I get excited about summer. Living in the West Coast means that we have the best kind of summer, in my humble opinion. We have the long daylight hours without the baggage.
Most visitors come to Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territory for one thing and one thing only: to see the northern lights. Its location on the 60th parallel (sub-arctic), flatness, and lakes makes it one of the best places in the world to see the auroras.
As seeing the northern lights is an exclusively nighttime activity, I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything to do during the day, Yellowknife being a small (20.000 people) and remote town. Fortunately we heeded the advice of our host and came in March when the temperature is milder (usually I wouldn’t call -23F ‘mild’ but it’s all relative) and there’s enough daylight to do stuff around town.
The Snowking Winter Festival
Each year in March, the Snowking and his helpers build a snowcastle on Yellowknife Bay. Like the name suggests, it’s a castle made completely of ice and snow. The snowcastle acts as a venue for local bands and performers in weekend evenings. During the day, the castle is open for visitors.
The highlight of our visit was the giant slide made completely of ice. SO.MUCH.FUN. So fun we had to elbow kids out of the way. That alone made it worth the $5 admission.
Surrounding the snowcastle are colorful houseboats, stuck in the frozen lake water for the time being like M&M’s on vanilla frosting.
Driving on the ice road
For you guys who are used to super cold weather, this might not seem like a big deal. But for us, the fact that whole lakes can freeze solid, so solid that trucks can drive on them, is just wild. We’re talking BIG trucks too – did I mention this is where the TV show, Ice Road Truckers, was filmed?
Of course we had to check to make sure that we just won’t randomly collapse into the lake by stomping and jumping on the ice as hard as we can. And pushing it very firmly with our hands. Very scientific-like.
We also got a kick out of this:
Eating northern specialty seafood at Bullocks Bistro
Bullocks Bistro serves arctic char, pickerel, trout and other locally sourced fish. The menu is simple, “Do you want your fish deep fried, pan fried, or grilled?” and at $30+ per plate, it’s not cheap. But nothing in Yellowknife is.
Despite the price, the restaurant had a casual, ‘old town’ atmosphere that we enjoyed. It could get crazy busy though.
And of course there’s the snow.
The crunch of dry snow beneath our feet and the blinding whiteness that filled our vision wherever we looked were our constant companions.
Not surprisingly with all of this snow, dog sledding and snowmobiling is a popular activity for visitors. However, we opted for something lower budget: we bundled up in as many layers as we could and played in the snow,
we went hiking up to the Pilot’s Monument to get a great view of the town (and more snow!),
and walked all over.
Life in this town is so vastly different than what we’re used to everything was novel and exciting in our eyes: the snow (so much!), the cold (so cold!), the bush planes, the ice roads… even the license plate!
Spring time is a fun time to visit Yellowknife. The harsh winter is behind and sunshine is aplenty while the northern lights graze the night sky.
It takes a special kind of toughness and hardiness to live this far north. I don’t think we’d make it a year. How about you?
There’s something absurd, and some might even say insane, about the whole endeavor of chasing the northern lights.
Sometime last year we became obsessed with the idea of climbing the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. This summer, we made it happen. We got ourselves a couple of housesitters (fellow travel bloggers, @nevendingvoyage), kissed the cats goodbye, and stuffed the content of our closet into 4 backpacks, and took off to Montana.
The hike up Parker Ridge in the Canadian Rockies is one of our favorite day hikes in the area. A favorite because it offers so much for so little time.
When I first heard about Velo Volant, a newly built attraction located in Quebec Eastern Township, admittedly I was skeptical. The premise sounds intriguing from the start:
“Be one of the first to soar through the treetops on a suspended recumbent bicycle…”
This canopy cycle was such a new concept (there are only 3 in the world so far) there was little information I could find online. I didn’t quite know what to expect.
True enough to its tagline, I learned that VeloVolant allows you to pedal a bike-like contraption through the forest canopy… while being suspended up to 100 ft high above the ground.
I eyed the cable suspiciously. Would it be strong enough to hold my weight? I was assured it’s strong enough to hold 5 cars.
From an engineering point of view, the installation of Velo Volant trail system was interesting in itself. Guy-wires attached to trees are used to suspend the cable in place as the it winds through the forest canopy. In places where the trail turns a corner, bent steel plates guide the wire, and in return the bike.
The trail was relatively flat and pedaling was easy.
So easy that many times I found myself racing through the trees, banking corners, and trying to pedal as fast as I could. Branches flew by me in a blur on my left and right. The ground is so far below I stopped worrying about it soon enough. I could hear Jeremy, the owner/guide, shouting at me from behind to slow down, ‘It’s not a race! You’re supposed to relax and enjoy.’
Looking down to the forest floor from such a height was a thrilling experience. Once I get used to the sensation of pedaling through the air (and learned to slow down), I found it completely relaxing.
When I closed my eyes, I could hear the rustling of the leaves, the birds, as I swayed along with the breeze. It felt like being on a hammock. So relaxing the only worry about falling asleep is to fall out of the bike (don’t worry, it has a seatbelt).
I had never experienced anything quite like this and was admittedly smitten by its novelty. I couldn’t help but thinking that somebody needs to build the skyscraper version where you can bike among tall buildings. It would be really cool.
Would you go on a ride on the flying bike?
Length: 1km, or 30 min ride
Address: 169 Staines, Glen Sutton, QC
Not recommended for: those who are afraid of height (d’oh)
Note: I was a guest of Au Diable Vert
After spending some time in canoeing and kayaking in Ontario’s wilderness I headed to Quebec Eastern Townships for a road trip. I was really looking forward to a few days of just me and the open road, driving past cute villages and beautiful scenery.
