a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Aug, 2020

Camping at Charleston Lake Provincial Park, the 2020 edition

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

This year was a return to camping, in a way. We didn’t go last summer, or the summer before, so I was looking forward to this trip even more than usual. This year, more than ever (thanks COVID!) I desperately wanted to get away from the city and was excited about upgrading our scenery for a short time. For awhile we weren’t even sure if camping would be available at any Ontario Parks sites, so we monitored the park status reports for months beforehand.

We almost didn’t go. I won’t get into details as it’s not really my story to share, but I will say that a very close friend of one of our daughters passed away very suddenly right before we left. Understandably, a fun family camping trip didn’t seem like the thing to do when the ground falls out from beneath you. But in the end, we went, and I’m glad we did. Being in the woods, on a beach, in a cool lake, by a camp fire, allows for quiet contemplation that can be healing in its own way. I didn’t know the young lady very well, but I am pretty sure she would have wanted it this way. She would have been glad to see her friend in a happy place. But I digress.

This year’s destination was Charleston Lake Provincial Park, to the same campsite we booked a few times when the girls were small. The site was almost how I remembered it, minus a few big trees. Back then, I never really thought about ever coming back here when they were 19 and 21, someday trading the sand and water toys for a cooler full of beer and cider to be shared with my beauties that are all grown up.

Sunny afternoon

The first day we arrived later than usual, just in time to set up and make dinner. The girls checked out the beach and then came back to put their bathing suits and go for a dip. Dinner was a win. Camping dinners early in the week always start out with fresh foods/fragile perishables and by the end we are down to crackers and cup-a-soups and whatever passes a sniff test. I had prepared a rack of ribs so they only needed to be heated over a fire and slathered with sauce, a fresh baguette, and coleslaw. Dessert were storebought nanaimo bars.

After dinner we settled around the fire, too tired to talk, and I suspect, heavy with sadness. And that’s when it happened. Tiny pinpoints of light slowly appeared and disappeared in the darkening woods around our campsite – first one, then another. I thought at first my eyes were playing tricks on me, but then I realized that fireflies had begun to reveal themselves, winking at us in the blackness.

I had forgotten that this evening light show was one of the best things about camping at Charleston Lake. There’s an access road behind our site, so we went there to take in the spectacle. We were not disappointed. Thousands of fireflies dotted the sides of the road. It was really something.

We went to bed not long after, tired after a long day of prepping/packing/driving, tired from carrying around a heavy reminder of how precious and beautiful life is. Enjoying life is a fine way of honouring a loved one, don’t you think? It’s something I think about, still.

Sidebar about camping at Ontario Parks during Covid-19

There were a few things that were different this year (thanks again COVID). Most notably, the comfort stations were partially closed at Charleston Lake. There were no showers or laundry facilities, but the washrooms were fully operational albeit limited to two occupants at any time (which was awkward at times but not impossible). The  washrooms in the comfort stations were closed for cleaning three times a day, with hours posted on the doors. (This was always a gamble when I set out, because I rarely knew what time it was.)

Posters encouraged people with symptoms to stay home.

What else?

  • Outdoor privvies were open and appeared to be cleaned with increased frequency. The one in our area had running (tap) water and was always fully stocked with liquid soap.
  • Outdoor water taps were available and fully functioning.
  • Ice sales were as normal, although masks and distancing practices were in play while purchasing (like everywhere else).

Lots of things were closed, such as canoe/kayak rentals, which was a bummer because this is something I really enjoy and look forward to, especially now that the girls are older. (For the record, I would have been happy to disinfect my own boat, paddle, and PFD!)

What wasn’t closed, of course, were the beaches and the hiking trails. Normally we go for a hike every morning and lounge on the beach every afternoon, but a heatwave but the kibosh on a daily hike. We did manage to hike the Sandstone Island trail. It’s one of the best hikes in Ontario Parks (and we’ve hiked a lot of hikes). It’s 2.6K and officially rated “moderate” in terms of difficulty. I’d say that’s an accurate assessment given that it requires some uphill scampering over large rocks and through awkward passages between boulders.

It is beautiful, so beautiful your eyeballs overfloweth. Ancient rock formations, cliffs, an overhang, miles of moss and ferns will enchant even the hardest of hiker hearts.

We’ve been doing this hike for years. Here’s the 2020 shot. Below that is one from this same spot in 2007.

Ancient rocky overhang

Rocky overhang

It truly is gorgeous.

Hike at Charleston Lake

Of course, there is a lot of nature to be seen at Charleston Lake. You just have to open your eyes.

Caught a little critter


Beaver Tree

I enjoy every second of time spent on the beach at Charleston Lake. Not only is it cooling during a heat wave but it’s soothing for my soul. I really see this as ‘restoration time’. I explained this to the youngest. From my mini-meditations I’ve learned how to picture myself in a happy place. And this is exactly what I hold in my mind when I do that: the sun and the sand and the lake and the sky and the trees. We looked across the lake at a line of trees and a small island that features a big rocky outcropping that attracts boaters and swimmers. We watched kids jump off the rock, with boats and paddleboards floating in and around the scene.

“It’s not like it’s even that scenic,” she said. She’s not wrong. It’s neither a mountain vista nor a tropical paradise, but it feels like happiness and home to me.

Charleston Lake Beach

Boat launch at Charleston Lake

beach view

Although it was stinkin’ hot on some days, our site was shaded for most of the day and surprisingly free of bugs and so we had the luxury of lounging around, reading, and napping in the hammock. We went to bed early and woke late. We ate too much junk food and recharged our batteries. I’d say it was one of the most memorable trips ever. But then again, I probably say that about every camping trip.

Walk in the woods

For the record, here are the posts about our experience at Charleston Lake in 2010, in 2007 and in 2005.


1 Response to "Camping at Charleston Lake Provincial Park, the 2020 edition"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Family camping 2022: Chutes Provincial Park - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 11th, 2022 at 2:11 pm


[…] the same time we tried to choose a new place every year, and there’ve been repeat visits of Charleston Lake, Algonquin Park, and Bon Echo, simply because they had everything we wanted out of a campground at […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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