Weather

Be Prepared! This holds true for any outdoor adventure, however, spring weather can be unpredictable, even for weather forecasters.

Sun, cloud cover, wind, rain, snow, high temps to freezing temps… anything goes!

Check the local weather report for your home AND your destination. We have waited out rain and even snow to pack up our trailer before getting started on our trip.

Bring a variety of clothing, layers, and extra blankets. The day might be sunny, but a strong breeze can add tremendous wind chill. (Sunscreen, folks!!) Whether you’re in a tent or a trailer, you need to prepare for temps approaching freezing at night. If rain is in the forecast, or unexpectedly happens, you’ll want changes of clothes to stay dry. Don’t forget extra socks and shoes.

Wind Chill of Lake Ontario

Wind Chill off Lake Ontario

Don’t rely on dining tents, tarps strung from trees, or overhead tree cover. Most foliage will not have filled in to provide privacy, sun shade, or wind break. Spring winds can bust a tarp or awning in seconds.

Be prepared with easy to heat meals in case the weather turns sour. Don’t rely on campfires – have an alternate cooking source. Make sure you have a supply of water that won’t freeze.

After a rainstorm, some sites might become water-logged. The roads could be muddy. Four wheel drive might be necessary to access some sites.

Some parks will advance or delay their opening dates based on weather conditions and preparedness. Check first!

Reservations & Check-In

Finding a spot in an Ontario Park in the spring won’t be difficult. Families have kids in school and students may still be in college into early May. Obviously, spots in popular parks will still be in demand on weekends, and especially approaching the long weekend in May. (Alcohol bans are in force well in advance of the long weekend). Book ahead if you want a premium spot, but rest assured that you’ll find open spots well into June.

You may have to check in at the main gate rather than the campground gate in some parks. You may not find anybody at all and the office closed. Some parks will post a list of sites already reserved, but don’t count on it.

If you have pre-booked a spot, be sure to bring a copy of your reservation to place on your post. Consider leaving another copy at the check-in office’s outside box and maybe even include a cell phone number.

If you are arriving without a reservation, you will use self check-in by filling out a form and placing it with your cash fee (exact change) in an envelope at the gate. DON’T expect there to be things like forms, envelopes, or even pens. Stash a pen, paper, and a few envelopes in your glove compartment.

If you don’t have a reservation, and no list of reserved sites is posted, be prepared to move sites if a camper with a pre-booked reservation shows up. It probably doesn’t happen often, but potentially could.

Wood & Other Supplies

Along those same lines, don’t expect access to campfire wood in the park. Some parks will leave a few bags out on the honour system for payment. Again, see the previous note about bringing envelopes and exact change. You may find campfire wood available near the park. DO NOT bring wood from a banned area, such as one with known Emerald Ash Borer. DO NOT cut down wood in the park or use fallen wood. This destroys the habitat for the creatures that are kind enough to share their home with us. Also, fallen wood burns horribly.

Similarly, ice will probably not be available, or any other supplies. Park camp stores will not have opened for the season yet. If you are near a town, you will be able to find supplies, but if you’re a distance from a town, you’ll need to come fully outfitted.

Staffing

Staffing in the shoulder seasons is minimal. Many parks rely on students for staff and they will be busy in school. Camp superintendents, wardens, and maintenance workers are busy getting the park reopened after the winter, and may be working part-time schedules.

Park hosts often don’t come on board until after spring.

Facilities

Do not assume that all of the facilities available in the summer will be accessible in the shoulder seasons, especially spring. Comfort stations and vault toilets may or may not be open. If they are, water, showers, and toilet paper may not be supplied. Some water taps, dump stations, and water fills may still be undergoing flushing and municipal testing. Do not expect them to be available and prepare accordingly. (Bring toilet paper & hand sanitizer!!)

Many parks have multiple campgrounds and not all of them may be open.

Attractions & Programs

Expect no access to park-specific attractions and programming, such as nature walks and tours. For example, the Nature Centre at Presqu’ile will not be open, the Lighthouse Centre is only open on weekends, and tours of the Mica Mine at Murphy’s Point won’t begin until July.

Camp stores, if open, will only be so on weekends.

