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Day tripping in northern Ontario parks? Yes, says Bill

This week Bill starts a series on the benefits of utilizing provincial parks on a daily basis along with things to do in nearby communities. This week it is a cluster of three parks near North Bay

You may not be able to secure the campsite you wanted at a provincial park; you just don’t want to sleep on the ground any more or you finally sold the RV that was sitting in the driveway for too long.

Anyway, provincial parks have lots of day use attributes and the seasonal or yearlong pass allows you to access a natural resource and for many reasons, it’s worth it. Day adventures include the experiences outside the park boundary and within nearby communities.

Dave Hunt is a marketing specialist with Ontario Parks, he outlines the benefits of a day-park pass. “A seasonal daily vehicle permit is a great way to save money if visiting one of the 115 operating provincial parks on a regular basis. These permits also allow for booking daily vehicle permits in advance at 33 Ontario Parks.” More benefits are listed here

Depending on the cost of a regular daily vehicle permit can be $21.00 per visit, where once you use a summer daily vehicle permit more than four or five times, the permit has paid for itself and the rest of your visits are free. And you can rent all kinds of recreational equipment, no need to bring the racks or utility trailer along for the visit.

This week we are visiting three parks near North Bay, see the map.

Restoule Provincial Park

Chris Wright is the Acting Superintendent of both Mikisew and Restoule Provincial Parks, he highlights some of both of the parks’ assets.

The 4.1 km Fire Tower Trail is a must-do hike, particularly on a hot sunny day as you are for the most part under a mature hardwood forest canopy. There is a great rest location and viewpoint at Amber Lake.

After a challenging climb, this trail will continue to impress with a spectacular view from atop the 100-meter-high Stormy Lake Bluff.

“The trail and views from the lookout are picturesque. Despite the name of the Fire Tower Trail, the real gem of the trail is the lookout over Stormy Lake, which is beautiful at all times of the year, but it is spectacular during fall colours," Wright says. "This hike is great because visitors can make it longer or shorter depending on their preference.

"The trail makes a figure-eight and visitors can choose how they want to proceed to the next trail section based on how they’re feeling when they get to the centre connecting point." 

For me it was a barefoot walking opportunity as the trail from the trailhead, crossing the road and veering northwest (left) to the final ascent is covered with red pine needles and other organics. A chance to get well-grounded, en route.

“Deer are also a common sight on the trail," Wright said. "Once visitors are done the hike they can take a break in the day-use area at the base of the trailhead or go just down the road to the rental building and go for a paddle to get a full circle experience of seeing the tower and bluff from both land and water.”

He is referring to a circular paddle on Stormy Lake to do; starting from the boat launch that will take you to a huge glacial erratic, called ‘Elephant’s Rock’ and then paddle on and around to the cliff base of the trail you were just walking on.

Mountain biking trails are not so common in provincial parks but it is available on the Angels Point, Rangers Point, Grawbarger, River, and Gibbs Trails. This amounts to more than 8 km of mixed single and double-track trails.

Difficulties range from beginner to intermediate/advanced. Mountain Bike rentals are available at the park.

Angel’s Point Trail (2.8 km) provides two mountain biking loops through vibrant hardwood forests. The inner loop is a single-track trail designed for mountain biking with smooth winding corners, moderate changes in elevation and flowing dips, humps and bumps.

The outer double track loop is an easier option with a wide trail surface and fun rolling hills. The Rangers Point Trail is a 1 km double track trail with some steeper climbs and two great views of the Stormy Lake Bluff. Mountain bike rentals are available at the Park Office.

You can access the Village of Restoule from Callander, Powassan and Trout Creek on Highway 11 and from Highway 69 to the west. The Park is 10 km from the village; tackle this ride only if you are an avid biker.

Later in the day, you may want to stop for ice cream at the Mill Bay Market or have a home-cooked meal at the restaurant at Buck’s Lodge which is always busy. For your sweet tooth take the tour and some honey from Board’s Northern Nectars celebrating more than 40 years of honey production. Just outside the village are two nearby potters Stonethrow Pottery and Rockcliffe Pottery.

Here is the park’s website and map and a printable map you can take with you.

South River – Mikisew

Combining a day trip to the Park and South River will be a fulsome day. Here is an option, The park is 15 km from town and there is a designated bike lane on both sides of the new pavement.

When it was established in 1957, the park was actually known as Eagle Lake Provincial Park. In 1960, it was renamed due to confusion with other Eagle Lake parks in the province and thus the name Mikisew – meaning eagle in the Cree language – was adopted.

The disc golf course at Mikisew adds a unique recreational activity to the local area and is the only disc golf course in Ontario Parks. 

