Part 1 of 4
Well, we really were not going to actually Paddle to Banff, but it has been a good title for our adventure. We planned to drive the nearly 3000 miles to Banff National park, stopping to camp and paddle at various iconic ( and some a bit less well known) paddling locations along the way. Our Sylvan Sport GO tent trailer had undergone some shake-down camping tests, and we were confident that it would keep us comfortable for the three week trip.
The itinerary for our trip westward was pretty well set, though the only campsites for which we had actual dated reservations were at the Boundary Waters, and at Banff. That left us a bit of flexibility to vary from our planned schedule, which was good, since most campgrounds after Labor Day are on a first come/first served status.
We headed out on a rainy Sunday morning, asking the dogs if they wanted to go for a ride in the car…little did they know, they would not return home for three weeks!
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Our first destination was Rideau River Provincial Park, south of Ottawa. We had originally hoped to paddle the Rideau Canal, through Canada’s beautiful capital city. However, the logistics of parking, a busy holiday weekend, and the canal’s locks made us decide to settle on a river paddle south of the city.
We arrived on a rainy afternoon, which became a familiar status. Our border crossing into Canada had been uneventful. We had been well prepared with inventory lists, the legal amount of dog food and liquor, extra documentation on our gear and our dogs…but none of that was requested, and we breezed right through. Rideau River is a lovely little provincial park, and we were within sight of the wide expanse of river. As it was drizzly all afternoon, we opted to put our paddle off until sunrise. We were able to take a lovely short hike along the river, allowing the dogs to stretch their legs.
Of course, in the morning, we faced very high winds and rough water. We discovered that it is a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise. The decision was made to cancel the first paddle of the trip…though in retrospect, we really should have given it a short go!
Westward Ho! Our first of many stops at Tim Horton’s for coffee, and to check a malfunctioning trailer light ( that actually was fine; the connection of the plug to the car was just loose, an easy fix!)
In the torrential rains, we stopped for a break at Samuel De Champlain Provincial Park. We found a great little visitor center, with fascinating artifacts and canoes from the Voyageur era. The host was very helpful, and provided helpful information on paddling opportunities in the area. In fact, she leads tours in a large Voyageur canoe…on dry days, of course.
The skies actually cleared, which was nice, as we approached out next planned stop, at Chutes Provincial Park in Ontario. We were busy chatting, checking out activity on a community field, and following our ( not so) trusty GPS, which we call T’Pau…well, she led us right past the entrance and onto Crown land, for at least 4 miles. A lovely ride, but not the campground. We felt rather foolish when we turned around and discovered we had missed a very large sign at the entrance.
We had to self-register, using a credit card kiosk, and without a good campground map. Thankfully, the ranger came out of the nearby office, and directed us to sites alongside the falls. We were fortunate to get a great site, and listened to the amazing falls as we relaxed through the night. A full moon illuminated the area, and the falls were impressive under that night sky. The dogs enjoyed a hike to the upper falls, and we had a great stay, even though it was a quick stop-over, without any paddling planned.
Our next day was going to bring us back into the US, crossing the border at Sault Ste. Marie. We got a moderately early start (0815), and headed off in weather that alternated between rain and sun. We were lucky to arrive at Little Beaver lake Campground, on Lake Superior National Forest lands in Michigan, in time to secure one of the 8 spots at this tiny, off-the beaten-track campground. Kimberly, a fellow Tubbs Snowshoe Ambassador from Michigan had told us we really stop at the National Lakeshore…and a little research led us to this lakeside campground.
Our GO trailer was quite the attraction! We gave some tours, and answered lots of questions from the other campers. And we finally got to paddle! The small lake provided an early morning opportunity to dip our paddles in Michigan waters. As we paddled, we realized that the roar we heard was not a train, or jet, but rather the crashing waves of Lake Superior, which was just beyond the trees lining the small lake.
We also had a bit of time to explore the impressive Superior lakeshore, and take the dogs to a dog-friendly beach. It really did feel as though were at the ocean, with powerful large waves crashing, and the wind howling. The dogs had a great time, and we would certainly consider returning here for more explorations.
Next, our road trip took us along the shores of Lake Superior, into Wisconsin, and then into Minnesota…north, towards the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We had breakfast at a nice local restaurant in Michigan, which was a change from our usual “cereal as we pack” breakfast. As we passed through Ironwood Michigan, I noticed the Giant Stormy Kromer Hat alongside the road! I love my Stormy Kromer, but most people in the east are unfamiliar with this headgear. Of course we had to do the tourist thing, and stop for a photo…which of course was posted on the Facebook page for the Giant Hat! (My husband had obtained a personal Hot Spot on his phone for the duration of our trip…allowing us access to the internet in locations where we had a good cell signal.)
