My family loves to camp. Or maybe I should say my husband really loves to camp, and I sort of love it. I don't mind sleeping in a tent, and I'm happy outdoors as long as the bugs aren't too bad. But I have a terrible fear of bears, and feel uneasy in the wilderness. I know that I have a better chance dying in my automobile than dying at the jaws or paws of a bear, but there isn't much rational thinking that occurs when I'm imagining myself (or my girls) being eaten alive.
Despite my reservations, I believe that camping is a fantastic activity for kids. Not only are they learning new skills and an appreciation of nature, but they're doing what kids do best - getting dirty and exploring the world!
So each year we plan a camping trip with good friends of ours, who also have two daughters around the same age as our daughters. This year we chose Bon Echo Provincial Park, about a 2.5 hour drive from Ottawa.
We reserved site #165, which is one of five walk-in sites at the Sawmill Bay campground on Mazinaw Lake. Bon Echo also has back country camping, cabins and yurts.
- There's a lot to do with kids. We rented a canoe for 1 hour and went to check out the native pictographs on Mazinaw Rock. The park offered amazing kids programs every morning at 10am, and most evenings at their amphitheatre.
- The beaches are sandy and clean. The girls spent many hours wading, swimming and building sand castles.
- The walk-in sites are beautiful - rocky and treed, and right on the water. You could easily jump off the rocks at your site and go for a swim. The lake is the second-deepest in Southern Ontario.
- For a walk-in site, I expected to have neighbours who had done a lot of camping and respected general camping rules. Nuh-uh, didn't happen. We ended up with several yahoos camping on either side of us - one couple lighting their fire with charcoal and starter fluid, another dragging giant logs and brush to burn, and a group of campers with no respect for quiet after dark (to give them credit, they weren't drinking or anything - they were just obnoxiously loud people. In fact, the following group at that site were the ones drinking and carrying on, and even they shut up at 11pm. I could have kissed them!)
- Walk-in sites and young children don't really mix (but as another positive, I'm in really great shape after all that walking back and forth!)
- Lack of policing from park rangers: our friends were staying in the main Sawmill campground, and had a horrible experience with drunken teenagers (or maybe they were 20...whatever). And in the walk-in campsites, we didn't see a single ranger in seven days. I realize funding is scarce, but I think a walk-through each evening is warranted. I could have made the park a ton of money by handing out tickets for all the infractions I spotted
- The park was BUSY. Although I appreciate the human bodies surrounding me (as protection from bears, of course!), my hubby and I could have done with a quieter experience. We camped Achray in 2012 and it was very peaceful.
Although my negatives seem to outweigh the positives, we still had a wonderful time. The girls had a blast with their little friends, and the giant tarp my husband rigged up over the campsite saved us from days of rain. We're already planning our trip next year, and need ideas. What are your favourite campgrounds for kids?
Oh, and no bears were spotted. That didn't stop me from having a 2am heart attack after I heard what I thought was a bear - it was just a really loud racoon :)