as much as I can.

Snowshoes

Hiking in Essex County is boring since it’s flat as the prairies down here, but for some reason hiking through snow is way cooler. I tried navigating my way through a forest (challenging, with all the fallen trees and thorny bushes) and through a farmer’s field (far easier but not quite as interesting), places that I don’t venture to in normal circumstances.

Snowshoing in Flat Essex County

I got a pair of these TUBB’s women’s 25″ trail walking snowshoes. Nothing too intense. They work really well and I sink maybe 3 inches in about 12 inches of snow, so not too shabby.

I’m itching to use them again. It’s an awesome exercise that’s more fun that work (which is how I feel about hiking in general). I put in a solid 4 hours of hiking last weekend because the weather was perfect.

Snowshoeing in the woods

The BIG disappointment is that not a week after my exciting snowshoe purchase we got a big warm front and the clouds have opened up to rain. The snow is melting folks and I don’t like it. I’m holding out that the winter is not over yet (March is a fickle little month) and I’ll have a chance to use my snowshoes again this year.

Snow Angel in Essex CountySnowshoeing in Essex County

I’m not ready for winter to be over. Because that means spring. Sam doesn’t like spring.

If not, there’s always Algonquin. Snowshoe road trip! Winter 2015.

09 Jan

Arches National Park – Favourite Places

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Moab.

Arches National Park is absolutely gorgeous. The landscape is so varying that you can see ‘petrified’ sand dunes, snow capped mountains, hoodoos, buttes, desert brush, and rock fins all in one sweeping vista. Oh, and arches too.

La Sal Mountains

Most of the hikes in Arches aren’t overly strenuous. There are the ‘Devil’s Garden’ hike which is a day-long hike with steep inclines and declines and lots of scrambling as well as the ‘Fiery Furnace’ which is a challenging ranger-guided hike, but aside from those the other hikes are pretty tame.
So hike here for the views and not necessarily for the challenge.

Park Avenue

Park Avenue 2
Park Avenue

A simple and easy stroll, this was surprisingly my favourite. It’s only about 3km (out and back) from the Park Avenue parking area with little change in elevation overall but the views make it worthwhile.

Park Avenue
Park Avenue

The trail takes you through a canyon with sheer, towering rock structures that are imposing and awe-inspiring and give you a sense of the grandeur of nature. I’d walk here over the real Park Avenue any day.

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch

A flat, easy trail from Sand Dune Arch parking area only about half a kilometre from the parking lot. I liked this one because the arch was located basically in a sand pit that was secluded by sandstone fins. It felt like a secret place (although I’m sure during the busy season it doesn’t quite feel this way).

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

This is probably the most popular arch in the park; it certainly photographs well. The 5km out-and-back trail and the arch itself were very busy with people of all capabilities which surprised me considering that the path to the arch is nearly entirely uphill, which can be strenuous, and the last 100m or so are along a steep rock ledge.
Seeing the arch standing alone and surrounded by nothing but sky, makes it worth the hike.

Partition Arch

Partition Arch
Partition Arch

This is just a stopping point on the trail to Double O Arch, but for me it was a destination in itself. I thought it was the most perfect place, a window to the beautiful landscapes beyond. I wish that we had brought some food to picnic here because I felt like I could just sit under this arch all day and soak in the views. We didn’t stay for long, but this was by far my favourite place that we visited in the park.

The trail to Double O Arch is 6.4km round trip and takes you past Landscape Arch, the widest in the park, and then becomes more challenging as it takes you up steep rock before leveling off. There are small side trails that lead to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch (also worth seeing). Then the trail to Double O crosses narrow rock fins. If you’re okay with heights the views are amazing.

Because of the snow and frost on the slickrock, we had to turn around just before making it to Double O but what we did experience was fantastic.

Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch

Rock Fins
Rock Fins

 

20 Dec

Moab in November

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

Driving

Moab seems like one of those places that would please everyone. Even if you’re not the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type you can just pile into your gas-guzzling vehicle and drive around to see some pretty world-class vistas.

