29 Jul, 2014
Camping at Presqu’ile Provincial Park – part one
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:
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.)
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 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.
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.