The plan was for us to travel to our cottage just north of Huntsville, stay the night, and have an early morning departure to acquire our permit for Little Eagle Lake, followed by a weekend journey into the park that I would never forget. While the cottage part turned out as planned, and the memories of my kids in the interior also firmly embedded, like all good plans, "plan B" needed to be initiated, for as we arrived at the reservation office to acquire our permits, we learned that Little Eagle Lake was booked, and hence unavailable for us to camp on. My initial reaction was that of disappointment, but thanks to the advice of some wise Algonquin Members (ok, an AA member by the name of Barbara .... hi Barbara) I had produced a plan B that would simply be to camp on Magnetawan and treat the weekend as a paddle in camping trip. Well, as I was about to select this option something in me thought, no, don't take the "easy way out" by not portaging, and so "Plan C" was created, and a destination of Hambone Lake was booked, for while it offered a shorter portage then Little Eagle Lake, it offered a portage just the same.
As such, we acquired our permit, and were off and merrily on our way to our launch site at access #3. The road along the way was well maintained until we reached the Magnetawan turn off, from which point the road noticeably deteriorated as the numbered kilometers along the road counted upward. While passable, in every sense of the word, my small Cougar gave us a bumpy ride, to which a maximum speed of 30 km was reached during the last 5 km of the journey. In short, I wish I had brought the Explorer this weekend.
Regardless of the bumps, the drive was picturesque, and as we pulled into the spacious unloading area of the access point, our excitement levels jumped tremendously, for while the parking lot was well occupied with many vehicles, we were the sole users of the loading area which offered a great launch dock and vista of a sparkling Lake Magnetawan.
The unpacking while uneventful, provided me with the opportunity to get the kids working, to which they were eager to participate, and so we were done in no time flat, and hence after a few quick photos and parking of the car, we were off and paddling.
To my surprise the paddle to the first portage was more of a "push off" for after about 5 minutes of paddling, we were unloading the canoe at the Hambone 135 m portage, and the kids got their first test of a portage. To no great surprise, they handled the short hike fantastically, and while we tripled it, as I didn't see the need to carry my pack and the canoe at the same time, we were through it in about 15 minutes, and off on Hambone. For those who have never been to Hambone, it is a small, but really beautiful lake. The three sites on its shores are fairly private, well sized, and nicely situated. While the first site we encountered (the north-west one) was empty and relatively inviting, and the second "middle site" occupied, we decided to circle the lake first and investigate the final south-east site prior to making our selection.
Josh at 1st portage.
This turned out to be a good call, as the south-east site had been recently "renovated," presumably by the park staff, as it had new a new sign, damaged trees had been cut, the site had a new cooking grill, recently constructed kitchen area, well protected fire pit and remodeled privy (ok, the seat was newish.) In addition, the area had a plentiful supply of dry wood, and lots of locations for the tent to be situated on. In short the site could have easily held the maximum size of a party allowed. The site has a great swimming area with a fantastic diving board in the form of a great but fallen cedar tree, and offers plenty of places to easily secure food and garbage during the night. The only draw back was its rocky landing, which meant being careful with the boat during loading and unloading, and once emptied, the canoe had to be carried up a rock face for safe overnight storage. Not a big deal, but worth noting none the less.
In all the travel time from car to our camp site was just over an hour, and while short also provide us with a long day of exploring ahead. Once unloaded, the canoe was carried up the 12-foot rocks to the flat area above, and we proceeded to set up camp. The kids were VERY excited about doing this, and were eager to be involved in anything I asked them to do. They helped set up the tent and sleeping bags, helped unpack the gear, were eager to try throwing the food line into the trees, and try their hand at sawing firewood. Because of the kid’s involvement, setting up camp took around an hour leaving us to enjoy a packed lunch and some free time around camp. The boys tried their hand at shore fishing with a twig and some string while I treated myself to some sunning along the shore.
Liam finds a "fishing rod."
In all we spend about 4 hours exploring Hambone, Ralph Bice (the kids got a giggle out of learning one of it's former names) and Daisy Lakes. Upon returning to camp they had worked up a tremendous appetite and so we enjoyed an early but hearty soup and hot dog dinner at around 6:00pm. Following this they surprised me by requesting that they go to bed at 7:00pm, which turned out to be an hour nap, as they were back up and racing by 8:00pm. Seeing as they would be awake for a few more hours, I stoked the fire and brought it to a nice glow. We watched some stares and talked about this and that, and the kids fell asleep for good just before 10:00 pm. I remained up another hour or so, and then retired for the night. As I changed into my sweatpants, and curled into my sleeping bag, I saw the shear innocence and utter beauty of my children, and fell into a deep sleep within minutes.
At around 8:30 am we were dressed and ready for the day. The kids enjoyed their instant oatmeal and flatbread with peanut butter breakfast, while I sipped on my first attempt at coffee in the interior.... I still need some practice with my coffee making in the interior, and ate my breakfast.
I gave the kids a few hours of free time (they played fishing, tag and hid-n-go-seek) while I took some time to capture some photographs of our surroundings, and at around 10:30 we started to pack up camp. While helpful, the kids didn't enjoy this as much, and by noon we had loaded our canoe and were back on our way to the car. Just prior to our departure, we gathered a bit of extra wood for the next enhabitors of the site, and did a clean up of the surrounding. While the site was recently renovated, we did end up picking up over 30 cigaret butts, which I will admit bugged me more then the insects.
In terms of bugs, while out, the black flies and mosquitoes really didn't bother us, for during the day we were blessed with a consistent breeze, and the night was cool; in short perfect weather for us, while terrible for the bugs. We did experience the "Wrath of the Black Flies" though as we packed up the car, back at the access point, for the winds died down, and being sheltered from what little wind remained, the black flies were out to presumable fill their bellies. They got so pesky that while tying the canoe to the roof, I ended up attaching it "front first", rather then the "backwards" style that I usually do. This, I was quick to notice, as it means more vibration noises in the car as it moves, and a more obstructed front view while I drive. While I realized this mistake the moment I got into the car, I was not going to leave the sanctuary of the car, and so drove out of the park and back to the permit office with the canoe on "backwards", prior to stopping and rotating it around.
All in all, the trip was a wonderful experience for not only myself, but my boys; Josh and Liam. It was great to spend the entire weekend with them doing something that I love, and having my kids share in the joys of the experience made the park that much better. While the trip ended up being not exactly as I had planned in terms of location, the memories are just as good, if not better then I had previously imagined. I learned that I can count on the kids for many things while camping the interior as Josh particularly enjoyed "pumping water" while Liam enjoyed getting wood. I learned that I can "handle" being the sole adult with the kids in the park, and survive, and I learned that the kids can take responsibility for their own gear.
For others considering a similar trip, I highly recommend access point 3 for kids, as the lakes are relatively close to each other, the portages fairly simple to hike, and the surroundings very kid friendly. The sites we spied were of a good quality, and a size that can accommodate the kids.