Fenelon Falls (Lindsay)

We are very fortunate to have access to hundreds of waterfalls in Ontario.  When I was a child my parents always took us to Niagara Falls at least two or three times in the warmer months.  My father loved it there, and that was when I first fell in love with the everlasting flow and beauty of waterfalls.  Some are more majestic than others.  Some are man made and some flow naturally from rivers and streams, and I love the philosophy of water flow. The ever changing movement.  

Fenelon Falls located in the Kawarthas is a popular spot in the summer months mostly due to cottage goers and tourism.  There are only about 1500 permanent residents there, so it gets pretty quiet the rest of the year, I'm sure.  This spot is popular due to both the "Locks" and the Waterfalls, which is known as the 'jewel of the Kawarthas', though the setting of this 'jewel' is located in the downtown core of Fenelon rather than surrounded by nature. These 'Falls' were created as part of the Fenelon River, a part of the Trent-Severn water system. 

The "locks" are still pretty popular though with curious onlookers as eager boaters patiently await to get through to the other side.   The popular 'Locks' is actually Lock 34 and if you  click here you can see it in action.  Once on the other side of the lock, the boats bolt into the open water of the Trent to tow an excited water skier or drop a line in the water to fish in a quiet corner somewhere.

I used to spend a lot of time here in the 90's, almost every weekend as a matter of fact and was amazed by how much it had changed.  One thing I noticed was the local theatre sadly was boarded up as this was almost full on weekends with the latest films.  

One thing I wanted to do this time while taking a picture of the falls, was to finally checkout the Fallsview Restaurant.  It always looked so exotic to me.  Though the view is quite stunning as you enjoy a meal on the terrace, you will probably find conversation will be difficult as the falls are extremely loud as it powers an hydro-electric dam as well.  

High Falls (Muskoka)

I was thrilled to finally get a shot of 'High Falls' in Bracebridge on the way back from a recent trip from Algonquin Park.  

High Falls is located in a Water Park which has 4 other waterfalls all coming together here.  They're all located on Clear River and fed by Lake Muskoka.  

There are also many old growth forest trails that connect to the Trans Canada Trail system. 

If you're planning a day of it, you can rent paddle boats, row boats, and kayaks here to get up close to the falls without any dippy surprises anywhere so it's safe for everyone.  Speaking of dippy surprises, High Falls is also known as the "Niagara of the North".  I don't know if I would go that far, but it's a pretty impressive water flow over the falls at 9 cubic metres a second with a 15 metres drop down the cliff.  

Almost 150 years ago the local farmers used to come here after a long days work to this spot to swim, relax and fish because of the awesome abundance of pickerel in the water.
If you are like me and like the look of a 'natural' looking waterfall, you might be a little disappointed to see a metal bridge up top which is the generating station, that runs automatically into the town's centre.
However this is a necessary part of civilization, and it doesn't really interfere too much to the beauty of High Falls.    

If you ever do spend more time here to enjoy the surrounding trails, you might want to climb down along the side of the falls to see a beautiful little creek, called Potts Creek. (named after a family who once lived at the falls).  It has a 15 metre drop with an upper and lower falls.  As for me that will be another time! By the way, Wilson's Falls looks like a beauty which is also within proximity here.

Ragged Falls (Algonquin Park)

I couldn't wait to get to Algonquin Park, but I wanted to fill my thrill for waterfallin' so we drove into the Ragged Falls Oxtongue River Provincial Park.  (Incidentally there is a fee to park there). 

Before starting the trail, a couple was on their way out and they had told us that you couldn't get a really good shot of the falls except from up top.  That was a challenge in itself for me so I was determined to try and get as close as I could to take a picture.

It is true that there is a well groomed trail that leads to a nice overlook of Ragged Falls, which is about 1 km so it doesn't take very long to get through.  

I didn't want to view the falls from up top though, so I opted to climb down the side of the trail to the base where you'll encounter a mass of large and small rocks to overcome to get to the ideal vantage point for pictures at the base of the falls.   

It took a bit of manoevering over the rubble and since I am a little clumsy I usually take my time.  It reminded me so much of Chedoke Falls in Hamilton, although here it only took me about 5 minutes instead of 30 to get to the bottom.  

Ragged Falls is pretty steep and has a nice flowing 'S' shaped cascade.  The waterflow comes from Oxtongue River (which flows out of Algonquin Provincial Park) and eventually into the Lake of Bays, which is one of the sources of the Muskoka river from the south. Ultimately Muskoka River flows to Lake Huron by way of the Moon River.  

