Sundance Canyon Hike

Recently I visited Banff National Park and stayed there for a few days. The town of Banff is surrounded by mountains in every direction, and there’s something magical about waking up in the morning and being right next to the mountains. It’s also beautiful seeing the sun rise from behind the mountains and with the first rays of sunlight casting an orange glow over the peaks.

One does not simply stay at a national park without going hiking! While most of the trails are located throughout the park and they need to be accessed by a vehicle, there are a few trails that start right from the town. One of these trails was the Sundance Canyon hike, which starts at the Banff Cave and Basins. At the Cave and Basins you can learn about the history of Banff National Park. In fact, Banff was Canada’s first National Park, which was created when three railway workers discovered the hot springs. You can visit the cave and there is a boardwalk outside with plaques providing more information about the thermal hot springs.

The Banff Cave.

The Banff Cave.

The Sundance Canyon trail (which is about 4.3 km one way) begins right at the Cave and Basins and starts out as a paved road which weaves between the forest and along the shore of the Bow River. The views along the river are beautiful, with the peaks of different mountains visible on the north side of the river.

Bow River - Just look at how green the water is.

Bow River – Just look at how green the water is.

The paved road continues on for 2.1 km, and then splits into two trails. The paved road goes to the left, further into the forest, which is the continuation of the Sundance Canyon hike. Taking the non-paved trail to right leads to Healy Creek. The paved path continues for 1.1 km until it stops at the Sundance Canyon Picnic area. There’s an outhouse here, a place to lock bikes, and a fairly large picnic area.

This is also the start to the looped trail which goes along the canyon and comes back through the forest. This is exclusively a hiking trail, and basically what I was expecting the entire trail to look like. The loop is about 1.6 km long, and definitely worth it. While the views were nice along the paved road, they get even better on this trail!

Sundance Canyon trail  by the river.

Sundance Canyon trail by the river.

The Sundance Canyon Loop starts by going along the river and gaining some elevation (maximum elevation gain of 145 m). So it’s definitely not like climbing a mountain, but it feels great regardless. Sundance Canyon reminded me of Johnston Canyon, but it was smaller and much less busy. Occasionally we ran into some people on the trail, but we were on our own for the majority of the time. The second half of the loop was fairly flat and all through the forest. Not as picturesque as the first half, but still nice. There was a beautiful lookout near the end of the forest portion.

A lookout from the Sundance Canyon hiking trail.

A lookout from the Sundance Canyon hiking trail.

On the way back, we decided to take a little detour and go on the Marsh Loop trail, which goes right along the edge of the river.

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View from the end of the Marsh Loop Trail, right before reaching the parking lot.

Here are some more pictures from the hike:

Sundance Canyon trail map. The entire hike is about 4.3 km long, with an option of taking a longer route back through the Marsh Loop.

Sundance Canyon trail map. The entire hike is about 4.3 km long, with an option of taking a longer route back through the Marsh Loop.

Banff Cave and Basins: there used to be a pool here in the past.

Banff Cave and Basins: there used to be a pool here in the past.

The hike starts along the shore of the Bow River.

The hike starts along the shore of the Bow River.

Sundance Canyon Loop: look at the icicles on the logs. Winter is coming.

Sundance Canyon Loop: look at the icicles on the logs. Winter is coming.

This little stone staircase was part of the trail. How cute is that? It feels like something that would be in Lord of the Rings. Maybe Mirkwood Forest?

This little stone staircase was part of the trail. How cute is that? It feels like something that would be in Lord of the Rings. Maybe Mirkwood Forest?

Looking back at where we just climbed.

Looking back at where we just climbed.

Sundance Canyon.

Sundance Canyon.

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Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Bronte Creek Provincial Park is a great place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without committing to an entire camping trip. Located right off highway 403 on the border of Oakville and Burlington, it is less than an hour drive from Toronto, making it the prefect day-trip. The park even offers a camping area for those interested in overnight camping. The campground and the day-use areas of the park are completely separate, therefore it is important to know which are you will be using before arrival.

The day-use area features 4 hiking trails, ranging in length from 1 to 2.7 km. The remnants of last winter’s ice storm was visible along some of the trails, with downed trees here and there, however most of the trails were cleared and easy to access. In addition to the hiking trails the park contains gravel roads and access trails that can be used to get around.