Safety

Peace and quiet is the benefit of camping in Ontario Parks in the spring season. Fall season tends to stay busier, although far less than the high summer season.

We have found ourselves as the ONLY campers in an entire campground on more than one occasion. Hydro sites are more sought after in popular parks so you’d be more likely to have campground mates.

Alone in the campground and able to explore all the other campsites!

Alone in the campground and able to explore all the other campsites!

If you’re uncomfortable being alone, spring might not be for you. You should be prepare for self-sufficiency. Keep in mind that you may be on your own if you become injured or need assistance. Take note of the local emergency and camp office numbers in case you need help. Know your campground and site number if you have to phone 911.

Enjoy the solitude! The campers you encounter will be friendly and enjoying the peace as well.

When choosing an outdoor rug, avoid getting shagged. Size matters.

Camping Rug

We are big fans of campsite bling, but also mindful of the fact that everything you bring out, has to be stored away later. We shy away from anything that is bulky, hard to compact, or might hold moisture and dirt. For those reasons, we had been scrutinizing outdoor rugs carefully. We stumbled across a large rug at Costco but it seemed too big for our little trailer, and frankly, quite bland. We saw some lovely patterned rugs at an RV show, but again, too large. We even considered attaching a PVC tube behind our hitch or bumper to store a rug in, but years of experience folding up tents, rain-flies, and tarps, taught us that stuffing something back into a small  container at the end of a trip, is less than ideal.

That’s when we found an outdoor rug at JYSK, the aptly unpronounceable Danish discount retail chain. We spied a 5 x 8 foot rug made of polyurethane for $30 CDN. It is lightweight, retains no moisture whatsoever, shakes out easily, and folds up to store in a Costco shopping bag along with our camping tarp, for neat storage in our trailer’s box.

Rug

It affords us lots of room to kick off our shoes, keeping sand and dirt out of our trailer. It’s small enough to fit under our tiny awning.

We didn’t realize how much we would like this accessory! Plus, the colours match our trailer’s decor. After all, it’s about Camp Bling 😉

Keeping dirt, mud, and sand out of your tent or trailer is one of the keys to a comfortable camping experience. When using tents, we keep a rug outside the zippered door, under the rain fly, to place our shoes, flip flops, and sandals on. Sometimes we’ll even put a small collapsible chair directly inside or outside the doorway (especially helpful as we get older!).

Our little pop-up tent trailer doesn’t have enough space inside the door to sit and put on shoes, and often, we just want to slip in and out of them to avoid tracking in dirt. We keep a rubber doormat at the bottom of the step which is great for kicking off excess dirt or mud. Even thought our trailer step is large, it quickly becomes cluttered with shoes.

Shoe Shelf

Our solution has been to purchase an inexpensive plastic shoe shelf. It’s about the same height as the step so we can kick shoes on and off easily while standing on the step. (A selection of slip-on shoes is another good tip!) The shelf keeps shoes off the ground which is especially helpful if the ground is damp. The lightweight plastic construction means it’s easy to hose off if needed. The legs detach and clip in underneath for quick storage in the cubby by the door. If it looks like rain, we can place it under our sliding storage box.

We picked ours up at Canadian Tire for about $7.50. You can purchase additional shelves and stack them for more shoe storage.

Anyone who is winter camping right now knows the importance of being prepared for varying weather conditions. The same holds true for every season whether you need to provide shelter from the sun, wind, mosquitoes, or rain… and more rain.

It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent. – Dave Barry

Build an Ark

We’ve counted on at least one little rainstorm every year we’ve camped but the summer of 2014 was our Year of the Rain. It rained every single time we went camping, every time! The rest of the summer was lovely and sunny, just not the days we went camping. Our friends and family stopped watching the weather report and simply asked us when our next camping trip was planned.

Stormy Weather

We planned a five-day trip to our favourite family campground in Presqu’ile Provincial Park with two of our kids.  On the second day, we walked down to the beach to watch the storm clouds roll in over Lake Ontario. We headed back to camp to batten down the hatches. No stranger to a few raindrops, we folded up chairs, tarped our camp kitchen, tossed the firewood in the car, tucked shoes in tents and zipped them up. As the rain continued, we all took shelter in our tents with books, e-readers, and iPods. After an hour of dampness, the kids texted us to say they were taking shelter in the car to charge up their devices. We suggested they drive up to the lighthouse centre to pick up some free wifi and check the weather forecast.