Just one part of Arches' Scenic Drive

Arches National Park has an extensive scenic drive that can take you 4 hours if you stop at each scenic viewpoint. And why wouldn’t you? The views here are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Matt and I had to do the drive a few times to make sure we hit all the overlooks.

Canyonlands National Park has its own scenic drive which looks gorgeous in photos but unfortunately we never made it there because we were so wrapped up in seeing Arches! In the late fall and winter when the days are shorter it can be hard to fit in all that you want to see during daylight hours. Something I sort of forgot about when planning the vacation.

If you’re slightly more adventurous you can take your vehicle off-road which is also pretty popular, especially among the Jeep crowd, but you don’t even need an off-road vehicle (not that I would ever attempt such a thing without one).

If you are the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type like me, then there’s even more to do. Unfortunately, we hardly put a dent in the long list of things to do in and around Moab.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is huge here. Huge. Apparently Moab has some of the best mountain biking in the world, or so I was told by the locals, and hosts lots of races like this endurance race which looks like it could be fun if you’re not terrified of falling off your bike.

Popular area for mountain bikers

I’m barely stable on a bicycle (I blame my parents’ prohibition from letting my bike leave the driveway as a child) let alone on this kind of terrain, so we skipped out on any sort of mountain biking.

Hit the Rocks

Rock climbing and rappelling are both popular activities as well, and you can even climb up some of the towers and hoodoos.

I'm a naturalGeared up to drop down

Matt and I opted for a 1/2 day canyoneering trip with the outfitter ‘Moab Cliffs & Canyons’ at Ephedra’s Grotto.

It was fun and gorgeous, but it was basically just 2 rappels and a bit of hiking– not nearly as exciting as canyoning in Switzerland (but that’t a whole different story for a whole different day).

Boating

The town of Moab is located on the Colorado River so there are plenty of boat tours to be had.

But I hate boats, so I have nothing to suggest to you here. You’ll have to google it yourself if you want to take a boat tour. I’m sure it’s nice, but I still have yet to grow a pair of sea legs.

Hiking

Hiking here is pretty good too; at least it is in the nearby national parks, particularly Canyonlands which has some remarkable backcountry hiking, especially in the Needles area of the park (which, like I mentioned, we didn’t get to)

A rock fin can be a slightly scary place

We did do some hiking in Arches which was great. I love hiking here at this time of year because (in spite of the shortened days) the weather is perfect for spending an entire day hitting different trails (or one big one). Because of the desert environment– the low vegetation, lack of shade, and dry heat– I can imagine it being torturous to hike here during summer. Late autumn however was perfect.

Fins of rock on our hike in arches

We did run into a snag when we tried to hike the Devil’s Garden. Because of the cold temperatures and the (unseasonal) snow that the area experienced before we got there, the rock was icy and frost covered in some areas and we had to turn back. It’s called slickrock for a reason and in spite of my awesome hiking boots I was still too chicken shit to venture out onto steep, icy rock.

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…stay tuned for my next installment in the Utah vacation series where I point out all my favourite places in Arches National Park.

11 Dec

Zion in November – Other Hikes

This is part of my series on visiting Zion National Park in November.

I have already mentioned the grand hike that is The Narrows but here are a couple of other hikes that we did while we were in Zion.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock

I wouldn’t really call it a hike, per se. It’s an extremely short trail (it may take you 30 minutes round trip, tops) to the Weeping Rock lookout. Getting there is entirely uphill, but since it’s an out-and-back that means it’s as easy going down as it is strenuous going up.
The Weeping Rock is probably more fun to check out on a dry day because you’ll be able to see how the porous rock is seeping water. On a dreary, rainy day like the one we had when all the rocks in the canyon are weeping, well, it’s not so impressive. Another cool part of this hike is the ability to see ‘hanging gardens’ as ferns and other plants grow right out of the moist rock.

Angel’s Landing

Angel's Landing

Ahh…Angel’s Landing. Everyone wants to do this one to prove themselves. Everyone except people afraid of heights.
The first 2 mile portion of the hike is almost entirely uphill, beginning with a series of steep switchbacks. . .

