If you love being the wilderness, then Canada is the place to be in 2017. Parks Canada is celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation in high style by providing free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas in 2017. It’s a fantastic time to go camping in Canada. What a gift!
First time camping?
I just returned from an extraordinary trip in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. I had a two-fold mission: to introduce my twin granddaughters to camping (they are four and a half years old) and to take part in a science program called “Swimming with the Salmon.”
The children were with me for the first part of my stay. When I picked them up we loaded things like sleeping bags, pillows, stuffed animals, jackets, swimsuits and books into the car. I had already stocked up on groceries including their favourite foods and treats.
We arrived around 6pm and they were hungry but it didn’t take long to set up camp as I had booked an oTENTik, which is a cross between a tent and a cabin.
The oTENTik was outfitted with a solid floor, beds, table and chairs. And a propane stove for heat. What a perfect set-up for a family holiday!
Try an oTENTik experience
Within minutes, we were organised and looking forward to a feed of hot dogs. Alas, my camp stove was on the fritz and after 30 minutes, the hot dogs were barely lukewarm.
As the sun went down and the evening temperatures dropped, the children started to shiver. To my horror, I discovered that I hadn’t brought their bags of clothes or pyjamas!
I turned on the stove in the oTENTik and it didn’t take long for Ellie and Lucy to warm up. They then donned their jackets and headed out to the picnic table for supper.
As soon as they took a bite, they started to spit and wail. Oh the faces!
I had bought a variety of hot dogs called “Buffalo Style” only because they seemed so nice and plump. Little did I know that “Buffalo Style” meant spicy hot.
They got over the heat of the moment by drinking copious amounts of mango juice and eating bananas and yoghurt. They then stuffed their faces with Cheesies, peanut butter and crackers. Yours truly thought the hot dogs were delicious — albeit spicy — and had extras.
After tumbling into warm sleeping bags we sang songs and they soon fell fast asleep.
Camping in Canada
Sleeping in an oTENTik is pure pleasure. This is Parks Canada’s response to an increased interest in “glamping” or luxury camping.
There has been a recent emergence of “ready-to-camp” sites that’s all about making camping easy, fun and hassle-free.
Each Parks Canada oTENTik is designed and made in Canada. All are equipped with a table, chairs and mattresses in built-in bed spaces that can accommodate up to six people. The tents are heated by a propane stove or wood stove or electric heater.
Each site also has a picnic table and a fire pit or BBQ. Just bring food, personal effects and sleeping bags. (And don’t forget clothes for your kids or grandkids!)
But oTENTiks are not the only choices. Parks Canada has been creative in providing unique camping options throughout Canada, including Yurts, Double-Tents, Micro-Cubes, a Cocoon Tree Bed, Goutte d’Ô and Tiny Homes on Wheels.
The next morning, I remembered that my sister sent a bag of new clothes for the twins, which I was to give to their mother when she came to pick them up.
So I fetched the bag and the kids were thrilled to find new clothes including lace dresses and leggings with polka dots. They decided to put these on to go canoeing.
It was priceless – both their outfits and the paddle in Bennet Lake. Memories for a lifetime!
Salmon spotting and feeling privileged
On day three, along with two other guests, I joined a Parks Canada a team consisting of fishery biologists, certified snorkel guides, and park interpreters who have been working on the salmon recovery program.
Years ago, Atlantic salmon in the inner Bay of Fundy were plentiful. But due to human activities and environmental shifts, the stocks were drastically depleted. By 2003, the Atlantic salmon was an endangered species.
Several agencies and organisations partnered; they collected smolts in the wild, and created a living gene bank.
Eventually, a wild salmon farm was created (in Grand Manan, NB). Now, once the salmon mature, they are transported to the Upper Salmon River and released to spawn naturally.
Snorkelling is a common technique to monitor the number of salmon in the rivers. We were trained in how to identify male vs. female, the difference between salmon and trout, and specific things to look for, such as coloured tags and snipped fins.
These techniques allow park biologist to estimate the total amount of salmon in the river and can also determine how effective their recovery strategies are.
I was a thrilled beyond measure to be part of this recovery program. I was particularly excited to see salmon of up to a meter long swimming in various pools in the river.
For me, Parks Canada embodies the best our country has to offer: magnificent scenery, nature at its best and a spellbinding history re-enacted every day at numerous sites. It also offers eye-popping discovery programs for all ages.
Isn’t it time you looked into what Parks Canada has on tap for 2017?
Here are seven quirky accommodation options
Sleeping in an oTENTik is a way for families to camp with the comfort of a bed. Each unit has three beds and can sleep up to six people.
Think of it as a cross between a tent and a rustic cabin. You get an authentic camping experience without the fuss as your campsite is all set up and ready to go.
Parks Canada has oTENTiks right across Canada.
If you love the wilderness but don’t like the idea of sleeping in a tent, try a Micro-Cube. It’s a funky contemporary box with a double bed, two chairs, a table and a deck.
The compact 10sqm accommodation has windows on one side and is best visited in summer as it doesn’t have heating. Micro-cubes cost $90 a night and can be found at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba and Forillon National Park in Quebec.
For a comfortable camping experience for two, try a Double-Tent, which is a smaller interior tent inside a larger one.
The smaller tent is where you sleep. It has a bed, small table and chairs while the larger tent is a bug proof area that houses the living and dining area, with comfortable chairs and a table.
Double-Tents ($55) are available at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba.
4Cocoon Tree Bed
Gaze at the ocean while suspended among the trees in a spherical Cocoon Tree Bed. But don’t worry you won’t have to test your tree climbing skills as you can get in via a set of stairs Inside, there’s a mattress that is 2.5m in diameter and can sleep four.
Cocoon Tree Beds cost $70 a night and you’ll find this unusual bedroom at Ingonish Beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.
Designed to resemble a giant drop of water, the Goutte d’Ô resembles is a compact 6sqm. There’s just enough space to fit a sofa bed on the main level and a hammock loft above.
Goutte d’Ô costs $70 a night and is available for trial at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick at the Point Wolfe Campground, Site 21.
6Tiny Homes on Wheels
Sleep in one of these two Tiny Homes on Wheels. They come with propane heating, kitchens equipped with fridges, stoves and dishes, a toilet and shower.
Choose between the rustic model, which has a loft and queen-sized bed you can get to by ladder, and the contemporary model, which has two lofts (one with a queen-sized bed and the other with a single).
Tiny Homes on Wheels ($160) are available at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and can accommodate up to four people.
Why would you sleep in a yurt, which is the traditional dwelling of Central Asia nomads, while visiting Canada?
Well, these yurts are designed to keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. They’re also a great way of viewing the sky at night while tucked up in bed.
Yurts are available in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick
Canada is a vast country with amazing nature experiences.
Where else to visit? ValJalbert is a historic attraction in Quebec that you’re sure to be captivated by.
A beautiful region to visit in Ontario is the St Lawrence River, where a Gananoque boat cruise is a delight in summer.
Hop on board Via Rail for a journey across Canada.