Reading refuge inside the car

Word came back that there was nothing but rain in the forecast. The kids headed into Brighton and found Lighthouse Books where Madeline picked up more reading material, and then with nothing else to do, they ventured on to a Tim Horton’s in Trenton. At one point, the rain was coming down so hard, they had to pull over.

Meanwhile, back at camp, we were hold up in our tent with some tunes, a bag of pistachios, and bottle of wine. It was kinda romantic. Until we ventured out to bail water out of the kids’ tent. We found our tent had become waterfront property. We briefly considered building an arc but decided to save the wood for a nice campfire when the storm finally passed.

To Tarp or Not to Tarp

We feel that you can basically break campers down into two groups, those who stretch tarps between the trees across their campsite, and those who don’t. There definitely are some benefits to tarping if your tents are unreliable or there are a lot of falling pine needles in your site. They can also provide a nice sense of community space when groups of campers are sharing a spot. For us, we choose not to tarp our campsite. We like to sit and look up at the clouds and stars, and some spots aren’t appropriately treed for tarps. Basically, we’re just lazy and don’t want an additional thing to set up and break down. Plus, it occasionally seems to involve scampering up a tree which in our case is more likely to end in injury.

Arrowhead Camping Trip

Our solution has been to bungie down a couple of small tarps over our drying rack and portable camp grill. We should probably add one for the picnic table since those wooden benches take forever to dry! Something to keep in mind, however, is that what falls from the sky, can sometimes splash back up from the ground. TIP: Be sure to bring a little whisk broom and dustpan. Besides being useful for sweeping out tents and trailers, they are good at brushing off the dirt after a heavy rainstorm.

Ultimately, our weather solution has been to purchase a small pop-up tent trailer. When the weather turns ugly, be it rain, wind, or bugs, we can take refuge inside and still feel close to nature.

Raining

Like many families, we bring a collapsible drying rack for hanging wet towels, swim suits, or rain soaked clothes on to dry. If you camp in a tent or small trailer like we do and prefer to wash your dishes outside, we’ve  discovered another great use for the rack. We use it to place large pots & pans on to dry. Ours even has a shelf which is handy for placing our dish rack on, too. If we feel there is a chance of precipitation, or there are lots of falling leaves and pine needles in the campsite, we loosely drape a tarp over the rack to keep things clean and dry.

 

Drying Rack

One of the features we looked for in a pop-up tent trailer was a heater so that we could camp in comfort during the shoulder seasons. Ours is equipped with a propane furnace that can heat up the little trailer in no time. It also helps dry things out after a damp day or night. The fan runs off the battery so we can use it in unserviced sites, too.

One drawback is that it has a strong blower which can be overkill on a mildly cool day, especially if we are sitting inside our trailer to escape the rain. It also tends to cycle on and off frequently on a cold night. This is likely due to the fact that the thermostat is located fairly close by under the dinette, at the same level as the furnace itself. Hot air blows in the direction of the thermostat and the table keeps the hot air pooled in front of it.

The fan is also fairly noisy so it can be a bit disturbing in the silence of the night. In addition, it blows straight ahead towards the dinette, not in the direction of our bed end, where we would like it to.

Propane Heater

 

Our solution has been to purchase a common plastic household heat vent deflector. They  are relatively inexpensive and available at most hardware stores. It has an adjustable width that fits our furnace face and magnets to keep it attached vertically. Because the adjoining cabinet protrudes slightly, the deflector really isn’t in the way of the passage. It deflects the heat away from the thermostat and in the direction of the bed. While it isn’t the ultimate magical solution, it does help. The furnace doesn’t cycle on and off quite as often.

CAVEAT: Because a home heating vent is not intended for higher heat surfaces, you are responsible for following all manufacturers’ instructions. If you position the deflector over the hot centre of a furnace face, it WILL melt! 

ALWAYS consider safety with products or enhancements to your camping setup. Our next upgrade will be to install a better digital thermostat that we can set to a specific temperature.