Switchbacks on Trail to Angel's Landing

then a more gradual climb. . .

Trail to Scout's Lookout

. . . followed by even more switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles”.

Walter's Wiggles

This takes you to Scout’s Lookout which offers gorgeous views of the canyon and marks the beginning of the challenge.

Scout's Lookout

The last portion 1/2 mile of the trail is made up of narrow paths along the steep cliffs of a rock fin. There are anchored chains available to hold onto to keep yourself from falling off the rock face to your death, nearly 6000 feet below you.

Angels' Landing Hike
Note the chains in the background

I’d like to say that I did it, because I really wanted to, but alas I did not. With the harsh rain we experienced the combination of the cold, wet chains and the very slippery rock held me back. I began the trail and then reconsidered.

Oh well, maybe next time.

Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools Trail

Aside from The Narrows this 3 mile hike was my favourite because it is one of the most scenic.

In this case the rain worked in our favour as we were able to see waterfalls that aren’t flowing most times of the year.

Emerald Pools Trail 2

There are three parts to this trail: Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald pools. The trail to Lower pools is paved and not overly challenging. Beyond that the trail is unpaved and more rugged but never gets too strenuous. I usually prefer a really tough climb, but the views on this trail definitely make it worthwhile.

Who doesn’t love waterfalls?

04 Dec

Zion in November – Hike The Narrows

This is part of my series on visiting Zion National Park in November.

Hike The Narrows

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In Zion National Park, The Narrows is less of a hike and more of a wade up the running waters of the Virgin River that meander through the canyon. At some points it is narrow enough for you to touch both canyon walls as they reach skyward, perpendicular to the river.

Due to all the rain that was happening while we were visiting, there was a moderate risk of flash flooding in the canyon. This means hikers need to be aware of signs of flash flooding (like changing skies and increased sediment and debris in the water) and there is only a 15 minute window to either get washed away with the river or find yourself some higher ground.

Matt was apprehensive of the possibility of waiting 24 hours perched on the side of a cliff for a flood to subside but, knowing that hiking the Narrows was the thing I wanted to do the most in Zion, he acceded.

Good thing too, because this ended up being an awesome hike and probably our favourite part of the vacation.

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We rented a drysuit package for $50 from Zion Adventure Company which included walking sticks, boots, and what I would describe as the equivalent of a waterproof snowsuit that made me look like Lieutenant Worf of the Starship Enterprise. Luckily we were also able to rent extra fleece tops and bottoms for $2 a piece (it was unseasonably cold) and a waterproof bag so my camera wouldn’t get wet when I inevitably fell into the canyon waters.

Everything worked like a charm.

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I loved having to navigate through the water to find the shallowest, sandiest path of least resistance through the river. I loved walking against the current and feeling it pushing back on me as I tried to hike against the rushing waters. I loved walking back with the current and feeling how easily it propelled me forward.

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In the end we did hike into what is known as ‘Wall Street’, a narrow area with no opportunity for reaching higher ground in case of emergency. We hiked for about 10 minutes (being cautious of potential flash flooding) before turning around. So we didn’t quite make it into the narrowest areas of the canyon but the sights were beautiful nonetheless.

I was warm and dry for the whole hike in spite of wading in thigh-high rapids and having fallen into the water after tripping on some rocks. While I think the hike would be a bit more refreshing in the summer time when the temperatures are hot and drysuits are unnecessary, I appreciated the quietness of the canyon at this time of year. We only encountered 8 other hikers on our entire excursion.

This hike is a Must Do in Zion National Park.

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04 Dec

Tips for Visiting Zion National Park in November

Last weekend Matt and I returned from our annual BIG vacation which, this year, took us to Las Vegas Nevada and the National Parks of Southern Utah.

