Island Hopping in Ontario.
- Transit: The Massasauga’s two access points can be reached by car. It is also possible to boat or sail in from Georgian Bay.
- Cost: Low.
- Crowds: In Woods Bay there were a number of cottages and boats, and a marina. Elsewhere in the south of the park it was much more quiet, but not as much as some other wilderness parks.
- Attractions: Sailing, canoeing/kayaking, camping, swimming, exploring, photography, hiking trails on some islands.
- Accessibility: You’ll have to be able to get in and out of, and operate, a watercraft of some kind. The access points are really only accessible by car.
- Environmental note: As always, stay on paths. Take out everything you bring with you. Bonus points for being a good steward and packing away some of the garbage that gets left behind at different sites. As mentioned below, there are great berry-picking sites in the park. Please take only a few, scatter a few to help the plants propagate themselves, and leave the rest for the local wildlife residents. Only pick wild berries if you are 100% sure what they are.
- Click here for map. (Links to site 322. For some reason Google Maps directs you to Oastler Lake Provincial Park when searching for the Massasauga.)
Ontario, home to a completely ludicrous number of lakes – over 250 000, accounting for one fifth of the world’s fresh water – also has a generous number of provincial parks where you can canoe or kayak to your campsite. Algonquin and Killarney are famous for this; less so Frontenac and the Kawartha Highlands. Counted among the latter is the Massasauga Provincial Park. Though it’s often booked up solid, mentioning its name to someone nearly always elicits a blank stare and (because we’re Canadian) a polite nod.
On a map, the Massasauga looks like the coastline of Georgian Bay south of Parry Sound exploded: A flurry of inland lakes turns into a delightfully incoherent shoreline, and then into a spray of islands.
The northern access point is strictly for canoes, kayaks – unmotorized boats only. It has the look and feel of Ontario’s remote parks – a maze of quiet lakes, inlets, islands, and marshes. Curtains of white pines line corridors of water. And it’s for another article.
The south end is wide open, lively, you can travel from one side of the park to another without hitting a single portage. In much of it, on one shore there will be a cottage or two (or many, in a few spots), while the other is the park, wilderness.
We start off from a set of docks, much more than the sort of sand beaches I’m used to for boat launches in provincial parks, telegraphing to us the much heavier presence of humans here. Though across the lake all is green, with a handful of lovely looking campsites dotting the shoreline at great distance from one another.
As we pass through the narrows into Woods Bay, we see cottages to the left and nothing but trees to the right; a speed boat full of vacationers zooms past us at one end, while in the middle we watch a black bear paddling its way south.
The Massasauga is positioned just at the dividing line between the most built-up area of the province and the wild north; the park itself feels like a microcosm of this.
As the lakes are mostly wide open, we’ve chosen to take a sailing dinghy and explore some of the islands of the park. Island hopping is not something most people think of doing in Ontario, but along with the hundreds of thousands of lakes there are tens of thousands of islands.
Flying through Woods Bay on a warm west wind, the sun arcs bright above and dazzles off the mesmerizing waves. In no time at all we reach our first camp site, on a peninsula at the east end of the Captain Allen Strait, and spent a long afternoon and evening luxuriating in the sun and the water. The bay to the north is abuzz with the motor boats of summer; where we are, nestled among islands, a peninsula, and a broad wetlands, is quiet as could be but for us and a few anglers.
We set up camp, surrounded by red oaks and white pines, and sleep under the spread of the Milky Way.
The next day we rest and then make the long paddle through the Captain Allen Strait. A couple of canoes zip past us; paddling a craft made for sailing takes ages. When we get back out in open water we check the breeze, put away our paddles, and unfurl the sail.
Classical Canadian Shield scenery surrounds us – rocky shorelines undulating in and out of blue water, towering white pines shaped by the wind. Islands abound.
It feels like time for high adventure.
And after one good gust the wind dies and we sit like flotsam on the glassy water.
Stubbornly, foolishly, baking in the sun, we creep forward on random breaths of breeze. Perhaps because it is a week day, the open water is not as busy as Woods Bay was. There are also far fewer cottages here, giving it a greater sense of wilderness.
Half way to our destination, a catamaran zips by, its sails full. How do they do it?
We arrive at our island destination sweaty, hangry, tired. Even still, its beauty bowls us over. Red and white pines stretch to the sky and beds of blueberry bushes dot the ground except where the bare rock of the Canadian Shield prevails. We drink some water and pick a few blueberries. We haven’t seen a soul since the catamaran and its magic sails passed us, so we go skinny dipping to cool off. Just then a boat full of women comes out of the strait north of us and parks perhaps thirty metres away. We men sit in the water. And wait. And wait.
What if they catch us? I wonder. My Canadian-ness kicks into full gear: I’m sure I’m not doing anything illegal, but I don’t want to offend.
The women talk quietly amongst themselves as they cast and reel, cast and reel.
Finally, after an eternity in the water, we grow tired and climb out. From the boat we hear excited whistles and silly cat calls. “Took you long enough!” one of them yells. We wave politely and towel off as they drift away on the current.
The rest of our day is quiet. We read, explore the island, sail out to explore others, and eat by the fire. We are surrounded by all the trappings of wilderness – the windswept trees, the undulating Canadian shield, the endless waterways – while in the distance we hear the sounds of cottage country – jetskis, generators, outboard motors.
We sail away the next day, this time with a strong breeze taking us on to the next site. On to the next adventure.