Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: Bruce Peninsula National Park - Stormhaven

Location: 21 km SE of Tobermory, 300 km from Toronto
Website: Parks Canada 
Map: Parks Canada or Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry and Car Camping (at Cyprus Lake)
Grade: A-
Summary: Beautiful Georgian Bay coastline, plus a fun and scenic hike into the camping area; a great backpacking trip
Halfway Log Dump "beach",
just off the parking lot
Thoughts: Probably the second most scenic natural area in Southern Ontario, Bruce Peninsula National Park earns its federal protection, and the country-wide recognition it gets as a result.  With the cliffs towering over Georgian Bay's cold, blue waters, you can get lost in the seeming endlessness of the landscape.  And with its backcountry hiking trails, there's a wilderness experience where you can bask in its scenic glory while leaving the tourists behind.

Once you arrive at the park, you'll have to first check in at the Cyprus Lake entrance, get your permit and backtrack to the backcountry access points (for both Stormhaven and High Dump).  This is a bit annoying, as it eats a good hour out of your trip, but on top of that you're charged a parking fee.  I mean really, are we supposed to bike up to Tobermory?  Or hike the length of the Bruce Trail?  Seems like a bit of a cash grab, but I can understand the rationale, considering that Parks Canada seems to have budget issues.  Anyways, the grumbling over expenses are quickly forgotten once you get the Georgian Bay shoreline.

On the way to Stormhaven Campsite 
Your first sign that you haven't made a bad decision in coming here is found on the arrival at the Halfway Log Dump beach, which is a bit rocky for swimming but a welcome respite from the trail very early on.  After that, you're hiking on a very nice rocky path typical of the Bruce Trail.

This was my first solo backcountry hiking trip and I think its a good place to start.  The trail up to Stormhaven is pretty rugged, but its doable.  I recall one point where the trail hits a wall, so to speak, where you have to scale up a 6-foot rockface.  That was the only portion where I wished I had some help from a buddy, other than that its completely manageable with one person. Its important to note that if the rocks are wet after or during a rainful, this hike could be downright treacherous. So be warned, watch your step, especially along the cliff tops.
View from one of the many vistas

There are some spectacular vistas along the way, where you can look out for vast distances across the bay, so schedule some time to take breaks.  All told, I think the hike took me between an 1 - 1.5 hrs, and I think I was traveling at a pretty moderate speed.  There are sites on the ridge and at the shore; I stayed at the shore but didn't get a look at the other sites (they were occupied).  But I imagine they're all pretty nice.  Since this is bear country, you're provided lock boxes to stash your food during the night and outside of mealtimes, which is pretty handy.  To be frank, this is something that we should probably see more of in backcountry parks (some Quebec parks have considered this and provide hanging poles).  As well, the endangered Eastern Massassauga rattlesnake calls the peninsula home, so keep your eyes (and ears) open, and if you see one, leave it be.

A typical campsite at BPNP
Sunset at Stormhaven
You have a wooden platform to set your tent up on (which can be tricky if you need to use pegs for anchoring), which ensures a nice, level sleeping place.  The one issue with Stormhaven is that many campers from the Cyprus Lake campground come here to escape the hordes who come there.  As a result, you don't exactly get the type of serenity you might find in Killarney or Algonquin. This is what leads to its less-than-perfect grade.  However, their presence is understandable; its a beautiful, quiet beach and great for taking a dip (hopefully in late July and early August, the water has warmed to a level where you don't become mildly hypothermic upon entry).

You would probably find more solitude at the Halfway Dump, if that's your goal.  Either way, this is a beautiful spot and well worth the trekking up and down over rocky trails to get here.

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