a peek inside the fishbowl

Checking out the trails

Tuesday p.m.

An incredibly mosquito-laden hike left us hot, exhausted, and dispirited. I assumed Owen Point Trail would be less buggy than Jobes’ Woods, but I was dead wrong.

We doused ourselves with bug spray (Muskol: 30% DEET) and went in with optimistic hearts, open to any surprises that lay in store. Within the first 100m of the trail they descended… a roiling cloud of blood sucking predators and we were the only target in sight.

The reason I wanted to hike this particular trail is that it’s close to Gull Island, a bird breeding area that’s closed to the public. The trail guide promised meadows and scenic views of water. What we got was a bushwhacked trail through 8ft high grasses, hundreds of frogs leaping across the trail in feeble attempts not to get squashed, and millions upon millions of mosquitoes.

I learned a valuable lesson. No matter how much bug spray you use, they will find the spot you missed.

We reached the halfway point and I halfheartedly snapped a couple of photos. It’s hard to do when you’re busy swatting and scratching and cursing.

Gull Island in the distance

At this point we double-backed to the car, jogging at times, in hopes of outrunning the mosquitos. As we reached the car we collapsed in our seats, grateful for the shelter.

Spot the tree frog #latergram

I love sleeping in a tent; the sounds of the camp settling in, the smell of fire mixed with forest, and the blackness of the night and the shroud of silence that eventually comes with it. The air is fresh and I sleep deeply. Every day during our recent trip we awoke to birdsong and the echo of a faraway train.

I had a good time last week, I really did, but something about our recent excursion left me wanting.

Perhaps I’m slowly becoming a recluse in my old age, but I don’t want to drive for hours and hours to hear other people’s arguments about missing socks (I wish I was making this up), car alarms, and tinny radios. I’m also out of patience for campers who blatantly ignore good camping practices: people who wash their dishes in the sink at the comfort station, wash their clothing at the water tap, or chop up the deadfall in the woods when it’s supposed to remain there. These are all things we encountered at Presqu’ile, and I tell ya, my tolerance is slipping.

I’ve had lots of time to think about what I love most about camping. It includes:

  • peace and quiet
  • outdoor living (fresh air, making a fire)
  • fun time with my family
  • proximity to nature (hiking, photo taking, etc.)
  • time spent relaxing (reading, hanging out at the beach)

Given these things, I think it’s fair to say that my ideal camp site is (a) sufficiently remote but not so far out that we’ll get eaten by bears and no one will find our bodies (b) in a scenic area, close to water and good trails (c) has a hammock.

The best car camping experiences we’ve had – and includes points A and B above – have been our trips to a couple different yurts in the Ontario Parks network. (One was winter camping at Silent Lake, the other was in Algonquin.) They were peaceful, but not crazily far from clean water, chopped firewood, and the park warden.

I like visiting new places instead of going to campgrounds we’ve been to before. The question is where do we go now? And also, HOW? Is this the turning point for our little car camping family? Should we graduate to something a little more challenging? Is this why people buy canoes? Or maybe a walk-in site is the next step? Sigh. Any guidance would be most welcome here.


We arrived at Presqu’ile Provincial Park late afternoon on Sunday, did a rudimentary unpacking/tent setup and went to go peek at the beach before dinner. We parked the car and trudged along a path that cut through the sandy dunes for which the area is so well-known. Suddenly we heard a strange, rhythmic bleating. The four of us looked up just in time to see a pair of swans flying right overhead, honking as they went.

That, for me, is ultimately what camping is all about. (Ok, that and sleeping outdoors and drinking a beer by a crackling fire.) Every day we woke to birds trilling in the trees, racoon prints on the picnic table, and… hungry mosquitos. This is the one time of year I’m quite happy to slather myself with Muskol. I consider a few bugs a small price to pay for all that beauty, and it’s part of living closer to nature and views like this:

The scene near our campsite

Why Presqu’ile you ask? Well, we like to explore a different camp ground in the Ontario Parks network every year, and this year it was Presqu’ile’s turn. That, and we have some happy memories from Sandbanks, which is in the same general area.

With over 300 car camping sites, Presqu’ile is not a small campground.

I have a wee issue with the campground maps that Ontario Parks uses to help people make their site bookings. It’s the scale. For some reason I’m never quite able to align what’s on the map with Actual Reality once we get there. We booked site 238, which was rated “good” for privacy and apparently has room for two vehicles. (I would argue with both of these things.) Lesson learned: if site privacy is a concern, look at the posted measurements and compare it to other sites in contention for that area. I think the rating is subjective, and the Ontario Parks folks should probably consider opening up individual ratings for each site so interested parties can make an informed decision about their booking.