After 3 days of festivities that, in keeping with the first rule of Las Vegas, can’t be mentioned, our friends Kyle and Heather got married in a beautiful ceremony at Caesar’s Palace followed by probably one of the best meals of my life at Scarpetta.
The day after the wedding, Matt and I rented a Jeep leaving behind the city of lights in favour of the quiet outdoor recreation of Zion National Park.

When putting together an itinerary for our trip I found little information online with tips for visiting Zion National Park in November, near American Thanksgiving 2013. Not that many people come to the park at this time of year, so you can avoid crowds quite easily and manage to find a sense of serenity and humility here among the impressive canyon vistas.

Here are some tips that I gleaned from our 3 days in the National Park in late November 2013.

The Weather

Zion National Park - Utah

We experienced weather in the 40s and very rainy. We were told this kind of weather is unseasonable for November; it’s usually cold but dry.

The wet conditions were shitty for hiking on slickrock, but they were good for keeping the tourists at bay and giving us the chance to see some pretty wicked waterfalls.

We noticed that the park was much busier on the single day we actually saw sunlight, especially among young families.

The Shuttle

Most of the year, personal vehicles are not allowed in the park. A shuttle system takes tourists to all the trailheads and vistas which facilitates traffic. During November however the shuttle system only runs on the weekends.

The good thing about the shuttle is that it is very informative. A recording plays providing riders with information about the various points of interest in the park as you drive by them. It’s something you’d miss out on if you took your personal vehicle. It is possible, however, to miss out on the information if the shuttle is full of noisy people. This happened while we were there so I am sure it’s much worse during the peak travel season.

The Hiking

Zion National Park - Utah

The hiking in Zion varies greatly in terms of difficulty making it good for all skill levels. Many of the trails are paved, a few are wheelchair accessible, and all of them are very clearly marked. ‘Easy’ trails will be very easy for fit people and ‘Difficult’ seems to infer a rapid gain in elevation moreso than unsure footing.

Note that at this time of year the sun set just after 5pm so you have much less time than you would in the summer to fit all your hikes in before dark. Choose wisely and be aware of how much time it takes to hike a trail prior to going out.

I’ll be posting about a couple of hikes that we did end up doing, so stay tuned!
Edited to add: Hike the Narrows and Other Exciting Zion Hikes

Springdale

Springdale, UtahSource

The town of Springdale is at the main entrance to Zion National Park and primarily consists of hotels, inns, restaurants, and shops providing services for park tourists. So, of course, in the off season many shops and cafes are closed or operating on shorter hours. It was nearly impossible to find an open coffee shop after 3pm and only a handful of shops were open, leaving us with very little to do when we weren’t in the park.

The combination of short daylight hours and limited store operating hours meant that we packed it in early most nights. Very early.

Overall

There are a few drawbacks to coming this time of year like the shorter days, cooler weather, and limited services in town but the benefits of visiting during the off season outweigh the drawbacks, in my opinion.
I can deal with the cooler temperatures, in fact I think I prefer it to the heat of summer. While the heavy rain was a but off-putting, it’s not typical for November and it did provide us the opportunity to see waterfalls we otherwise would have missed. I liked that the park was quiet, especially on weekdays, making the experience with nature much more personal and peaceful.
I would definitely go back this time of year.

27 Aug

Warren Dunes State Park Michigan

On Friday Matt and I and my friend Tina loaded up the car with all of our camping gear and ample foodstuffs and headed to Southwestern Michigan.

Camping

We arrived at Warren Dunes State Park just before sundown and raced to erect our tents while we could still see them. Our friend Daniel rolled up an hour later, after having battled the stress of heavy traffic on his drive from Minneapolis.

As the sun set, Matt and I tried to hone our fire-building skills but just confirmed the fact that we really have no fire-building skills (we’ve had this problem before). It didn’t help that, by this point, it was too dark out to search the woods for kindling. It took the burning of nearly an entire Weekend Edition newspaper before finally getting some logs alight and I’m convinced that everyone uses lighter fluid or some sort of fire starter to get their fire going.

Camping Warren Dunes (35)Daniel works to get a fire going.

