a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Aug, 2022

Family camping 2022: Chutes Provincial Park

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

Campsite visit by a red squirrel

I enjoyed camping with the kids when they were small. We built many sandcastles and collected many frogs over the years, but there’s something special about camping with kids when they turn into Young Adults. They are there to lend a hand during a hike, rub your shoulders when they’re sore, and share a beverage and conversation by the fire. These are all new moments that weren’t there before, and it’s nice. And for the parents out there who might be feeling a tug of sadness as they watch their kids grow up, know that it will be just as special, only different.

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We’ve gone camping almost every summer since our kids were toddlers. When they were young we favoured campgrounds that got good reviews and were relatively close to Ottawa. At 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 that time.

This year, however, we decided to venture a little farther and try out Chutes Provincial Park, which is about an hour west of Sudbury and just north of Manitoulin Island. This translated to a six-plus-hour drive from where we live, not including the drop off of the dog, pit stops, and lunch, which we grabbed in a Mattawa cafe. (Although in hindsight I wish we had brought sandwiches and ate them by the river as it’s quite pretty there.)

So, after quite a long ride in a rented minivan that was packed to the absolute max, we finally made it.

Chutes Provincial Park is located in the town of Massey, Ontario. I will say this, as the distance/time to destination on our GPS got smaller and smaller, my worry about it grew bigger and bigger. We drove through town, turned right, drove past scattered housing, an empty playground and an unused fairground in silence. What is this place? And would we find the peace and wilderness we needed this close to civilization? I had serious doubts and practically held my breath before we finally spotted the Ontario Parks signage and checked in.

Well, I needn’t have worried because as it turns out Chutes is my new favourite campground.

Chutes is a very unique campground within the Ontario Parks network. It’s definitely the closest we’ve ever been to a town, but that’s not a bad thing. Massey has everything you’d need as a camper: groceries, LCBO, a motel in case of a tornado. There’s even a Home Hardware and surprisingly, a Rona. There’s a cute coffee shop called The Little Brew Cafe that had lovely baked goods and, most importantly, fresh hot coffee.

With only 130 sites, Chutes is among the smallest campgrounds we’ve stayed at. There are trailers and RVs on the one side but we never had cause to venture in that direction. Unlike other small campgrounds like Achray, Chutes does have a comfort station with laundry and showers (in addition to the usual pit toilets with sink setups). The tenting half of the campground is radio free, which is a huge bonus in my view. AND, the campground is dog friendly.

We stayed at site 97. Here’s our setup:

Tent set up at site 97, Chutes Provincial Park

We actually didn’t think we’d be able to fit our two tents, but we did. Phew.

Site 97 was very quiet and quite private thanks to its location in a mature forest. There is, however, a walking trail directly behind it. This (mildly) decreased the privacy but it turned out to be a plus because (a) we did this trail twice and it was pretty convenient and (b) it was a direct path to the nicer set of pit toilets in our area. (200 steps, we always count.)

This site is also directly beside the water tap and I felt absolutely spoiled by this.

We were worried about traffic noise from the Trans-Canada Highway, which is only 1km away, but we only heard it night, faintly in the background, depending on which way the wind was blowing. Mostly we heard the waterfalls, which is the best sound to fall asleep to, like, ever.

The Beach at Chutes Provincial Park

Chutes is named after the logging chute that diverted logs around the waterfall on the River aux Sables.

Because of its location on a river, the campground doesn’t have the traditional kind of beach we normally enjoy on our camping trips. A rocky waterfall is the star of the show here and everything else revolves around that, including the swim area, which is tucked in a river bend underneath.

It’s smallish, and while part of it is sandy a good chunk of it is rocky:

Swim area at Chutes

This is not a very accurate representation of the whole scene but will give you an idea.

Partial view of beach at Chutes

Part of the swim area at Chutes Provincial Park

It is a very Canadian landscape, a little bit on the wild side:

A very Canadian landscape at Chutes Provincial Park

You can see the swim area a bit more in the background in the photo below. Yes, there is a sand island in the middle of it! Click here to see a larger version of this photo.

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

The waterfalls are at the top of the swim area (you can see the edge in the photo above), and you can swim right up to them. The water flows downstream past the beach area, creating a “lazy river” effect through very shallow waters. Lots of people rode the river this way in inner tubes, including school-age children. We tried it ourselves and it was very fun. I highly recommend it! (You might want to wear water shoes for this, trust me.)