A great place to start is the Lookout Ravine Trail, which runs along the ravine and has an observation point overlooking the ravine and the woods on the other side. This is a great place to see all the leaf colours fall has to offer. The closest parking lots to the Lookout Ravine Trail are Parking A or Parking F. We started at Parking A, and the path at the end of the Lookout Ravine Trail lead directly to the Half Moon Valley Trail. Half Moon Valley was nice trail because it took us down the hill right to the banks of the creek. It was great walking through the forest, and then hiking down to the creek, and walking along the area next to the creek. The last portion of the trail provides great exercise, as there is no option but to hike back up the hill to get to the main road.

There are other trails available, which I did not have the chance to try out yet. A map of the day-use area is available here. The only complaint I have about the park is that the trails and roads are not labelled well. It was confusing getting to any of the trails from the parking lot, and there were a lot of moments when we were lost in the park. Once in a while a trail would lead to a fork in the road, but there were no signs indicating which road would lead to where, and to make things worse, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where you were on the map. On the rare occasion, trails were marked with numbered posts. However, these numbers were not indicated on the map, so it was impossible to know where you were at any one time.

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If hiking is not your thing, there are many seasonal activities available in the park, such as biking, fishing, swimming, bird watching, and cross-country skiing. In addition, the park has a recreation center with a public pool open in the summer months, and a skating rink available in the winter.

If interested in other Ontario Parks and viewing fall leaf colours, the following website has a neat interactive tool that shows how much of the park’s trees have changed their leaf colours, and also shows the peak viewing areas:
http://www.ontarioparks.com/fallcolour

Exploring Western Canada

In July I took a trip over to western Canada and visited some parts of Alberta and British Columbia. (I even made it to the Calgary Stampede!) It is spectacular there, with the different mountain ranges (including the majestic Rocky Mountains), and the beautiful blue/teal coloured lakes. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jealous of the people that live nearby and can experience the beauty that the landscape offers year-round.

In the 2 weeks that I spent there I did get a little taste of the area and all the outdoor activities the area has to offer. I always imagined that one visit would be enough to see the “top sights”, but boy was I wrong. There are so many national parks and hiking trails in the area, it would take multiple trips to be able to visit even a fraction of the places!

View of the mountains from a lookout on the side of the highway.

View of a mountain range from a lookout on the side of the highway.

With these beautiful landscapes, could any drive through the mountains ever become boring? There are plenty of lookout spots on the side of the highway where you can stop for picturesque views. It was definitely a nice break from the drive to stop at the lookouts.

More mountains

More mountains.

There are lots of wildlife in the area as well, so it’s not uncommon to see some animals such as deer on the side of the highway. However, I have yet to see the elusive Canadian moose. Hopefully next time!

Spotted: big horned sheep.

Spotted: big horned sheep.

PS. I’ve got a few more things I’d like to share from my trip, so stay tuned!

Lemoine Point Conservation Area

This summer I have been trying to get outside more to enjoy the warm weather and to explore nature. So I visited a couple of trails and conservation areas nearby that I haven’t been to yet. One of them was Lemoine Point Conservation Area in Kingston.

Lemoine Point is a 15 minute drive from downtown Kingston, located between the Kingston Airport and Collins Bay. It is made up of 136 hectares of land, and has about 11km of hiking trails. Lemoine Point is a quiet and relaxing place, considering that it is located in the middle of the city.

Map of Lemoine Point Conservation Area

Map of Lemoine Point Conservation Area

Lemoine Point is open year-round, from 7:30am until sunset. Summer activities include hiking, cycling, swimming and fishing, while in the winter it is possible to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Overlooking Collins Bay on a beautiful summer day.

Overlooking Collins Bay on a beautiful summer day.

A beautiful place for a picnic.

A beautiful place for a picnic.

You will also encounter some wildlife in the area, such as ducks, squirrels and chipmunks (the usual).

Duck swimming in Collins Bay

Duck swimming in Collins Bay

There's an abundance of chipmunks and squirrels in the area.

There’s an abundance of chipmunks and squirrels in the area.

View from one of the lookout platforms.

View from one of the lookout platforms.

Doors Open Kingston

Last Saturday was Doors Open in Kingston. For those who are unfamiliar, Doors Open is an event where museums and buildings not usually open to the public allow people to visit them for free. Doors Open Ontario events are scheduled on weekends throughout the summer months, running from May-October, and have many participating cities. Check out their website for more information and for participating locations.

I took this opportunity to learn more about Kingston and explore some buildings that I’ve never been to. Most of Kingston’s participating buildings were located near downtown so I managed to visit the following 4 places.