One of the features we looked for in a pop-up tent trailer was a heater so that we could extend our camping into the shoulder seasons in comfort. Ours is equipped with a propane furnace that can heat up the little trailer in no time. It also helps dry things out after a damp day or night. The fan runs off the battery so we can use it in unserviced conditions. One drawback is that it has a strong blower which can be overkill on a mildly cool evening, especially if we are sitting inside our trailer to escape the rain. It also tends to cycle on and off frequently on a cold night and does not have most quiet of fans.

Ceramic Heater

Sometimes we find ourselves in a serviced site with electricity so we figure, if we’re going to pay the higher rate, we ought to make use of it. After shopping around, we found the nice little Likewise Ceramic Heater. It’s small, lightweight, quiet, and has a grab handle on back. There are two heat settings, 750 and 1500 watt, an adjustable thermostat that holds the temp quite well once you find the optimum level, and a fan-only setting if you just want some air circulation. The ceramic elements are very efficient. It does an excellent job of keeping our tent trailer comfortable right down to 0° C.

Electric Heater

In terms of safety, it has a kill switch on the bottom so if it tips over, it automatically shuts off, and a thermal cut-off if it overheats. A red light on the top remains on anytime it’s plugged in so you don’t forget. It is cool to the touch on all sides except the front grill when running, so you can place it close to surrounding surfaces without concern for heat damage. There is an air intake on the backside so you do need to keep that clear. Another handy feature is 6 foot long cord for good reach. While we don’t run it when we’re away from our campsite, we feel perfectly comfortable letting it take the chill off the trailer while we enjoy the campfire. We would feel perfectly safe using it inside a tent, as long as there was no chance of it getting wet.

In the off season, we plan to use it in our powder room at home which gets quite cold on below-freezing days.

We purchased the Likewise Ceramic Heater from Canadian Tire for the full price of $29.99 CDN. Currently, it’s on sale for $17.99 and we highly recommend it!

If you’re family is one of the many that celebrates Canadian Thanksgiving at your favourite campground, be sure to stop in the camp store to check out end-of-season sales. Almost every park, public or private, has some form of camp store. It may simply be a variety of necessities in the office, but often a park will have anything from a concession stand to an outfitters section in the camp store to a full-blown gift shop. You can pick up t-shirts, hoodies, hats, books, and plush toys as well as local artwork and handcrafts at many stores. At the end of the summer, some of those items are marked down.

Last year I picked up a terrific jacket for 30% off at Greystones Gift & Book Shop run by the Friends of Bon Echo. This year Dave snagged another baseball cap for 25% off to add to his park hat collection. A few years back we found an Ontario Parks sweatshirt at the Silver Lake Provincial Park office to give to our son for Christmas.

A portion of every purchase you make at a park, even if it’s just a bundle of firewood or bag of ice, helps to support the park. Do a little early Christmas shopping the next time you’re at a campground and look for end-of-season sales.

To browse all year long, check out these online stores:

Parks Canada Shop

Ontario Parks Store

BC Parks Merchandise

Alberta Parks eStore

In the past, we tossed old cast-off knives from our kitchen into our camping pantry. Awhile back we started carrying Zeal brand pairing knives in our gourmet food shop. Their Guide and Glide knives feature a thin, very sharp blade that has a non-stick coating. They also have a cover that slips on and stays in place, making them ideal for camping, boating, or picnics. If they bounce around in the drawer or hamper, they won’t nick or cut into things. They are also safer when you’re rummaging around amongst a jumble of utensils. We have one tucked in our day-tripper picnic backpack. We’ve been using another one as a box cutter at work for a couple of years and it’s still sharp! We recently purchased a similar set of Starfrit knives from Canadian Tire. They have soft grips on the handles, which is a nice added feature. The four sizes are all that we need so the other ad-hoc knives are destined for the next yard sale.

Camping Knife

Zeal Guide and Glide retails for $10

Camping Knife Set

Starfrit Knife Set was on sale at Canadian Tire for $12 and is available through Amazon.

 

-by Anna Russell

I’m one of those folks who picks up a stack of brochures and guides at every rest stop and tourism kiosk. It makes me feel like I’m holding onto a handful of adventures with directions to a scenic life. It also helps me learn about a new place and what it has to offer.

