Modern Travel - Escape to Ontario Parks

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You’re going camping? In the winter? Just you and your daughter? Friends and family were doubting my sanity when I announced I was going winter camping with my daughter in February. But as an Ontario Parks’ brochure exhorts:

Kids won’t remember their best day watching television.

And so we loaded up the Ford Escape with sleeping bags, dishes, s’more-making supplies, snowshoes, skates and layer and layers of outer wear for a stay at Macgregor Point, one of 340 Ontario Provincial parks. With so many bags, it looked like we packed enough for an arctic expedition rather that a two-day excursion; but even with all our gear, and despite my checked-off list, I still felt like I was forgetting something.

“So where are we sleeping, again?” my daughter, Danielle, asked as she hopped in next to me, happy to be sitting up front on this road trip and not trapped with her older brother in the backseat.

“It’s a yurt,” I said, explaining that it’s a cross between a cabin and a tent with a hard floor. “And it has a heater, an electric outlet, bunkbeds and a table and chairs. And outside there’s a gas barbeque and a fire pit –for s’mores!”

Danielle’s eyes lit up at the thought of this classic bonfire treat she’s never outgrown. Besides missing school for two days, it was what she was looking forward to the most on our adventure.

“You know, yurts were used by nomads in Mongolia for thousands of years because…” I began my lecture, before she interrupted with a “yeah, whatever” and rolled her eyes in a style that she’d perfected from a very young age.

“So, what are we going to do again?”

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As we drove, I told her about the park’s skating path that winds through the forest, snowshoeing, and trails.  “Oh, and I read the chickadees will eat out of your hand.” As soon as I said it, I realized what I forgot to pack –the birdseed!

“It’s okay as long we have the s’mores stuff,” said Danielle. I almost kept going, but then decided to backtrack to the dollar store. It turned out to be a good decision.

Luckily, there were no more stops, and it took us a little over two and a half hours from Mississauga to reach Macgregor Point Provincial Park, located on the shores of Lake Huron near the town of Port Elgin. It was a pleasant drive, even more so because of the conversation with my daughter. Experts say that one of the best times to talk to kids is while you’re in the car. Without direct eye contact, it’s easier for them to open up. Not to mention, it’s a completely different dynamic, travelling with only one child with no sibling to interrupt or vie for attention.

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Once at the park, we checked in and discovered that unfortunately the skating path was closed due to a thaw the previous week. So after unpacking, we hiked on the Old Shore Trail, which afforded gorgeous views of the frozen shoreline of Lake Huron. And even more beautiful was watching my daughter photographing the ever-changing sky as the sun set with the pale pastel colours of winter.

Back at the campsite, we started a fire and enjoyed the campfire staples of roasted wieners and the much-anticipated s’mores, before retiring to our yurt, which was surprisingly warm with the electric heater. Though the five-minute walk to the comfort stations (where the toilets and showers were located) was admittedly chilly.

We slept well, and the next morning we ventured out with a backpack and the sunflower seeds in search of the chickadees. On the Huron Fringe Trail, near the Visitor’s Centre, we walked along the boardwalk, stopping occasionally to hold out our seed-filled palms –but no chickadees.

We’re just about to give up when we spotted a family at the entrance of the trail by the snow-covered picnic tables. Wandering over, we saw a young boy with chickadees on his hat, eating the seeds that were on it.

“Awwww,” my daughter cried, and once again I saw her 13-year-old mask melting and her kid grin breaking through. We filled our gloves with birdseed and held out our hands, and this time, the chickadees came, taking turns to pick seeds so delicately and cheerfully that my heart sang with them.

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Also in the evergreens were cardinals and blue jays, the males’ bright plumage in sharp contrast to the snowy branches. Squirrels also made their presence known, not shy at all to forage for the seeds the chickadees dropped.

Though our hands were getting colder, we stayed for a long while, and waves of gratitude washed over me. I felt thankful that I had this time with my daughter, for the wilderness and our protected parks and for the chickadees, which one 19th century writer described as the “bird of the merry heart.”

And, of course, thankful I went back for the birdseed.

For more information:

MacGregor Point Provincial Park 1593 Bruce Road 33, RR#1 Port Elgin, ON  N0H 2C5 Tel: 519-389-9056 https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/macgregorpoint

MacGregor Point has 16 yurts in total, which can be booked through the parks’ reservation system.  Other Ontario Parks that have similar roofed accommodation include Pinery, Killarney, Algonquin, Silent Lake, Windy Lake and Quetico.

Tips: Do call ahead to find out what activities are available (i.e., skating path and x-country ski trails) as they change depending on conditions.

Keep an eye on the weather. Colder temps need extra precautions and bedding.

Explore the surrounding region. We lunched in Port Elgin, a small town on the shores of Lake Huron with lots of eateries and boutique shops. Forty-five minutes away is the town of Wiarton, the gateway to the beautiful Bruce Peninsula, and home to Wiarton Willie, the albino weather-predicting groundhog (who is currently not in our good books after predicting there’ll be six more long weeks of winter).

 

The Ride: What I loved about the 2018 Ford Escape

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For our yurting adventure, we had the pleasure of trying out the Ford Escape. Right away, I loved the colour (lightning blue) and the Goldilocks size of this compact SUV: not too big or too small, it was just right, especially for city driving with family.

On the highways, too, the vehicle with its all-wheel drive was solid and handled very well on the snow-covered roads. I also admired the wide field of vision the windshield provided, which made driving on the scenic country highways even more enjoyable. The winter wonderland views outside looked especially pretty when we were warm, which we were with the heated seats and steering wheel.

Speaking of warmth, we appreciated how quickly the Escape heated up, only about 10 minutes at the most; and with the remote start, we never had to worry about being cold in the vehicle whatever the temperature was outside. We could start it up from inside the yurt!

A new feature for me was the start-stop technology. It was my first time driving a car equipped with this system, and I was surprised at how effective and seamless it was. Although common in Europe, where emission standards are stricter and all new vehicles have to be equipped with it, the start –stop system is just starting to become more widespread in North America.

Here is Ford’s description of it:

“Environmentally friendly Auto Start-Stop standard with Escape's two new EcoBoost engines – a 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter twin-scroll; technology shuts off engine in common stops so the vehicle uses no gas, improving fuel economy by 4 percent to 6 percent in stop-and-go traffic.”

What this means is when the car is stopped, for example at a red light, the engine shuts off. At first on our road trip, I was worried that this would be annoying, and the first question I asked was how to turn it off (which is done simply by pressing a button). But I never had to. As soon as I lifted my foot from the brake, the engine started up again, in less than half a second. It was hard to even notice it was happening, and it certainly makes sense environmentally.

"Auto Start-Stop is the equivalent of turning off the lights when you leave a room, or turning off a water faucet when you're done washing dishes," said Milton Wong, Escape chief engineer.

This system, together with the small but powerful engine, is why it’s such a fuel efficient car and why when we filled up in Port Elgin we were pleasantly surprised at how little the charge was, especially compared to road trip gas costs in our current vehicle.

 All the more reason to plan more escapes to Ontario’s parks.