Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Rossport Campground, Rainbow Falls Provincial Park

View from one of the spectacular waterfront sites
at Rossport Campground
Location: 2 hours E of Thunder Bay; 5 hours NW of Sault Ste. Marie
Website: Ontario Parks 
Map: Google
Camping Facilities: Frontcountry / Car Camping
Grade: C+
Stargazing: Good
Summary: Some nice car camping with lake-front campsites, even though it's right on the highway.
Thoughts: Well it served me right for not doing too much research. I had planned to do some backcountry camping in Sleeping Giant PP, so that I could spend the afternoon enjoying its fantastic hiking trails. It turns out that the backcountry camping required a substantial chunk of hiking just to get set up. In fact, from what I could see, it was a 5 km hike just to get into the sites (I've included the backcountry map below - I really wish that Ontario Parks would post these on their website!), which was too far for one night IMHO. So I had to bail on my camping plans and settle for the bumpy drive up to the lookout over Thunder Bay (which is unreal! you have to check it out!).

A nice spot to stargaze if the skies cooperate

So I did the 2 hour drive down to Rainbow Falls instead, and it was a good thing as it would have been pretty miserable drive to Lake Superior PP the next day if I hadn't. I arrived pretty late at Rainbow Falls, getting close to supper time. I had the choice between the Rossport Campground (which is right on Lake Superior) and the Whitesand Lake Campground. So essentially, your choice is a view over shrubbery or a view over Lake Superior - it's an easy one to make. I drove around Whitesand just in case there were some nice ones that actually overlook the lake, but couldn't find any (at least, none that were available), so I just headed back to Rossport.

First lookout on Rainbow Falls trail
The check-in at the gate was typical Ontario Parks - friendly, helpful, trying to make sure you get the camping experience you're after. At both gatehouses they insisted that I roam around and have a look for a site that I like best. (Aside: this is something that will only happen in less busy parks - in Bon Echo or Pinery, you pretty well take what they have, because your site will probably be gone by the time you get back to the gatehouse). Highway noise is again an issue, but that's the price of convenience. I mean, pulling over and camping next to Gitchigumi with no reservation in peak of summer for about $40 - you can make do.

Sure, it's loud but a primo seat for
watching thundering water
A few of the sites afford a fantastic view of Lake Superior as they are right on the shore; but I must say, there are only about 4 high quality sites, and the campsites that are not adjacent to the lake were not very good. Even still some of the sites next to the lake were not actually on the water - in fact, the lake wasn't even accessible for a few of these. However, many of those sites had good under story for privacy though astoundingly, these were sometimes positioned directly across from one another (hello long privacy).

Blueberries in various
stages of development
Rainbow Falls -
photos do not do it justice!
The following day I ventured up to the hike to Rainbow Falls (fantastic) in the Whitesand Lake campground, followed by the two lookouts (which were well worth it, mainly because of all the wild blueberries near the lookouts!). I recommend the hikes, the thundering water of Rainbow Falls takes no time to reach and will keep you entertained for a while (especially if try out your best Ansel Adams impersonation).

Sleeping Giant Backcountry Hiking Map
Backcountry map of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
(circa 2015)

Review: Fenton Lake, Lake Superior Provincial Park

View South from Fenton Lake Campsite,
a few hours after sunrise

Location: Fenton Lake, Lake Superior Provincial Park
Website: Ontario Parks or Friends of Lake Superior PP
Map: Friends of Lake Superior PP or Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry
Grade: C
Stargazing: Decent
Summary: A serviceable last-minute backcountry option, but not a reflection on the quality of the park - highway noise is an issue
Thoughts: It was getting late by the time I arrived in Lake Superior, on my way back from my first trip exploring the true "up north" in Ontario. I had the chance to explore Thunder Bay with some old friends and have a peak at Quetico, so I was happy to return to Lake Superior PP for a relaxing evening. As I've said in my other posts, Lake Superior is my favorite Ontario park, mainly because of its diversity of camping opportunities and the unparalleled beauty of its shoreline.

The single campsite on Fenton Lake
There were a few options available to me; I could stay at Old Woman's Bay at the backpacking site on its shore; I could try one of the car camping sites at Rabbit Blanket Lake campground; or I could backtrack (never a desirable option) to Fenton Lake or one of it's interior lakes. Old Woman's Bay was available but looked far too conspicuous for my liking - your tent would be in clear view of anyone who came to visit it's spectacular shores (but yes, Old Woman's Bay is hard to beat for a lunch stop or picnic). Rabbit Blanket Lake's sites were decent, but nothing too exciting (not scenic in any way, but decent privacy). But I didn't know much about Fenton and wasn't sure if it was worth it. I consulted a member of park staff at the Rabbit Blanket Lake gatehouse. We had a chat about the park in general, how underused it was, and how even the summer staff (mostly university students) didn't do very much exploring on their days off. While she hadn't been up to Fenton herself, she said that I'd have it all to myself as nobody else had registered there that night, so I decided to go for it.

Fenton Lake Put-In
By the time I put in at the end of the 500 m downhill, well-maintained portage (score!), it was nearly 6 pm. I decided that it wasn't worth the trip into one of the deeper lakes (Treeby, Shakwa, Junction or Underhill). In hindsight, if I had given myself more time, I would have.

Transport truck roaring by Fenton Lake
Fenton is a narrow lake, especially by the campsite (there is only one site), which means your view of the sky is mostly obstructed. The bigger problem is that the highway is aligned parallel to it, with traffic clearly audible from any site, especially the big rigs. Late at night, when the traffic dies down and the fire is crackling, you can nearly ignore it. The highway noise was mostly gone by 10 pm, and it's peaceful enough that I could hear the sound of a duck taking off on the other side of the lake. But if you're trying to get some peace and pretend like you're actually in the deep woods, Fenton Lake is a bummer. The big rigs just don't really ever stop. Plus I had a hard time finding a flat spot for the tent, and the site itself isn't terribly scenic. It's main saving grace is that there is a beautiful old white pine tree out front.

Not much beats a big stack of firewood
with an hour to spare before dusk
But it's not all bad news. For the anglers - the fish were constantly jumping 2 hours before sunset so I think you might have some luck there. For the swimmers, the water was calm and warm, so you might enjoy a dip. For the campfire lovers, there is so much firewood around the site. As well, there are beautiful hills surrounding the lake. Other than the highway, the lake is very peaceful (cause you'll be the only person on it). Important to note that interior sites are not reservable in Superior PP,  but they are mostly available due to low attendance.

Fenton Lake Canoe Route Map Lake Superior Provincial Park
Canoe route map for Fenton Lake -
erected during Ontario Parks' glory days
Some pointers from the MNR