The Shore Drive along the lake was beautiful, and we were awed by the size and beauty of Superior. We saw many eagles flying overhead, and perched on tall trees. The weather was good, but it seemed like a long day. We finally saw the sign for Sawbill Outfitters in Tofte, MN , and after a 23 mile drive from the main road, we arrived at the Sawbill Lake Campground.
Though our schedule meant that our stay at the BWCA would be brief, but we did have two nights to stay over, giving us an entire day to paddle and explore the lay of the land. A contact from social media had suggested this lake for our exploratory visit, and it was perfect. The weather was a bit variable, but the paddling conditions were fine, and the lake was ideal for dipping our paddles into the Boundary Waters. At the Outfitters office, we checked out the regional map, showing the impressive number of possible canoe tripping routes. We were at one tiny corner of the entire BWCA, but it certainly was inviting to think of possible outings…darn, if it were only a bit closer!
Thankfully there was no fire ban at this campground. Our site was high above the water, with easy walking access to the canoe launch area. However, we were also a bit downwind of the pit privy building, and when the wind was just right ( wrong), well, let’s just say that the campfire smoke was often welcomed!
We had more inquiries about the GO, and nice conversations with folks from Minnesota and the Campground staff about our trip, and about various paddling destinations. This was a very welcoming and comfortable break in our pattern of long travel days, and I think the dogs enjoyed the opportunity to hike around the lake, and explore in the woods.
After a photo op in the early morning fog at Sawbill Lake, we loaded up, and headed towards Manitoba.
A long day ensued, but we were excited that we would finally have the chance to actually meet, in person, some of our Facebook friends that we have known for years. Kev and Andre live in Winnipeg, and when I realized we would be passing their area on our westward trip, I suggested we really needed to at least meet for a cup of coffee. When Kev heard that we would be camping at Falcon Beach Campground, only an hour or so from their home, he decided they would camp with us! We really looked forward to meeting these folks and their 3 amazing dogs…they also skijor (at a much higher level than we do!), snowshoe, camp and canoe with their dogs. (http://www.oxforddogsgear.com/)
After successfully negotiating what was probably the least attractive border crossing into Canada ( International Falls, MN to Fort Frances,ON ) we passed from Ontario into Manitoba. One of the weirdest sightings that day was the plethora of salt lakes ( sodium sulphide, I believe), from very small, to large white lakes. Apparently this salt is harvested for commercial laundry use, but it made for some odd looking bodies of water.
We arrived at Falcon Beach, MB, in time to set up the GO, and make dinner before Kev and his pack arrived. We had communicated during our travel that day, via Facebook messages ( thanks for the wi-fi, Timmy’s), so we knew they would probably arrive after we did, destined to camp at the site right next to ours!
We had also received a Facebook message from Jessica, who is the amazing blogger behind http://www.youdidwhatwithyourweiner.com . Her stories of adventures with her dachsunds , and her great advice to all dog owners, have made for fascinating reading for years. She had planned in being in Banff on the day we were to arrive; however, in the Banff she had encountered heavy smoke from recent wildfires, and had opted to return to Seattle. We were sorry to have missed the chance to see her, and were also getting a bit concerned about the wildfire activity in Alberta. It would have really been a bummer to arrive in Banff NP and not be able to see anything due to smoke!
That was a really fun overnight stop. We chatted over a campfire, sharing camping and dog stories. We showed off the GO, and they were quite impressed by the roominess. In the morning, we all went for a brief paddle on Falcon Lake. Though this campground, and the adjacent lake, are not our “usual” type of camping and paddling destination, it was a wonderful part of our journey. Meeting Kev, Andre, Belle, River, and Burger was definitely a highlight of our trip!
After enjoying a delicious crepe breakfast prepared by the guys, we took off for the prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Our destination was not specific for that evening…basically, go as far as we can tolerate! We knew of campgrounds in the Moosejaw area, and hoped to drive at least that far.
We encountered quite a bit of traffic in Regina, SK, which delayed our arrival at the campground a bit. It was hot, muggy, with heavy air when we found Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, just north of Moosejaw. As this was a very quick overnight stop, we set up the GO in “minimalist mode”. No vestibule, no interior table, no sleeping bags for dogs, and quick snacks for meals. We discovered beautiful muted fall colors on the rolling hills, and hiked up one trail to overlook the large lake. Griff alerted to a few mule deer, which agreeably posed for some photos. It remained light until nearly 9pm, but we were pretty exhausted, and slept well, even with the howling of nearby coyotes. The dogs were oblivious!
We were up at 0630, while it was still pretty dark out….a quick load and go, and off we went, watching the flaming red prairie sun rise, headed towards the Alberta border, and the adventures that awaited!
Stay tuned…more to come in Part 2!