Thursday 8 August 2013

Camping at Balsam Lake

In Canada, there's a long weekend (Civic Holiday) on the first week of August. We had no plans to go anywhere until the Friday before the long weekend. Looking for campsites in Ontario for the long weekend on such short notice is pretty difficult. Most campsites were not vacant so we took whatever we can get. Luckily, we found a promising "walk-in" site at Balsam Lake Provincial Park.
Walk-in sites are somewhat different from regular sites because we cannot park in our campsite. You park your car in a separate lot and then walk to the campsite with all your things. Balsam Lake P.P. is about a 2-hour drive from Mississauga. We took two cars since there were six of us. This was probably the most comfortable ride to a campsite I've ever had (since usually five of us take one car and the three of us in the back get squished like sardines).
Luckily our site was not very far and took about 5 minutes to walk. 
The campsite was very private and quiet. The site closest to us was a good 50-100m away. We were surrounded by thick forest. Unfortunately, while it's nice and secluded, there were a lot of mosquitoes. 
We set up two tents for the 6 of us. The weather was looking good so overhead tarps weren't needed. 
I brought Lilo (my pineapple ukulele) with me. 
My mom said that this hammock is thirteen years old. 
Photocred to Inez for this picture.
We usually gather around the campfire to snack and hang out. 
Not only was the campfire warm, it repelled the bugs away.  
 BBQ'd wood anyone? It was raining hard a few days before we came and made the firewood too moist. We did this to dry it out. Not really sure if it worked though.  
 My brother took this one of Inez. 
 My mom wanted to poke a hole in the condensed milk so we wouldn't have to open the whole can. 
The condensed milk was used to make milk tea. If you've never tried this, I strongly suggest you do. I advise you to use stronger black teas like orange pekoe to get the best flavour.
Love these Polish jelly cookies. This one's cherry flavour. 
We bought them at a Polish grocery store called Starsky.
As we were snacking on tea and cookies, Inez yelled "Bear!" There it was, a black bear. I've never seen a bear while camping before. It seemed uninterested in us (which is a good thing).  
I think it was a "teenager" bear, not full grown yet. This was good news. It was interested in this tree stump; looking for some food I suppose.  We've never seen a bear in all the years we've gone camping so we weren't really sure what we should do. 
We didn't want it to get any closer so we made a lot of noise with our cutlery. It got the message and walked away. Seeing our first bear was a pretty thrilling experience.
This is the pathway that connected the parking lots and all the other campsites together. 
 Took this on the way to the outhouse. 
This was a sweet potato that I threw into the fire pit. I've seen people do this on survival shows with burdock and I wanted to try it with sweet potato. It worked! 
I put it in for a little too long but the inside was soft and sweet. 
 It was nearing sunset and we decided to hike on a Lookout Trail.
 We didn't walk the full loop but it took about twenty minutes to walk up one way. 
 It turned out to be a pretty nice golden hour. The lookout point wasn't very high but there was a lot of vegetation that made it suitable for portraits. 
Ferns basking in the sunlight. 
 By now the light was fading. 
 Not the best sunset I've seen but it's still quite nice. 
At about 11:30 p.m. we went out to check out the stars. It was amazing--comparable to the time I went backcountry camping. 
 We could see the Milky Way from the path leading to our campsite. I was lucky to have caught a shooting star in this shot too. Walk-in campsites are also a lot darker and quieter than regular sites. It was somewhat eerie knowing that we saw a bear near our campsite during the day.  We stayed out there for twenty minutes and called it a night--end of day 1.  
Day 2. It was definitely cold overnight. I think it was below 10 degrees because we were kept awake by the cold. I don't think I've ever been that cold while camping. It also didn't help that raccoons constantly scurried into our campsite making suspicious noises (even though there was no food).
Basically, paranoid + cold = no sleep.
I bought Russian rye bread from Starsky, the aforementioned Polish grocery store. Really, really good bread especially when toasted and eaten with butter.  
It was crunchy on the crust and chewy on the inside. Perfect bread. 
We ate bread and chicken noodle soup for breakfast. It was hard not to burn the bread while toasting it on the stove. 
Not sure about you, but this picture is pretty priceless. 
 Camping always brings out the pyromaniac in all of us.
 This was the stump the bear was interested in the other day. 
 I always liked the colour of birch bark.
The smoke from the fire made the rays from the sun look like this.  
 The light made the cold morning a lot more bearable. 
We used the Easton hockey bag to carry all our snacks and utensils. It's nice and big so we could fit everything and bring it back and forth in one trip. 
The rays only show up when the smoke from the fire pit builds up thus it disappears pretty quickly. It's pretty glorious when it shows up though. 
I laughed when I saw this picture. It looks like she beamed down from a UFO onto Earth. It's not Photoshopped, I promise you. 
 I really, really love this shot. Definitely one of the favourites from the trip. 
For the rest of the afternoon, we went fishing in a nearby town called Coboconk. I didn't really take pictures at that time. So now we're back to sunset shots. We went up onto the Lookout trail again but this time we explored further. 
There were a lot of pink wildflowers here. It was the perfect place to take some photos. 

