Collage of family at Bonnechere Provincial Park

Finding our place in the wild

Today’s post comes from Heather Greenwood Davis, a travel writer and new camper. 

We forgot the kettle. For real campers, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Real campers would know how to build a fire; real campers would’ve thought to bring a pot.

But I’m not a real camper and I am a coffee lover, so this could’ve been a problem.

Luckily, I know enough about my strengths and weaknesses to have arranged to spend this camping experience in one of the roofed accommodations at Bonnechere Provincial Park. The perfect step between tent camping and a cottage stay, our log cabin offers the warmth and security of a roof and four walls, but only a few of the modern conveniences we’re used to.

outside of wooden cabin with sign

While there is no kettle, there is a microwave, a small fridge, beds and a table. There is also electricity, so if I’d been a little better prepared, a kettle is something we could have packed and brought along.

Also, despite the tall trees, wooded forest and dirt road that brought us here, the truth is that we are really only a 30-minute drive from a hardware store in Barry’s Bay.

It’s the kind of realization that makes you sit up, sip your microwaved-water coffee and get to work on seeing what all this nature fuss is about.

Healthy Parks Healthy People

Family selfie in front of water
Heather Greenwood Davis and her family

While it’s true that the roofed accommodation sealed the deal for me, the chance to escape the city for a few days is what drew me here. Especially after learning about the Healthy Parks Healthy People program.

The program is part of an Ontario Parks initiative to get more people out into nature. They have some very compelling research backing them up. Among their findings:

  • people in regular contact with nature have a 30% lower risk of colon cancer and a 50% lower chance of heart attacks and diabetes
  • a two-hour walk in the woods is enough to improve sleep quality and reduce sleep issues
  • school age children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day

There are others, but it was these three that prompted me to bring my parents and my 13-year-old son Cameron along on the trip.

I am a part of the “sandwich” generation – that time of life when you have both parents who are senior citizens and children who are teens. And for the first time, I’ve found that my worries now go in both directions. I want to protect both my past and my future, and if a trip out to the woods will help with that, I’m willing to forego a few conveniences to make it happen.

Luckily, no convincing was needed.

None of them were worried about how comfortable our cabin would be; all three were here for an adventure. Each day, they’d find it together: first wading, then jumping in and out of the waters of Round Lake, then tapping birdies between their racquets on the beach. They’d work together to scramble eggs in the morning and flip burgers in the night. They’d battle over Scrabble words and slam dominoes on picnic tables, taunting each other with wins.

Dominoes and polaroids

We have time for each other here and as I watch them make memories, I realize that camping doesn’t have to be confined to an outside interpretation.

They experienced real joy in the found time that stripping away our attachments – yes, even the kettle – can bring.

My parents aren’t struggling to get my son’s attention, nor is he fighting for theirs. There is nothing but time for each other here. And it’s enough.

Finding my own space

Photo of woman in front of lake

It was only on one of our last mornings, as I sat out on the porch sipping coffee and listening to the wind whistle through the trees that I recognized that the trip had been good for me too.

To say that I’m busy is to echo the mantra of everyone I know: we’re all busy. All the time.

For me, that manifests in long days at my desk with the closest thing to fresh air being the walk to the mailbox. Walks in the woods aren’t part of my daily life and I fear that among us city dwellers I’m not alone.

On any given day, the only tree I see is the government-planted one in the front yard of my home. But after only a few days at the park, I could feel my energies shift.

One morning, I find myself mentally listing the reasons for it:

Wooded road with light shining through the trees

I like quiet and this is the quietest place I’ve been in a while. The loudest sounds in the morning are the bird calls and the rustle of the chipmunks who wander closer each day.

I like the brief run-ins with camping neighbours and the very Canadian good mornings we exchange where eyes don’t meet because we both know this isn’t how you’d like to be remembered.

I like the feeling of the sun on my temple as I’m cooling my feet in Round Lake.

I like the excitement in my son’s voice as we’re searching for stars at night.

I like how days feel infinitely long. I like that my parents’ enthusiasm matches my son’s excitement.

And I like that the blue mat rolled out along the sand is a reminder that even those who have limited mobility can experience this too.

Blue beach mat across sand

It’s true: this isn’t traditional camping.

At the end of the day, I can return to our cabin, turn on a barbecue and enjoy a few comforts. But this place is proof that there’s a camping option for everyone.

As we pack up to leave, I briefly lament that we could’ve done more.

A canoe sits right outside our door with paddles and lifejackets, but we ran out of time before we could enjoy it. Trails within the park are well-marked and there are plenty of others on Turner’s Road en route to Algonquin Provincial Park that could’ve drawn us even further afield. We were too busy exploring the exhibits at the onsite interpretation centre and playing the saddest, slowest game of volleyball ever to take it all in.

Boy sits at table in cabin laughingHad we wanted even more to do, we could have headed to the Bonnechere Caves for some exploration or explored the Polish Museum in nearby Wilno.

But we didn’t want more.

We wanted what we had: quiet time together. Some dominoes and cards and a mix of tasty snacks. We wanted quick dips and slow walks…and each other.

We may not know how to rough it, but Bonnechere Provincial Park allows us to be campers too.

Ready to try on your own adventure?

Dock in a calm river

Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • On Friday July 19, Ontario Parks are offering free day use at all locations for Healthy Parks Healthy People day. Visit the site for more information
  • During the month of August, Ontario Parks is challenging you to the 30×30 Challenge. Commit to spending 30 minutes outside for 30 days. Share your journey online using the hashtag #30x30Challenge
  • Cabins and campsites can sell out quickly (and early) in Ontario, but there are still opportunities for last-minute reservations. Check out the weekly Vacancy Reports to find campsite availability across the province

Heather Greenwood Davis was invited to stay at Bonnechere Provincial Park by Ontario Parks. All opinions are her own.