Queen’s University Archives
The Queen’s University Archives is home to a large collection of documents, pictures and media, preserving the history of Queen’s as well as the Kingston area.Their goal is to save items in their original form, as the format these documents come in can tell us a lot about the specific time period. For example, remember cassette tapes? Wonder if they will be completely forgotten about in a few decades. We were given a guided tour of the archives, visited two of their holding rooms and were told a bit about its history.

Murney Tower Museum
Kingston’s harbour is made up of 5 main fortifications, which are Fort Henry, and four Martello towers (Murney Tower, Shoal Tower, Fort Frederick Tower and Cathcart Tower). Murney Tower is a National Historic Sight of Canada and allows visitors to get a glimpse of military life in 19th century Kingston. Another tower that is regularly open to visitors is the Fort Frederick Tower, which is home to the Royal Military College Museum.

Murney Tower Museum

Murney Tower Museum

Bellevue House
This is another National Historic Sight of Canada, and it was the house of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The house has been restored to look as it would during the 1840s, however only a few of the items in the house are original. The staff are dressed in costumes from that time period and are happy to answer any questions.

Tip: If you eat at Sir John’s Public House, located at 343 King St E, in Kingston, and your bill is over $25, then you can get free admission to Bellevue House.

Bellevue House

Bellevue House

Guest room of Bellevue House

Guest room of Bellevue House

Canada’s Penitentiary Museum
The Penitentiary Museum shares the history of Canada’s penitentiaries. The museum sits right across the street from Kingston Penitentiary, and the house used to be the Warden’s residence. There are 8 rooms in total showing visitors the stories, artifacts and programs that have been a part of Canada’s penitentiaries throughout the years.

Canada's Penitentiary Museum

Canada’s Penitentiary Museum

Overlooking Kingston Penitentiary

Overlooking Kingston Penitentiary

Exploring north of Kingston

Kingston, Ontario is a lovely city. Many buildings in Kingston are built out of limestone, giving it the nickname ‘Limestone City’. Kingston also has a beautiful waterfront, where Lake Ontario meets with the Rideau Canal and the St. Lawrence River. On Saturdays there is a farmer’s market downtown, and an antique’s market on Sundays. There are plenty of beautiful heritage buildings to see, and a large selection of restaurants. But there are also a number of little towns nearby that are worth exploring.

A good place to get ideas and start planning activities for the day is at the Visitor Information Center located right downtown. They are very knowledgeable and helpful in providing ideas and helping you make your stay enjoyable. It is also a good place to go to get a map of Kingston and the surrounding areas. This is must for a road trip, after all, where would we be without our trusted map? Another handy thing for a day of exploring is bottled water. The Visitor Information Center sells water for $1/bottle. That’s the cheapest bottled water I know of in Kingston, so it is worth a mention. Now on to the road trip!

Road Trip Map

Road Trip Map

1st stop: Kingston Mills Lockstation
The Rideau Canal runs all the way from Kingston to Ottawa, and along the canal there are a total of 49 lockstations to allow the passage of boats through the different levels of the river. Driving north from Kingston, the first set of lockstations encountered are the three located at the Kingston Mills. On a warm sunny day there will most likely be boats crossing through the locks, which is always an interesting sight. The area is surrounded by greenery and it’s a nice place for a picnic.

2nd stop: Westport
Westport is a village on the Upper Rideau Lake. It’s nice to stroll through the village and explore the banks of the lake. It is also fairly quiet and relaxing sitting by the harbour and looking out at the lake. It seems to be a popular stop for boaters too, because the harbour was packed with boats. Westport was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

3rd stop: Perth
Perth is a picturesque town with beautiful heritage buildings and lots of parks and greenery.

Day Trip to Wolfe Island

Once in a while it’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but that’s not always easy to do without a car. Luckily for me, Wolfe Island is just a short ferry ride away.

Wolfe Island is the largest of the Thousand Islands and is located on Lake Ontario, at the entrance of the St. Lawrence river, near Kingston. The island is made up of rural farmlands, but there are a couple of communities as well, the largest being Marysville. There are a number of things to do on Wolfe island, such as biking, going to the beach, bird watching, exploring Marysville, the corn maze, as well as a number of festivals during certain times of the year!

However, since the island is huge, a mode of transportation is required to get around. This time, I chose a tandem bike! Ahoy Rentals located on the Kingston waterfront is an excellent place to go for daily bike rentals. For the more adventurous, they also provide canoe, kayak and sailboat rentals. After getting our bike, we rode a short way to the ferry dock.  The ferry leaves approximately every hour, and is free. The ferry schedule is available here. As a pedestrian/bicyclist you can walk on to the ferry easily, so there’s no need to be there super early, but if you plan on taking your car to the island, it’s not a bad idea to be at least half an hour early to make sure you get a spot. The ferry takes about 20 minutes to reach Wolfe Island.