We managed to get a respectable fire going on Friday night and a better one on Saturday night (when we actually used a fire starter kit). I’m still trying to wash the smoke smell out of my hair but I’ll admit that I’m secretly hoping it lasts a little longer.

Water Sports

Surprisingly, Lake Michigan has really good surfing and we (or at least I) was itching to try it while we were there. I’ve never gone surfing before so I booked a lesson for the 4 of us but, naturally, there were absolutely no winds this weekend so we never got a chance to try it.

Camping Warren Dunes (6)Me, Daniel, Matt, Tina, and two old fisherman who photobombed us.

Instead we went Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Saturday morning. This was my second time doing it (the first time being a SUP Yoga class during my yoga teacher training) and it was my favourite part of the weekend. I find it really relaxing, even when I’m trying to row fast. Because you can put more of your body into it, it doesn’t feel as tiring for the arms and back as canoeing and kayaking do.

Plus I love to stand, so there’s that.

Hiking the Dunes

Camping Warren Dunes (24)Daniel, Matt, and Tina at the sand dunes

There are impressive sand dunes all along the west coast of Michigan and, though I’ve been to different parts of western Michigan on several occasions, I’ve never been to any of the dunes. Warren Dunes State Park is made up of a number of massive sand dunes dotting the coastline of Lake Michigan.

I’ll be honest and say I don’t like sand dunes. We climbed a few of them, one really steep one in particular, and while I loved the challenge of the climb— ie. the extreme incline coupled with the ground sinking beneath your feet so a single step is more like half a step— I mostly hate sand which is, of course, is the essence of the dunes. It’s a nuisance.

Camping Warren Dunes (12)This dune was even steeper than it looked. Especially near the top. . .

Camping Warren Dunes (13)
. . . here’s the same dune from the top. It’s so steep Matt’s on all fours.

There are trails in the park that wind through the woods where the ground is firm but it seems like, ultimately, all paths lead to dunes.

They are quite impressive to see and I’m glad we got a chance to hike them, but it wasn’t my favourite thing.

Beach-Going

We spent Saturday afternoon at the beautiful beach on Lake Michigan. The sky was clear, the sand was soft, and the water was blue. It felt a lot like a Caribbean beach with fresh water.

Camping Warren Dunes (27)

Unfortunately we were ill-equipped for an afternoon at the beach. Having brought no umbrellas or cabanas we were left baking in the sun which, I understand, some people actually enjoy but for me it feels a lot like torture.

I kept my clothes on most of the time to avoid getting burned which just made me hot and cranky. Luckily the water was cold and refreshing to give me some respite.

Eating

I have a philosophy of eating well while camping and I’d say we ate very well.

I made mushroom hand pies, lentil fatayer, and roasted corn for dinner one night and pan bagnat on homemade baguette the next lunch.

Tina came ready with banana pancakes, pb&j french toast, and mini quiches for our breakfasts.

Camping Warren Dunes (2)

Daniel provided us with a picnic of very spicy chili and sweet cornbread to refuel after our paddleboarding adventure.

Camping Warren Dunes (7)

We also had ample fruit like clementines, peaches, and . . . ummm. . . brandy?

Of course we didn’t forgo the campfire classic, roasted marshmallows, this weekend. On Saturday night we made s’mores and I surprised myself by only eating two even though Tina had the genius idea of using Reese peanut butter cups instead of milk chocolate.

Two s’mores is still more sugar than necessary, but I’ve been known to eat an unreasonable number at bonfire outings so I consider it an improvement.

Camping Warren Dunes (36)All signs point to s’mores

My restraint may have been due to the fact that I was sitting next to a dietitian, Mrs. Prevention RD herself(!), whom I finally got to meet in real life. And I must say she is just as fun and bubbly as she is on her blog.

Overall I had an awesome weekend and I’m so glad that I got to go camping with good friends this summer.

01 Aug

Top 7 Things to Do in Tobermory

I’ve been missing in action for a over week now and that’s because I’ve been escaping the unbearable sweat lodge that is Windsor for a little vacation to the Bruce Peninsula and Grey County in Midwestern Ontario. Matt and I camped in Bruce Peninsula National Park before meeting up with my family for a week long stay in the Blue Mountains. Glorious!

