Spring in Burlington Ontario

Spring in Burlington Ontario
Discover Burlington this Spring

Monday, August 27, 2012

Camping in Burlington/Halton - affordable, fun and close to home!

As summer draws to a close many are thinking of how to squeeze the last bits of fun out of this season.  One great way to enjoy late summer and early fall is camping.  No need to fight traffic to get that "up-north" experience. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to go far to sleep under the stars with excellent locations for both tent and trailer camping within minutes of Burlington.   If you are tent camping you will probably not need water and hydro hook-ups and depending on where you go, you can expect to pay from approximately $50 and up per night for your lot.  

For me, camping is just a way of life.  From the time I was three years old, my parents packed up me and my brother (and later just me) and set off to enjoy Provincial Parks across Ontario.  As a young adult, my friends and I would camp in bigger groups and tended to more commercial parks that offered amenities like a snack shop as we were more often than not inadequately prepared.  My husband started later but was more adventerous doing some outback camping in addition to the standard campground type.  Now with a family of my own I looked forward to bringing my girls camping so they could have the same great memories as I have of campfires, the smell of the morning air and running around meeting new “campground friends”.  At two and five years this may not all be possible the first time out, but no time like the present to start. 

When choosing a camp ground it is always good to do some research and find out what style of camping best suits your needs.  The age and experience of the campers and what amenities and activities you are looking for can help in determining where you want to stay.

We are lucky to have a Provincial Park located right on the border of Burlington/Oakville. Bronte Creek Provincial Park offers both tent, trailer and yurt camping until October 22nd which means you still have plenty of time to plan your trip.  But remember, there are two entrances:  one is for camping, at Bronte Road and Upper Middle (exit 111) off QEW; to get to the day-use area you must use Burloak Drive (exit 109) off the QEW.  

The park offers 144 electric service sites, full comfort stations with showers and laundry, two play equipment areas, family programming and kids' programs.  Choose from open, treed and well shaded sites.  Reservations are highly recommended if arriving or staying through Friday / Saturday during the peak season.  It is incredible that such a place exists so close to home.  Within minutes of packing, you can be sitting beside a campfire enjoying the peaceful sounds of the frogs and birds.  Staying at Bronte Creek campground can feel like a “real” vacation … without the long drive, cranky kids, etc.  It is a great place to try out your camping equipment or introduce family members to camping.  They even offer Learn to Camp programs at the beginning of the season (note for 2013).  Reservations can be made by phone or online.

Conservation Halton also offers camping at two of their six parks. Both parks offer group and individual; tent or tent-trailer camping but do not have hook-ups for RV's.  At Kelso you can camp into late fall and Rattlesnake Point offers year round camping (5 upper sites available for winter camping).  At Kelso telling a scary story beside a roaring campfire and then trying to sleep in a tent with all the sounds of the outdoors is a right of passage for many youngsters.  It is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.  Indulge in a swim at a sandy beach, hike along the rugged Bruce Trail, explore the trails while mountain biking and so much more.  Visitors to the park can also rent kayaks, paddleboats and canoes, which means you can try these water sports without having to invest in equipment up front and no hauling!  You can also take in a movie in the park on Friday night the next 2 weekends at sunset as part of Family Outdoor Movie Nights.  This park is great for families and you are assured that no one will be bored.

Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area has some of the most inspiring natural vantage points in Halton Region.  There are five breathtaking lookouts dotting the edge of the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment.  Excellent hiking trails perfect for experiencing the areas diverse forest complex with its rich diversity of plant and animal habitats.  Soak up this relaxed atmosphere with an overnight stay at one of the 18 campsites at the park (washrooms and showers are available).  For the more adventureous, this park also offers some of the best rock-climbing in Ontario.  At the end of the day relax by a campfire and listen to the sounds of nature as you settle in for the night.

Kelso and Rattlesnake offer pristine campsites located throughout the parks which are available by reservation.  All campsites are non-serviced and some are large enough to accommodate group camping.  To book a reservation visit the website.

So here begins my camping adventure and some ideas if you are planning to camp with kids.  After much searching, I found the camping gear that we had accumulated over the years and wondered how much was salvageable for a family trip, luckily Burlington is home to Mountain Equipment Co-op and I headed there to meet up with Camping Product Specialist – Annika or the Camping Goddess as I like to call her who set me up with some camping gear for our first family trip.  Whether you are a first time camper or a seasoned pro, you will be able to find most items that you need to make your experience great.  I think what I like best about the approach at MEC is that Annika truly was interested in helping me and my family have a great experience, she took the time to ask questions about our previous experience, where we were going, the kids and what they would be doing, etc. and then she made recommendations on what we needed, what is good to have and what is a “luxury” item.  She also made suggestions about others items we might need, even if they were not sold at her store. 