Off we go! Leaving the dock.

Off we go! Leaving the dock.

There are 4 cycling routes on Wolfe Island, each of them are of different lengths, allowing you to see a different aspect of the island. A map of all the routes is available here. The route we chose for this trip was the Extension to Big Sandy Bay. Biking from the Marysville dock all the way to Big Sandy Bay was approximately 10km one way.

Tandem Bike!

Tandem Bike!

Big Sandy Bay is a large conservation area, with a 1.3 km trail through wetlands and woodlands, leading to a secluded beach. It is also home to many birds, rare trees and rare species of plants. It is open all year round, and admission fees for the summer are $9 for adults arriving by car and $7 for adults arriving by bike. Just another incentive for biking!

Big Sandy Bay hiking trail

Big Sandy Bay hiking trail

Birdwatching

Birdwatching

Unfortunately the water level was high and the weather was a bit cold, so it wasn’t possible to go swimming that day. However, it was a very nice place for a picnic. After another 10km bike ride back to Marysville, it was time to treat ourselves with ice cream and take the ferry back to Kingston. Overall, it was the prefect day trip!

Big Sandy Bay beach with high tide

The beach with high tide

As I mentioned earlier, there are many other things to do on Wolfe Island, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to explore it some more in the future and write about it here!

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Kingston Waterfront from the ferry

Kingston Waterfront from the ferry

 

Springtime in Kingston

The weather is getting much warmer, the trees and flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer, and the mayflies are out. This is a sure sign that spring has arrived and is here to stay!

Kingston is beautiful in the spring! The blue skies against the historic limestone buildings, and the sweet smell of flowers in the air. Walking outside on any sunny day makes me wish I had my camera with me so I could take some pictures. I suppose having a beautiful campus helps too.

Hopefully I can get lots of photography practice over the summer. So, here are a few pictures I took of Queen’s University over the past weekend.

Queen's University Campus

Queen’s University Campus

Queen's University Campus

Queen’s University Campus

Ontario Hall, Queen's University

Ontario Hall, Queen’s University

Grant Hall, Queen's Univeristy

Grant Hall, Queen’s Univeristy

Nicol Hall, Queen's University

Nicol Hall, Queen’s University

Miller Hall, Queen's University

Miller Hall, Queen’s University

 

Christmas Display

2014. It’s a new year. The holidays are over. It’s time to get back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Time to start working on our new year’s resolutions. But it’s not too late to look back at the holidays.

One of the things I enjoy doing during the winter holidays is visiting the Christmas display in downtown Toronto. Every December, The Bay on Queen street decorates their storefront windows with decorations telling a Christmas story. The display is accompanied by music and gets you in the festive mood. The displays are popular and surrounded by many people during all times of the day. It makes for a nice break from all the shopping accompanying the holidays.

Caroling.

Caroling.

Christmas Display at The Bay on Queen Street

Christmas display at The Bay on Queen street

 

Moment of Clarity

The elusive moment of clarity. As a university student, this is something I am constantly looking for. With the number of assignments and projects that must be completed in a semester, sometimes it feels like life is all about going from one moment of clarity to another.

At the first look, every project seems like a large intimidating brick wall standing in the path to your final goal. In order to conquer that brick wall, you arm yourself with knowledge. Knowledge from lectures, textbooks, and other resources. This background knowledge is the small tool that you can use to chip away at that wall. The knowledge is cloudy so it’s a slow process, but it still works. Eventually the wall gets thinner and brings hope that victory is near!

Just when progress is being made, the unthinkable happens. You realize that your tool becomes useless against that brick wall. You are so close yet so far away. The problem has become immune, causing you to be at a standstill. Stuck. This is when panic sets in as you realize that the deadline is inching closer and closer, yet all progress has ceased due to that brick wall in your way. Panic is accompanied by frustration. A number of different approaches are used to try and break down the problem. To break down that wall.

At the very last second, that moment of clarity makes its appearance. Everything falls into place nicely and it all makes sense! You realize that a small error or misstep was what was preventing the problem from being solved. The moment of clarity allows the wall to be torn down completely. It is followed by relief and joy. The rest of the road is smooth sailing to the finish line. Bam! That task that initially appeared like a large menacing dragon turned out to be a small friendly puppy.

Unfortunately the joy of completion of one project is short lived, as there is another project waiting for you. And the cycle continues.

As I write this, I am still looking for that moment of clarity for my final project that is due in a week. Anytime now…