There are some nearby waterfalls  like the Gravel Chute (upstream) and Marsh's Falls (downstream).  

Some of the bigger waterfalls on the eastern side of Algonquin Park, which I've been to already are Bracebridge Falls (see my blog) and the Muskoka High Falls (which I'll post soon!).  

All in all worth a peek!

Earl Bales Park

Of all the craziest explorations of parks and trails I've gone to, this one had to have been one of the funniest.  We started out with the intention of getting to Earl Bales Park.  It looked to us that there was a way from the Don Valley Golf Course to take a path through the park safely and easily.

From the corners of Wilson and Yonge Streets, we headed north on Yonge on the west side.  We passed a beautiful French restaurant called Auberge du Pommier.  By the way the best restaurants in the world are given a Michelin star, which all restaurants strive for and what was striking to me is that in all of Toronto, not one restaurant has achieved even one star.

Anyways back to our journey up ahead we see the entrance to the Don Valley Golf Course.  From the map, it looks as though we can reach Earl Bales through a narrow path off the course.  There's a fairly steep hill going down as you enter and as we didn't appear dressed to do a round on the greens, we asked if there was a path to get to Earl Bales.  One curious onlooker told us emphatically that we would soon reach our destination if we continued on the cement path through the course.  All was well until a woman raced up next to us in a golf cart asking us if we were lost.  When she confirmed what she already knew that we weren't members, we were politely escorting off the path up high into an unmarked exit out of sight.  Once here, we could see no way out except to escape through fields of thistles, bushes and burrs as we made our decent into the valley below the looming overhead bridge of Highway of Heroes Express on 401 between Allen and Don Valley road ways.

After an uncomfortable and at times damaging ordeal we were completely covered in bruises and burrs.  I cursed at every turn and swore I would somehow get even with the Don Valley Golf course for putting us in harms way like this over their precious reputation of the rich and ....  But then who really put us in harms way?  We did it ourselves didn't we by coming here in the first place??

The underpass that we embarked on turned out to be heavily plowed and dredged by CATS and bull dowsers and seem to be in  a state of disrepair adding to the filth and mud already on ourselves.  Looking back it's funny now, maybe even hilarious but believe me at the time, we looked like Swamp creatures.  So we carried thorough heading northwest stumbling still on further points of the Golf Course much to the chuckle and chagrin of golfers.  Awkwardly explaining ourselves and our predicament wasn't easy.  A nice group of young men though sympathized and told us we were minutes away to our destination of getting to Earl Bales Park.

On first sighting of Earl Bales Park you will notice a giant alien-like contraption which turns out simply to be a chair lift for a ski hill located on the site of the old York Downs Golf Course in the West Don River valley.   The property was originally owned and settled by John Bales, great-grandfather of Robert Earl Bales. The historic Bales homestead, built in 1824, remains intact at the north-west corner of the park but I didn't take any pictures of that.

The ski lift is great for the winter months, but Earl Bales host free entertainment in the 1500 seat Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre all summer long.  I never checked it out though as I was embarrassingly preoccupied with picking burrs off my pants...LOL
Up and over the hill, we found someone for directions...

After asking him for directions we found it.

Algonquin Park (Muskoka)

Recently set out on an awe-inspiring adventure in the Muskokas to the stunningly beautiful Algonquin Park.  Algonquin is the first Provincial park in Ontario and is located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River and covers a land space of over 4500 square kilometres.

Ever since I was a teenager I had wanted to come here as I'd always been curious about the stories of the many bear and moose sightings, and of the sounds of the wolves howling at the moon.  I guess I've always been somewhat of a brave sort who enjoys challenges and adventures.

The Highway 60 Corridor is a 56 kilometre strip located in the southwestern part of the Park, which starts from the West Gate and passes 15 walking trails, 3 cross country ski trails and 2 bicycle trails.  If you want some culture you will also pass two museums and an Art Centre with a gift boutique so you will have the opportunity of taking some art work home with you.

If you plan on staying overnight there are 9 campgrounds here all with their own unique features.

For instance Tea Lake Campground is awesome for backpackers who intend on hiking the Western Uplands Trails or canoeists heading in the back country by canoe or Smoke Lake.

If you are looking for a good spot for swimming with nice sandy beaches then Rock Lake (40.3 km), Canisbay Lake (23 km Campground) or my favorite to look at Lake of Two Rivers Campground (31.8 km) all boast awesome beaches.  Other lakes can be found throughout Algonquin such as Pog Lake, Whitefish Lake and Opeonogo Lake (where we ended up).

