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Camping in the great Canadian outdoors

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Camping in the great Canadian outdoors

When my daughter, Scotia, turned nine, I decided it was time to introduce her to the great Canadian experience: camping. There were just a few minor glitches. We didn't own sleeping bags, let alone a tent, and my husband was reluctant to invest in what he thought would be a one-off. I couldn't blame him – Scotia hated bugs, snakes and the thought of sleeping outdoors with them almost as much as my hubby hated the thought of setting up and taking down a campsite.

Do you live to go camping in the summer?
Share your go-to camping destination with other readers, or find a new favourite in the comments section on the next page.

Then I read about a "turn-key camping" experience offered at Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay, Ont. The first sentence sold me: "All equipment and activities included in the cost, from pickup to preassembled luxury campsites to hikes, canoeing and campfires."

In early September, we boarded a boat with sleeping bags (our one modest investment), warm pajamas and a cooler full of food. As soon as we docked, we spotted the tents, nestled into the pine and granite Group of Seven scenery. "They're humongous!" my daughter yelled, racing up the path to check out the accommodations. Our home-away-from-home was the camping equivalent of a five-star hotel: a king-size bed (OK, two twin-size camp beds raised off the ground, pushed together and topped with an air mattress), a table, chairs and lantern. Outside on the deck – yes, deck! – were two comfy chairs that looked out over the water.

While we settled in and met our fellow campers, our two on-site guides, Scott and Chris, stocked the outdoor kitchen shelter and started preparing a pasta dinner. We dined alfresco overlooking the bay and watched the sun set. Later that night, as we toasted marshmallows and made s'mores around the campfire, Chris showed the kids how to find their favourite constellations. My daughter was so enthralled, she barely noticed the mosquitoes.

The next morning I woke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the cry of loons. I slipped out of bed for an early morning paddle and when I returned, I found Scotia and her dad in the camp kitchen frying up ham and eggs over a kerosene stove. This is a kid who can barely work the toaster at home! I've never had a better breakfast.

Page 1 of 3 – Discover the amazing amenities and recreational activities many campgrounds offer on page 2.My girlie girl happily accompanied us on hikes around places like Fairy Lake and Honeymoon Bay, and didn't even jump when Chris pointed out a massasauga rattlesnake. We left, reluctantly, at noon on Sunday with an empty cooler and a lot of memories. My favourite is the one of my plucky little camper leading the way to the outhouse at 2 a.m., flashlight in hand. Chris had warned us about a rogue bear somewhere in the area and I asked Scotia, nervously, if she was just the teensiest bit afraid, too. "Who cares about the bear, Mommy," she said. "I have to pee." As we raced back to the warmth and safety of our tent, she told me proudly that camping had made her "a whole lot braver." As soon as we arrived home, I booked it again for next year.

For more info on turn-key camping at Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada, visit pc.gc.ca/gbi. For other all-inclusive camping packages, check with your local provincial or national park.

Hit the trails
There are excellent hiking clubs operating on a volunteer basis. Some organize day hikes; many also offer overnight hikes during summer months. You don't need a car or an in-depth knowledge of a specific region. Check websites for specific rules and regulations. Tip: If you're catching a ride in someone's car, carry a pair of plastic bags to contain your muddy boots.  

Canoeing
So you have limited (or perhaps no) experience with a canoe, don't own one, and can't tell a J-stroke from a backstroke? No worries. Experienced outfitters across the country offer lessons on paddle strokes and water safety, and will rig you up in a canoe with an experienced leader. Get paddling!

• At Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak, in Indian Arm, B.C., you'll find introductory programs, kids' lessons and navigation skills training – all only 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Guided outings will bring you up close to harbour seals, eagles and other wildlife.

• Paddle along the peaceful Grand River with the Heritage River Canoe and Kayak Company, based in Brantford, Ont. Adam and his team provide basic instructions or even two-day canoe workshops. One popular excursion is the Paris-to-Brantford trip; vans shuttle you and the canoes back to the starting point at the end of the day. All equipment is available for rent, including life jackets.

Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre offers urbanites the chance to canoe and kayak off the shore of Lake Ontario, without leaving the city. Classes and outings are offered on weeknights, as well as during the day and on weekends.

The Calgary Outdoor Club accommodates beginner and advanced hikers. The bulk of the hikes are in Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park (about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Calgary), though some hike leaders take groups out to the Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper parks. Carpooling is the usual means of transport, and participants pitch in for gas.

Page 2 of 3 – On page 3 discover popular fishing spots and learn-to-sail programs across Canada.
The Bruce Trail Club organizes day hikes along the 894-kilometre trail, which extends across Ontario from St. Catharines to Tobermory. You can join one of nine member clubs to participate in hikes in your area. Some, like the Toronto branch, rent school buses for weekend day hikes; others rely on carpooling. A few clubs host urban hikes, which require no transportation – other than your feet.

Outdoor Enthusiasts Moncton offers a mix of hiking opportunities in New Brunswick. You could meet late Sunday morning for an easy 10-kilometre hike through Amherst Point Migratory Bird Sanctuary, or devote your entire Saturday to walking the Fundy Trail.

Gone fishin'
You may not know your Doc Spratleys from your Tom Thumbs, but you can still experience the thrill of the catch. Knowledgeable outfitters across the country will help you tie one on (bait, that is) and reel in a big fish.

• Check out Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures, located in Sillikers, N.B., on the banks of the Miramichi River. Dale and Debbie will introduce you to salmon fishing with a package that includes four hours of professional guidance, the use of fishing gear (waders, rod, reel, line and flies), a fishing licence and even a salmon dinner.

Fishpot Lake Resort in Quesnel, B.C., is a family fishing resort where you can "book and hook" for a day or a week. The reserve is restocked with 5,000 rainbow trout yearly, so there's a good chance of catching a three- to four-pound frying-pan-size fish for dinner (you can also smoke your catch to take home).

• During National Fishing Week, newbie anglers of every age can get outdoors and reel in some fun with free family fishing events from coast to coast. At Toronto's High Park event at Grenadier Pond, for example, volunteers share their fishing know-how, along with rods, reels, tackle and bait.

Sail away
You don't have to own a boat to get out on the water. Many clubs will help you go from landlubber to seafarer at a very reasonable cost.

Scarborough Bluffs Sailing Club offers sailing lessons on Lake Ontario to nonmembers. Once you've honed your skills, you can join as a trial member at a nominal fee for the rest of the year and enjoy access to the fleet of sailing dinghies and lakeside club facilities. 

• Vancouver's Jericho Sailing Centre Association is home to the largest windsurfing school in Canada. It offers lessons to wannabe sailors of all ages and has a world-renowned sailing program for people with disabilities.

St. Mary's Boat Club, operated by the Halifax Regional Municipality, offers sailing programs on the picturesque Northwest Arm of the Halifax Peninsula for children 10 and older, and for adults on weekends and evenings.

For more camping tips, expert advice and guides to some of the best campgrounds in Canada, visit our expert's guide to the great Canadian outdoors.

This story was originally titled "Get Outside!" in the August 2010 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

Page 3 of 3 – Learn how a family camping trip in the Canadian wilderness can bring your family together on page 1.

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Camping in the great Canadian outdoors

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