First and foremost on the list was a tent and in the end we went with a Funhouse 4, because it offered enough room to stand up and as anyone will attest to that has hunched over in a tent trying to change, that is a big plus.  This tent is so quick and easy to set up, I was amazed, so much better than the tents of old.  I have to add that one of the best things about this tent was that they include a tent peg mallet – it’s the little things for me. The take-down only took about 10 minutes and I was able to do it myself while I send my husband off with the girls.  It also has a ‘vestibule’ that gives some extra rooms for bags and removing your shoes. If you have a family of four or more, I would suggest moving up to the Funhouse 6 as it gives the adults more space especially if you are using air mattresses under your sleeping bags. 

We had heard people suggest we bring a second tent or a dining tent as a play area for the girls.  It seemed like a great idea.  When we arrived at the camp we left them in their car seats and worked on setting up one of our old two man tents for them to play in, we struggled to remember how it set up and were egged on by the chanting of “let us out” from the van but we did manage to get it set up and piled with toys only to find out that our two-year old had zero interest in being confined.  She screeched for the 10-15 minutes it took to set up the main tent and in hindsight, we should have just left them in the car and set up that tent as they were more than content to play in the bigger space with some dolls and books.

One item that was a real hit was the hammock we brought from home that we strung among the trees.  The girls loved swinging and by the second day had mastered sharing which allowed us to do other things while they amused themselves swaying through the air.  Most of the time we were so busy exploring that they didn’t have the time or interest in toys but if you need downtime or worse yet if it rains, you will want to have something to keep everyone busy and amused.

Once you are past your twenties, an air mattress is a must unless you are outback camping where space and weight needs to be optimized.   We opted to use our old sleeping bags for us and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the kids – who knew they made child sized sleeping bags.  Back in the day, my parents just put me in an adult one and hoped for the best.  Mind you in those days we didn’t have car seats and I am pretty sure seat beats were optional.  Annika suggested the Lil’ dipper sleeping bag, it comes in two sizes which was perfect for both girls and as an added bonus they have them in purple which ensured they were a hit.  As it is getting later in the camping season, the nights are cooler and while I woke up shivering and searching for my fleece in the middle of the night, the girls were warm and cozy in their bags – I think I will be investing in a new sleeping bag for our next trip.

If you are camping with kids or are looking to make meals quick and easy then you will want to bring a cook stove.  While cooking over a campfire is fun it’s not always quick and practical.  We chose the Primus FireHole 200 Stove with a double burner (perfect for those that need coffee and food at the same time) is a really worthwhile investment.  In the words of my husband “this stove is awesome!” when coupled with a Glacier stainless steel percolator that brews six cups of really good coffee, waking up at 6:30am with the kids wasn’t so bad.  Annika helped me choose a cookware set and plastic mugs (in fun colours) as our old stuff was probably not fit to cook with but she recommends if you are just starting out to bring stuff from your kitchen, you don’t need special gear for cooking but keep in mind if you are cooking over an open fire that it might not look as good when it returns.  We brought along two coolers one vintage and a new and much improved MEC Chilli Cooler.  One cooler held the frequently and quickly used items like milk, juice boxes and produce and the other was for longer term storage and kept our items cold and food-safe as it wasn't opened as frequently.

The girls had a great time exploring the nature trails, hitting the beach and fishing for the first time.  My two-year old didn’t last long at fishing and we hit the trails for a relaxing (read: sleeping) walk but my five-year old had a great time learning how to bait a hook, cast a reel and on the second day out, catching (and releasing) two fish!

The highlight of the trip of course was the campfire; we had hotdogs and all the supplies for s ‘mores at the request of Lily and from the time we arrived she was anxious to start the fun.  We roasted hotdogs over the fire, and the majority of the marshmallows were consumed “raw”, we did cook them over the fire for mom and dad.

As night descends it is always important to have some good lighting equipment.  Gone are the days of propane lanterns, you can now get the same effect from battery operated lamps which are much safer with kids (and clumsy adults).  I was on the hunt for flashlights but Annika turned me on to headlamps which are a great alternative that provide lots of light for nighttime trips and leaves your hands free for carrying or child-wrangling.  They have adult and child-sizes and my girls wore them around happily (at some points even during the day!)

The one item I did forget was a broom, a kids sized broom and dust pan is perfect for sweeping out the bottom of your tent before packing it away and for dusting away the outdoors (twigs, leaves, dirt) from your other gear – no need to bring nature home with you.

The overall cost of our equipment came to approximately $800 not including what we already had at home which may seem like a lot but when you think of the cost of a weekend at a hotel with your kids it’s not much to invest.  Most of the items have a minimum life of five years but with proper care can last up to ten or fifteen years.  It is recommended you pack items such as tents and sleeping bags clean and dry and loosely if possible to extend their life.  Start small investing in a few key items and if you decide that camping is part of your family’s lifestyle then add to your gear yearly.

If you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors, enjoy a vacation and not spend too much or travel too far then camping in Burlington/Halton is for you.  We had a great time and hope to go again this year if time permits.  If not, next year we will venture out again and add to what we hope will be a lifetime of memories for our family.  

Safe and happy travels to you and your family and don't forget the marshmallows!

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