The trails at Chutes Provincial Park

The trail at Chutes is called the Twin Bridges Trail. (Here’s a full description from AllTrails.) This is a must-do if you’re at Chutes. It’s gorgeous, with quite a few places to pause and take in the scenery. I could NOT stop taking photos. The whole place is a live-action postcard:

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Twin Bridges Trail at Chutes Provincial Park

Exploring Chutes Provincial Park

I think I’d rate this trail as moderate in difficulty. I do recommend wearing sturdy shoes and bringing water.

Here’s a panorama from one of the twin bridges.

The other trail we did was during a day trip to Manitoulin Island. A bit of research led us to the Cup & Saucer Trail so that was our destination. We packed some snacks and hopped in the car. It’s a scenic drive, about an hour away, although a delay with a swing bridge added about 15 minutes to the trip.

We did the “cup” part, because the saucer would have added more time (and distance) for which we were not prepared. It’s not a leisurely walk, this is truly a hike. Let the record show that we got turned around three or four times and had to backtrack, which added a bit to the length (and stress!) of our hike.

Here’s Mark at the beginning, looking and feeling pretty fresh no doubt (read: BEFORE WE GOT LOST):

Mark, at Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

The trail is rated moderate, but I’d call it “moderate with intense bits” because you’ll find yourself scrambling up and around rocks in many places along the way. We also did the “adventure trail” which was optional but we figured, hey, we’re here, let’s do this so we can say we did it. (Famous last words, am I right?)

The "Adventure" side trail, Cup & Saucer Trail

The Adventure Trail segment along the Cup & Saucer Trail, Manitoulin Island

You can do this part of the trail while going UP to the lookout or DOWN. I recommend taking it DOWN. But do note that this is mostly where we got lost because the trail here is poorly marked and downtrodden areas among the rocks give a false impression of trails where there may not actually be any.

The lookouts are pretty nice, but man, was it hot up there.

Cup and Saucer Trail on Manitoulin Island

We lived to tell the tale of the trail, but we were exhausted and it was long past lunch. We devoured a mediocre takeaway lunch like a pack of rabid wolves while we hunkered down at a picnic table at Bridal Veil Falls.

It was the perfect place to picnic and cool down, and it’s a popular swimming hole!

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

(Funny story, while I was wading in the water I spotted a water snake. I pointed, screamed, and laughed hysterically as I watched it change direction several times before it paddled away into the rocks lining the swim area. (Do snakes even PADDLE? I guess it did a shimmy swim?) Speaking of which…

The bugs and critters at Chutes Provincial Park

We experienced a wide range of weather, which to me reinforced the idea that it pays to be ready for anything when you’re camping in Canada. During our five night stay we had driving rain AND a short heat wave AND we had to layer up during a cold front at the tail end of it all. (We stopped at the Big Nickel in Sudbury on the way home and as we pulled into the parking lot we laughed at a guy wearing a puffer jacket and the minute we opened the door I found myself wishing I had packed mine.)

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, the amount of rain, or the location, but mosquitos were tolerable around our site and almost non-existent on our hikes and on the beach. There were a few wasps, but no deer flies or horseflies around the water either. One member of our party attracted all the mosquitoes, perhaps drawing them away from the rest of us. ;)

We did have a lot of red squirrels. They are bold little buggers:

Bold red squirrel helped himself to peanuts

The food at Chutes Provincial Park

We follow the same basic menu every year with few tweaks and updates, but some fan favourites in case you’re looking for ideas to bring on your next camping trip:

  • Chicken kebabs with veggies and halloumi cheese from Farm Boy on warmed naan bread (topped with sliced cuke, red onion, tomato, homemade tahini dressing)
  • Chicken Caesar wraps (made with precooked chicken and bagged salad)
  • Camp donuts
  • Banana Boats

It’s worth noting there is a handy convenience store right outside the park gates. (In fact, it was walking distance from our site.) This is where we bought the ice for our coolers but they had a little bit of everything here.

If you’re still wondering if you should book a site at Chutes Provincial Park for your next camping adventure, check out this list of Five reasons to visit Chutes on the Ontario Parks website.


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The Obligatory Blurb

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 (23) and Sarah (21). 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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