Camping, in and of itself, is an activity, and when you add hiking, biking, and swimming, it’s easy to fill your day and wear everybody out. For our family, we’ve found it best to limit a day-trip distance to less than 30 minutes, from leaving the campsite to the moment we are parked and walking up to the entrance of our destination. Anything longer and everyone will become restless. Aways pack car snacks, juice, and water. If the day-trip includes walking or hiking, pack extra water, perhaps in a cooler to stay chilled in the car.

Nehalem Bay State Park

Our favourite campground on the Oregon coast is Nehalem Bay State Park, a little under 2 hours west of Portland. It has sites that accommodate everything from hikers/bikers to car camping to electrical/water hookups for trailers and big rigs. There are yurts, a fly-in airport camp, and a horse camp. Sparse shore pines don’t offer a lot of privacy but you won’t mind because you’ll spend your day over the dunes on the beach, flying kites, beach combing, and building sandcastles.

Day-tripping:

If you tire of all the activities in the park, Manzanita is only 5 minutes away via Highway 101 or the side streets lined with beach houses. In the summer you might find giant kites on display on the beach or rent one yourself. At the Manzanita Market on the main street you can pick up provisions and a bottle of Oregon wine.

Manzanita Beach

Cannon Beach is 20 minutes away and at low tide you can walk out to Haystack Rock, or shop along the main street. Don’t forget to stop at one of the numerous seafood markets on the side of the road to pick up the day’s fresh catch for grilling back at camp.

30 minutes away is Seaside to the north and Tillamook to the southeast. You might stop at one of those en route on your arrival or departure day. Historic Seaside has an old style beach promenade where you can check out the touch tank at the Aquarium and watch salt water taffy being made on Broadway Street. Grab an ice cream cone at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, artisanal foods next door at Blue Heron French Cheese Company, or take a tour of the WWII blimp hanger at the Tillamook Air Museum.

How NOT to Day-trip!!

In 2002, when our kids were still young, we spent 6 nights at Nehalem Bay State Park. The weather was spectacular and we enjoyed long days on the beach. We drove into Manzanita to watch the kites and stock up on supplies. As usual, I picked up a number of tourist brochures. One was for the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. I was keen to visit the museum because it houses the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ ode to over-the-top aviation. As a small child, bounding out of a hotel elevator, I once caught a glimpse of Howard Hughes before being blocked by a large security guard and directed back into the elevator. (Dave has heard the story so many times that it has lost its novelty).

The brochure said the museum was in nearby McMinnville. It was later determined that “nearby” was a relative term, like say, being nearby the North Pole as opposed to the South Pole. Keep in mind, it was back in the day of maps, paper maps. No Google, no GPS, no onboard navigation systems. Driving directions and distances from larger cities didn’t give a very good point of reference when traveling from a small coastal community. I resorted to plotting the route on a map and adding up the little numbers of miles between arrows. I announced to Dave that it looked like it was a scenic drive, not more than an hour, I estimated.

Evergreen Aviation Museum

We set out on an unseasonably hot day, sunburned to a crisp from the previous day on the beach. After an hour of driving along the ocean, the route directed us up a winding coastal mountain highway.  I usually have a fantastic sense of navigation, as Dave will attest to, however, I began to get a little nervous as I repeatedly frowned down at the creased map. There was restlessness coming from the back of the minivan, not to mention the cockpit, and bladders were filling up. The mountain road eventually gave way to groves of hazelnut trees and rows of Pinot Noir grapes. We reached our destination after 2 long hours. The museum was wonderful and the planes were awesome.

Spruce Goose

After trips to the restroom and trinkets purchased to appease the weary travelers, we piled back in the hot minivan and began the 2 hour return trip to our campsite. With tremendous restraint, Dave held his tongue. The kids kept themselves busy with Gameboys and portable CD players. They didn’t even acknowledge my excitement when I played Shaun Mullins’ Twin Rocks Oregon on the stereo as we passed through the hamlet of Twin Rocks, Oregon, which takes far less time than the length of the song.

Air Museum

The moral of the story is that you should always know exactly how far it is to your destination before you plan a day-trip. Sometimes you won’t be able to get cell reception for Maps. Sometimes there is construction or a delay you had not anticipated. Sometimes navigation maps are wrong.

Sometimes it’s better to stay at your campsite and tell stories.