When you arrive at Algonquin, if you've never been here before or have no idea of where you're going or what resources are available to you, I urge you to drop in at the Information Centre located at the West Gate.  

At the Centre they will not only give you maps and directions, but their knowledge and experience will tell you where to go long before you even ask.  For example we told them we wanted to go canoeing, camp overnight and take pictures.

She suggested we take Hwy 60 to Lake Opeonogo which has canoe rentals and is the largest Lake in the Park.  It was located at the furthest eastern point in Algonquin.  So after a three-and-a-half hour drive, we traveled for another 45 minutes and made some stops along the way before arriving at our destination.  

One stop off was the Hardwood Lookout which was a very quick trail of only 1.0 km.  It contains some some ponds and wet areas and grandstands a lookout from which we kind of took a short cut and climbed the hill to view it instead of doing the entire trail. 

The goal today was to get on the water and spend about 4 or 5 hours canoeing on Lake Opeonogo and still have enough daylight to find an island to pitch a tent. 

Once arriving, we were able to get a canoe (disappointing that it is a minimum 2 day rental) It was already 3 in the afternoon, so but that's okay as we were determined to make the best of it.  The canoe was perfect for two.  You are given oars and lifejackets and a bag with 50ft rope and a whistle, which is smart to take with you when you are not in the boat as well. The whistle may deter a bear if necessary.  Although it is extremely rare that a black bear will ever become aggressive, I will talk more about that in a moment.

The whole process of getting an overnight pass for your vehicle to remain on the mainland while you are out in the canoe and camping  took only about 20 minutes and the next thing I knew, we were on the water with some pretty beautiful moments of nature surrounding.  I was so elated.  I was teased about my rowing as a front rower, but I didn't mind because I was too busy take pictures anyways.  So we were told to look for any island or spot of land that had an 'orange sign with a tent on it' and that was our main goal now: as well as to take in the beauty that surrounded us, we also needed to find a place to stay overnight.

The first island we encountered after leaving the mainland was visited by other canoeists like ourselves, just hanging around exploring, as there were no orange signs posted on it.  We got out and took a look around for a few minutes and continued on our quest.   The sky was azure blue with very few clouds and I'd occasionally run my fingers into the water just to be sure that everything was real.

The next island up ahead also looked promising but it had a white sign with a marked 'x' indicating no camping.  Once we got up onto the island and had a look around it looked like the soil was completely dry and the island floor was scattered with dead pine needles.  A few large fallen trees and it became pretty apparent it would be uninhabitable as you couldn't possibly make a fire on here or sleep comfortably in a tent so we moved on.

After a couple of hours, we spotted island after island, and the odd spot of land which was situated up on a rock, all with canoes resting in front.  The general rule of etiquette is that "if there is a canoe already there, no matter how large the island you aren't allowed to go there".   Even after the sun was setting I wasn't really worried because I knew in my heart we'd find a place so I never got that disillusioned... besides, I was still busy taking pictures!  Sunset picture after sunset picture... I was in photography heaven.

At one point we were desperate enough to want to camp out on a small island with a weather station on it, but I convinced him that wasn't going to happen!  Funny thing though that it was from that island we spotted the one that was ours.  It was perfect.  It had a small beach for the canoe to land and a large boulder for us to use as a landmark if we ever came back.  It had a circle of stones already laid for the fire, and kindling already cut up for us.  It also had a smooth clearing for the tent.  The trees completely surrounded the island and it was far enough away from the mainland to keep us reasonably safe from animal visits while we slept, although, I don't mind saying I don't think I slept at all.  Neither did he.  At one point, what sounded like a wolf howling was actually nothing more that a looney loon howling at the moon.

The next morning, I walked around the island and disappeared for a while to sit on a boulder to watch a bit of the morning sunrise before heading back out onto the canoe again for another 3 hours back to the mainland.

Since we spent 90 percent of the time on the water in the canoe, I wasn't able to see any wildlife and going back on to highway 60 again, it was really hard for me because I didn't expect the time to go by so quickly and to love it so much.  I will be returning though to explore some of the trails and to take a closer look at 'the Lake of Two Rivers' which looked spectacular.

I wanted to make some special comments that I had learned about bears, particularly the black bear which I never knew before coming here. I think we will all agree that seeing one in its natural environment is an exciting experience, but if you saw one rummaging through your food or tent, that excitement may lead to fear if you don't know what to do with it. Fear is really only not understanding, so I learned more about the bears and now I am better equipped to deal with the fear.  