Tobermory is one of my favourite places in Canada. It has serenity, spectacular geological formations, great hiking, phenomenal swimming, and clear skies. So if you ever decide to head there, here are some things that should not be missed.

Take a Hike

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The 894 km Bruce Trail starts in Tobermory and this region is reputed to have the most gorgeous views of the entire trail. Try hiking from Halfway Log Dump to Cave Point on the Bruce Trail. It is difficult, but the gorgeous views gorgeous views offered from the top of the Niagara escarpment are worth the effort.

How to Get There:

Halfway Log Dump trailhead is remote but it can be accessed by taking Hwy 6 about 3K south of Cyprus Lake Campground to Emmett Lake Rd (dirt road, 8K long). Follow the blue trail blazes from the parking lot until just before the boulder beach where you will turn left onto the Bruce Trail.

Tips:

– Parking is available for a fee of $11.70 which appears to be based on the honour system.
– Many hikers walk along the boulder beach thinking they’re on the right path because the Bruce Trail is easy to miss here. Look for the white trail blazes on the trees marking the Bruce Trail. You will see them just before the beach.

Boulder at the Coastline

If you don’t want to hike from Halfway Log Dump, you can boulder there instead. There are countless boulders along the coast just waiting to be climbed. Bouldering is permitted along the beach up to cave point.

How to Get There:

Same directions as above.

Tips:

– Bouldering isn’t permitted in the forest.
– Be careful to avoid any vegetation include lakeside daisies

Visit the Grotto

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The Grotto. It’s just where you go when you go to Tobermory. That’s where everyone goes, and rightfully so. It’s a gorgeous Georgian Bay cave that feels just a little bit dangerous.

You have to squeeze yourself into a tiny hole in the rocks and manoeuvre yourself along massive boulders to get down to this cave, but the crystal clear waters and the refreshing swimming is worth it.

You can find a spot for cliff jumping into the deep bay below, but be careful because it’s not actually permitted and can be dangerous.

How to Get There:

You can take a private boat and anchor just off of the coastline.

If you’re driving, take Hwy 6 about 10K south of Tobermory to Cyprus Lake Rd and park at the Head of Trails parking lot at Cyprus Lake Campground. The Grotto is an easy 30 minute hike along the Georgian Bay Trail.

Tips:

– Parking is available for a fee of $11.70.
– The grotto can get very busy during summer months so try to get there early in the morning, at supper time, or late in the evening.
– Wear good shoes or just go barefoot because climbing the rocks in flippy floppys can be a pain.

Visit the Flowerpots

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My favourite spot in Georgian Bay is Flowerpot Island, named for the 2 rock pillars or stacks formed by erosion along the coastline of the island. The island has some not-too-tough hiking along the coast and through the emerald green forest of moss and ferns. It would take a novice hiker about 2 hours to hike the flowerpot loop. The Island has some of the best places to swim in the crystal clear and refreshing (read: cold!) Georgian Bay. It’s a bit less busy than swimming the Grotto and for those who play by the rules and prefer not to cliff jump, there are a lot of lower boulders that you can jump off of into the bay.

How To Get There:

By boat only from Tobermory’s main business centre in Little Tub Harbour

The Flowerpot Express operated by Blue Heron Cruises is a good option. It is a speed boat that takes about 25min to get there. It travels to Big Tub Harbour as well so you can see 2 turn of the century shipwrecks right over the side of the boat.

If you want to take a glass bottom boat for even better views go with Blue Anchor Cruises instead. Their glass bottom vessel actually has a glass bottom that you can walk on top of and see the shipwrecks right under your feet. It’s a lot better than Blue Heron’s glass bottom (not really) boat tour.

Diver’s Den offers boat rentals for full or half day at a reasonable price and will give you a 45 minute orientation beforehand if you don’t have a pleasure craft licence. Weather is permitting though, they won’t send you out if the weather is bad.

