Cottaging in Canada – Paddling into Mashkinonje ParkViki Mather June 1, 2009
Updated January 3, 2022
Mostly I am a homebody. Why wouldn’t I be? I live in a cozy little cottage in the forest, with a big beautiful lake for my front yard. If I didn’t have so much work to do — painting window frames, replacing the dock the ice took out, repairing the roof where the shingles have started to crack, preparing the garden, splitting and stacking the wood supply for next winter — home could be a very comfy and relaxing place!
Still, we do need to get away every now and then, just so I don’t have to add anything new to the “to do” list for a couple of days. Mostly we go out canoeing, and mostly we go to lakes right around home that we have visited year after year. There’s comfort in knowing where the best campsites are!
Every now and then, we’ll head out to new areas, to seek the unknown, to discover new beauty. The most important thing we have learned about discovering new and wonderful places to travel is that we don’t have to go far. Ontario is a big place — we could travel somewhere new every week and never see it all.
In May we decided to have a look around a little known provincial park within the West Bay of Lake Nipissing. Mashkinonje Park was created decades ago, mostly to protect some very important natural heritage sites. It was expanded in 1999 to include significant wetlands.
We arrived at the access point on Muskrat Creek early on the Friday morning the day before fishing season opened. This little strip of land is privately owned and relatives of the owner were already setting up their trailers for their traditional May long weekend get together. Being new to area, we did not know the landing was not in the park, but the campers were friendly, and told us it was not a problem for us to leave our truck there overnight. They even suggested a beautiful island, about 4 km down the creek where we might want to camp. Camping is not allowed within Mashkinonje Park, so it was good to know there would be at least one place we could lay our heads that night. As it turns out, there aren’t any suitable places to put up a tent within the Park along Muskrat Creek, anyway. However, we found several very pretty campsites just outside of the protected area, including the recommended island.
We stopped to explore the big island. It was somewhat reminiscent of the landscape south of Killarney Provincial Park, with smooth, glaciated bedrock, lovely white pines, and blueberry bushes just waiting for mid-summer to bear fruit. It held a grand vista of the western bay of Lake Nipissing.
The island has seen a lot of use over the decades. We were told it had once been a favorite place for the Boy Scouts to camp. There were many good places to set up tents, a few areas where cement had been used to fill some dips in the rock, and just a little bit of paint left where once a volleyball court had been laid out on the bare rock. Now, junipers and other shrubs were creeping over the court, returning it to nature.
We decided to camp at a more protected site, on the peninsula just south of the island. It still had the grand vista of the lake, and good shelter from the eastern wind that blew that day. We had lunch, set up our tent, then went out to explore.
We paddled east, into the wind for about a kilometre. This bay has a multitude of islands, and we wanted to see if there might be more areas to camp on a future trip. Indeed, there are.
We then moved on to the northern shore, and let the wind at our backs help us along as we explored. There were many little bays, and a large stream mouth full of reeds. And this being the day before fishing season opened, there were fish swirling everywhere in the weeds! We would have to wait for morning though…fresh fish for breakfast would be great.
With map in hand, we found a small creek that comes out from the Loudon Peatlands, a huge wetland that lies within Mashkinonje Park. We easily paddled upstream for half a kilometre. Beavers are pretty happy here. We had two dams to lift the canoe over, which gave us lots of water to continue deeper into the wetland.
Our map showed two ponds up this creek, but the first one held only a narrow passage within a broad expanse of wetland grasses and shrubs. We meandered where the beaver’s stream led us, almost to the second pond. Then the grasses got too thick to squeeze the canoe through. We backed the canoe to a place where maybe we could get out and walk across the grasses to see the next pond. No luck. The water was too high for walking, and the grasses too thick for paddling. Another time perhaps. This would be a wonderful place to explore in winter.
Back downstream we went. Just as we got back to the bay, we saw a moose swimming across to the far shore. We watched through binoculars until it crept out of the water, looked about, then disappeared into the forest. Now we had to paddle against the wind again, to get back to our campsite. Our free ride was over. While the campsite was well protected from the wind, warm and wonderful, the shoreline was not. Fleeting thoughts I’d had of taking a short swim in the cold water disappeared.
We woke briefly at 6:30 a.m. to hear rain on the tent. A gentle patter that lulled us right back to sleep. Rain before 7 a.m., done by 11? We had our hopes, but it didn’t work out that way. Allan found a way to take down the tent without taking down the fly, so we were able to pack up, keeping somewhat dry. I thought there would be more anglers on opening morning. Don’t the fish bite well in the rain? On the other had, the multitude of fish we’d seen swirling in the reedy waters the day before had totally disappeared. We saw not one all morning.
The only thing wrong about this little canoe trip to Mashkinonje Park and the West arm of Nipissing was that it was too short. We had other commitments and had to leave after only one day of exploration. We never got to hike the many trails on the western part of the park, not paddle the entrancing shoreline on that side. Clearly, we will have to go again when we have a week or more to explore.
For many years, Viki Mathers and her husband Allan operated Kukagami Lodge, a wonderful off the grid retreat reachable only by boat. They sold the lodge in 2012. They can still be reached by email at: email@example.com or visit their website: http://kukagamilodge.blogspot.com/