"The 18-hole course was designed to offer a beginner/intermediate disc golf experience,” Wright says. “Whether you are brand new to disc golf or an expert the course will be lots of fun. If you’re brand new to the sport, try warming up on our original 9-hole course. After a warm-up, you can play the new course as 9 holes or the full 18 holes." 

Discs are for sale or rental at the Park Office.

“There are three beautiful sandy beaches in the park that allow for not just swimming, but great paddling opportunities on Eagle Lake through rentals of canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards," Wright said. "Mikisew is also known for its fenced-in off-leash dog beach allowing an opportunity for all family members to take part in a beach day. Also, the three sandy beaches offer a lot of other recreational opportunities such as beach volleyball, basketball and horseshoe pits. All equipment can be loaned from the park gatehouse.

“There are four, shorter interconnected trail-walking loops. Choose a hike that suits you or combine them all into a great 5.4km loop. Pick up a trail guide at the park office for information on the park's natural features these trails are bound to scratch your hiking itch!”

You’ll find at least 221 species of plants, 70 bird species, nine mammals and another nine amphibians and reptiles that call Mikisew home.

On the way back into town look for Riding Ranch Road and the organic farm of Schoenberger Acres and if you are into horseback riding there is the long-standing Stewart Coughlin Riding Ranch since 1960.

Nearby South River is a real gem. If you like shiny rocks and lots of them visit the Crystal Cave and then stop by the South River Brewing Co. where one of the brands is named after Tom Thomson’s paintings.

As you cross the railway tracks on Ottawa Ave, headed east towards the Algonquin Provincial Park, look to the right or south and visit the 1884 historic train station; to the left or north about 100 m is an interesting steam locomotive coal chute remaining from days gone by, one of the only remaining such souvenirs in Northern Ontario.

Keep going you will encounter Tom Thomson Park, there is an informative display on the painter and you can play 18 holes of disc golf here as well. A little further on is the Bear Chair Factory and the Swift Canoe Factory and outlet store.

Here is the park’s home page and trail map

Mattawa – Sam

Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is located on the Mattawa River, a designated Canadian Heritage River.

Warren Verina is the Park Superintendent he provides some background on a birchbark canoe that is like no other. Seeing it will explain the plight and the voyageurs along the Mattawa.

The canot de maître, or master's canoe is on display in the Mattawa River Visitor Centre was built in 1968 by Andy Green, the Chief canoe builder and a worker within the Park and Charles Henrey Laberge, the first superintendent of the park.

“The canoe's name is "Amich", which means beaver in Anishinabemowin, because of the beaver decoration painted on the stern point of the canoe," Verina said. "At 9.5 metres in length and weighing 385Kg while dry, Amich is a replica of the big canoes that voyageurs would have paddled during the time of the fur trade. Amich was built using traditional materials of birch bark, ash gunwales and seats, cedar planking, spruce root bindings, and pine pitch to create a water-tight coat over the seams.

“Something that most people don't realize is that the Amich was a functioning canoe after it was built. Charles Laberge and 11 others took the canoe on its first voyage from the Chaudière Dams to Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park in the summer of 1969 and continued to use the canoe for interpretive tours along the Mattawa River throughout the summer.”

For a shorter trip, take the Red Pine loop.

“Both lookouts are from the top of the cliffs overlooking the Mattawa River below. They show off the beauty of the Canadian Shield, rocky landscapes, as well as the winding Mattawa River," Warren said. "Be careful when taking in the view and don't lean too far out!”

“These are also great spots to find the fern Rock Polypody. This rich green-coloured fern grows on barren rack or talus slopes and is one of the first species to set roots on the cliff-side," said Warren. "As a fern, the rock polypody reproduces by spores which you can see on the underside of the leaves - they look like little polka dots running in lines.”

For me, it is the imprint of the historic portage at the west end of the Campion Rapids. This very well-trodden trough indicates people, First Peoples, explorers (Champlain, Radisson and Groseilliers, Fraser, Thompson, Mackenzie), the white pine loggers, pioneers headed west and recreationists walking in the same place for more than one thousand years. It is a true environmental footprint, check it out but watch out for the poison ivy approaching and on the portage.

Twelve kilometres away, via Highway 17 East, is the 'Meeting of the Waters' - Mattawa. You will want a selfie with Big Joe Mufferaw, of logging and Stompin’ Tom fame at Explorer’s Point beside the museum. Look across the river at the three white crosses. Then stroll down Main St. to the Clermont Gallery where you will see some of the esteemed artist’s works of art and then a little further for spicy Thai Food at the Le Voyageur Restaurant.

Here is Sam’s home website and the trail map for Sam.

There is a lot to do in parks and nearby communities. Make it a number of summer days on the back roads and enjoy what’s in our backyard, yours to discover.

Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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