Site privacy seems to be hard to get at this particular campground. I’ve seen worse – tents facing staked out in open fields as the occupants try their best to ignore each other –  but ours was tolerable as we really only had one close neighbour and we were able to hang our clothesline in a way that blocked the view.

The other thing about our site: at first I was dismayed at how close it was to the comfort station (I like to be close, but not too close) but it turned out ok since it was across a field and up a small hill from our site, and its parking lot was facing the other direction. (Believe it or not, some people drive to there in their trucks and then let them idle while they’re in there.)

Not shown: clouds of mosquitos

The trails

There are a few trails at Presqu’ile, but the main attraction here is the beach, not the hiking. We tried a few trails before giving up. The mosquitos were just too awful. Our experience Jobes’ Woods Trail should have been our first clue. As we entered this short loop that’s just over 1K, I joked that if the bugs were too bad we could run all the way through. Little did I know that my comments were a foreshadowing of our actual fate. As soon as we started we were enveloped by hungry hoards of mosquitoes. They landed on every part of us that wasn’t soaked with bug spray and swarmed our faces.

We had grabbed a paper trail guide at the entry point, but standing still at the guideposts and taking a minute to read the information associated with them (normally such a great part of each trail) quickly proved to be unbearable. We had no choice but to walk as fast as we could through the trail, and even jogging in parts. I felt like I was on the treadmill at home because I was hitting the same stride and focused only on getting through it (although the view was much nicer than what I see on my treadmill.) Other trails were the same except for the Marsh Trail, which we wrongly assumed would be just as bad, wasn’t. Go figure.

Presqu’ile is not as stately or woody as some of the more northern sites, and not as scenic as Bon Echo or Grundy Lake. I don’t think people come here for the hiking trails or the views, it’s ultimately about the beach.

The beach at Presqu'ile Provincial Park

The beach

The main beach at Presqu’ile is very large. It’s a 2.5 km stretch of sand that’s regularly groomed. There are three access points with accompanying parking lots, washrooms (although I didn’t see water taps), volleyball nets in the middle, and picnic tables scattered along the water’s edge… which I was quite happy about as they proved to be a comfortable way to hang out for a stretch.

The sand is sandy and easy on the feet, and like Sandbanks the water is quite shallow for wading until you get farther out. During our first two days, the lake was still and murky, with a lot of green gunk accumulating along the shoreline, but by the third day the wind had picked up and much of it disappeared.

Mark and I jokingly referred to Presqu’ile as “Sandbanks overflow.” Can’t get into Sandbanks! Go to Presqu’ile! It’s like Presqu’ile is the second cousin of Sandbanks. Sandbanks, in my mind, seems cleaner with shady places to sit overlooking the beach, Presqu’ile is not.

Other things to see

The lighthouse at Presqu’ile is worth a visit, it’s the second oldest operating lighthouse in Ontario and there’s a neat history behind it. The lighthouse is at the same location as a the Nature Centre, which is pretty good and has live critters on display for viewing (think turtles, frogs, and the other usual suspects) as well as WIFI if you need it. It’s a quick stop, which can be timed with one of their free children’s programs, which I recommend if you’re travelling with kids. Ontario Parks staff are really know their stuff. We chatted with several of them before and after a presentation about birds and another about fossils and they were very knowledgeable. The fossils folks answered some of our questions about some fossils we had found on the beach, of which there are plenty.

Rock Beach #latergram

The rock collecting and fossil finding was one of our favourite things about our visit to Presqu’ile. Although there were none to be found at the main beach, there were rocks a’plenty at several smaller access points, including the one at the lighthouse and one a minute or two away from our camp site.

I have more to say about our camping trip, but I think I will leave that for my next post. In the meantime you can see a few more photos right here.

Gull in flight

We’ve just returned from our annual camping trip. I’m sitting here with a coffee at hand, slowly gathering my thoughts and notes and photos. In the meantime I will say (a) the weather was fine (b) the bugs were bad (c) I’m ready to take it up a notch. More coming soon.



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  • Lynn: Noooooot making me overcome my fear of camping any time soon :). Hope the tale of the trail search has a happy ending!
  • Susan: I recommend Frontenac (Provincial Park 2/3s the way to Kingston from Ottawa). There are hike in sites, canoe in sites and no car camping. There is a c
  • Greg: An alternative is camping off-season. Once schools are in session you lose most of the families with kids during the week. The folks who want to sit a
  • Misty Pratt: oh, and get a radio-free site!! It helps not to have music blaring, although it doesn't take care of arguments about socks :)
  • Misty Pratt: yup, agree with the other comments about the canoe. You're only going to get peace and quiet if you canoe or hike in somewhere, and I find hiking kind
  • Carla: My favourite-est park is Papineau Labelle in the Gatineau side, great casse-croutes on the way back. Definitely explore nature the other side of the
  • Grenouille: Love the frog photo.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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