In my introductory post, I mentioned wilderness camping as a way to travel at a lower cost this summer. So, to make good on my word of providing more information on said activity, here it is!
Late last September, I had the chance to get initiated into wilderness canoe camping in La Mauricie National Park, a national park in the Parks Canada network. I’ve been camping since I was 3 months old (really; my parents’ friend, a carpenter, built some sort of wooden box for Baby Me to sleep in in the tent in Maine). I’ve camped in a lot of campgrounds that I thought were roughing it (the size of the bathroom spiders might be my criteria for ranking a campground); I’ve also camped in some spots with spas, paved roads, and golf carts. I thought, given my then-27 years of camping experience, that I WAS A CAMPER. I was hardcore. I can start a campfire, and scramble eggs in the AM.
Riiiiight. Hardcore before I found myself in the woods, a 2 hour paddle from a road to nowhere, without cell service, as the only adult responsible for a pack of teenage girls (the boys’ camp was a 20 minute paddle).
There were bears, no flush toilets, no night guard, and no showers. And did I mention a pack of teenage girls? Scarier than the wild animals, believe you me. And definately louder.
Despite being the teacher chaperone on a high school trip, I’ve got to admit: I loved this experience. And can’t wait to repeat it, minus the students plus some friends.
We paddled and camped in the Wapizagonke sector. I can’t vouch for the other regions of the park, but this lake was serene, and stunning. The campsites are all located waterfront, are clean, wooded, and mostly all have access to a beach of sorts.
Advice for newbies:
If you’re going to attempt this type of trip, which I HIGHLY recommend, minus the busload of high schoolers, there IS some advice I should share, first.
1. Bring bear spray, just in case.
2. Bring a bag big enough to fit ALL of your food, and some solid rope. Because if you want to be safe, you’re going to want to keep every trace of food hitched up on one of the metal food tours at each campsite for thovernight and when you’re away from your site. Keeps the bears from coming to visit, and in my case mostly kept the students from stealing food. Mostly. Add a bell to the bag to alert you to thieves of the furry kind.
3. Loaded down canoes are hard to tip. Empty ones, however, not so much. Canoes are not easy to steer. Ask someone for a crash course before attempting this sort of trip if you don’t have an experienced canoer to steer you. I spent my first day of the trip in near-rage frustration when my canoe kept zigzagging horizontally across the lake; my arms nearly fell off as I probably paddled three times the required distance. It’s not hard to learn, but hard to learn on the go with a loaded canoe.
4. Absolute must: Leave an itinerary with the front gate and DO NOT decide to change campsites. It’s a big, isolated park. Safety first.
5. Pack a safety kit.
6. Don’t bother loading down your bags and canoes with bottled water; the water is 100% potable in the wilderness parts if you paddle out past the sandy shores. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more refreshing than water from this lake when paddling.
7. Be realistic. If it’s your first time, start with campsites within a few hours’ paddle from the launch, and don’t plan any crazy portages. Start small and work your way up.
8. Take the camping option with firewood. You aren’t allowed to bring any firewood into the park (good luck paddling that over, anyway!) and it’s a service worth a few bucks more per night.
9. It might rain. You might fall overboard. It’s farther north, and it’s colder, particularly at night. Keep that in mind shoe, sock, and clothing wise.
10. Paddles –> blisters.
La Mauricie National Park is located about an hour north of Shawinigan, and about 3 hours north of Montreal.
Canoes can be rented on the premises.
There is a non-rustic campground with automobile access and full electricty and water services also located in the park.
For canoe camping, the price is 15.70$/night, or 24.50$ with firewood service. Daily access fees to the park are 7.80$ per person.
For those feeling hardcore, or who leave La Mauricie craving more, check out the Reserve Faunique de la Verendrye in the Upper Laurentians, North of Mont Laurier.