Tips:

– If you want to hike and swim, give yourself at least 3 hours on the island.
– The best swimming is near the flowerpots.
– The island is pack-in/pack-out so don’t leave your garbage lying around.
– If you’re into camping, there are 6 very private campsites on the island that would make you feel like you have your own private island.

Gaze at the Milky Way Galaxy

(source)

The Cyprus Lake Campground has virtually no light pollution. When the sky is clear and the moon is new then conditions are perfect for seeing the milky way galaxy in the sky with your naked eyes. Oh yeah, there are about a billion other stars you can see too—it’s like your own private planetarium.

Tips:

– It’s easiest to see the milky way during the new moon because there is less light pollution in the sky
– Cyprus Lake campground does offer guided stargazing

Go Diving

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The waters off the coast of Tobermory are part of Fathom Five National Marine Park. The waters are crystal clear, contain beautiful submerged geological formations, and have over 20 intact shipwrecks turn of the century which are popular among divers and snorkelers alike making Tobermory the Scuba Diving Capital of Canada.

How to Get There:

Head to the National Park Visitor’s Centre Driving south on Highway 6 from Tobermory turn left onto Chi sin tib dek Road. Follow approximately 1km to the visitor centre.

Tips:

– All divers must be trained and certified
– It is a national park so admittance into Fathom Five Marine Park is $5.80 per adult or $14.70 per family. Diver’s must also register at the Visitor Centre for a fee.
– Waters here are very cold and diver’s should take necessary precautions

Eat Whitefish

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The whitefish here is amazing. Mild, moist, flaky, and melt-in-your mouth kind of amazing. True story. Hit up one of the many fish and chip places in Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour that offer fresh Georgian Bay whitefish or if you’re camping, cook it yourself on the campfire.

Tips:

– Here’s a recipe for the Best Whitefish

01 Aug

Top 7 Things To Do in Tobermory

I’ve been missing in action for a over week now and that’s because I’ve been escaping the unbearable sweat lodge that is Windsor for a little vacation to the Bruce Peninsula and Grey County in Midwestern Ontario. Matt and I camped in Bruce Peninsula National Park before meeting up with my family for a week long stay in the Blue Mountains. Glorious!

Tobermory is one of my favourite places in Canada. It has serenity, spectacular geological formations, great hiking, phenomenal swimming, and clear skies. So if you ever decide to head there, here are some things that should not be missed.

Take a Hike

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The 894 km Bruce Trail starts in Tobermory and this region is reputed to have the most gorgeous views of the entire trail. Try hiking from Halfway Log Dump to Cave Point on the Bruce Trail. It is difficult, but the gorgeous views gorgeous views offered from the top of the Niagara escarpment are worth the effort.

How to Get There:

Halfway Log Dump trailhead is remote but it can be accessed by taking Hwy 6 about 3K south of Cyprus Lake Campground to Emmett Lake Rd (dirt road, 8K long). Follow the blue trail blazes from the parking lot until just before the boulder beach where you will turn left onto the Bruce Trail.

Tips:

– Parking is available for a fee of $11.70 which appears to be based on the honour system.
– Many hikers walk along the boulder beach thinking they’re on the right path because the Bruce Trail is easy to miss here. Look for the white trail blazes on the trees marking the Bruce Trail. You will see them just before the beach.

Boulder at the Coastline

If you don’t want to hike from Halfway Log Dump, you can boulder there instead. There are countless boulders along the coast just waiting to be climbed. Bouldering is permitted along the beach up to cave point.

How to Get There:

Same directions as above.

Tips:

– Bouldering isn’t permitted in the forest.
– Be careful to avoid any vegetation include lakeside daisies

Visit the Grotto

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The Grotto. It’s just where you go when you go to Tobermory. That’s where everyone goes, and rightfully so. It’s a gorgeous Georgian Bay cave that feels just a little bit dangerous.

You have to squeeze yourself into a tiny hole in the rocks and manoeuvre yourself along massive boulders to get down to this cave, but the crystal clear waters and the refreshing swimming is worth it.

