Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: Backcountry, Charleston Lake Provincial Park

Charleston Lake from Site 505
Location: 15 mins NE of Lansdowne (30 mins from Kingston)
Website:  Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Pseudo-Backcountry (and excellent car camping)
Grade: C
Stargazing: Good
Summary: Not to be mistaken for backcountry, but you gotta love tent platforms
Thoughts: (Dear reader, prepare for a rant).
Site 504 - with two picnic tables (grrr...)
Without exception, every lake that's accessible by car in the fair province of Ontario (indeed, the entire continent) must be frequented by those who own motorboats. A boater has got to boat. It's not enough that motorboats have superior stability relative to the graceful canoe (though that never held a true Canadian back, said Pierre Berton).  It's not enough that they're sometimes furnished with seating that is readily interchangeable with that found in the most luxurious of suburban man-caves. And it's not enough that they can travel vast distances through no greater effort than a single yank of a pull cord, on the same water that those with self-propelled watercraft. Sure, we canoeists struggle to displace the choppy water while charging headlong into the pummelling wind (one back-wrenching paddle stroke at a time), while the boaters bombard us with their wakes. The simple truth is that motorboats must be on all lakes, all summer long, buzzing along carefree, completely oblivious to the havoc they play on the nerves of paddlers and campers with whom they share the water. And, of course, a lake the size of Charleston Lake is a special motorboat haven.

Site 503 - swampy and only two tent platforms
(don't bring a third tent)
There is no peace, quiet or solitude to be found in Charleston Lake's backcountry. Note the subtle hint on the Ontario Parks website (the emphasis is my own): "These sites are excellent for visitors who want to see a different side of the park or for those who are developing their interior camping skills."  Motorboats, humming away, swinging by your campsite to gawk at your quaint low-impact ways, fishing in your cove (okay, it's not really yours, but I'm sure they wouldn't welcome you to paddle up to their dock...). So when the Ontario Parks website tells you all about Charleston Lake's "interior" campsite offerings, take that wording with a grain of salt.  I mean seriously, interior relative to what? Lake Ontario? The Atlantic? 

And motorboats are just one of the things to disturb your peace.  Among the list of things that intrude upon your wilderness experience are:
  • Trains (audible from nearly 10km away!);
  • Barking dogs;
  • Large-screen TV screens flickering in the windows of neighbouring cottages;
  • Morons loudly yammering on while they trawl for fish at dusk. 

Taking shelter from the waves in Bob's Cove
Okay, so my rant has gone on long enough.  But here's the bare truth. The sites are positioned in clusters (a la Frontenac Park), which is not apparent from the reservation site (instead, have a look at this map, which is much more truthful about the camping situation). Be prepared to be sharing your quiet patch of wilderness with others (i.e., you're going to have to be considerate and keep your exuberance to a minimum, no matter how many tallboys you've downed to drown the sorrows of your disappointing backcountry experience). As well, to be fair, the boat traffic was at a relatively low level on the weeknights that we were there.

These sites don't even get
individual site markers

Our cluster was housed in the quaintly-named "Bob's Cove", and I'm sure Bob deserves a better memorial to his earthly accomplishments. The website will tell you that each site "comes equipped with three elevated tent platforms, a picnic table, a fire grill and a privy)". This statement is mostly lies. We stayed at 503 (not recommended, as it's nestled right in the armpit of a swampy, mucky mess), which only had 2 platforms, and the same was observed at 505 (also not recommend, as it was a bit cramped and lacking any natural shade for the picnic table). As well, 503's picnic table wasn't even there (some group of ninnies moved it over to 504 - thanks, ninnies). The privy does indeed exist, but it is shared with the campers at 503, 504, and 505 (it is a real outhouse, stocked with toilet paper and dozens of well-fed spiders).  So it's a bit misleading to say that each site is equipped with a privy - in this case it's more like a third of a privy. The saving grace of camping on Charleston Lake is the ease in setting up your tent on the platforms provided.  Beautiful. In the rain, they'll save you from flooding and damp misery. Plus it'll save you the trouble of searching for the flattest piece of ground to sleep on.  

Site 504 in the centre, 503 on the left
Now, I know there is a lot of kvetching going on here, but it's meant to counterbalance the magical imagery that often accompanies one's reverie of peaceful solitude when Ontario Parks carelessly throws out the words "backcountry camping". Let's face it - there just isn't very much true backcountry camping south of Algonquin Park.  Charleston Lake is no exception.  It's a half-assed attempt to eke out an interior camping zone without actually providing the experience one would expect.  The cottagers and pleasure boaters have already conquered this lake.   

If you insist on camping in the "backcountry" here, aim for sites 504, 507, 508, maybe 510 (though there only seems to be one platform on 510 - Please,, accurately disclose on the reservation site exactly what us campers should expect, no surprises).
Site 505 - hope you're not looking for shade
On the positive side of things, I want to point out that the car camping sites in this park seem to be a bit of an anomaly for anything south of Sudbury.  They are roomy, well-treed and spaced appropriately apart (i.e. private).  As well, they're arranged in loops, not grids. I highly recommend this park for car camping, it seems to be well worth the drive. 

Site 505 - just two platforms


  1. Love your rant and sadly, I have to agree. I've had a similar experience in Frontenac Park. Peaceful campgrounds seems to be a fading thing...

    1. You speak the truth, Nezumi. Frontenac is a glorious opportunity that was poorly executed. Those site clusters are mind-boggling.

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