The golden hour on this day was even more golden than yesterday.  
lol, his facial expression. 
Photocred to Inez for this one. 
Inez repping the McMaster sweater, even though she doesn't go there :P 
I'd like to know what this plant species is. They were quite beautiful. 
I told them to pretend to walk through the field. 
Photocred to Inez once again. 
 Flowers aren't just for girls.
...Boys will be boys.
Every camping trip we have a tradition to play a card game called "Truf." It's difficult to explain but it's similar to the Hearts game on the computer. Check out this link if you would like to learn the rules. 
Around the same time as last night, we went out again to check out the stars. The stars weren't as bright as last night. The stars in this photo is brighter because I used the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens this time. It allows in a lot more light and thus, you can see a lot more stars. 

Note to photogs: 
I set the camera on a tripod. Depending on the maximum f-stop on your lens, you can choose to vary the ISO accordingly. In this case, I used ISO 1600, 20s exposure, f/1.4. For the star shots I took on the previous night, I used the Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6 lens, ISO 3200, 30s exposure, f/4.0 at 10mm. To determine what shutter speed to use, I follow the Rule of 600. A camera with better ISO capabilities is preferable but not absolutely mandatory. My 40D only goes up to ISO 3200 and still does the job (albeit with a lot more undesirable noise on the image). 
With that, Day 2 is over. 
Day 3. Getting ready to leave. 
After cleaning and taking some group photos, we headed back to the 'burbs. I guess good things can't last forever. 

Overall, this last-minute camping trip went pretty well. You may have noticed that even though the campground is called "Balsam Lake," I did not take pictures of the lake. The truth is, we went to the lake one scalding afternoon and it was jam-packed with beach goers. We scouted the area for possible fishing spots and it wasn't very suitable. Canoe rentals were also unusually expensive with strange passenger limits (only two people for a four person canoe? Didn't make sense to us). The lake was not very attractive and the waters were quite rough from all the boating activity. For all these reasons, we didn't spend time at the lake at all.

Over the years, I feel like we've been blessed with getting amazing campsites and this is no exception. If you'd like to see the wonders of the stars and sun, this is the right place for you. Just make sure you take time to book a good campsite as I've seen some pretty horrid ones. If you don't mind a little extra exercise and mosquitoes, the walk-in campsites are definitely worth the effort. The walk-in campsite, wildlife, and the beautiful golden hours give Balsam Lake P. P. 8/10.

p.s. I'm going camping again at the end of the month to Killbear P. P. More adventures to come!



  1. Beautiful photographs! So glad you discovered one of my all time favourite lakes. It is highly unfortunate for you that you weren't able to explore and enjoy the lake itself. Balsam Lake is the highest lake on the Trent Severn water system. Due to its limestone base, the water is extremely clear and clean. Swimming at Balsam has been one of my favourite activities since I began camping there as a toddler. Some 40 years later, my own family now camps there and enjoy it nearly as much as I did as a child.

    It is true that the lake has less accessible areas now than it used to have. The beach does become extraordinarily busy on hot summer weekends. There are still access points, however, where you can enjoy a more private experience. Should you ever return, ask at the Park Store how to get to "The Rock", or (if it's still there) "The Tree". Also, if you walk as far left as you can on the main beach, there is a little sandbar and then a much more private beach that is still on park property.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I do hope you give the gorgeous lake another try...

    1. Thank you for your feedback Anon! Perhaps I will give the park another try--it sounds like I missed out on some hidden gems!

  2. Hiya!

    I found this post as I was looking for pics from these walk-in sites -- so glad I did! These photos are GORGEOUS, and your presentation of them is lovely. We'll be camping there this summer (August long weekend, in fact) and, having seen your this, I'm super excited -- especially now that I know the Milky Way will be visible from near our campsite!

    I'm less excited about all the mosquitoes. I am a mosquito MAGNET, so I'll be doubling down on spray. Of course, we picked a site that is completely shaded (it looked the prettiest and most private on the campground website), so we'll have many tiny visitors.

    The main reason for my post, besides complimenting you on your pictures, is to tell you about the pink flowers: They're fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), also apparently known as great willow weed. I grew up in northern British Columbia, and this stuff was abundant. Apparently, it's the first large plant that grows after a fire (hence the name). In autumn, it makes downy seeds, not unlike giant dandelion seeds, and they look like snow in the air. Here's the wiki:

    1. Thank you for your kind comments Anon! That's some cool info on fireweed, thanks for letting me know! I hope you will enjoy your camping trip as much as I did.

  3. A bit late commenting on your post but we will be going to Balsam Lake this upcoming civic holiday. Came across your blog as I was googling around for things to do.. great pictures and thanks! Hopefully no bears!

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