You can find a spot for cliff jumping into the deep bay below, but be careful because it’s not actually permitted and can be dangerous.

How to Get There:

You can take a private boat and anchor just off of the coastline.

If you’re driving, take Hwy 6 about 10K south of Tobermory to Cyprus Lake Rd and park at the Head of Trails parking lot at Cyprus Lake Campground. The Grotto is an easy 30 minute hike along the Georgian Bay Trail.

Tips:

– Parking is available for a fee of $11.70.
– The grotto can get very busy during summer months so try to get there early in the morning, at supper time, or late in the evening.
– Wear good shoes or just go barefoot because climbing the rocks in flippy floppys can be a pain.

Visit the Flowerpots

DSCF6576DSCF6545DSCF6571

My favourite spot in Georgian Bay is Flowerpot Island, named for the 2 rock pillars or stacks formed by erosion along the coastline of the island. The island has some not-too-tough hiking along the coast and through the emerald green forest of moss and ferns. It would take a novice hiker about 2 hours to hike the flowerpot loop. The Island has some of the best places to swim in the crystal clear and refreshing (read: cold!) Georgian Bay. It’s a bit less busy than swimming the Grotto and for those who play by the rules and prefer not to cliff jump, there are a lot of lower boulders that you can jump off of into the bay.

How To Get There:

By boat only from Tobermory’s main business centre in Little Tub Harbour

The Flowerpot Express operated by Blue Heron Cruises is a good option. It is a speed boat that takes about 25min to get there. It travels to Big Tub Harbour as well so you can see 2 turn of the century shipwrecks right over the side of the boat.

If you want to take a glass bottom boat for even better views go with Blue Anchor Cruises instead. Their glass bottom vessel actually has a glass bottom that you can walk on top of and see the shipwrecks right under your feet. It’s a lot better than Blue Heron’s glass bottom (not really) boat tour.

Diver’s Den offers boat rentals for full or half day at a reasonable price and will give you a 45 minute orientation beforehand if you don’t have a pleasure craft licence. Weather is permitting though, they won’t send you out if the weather is bad.

Tips:

– If you want to hike and swim, give yourself at least 3 hours on the island.
– The best swimming is near the flowerpots.
– The island is pack-in/pack-out so don’t leave your garbage lying around.
– If you’re into camping, there are 6 very private campsites on the island that would make you feel like you have your own private island.

Gaze at the Milky Way Galaxy

The Cyprus Lake Campground has virtually no light pollution. When the sky is clear and the moon is new then conditions are perfect for seeing the milky way galaxy in the sky with your naked eyes. Oh yeah, there are about a billion other stars you can see too—it’s like your own private planetarium.

Tips:

– It’s easiest to see the milky way during the new moon because there is less light pollution in the sky
– Cyprus Lake campground does offer guided stargazing

Go Diving

DSCF6532

The waters off the coast of Tobermory are part of Fathom Five National Marine Park. The waters are crystal clear, contain beautiful submerged geological formations, and have over 20 intact shipwrecks turn of the century which are popular among divers and snorkelers alike making Tobermory the Scuba Diving Capital of Canada.

How to Get There:

Head to the National Park Visitor’s Centre Driving south on Highway 6 from Tobermory turn left onto Chi sin tib dek Road. Follow approximately 1km to the visitor centre.

Tips:

– All divers must be trained and certified
– It is a national park so admittance into Fathom Five Marine Park is $5.80 per adult or $14.70 per family. Diver’s must also register at the Visitor Centre for a fee.
– Waters here are very cold and diver’s should take necessary precautions

Eat Whitefish

DSCF6634

The whitefish here is amazing. Mild, moist, flaky, and melt-in-your mouth kind of amazing. True story. Hit up one of the many fish and chip places in Tobermory’s Little Tub Harbour that offer fresh Georgian Bay whitefish or if you’re camping, cook it yourself on the campfire.

Tips:

– Here’s a recipe for the Best Whitefish