First of all, remember the bear is constantly looking for food, so always keep your food hidden, packed away, or in our case, it was tied up using the 50 foot rope we were given and hung up high in the tree (but make sure it's off onto a branch so the bear can't get to it).

Generally bears shy away from humans and will quickly get out of your way, if you see one, make your presence known by making noise.  Blow a whistle, scream or yell or in the daylight wave your arms around.  If you spot one at night, shine a flashlight on it.  The thing to remember is to HOLD YOUR GROUND.   It can be a territorial thing really and never turn to run away or you may become prey to a bear and he'll follow you!

There's a difference between a defensive bear and a predatory black bear of course so your responses should be different.  A defensive bear will give you bluff charges and act like they will charge at you, but really they're just saying, 'back off'.  They may snort or huff or blow air loudly through their nostrils but its really because they are viewing you as a threat to their food supply, nothing more.  In this case just talk slowly, back away and leave.

A predatory bear is a different story.  Luckily this scenario is very rare but they won't bluff.  So be smart.  In fact they won't make any sort of noise like huffing or swatting the ground with their paws.  On the contrary, they will become silent and move closer and closer more or less assessing whether or not it is safe to attack you.  In this case again, as I said never turn and run away.  This is when you need to be extra brave and hold your ground.  You need to convince the bear that somehow it will be the wrong decision if he attacks you.  Be aggressive by throwing rocks or if you've been prepared for this use the bear spray and blow the whistle.

I don't know why but there have been cases where it was reported that people actually thought that by playing dead they would be safe.  This has been proven to be the wrong thing to do.  The only thing you can do if you can't get away safety is to hold your ground by doing everything to persuade him to not attack you.

HWY 60

Okay, so now that I've got that out of the way, it's a rare thing in Ontario to be purposely attacked by an aggressive bear, but increasing your awareness is just smart.  You can minimize the risks by cleaning up the campsite from food and getting rid of the garbage when you leave.  This will not only help yourself but for those who tread your path when you're gone.  I can see from my own experience on the island we found that the inhabitants before had left no trace of anything human and were respectful of the land.  This is really what it comes down to when you are out here in the wilderness.  Be respectful of the land and the animals that live on it. Think of yourself as their guests and treat it as that.

The trip to Algonquin was a last minute decision of mine, but like all of those last minute decisions I make, sometime they were the most memorable. 

Spruce Bog Trail (Algonquin Park)

One of the easiest and most delightful trails in Algonquin Park is this 1.5 km loop of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk trail.  It's really quite remarkable the time and effort put into making this boardwalk.  There are several different section that loop around giving you some excellent closeups of two typical northern spruce bogs.

Normally, one could see some really amazing closeups of bird species here, but it was really quiet and there were a few other people that had walked through the area within the last fifteen minutes or so leaving most of the wildlife scattering.

A Spruce bog is a type of northern habitat that is found in Algonquin Park.  There is an almost symbiotic relationship between the small bodies of water and the forests that surround you here.  I guess it could be described as a type of wetland but with a specific type of chemical properties with high levels of acid that comes directly from acid rain which falls from the sky.

There are some really unusual physical characteristics of a spruce bog.  You are safe up on the wooden planks that have been meticulously laid out for you, but if you really want to experience the adventure of walking on a spruce bog, you will find it's very much like being on a water bed as the whole area bounces up and down.

This happens because underneath there are floating layers of vegetation that have grown over small sheltered ponds and lakes.  On the surface you can see this vegetation in the form of moss or sedges.  Over time these plants become thicker and stronger.  In fact strong enough to stand on!

As I said though the wetlands are very strong in high levels of acid which makes it difficult for animals and plants to survive.  But as evolution proves to us, mother nature has shown to be very adaptable, and many species have survived these harsh conditions. 

So eventually, these Spruce bogs have evolved to provide food and cover for a wealth of bird varieties such as the Warbler, Swamp Sparrow and Fly-catcher.

Even in the winter months these Spruce bogs are homes to some bird species that do not migrate such as the Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay and of course the little Boreal Chickadee.

If you don't venture out onto the spongy, acidic ground of a spruce bog don't feel bad.  I didn't do it either.  Maybe someday but I just wasn't ready yet.

It took about 20 minutes to walk through it, but it was a very peaceful and great 20 minutes, so I suggest if you are in the area to stop and check it out yourself.