Only 2 hours north of Toronto lies Ontario’s most pristine wilderness. I was invited with a few of other travel bloggers to experience ‘a sampler’ of this wilderness. It was a much needed escape from city living.
When I found myself in a canoe, paddling in along in Algonquin Park, one of the Canada’s largest and most well known provincial parks, I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘This is so… Canadian!‘ I’ve always associated ‘Canada’ with ‘canoe’ (along with moose, beavers, maple leaves, and universal health care).
Algonquin Provincial Park is just a couple of hours’ drive from Torono and Ottawa. The wilderness heart of this 3000 sq-mile park is accessible only by foot or by canoe. Algonquin Park is truly a haven for those looking to get away from it all. It is possible to spend days out there without seeing other people.
In a way, you can say that Algonquin Park is made for canoeists with maps clearly marked with canoe routes, designated campground and portages.
A canoe glides noiselessly across the mirror-like watery surface
The silence is broken only by the wind rustling among the reeds and the ocassional squawk of birds or loons.
In my case, the silence is broken by Aaron and I arguing.
My friend Aaron and I shared a canoe and we were having problem making it go the way we wanted to. With the wind and the current, we zig zagged our way along Hailstorm Creek, getting stranded at every single clump of floating island we encounter.
“Aaron!” – I hissed. “We need to go right. Right, Aaron!” apparently he couldn’t see the clump of mud straight ahead that I’m trying to avoid.
I heard the clang of his paddle against the canoe.
“Ssssh! – I hissed again. “You’ll scare away the moose!”
I heard him hiss back, “I’m trying, Jill! Stop sushing me!”
I felt a thud as we ran the canoe straight onto the mud island.
“S*it! Not again!”
The hardest thing about canoeing, I learned, is going in a straight line.
This is Jerry, our guide telling us, “You are supposed to go around the floating island. Not into it.”
(No, just kidding. He could’ve. But he was too nice. He was actually telling us how in a few short weeks, the whole river will be lined with flowering water lilies and how pretty it would be.)
I wonder if all of the banging and the yelling was what scared away the moose that supposedly frequent the area.
Your chance of seeing a moose is highest in Algonquin Park than anywhere else in Canada. On the way to the lake, we saw 11! So I wasn’t too upset that we didn’t see any on our canoe trip. Instead I simply enjoyed the sensation of gliding across the surface of the water.
There’s something therapeutic, almost meditative really about canoeing. It’s the lack of noise I think. If done right (aka, not what we were doing) canoes can be eerily quiet on the water.
Algonquin Park: A water wonderland
In Algonquin, the option for multiday canoeing trip is virtually limitless. When I was shown the map of the area, I couldn’t stop gawking. Hundreds of navigable lakes and rivers form a 1,200 mi long interconnected system of canoe routes. So many endless possibilities, so little time.
At the end of the day, Aaron and I made it back to the water taxi without further complications (yay!). As bonus points we spotted a couple of loons, a bald eagle, and a strange island that has been over taken by cormorants.
Strange because all of the trees on the island have been killed off by the acidic waste of the cormorants.
I’d love to give multi-day canoe trip a try someday, maybe during the Fall when the maple leaves turn into this crazy display of orange and red against the blue color of the lake and the sky.
And hopefully with less cursing and less zig zagging.
Have you ever gone canoeing before? Would you go out in the wilderness for days on a canoe?
In a few days I’ll be heading up north to learn a little bit more about the great neighbor of ours: Canada. To be more specific, the Ontario and Quebec regions.
Ontario: Explorer’s Edge
Explorers’ Edge is the Ontario region of Algonquin Park, the Almaguin Highlands, Muskoka and Parry Sound. On this trip, I’ll be exploring this wilderness area, 2 hours north of Toronto, by every possible means:
– On a mountain bike
– On a paddle board olong the Muskoka River
– On a canoe exploring Hailstorm Creek in Algonquin Park
– On an ATV on trails around Parry Sound
– On a sea kayak around Georgian Bay
It will be 3 days of water and dirt activities. It should be fun. Kate from Explorer’s Edge assured me that we have a good chance of running into wild moose near the park, which I really hope would happen. Not in the literal sense of course. That would be bad. For us.
Afterwards I’ll be making my way to Montreal by train where I’ll be picking up a rental car. It’s roadtrip time!
Quebec’s Eastern Township region
Quebec’s Eastern Township, or ‘Cantons-des-l’Est’ as it’s known by French inhabitants, is known for its collection of picturesque villages that dot the rolling countryside. There lakes and mountains that promise an abundance of outdoor activities.
It will be a 4 day road adventures of off-key singing, horse back riding, hiking, canoeing, sleeping in cute B&B’s all with a beautiful country scenery as a backdrop. Just my kind of road trip.
In case you’re curious about where the Eastern Township is located, the map below should give you an idea. It’s about 1 hour east of Montreal and stretches all the way to the Vermont and New Hampshire borders.
The Cities: Toronto and Montreal
After all the activities in the countryside and the wilderness, the cities would make for a nice change of pace. Other than to attend TBEX (a travel conference), I don’t have any plans for the cities just yet. I’ll be Couchsurfing and AirBnb-ing and I’m hoping my hosts would provide some tips on what to do in town.
Maybe you have suggestions?
It seems that every year we end up with some sort of a theme to our travel. Last year, the theme was water (lots of beaches and at one occasion, hundreds of whale sharks).
We’ll be crossing the Canadian border at least 3 times this year, so it seems that this year’s theme will be ‘Canada’.
I think it will be awesome and we’re off to a good start. Don’t you agree?
Ontario and Quebec Adventure
These experiences are partially hosted by Explorer’s Edge and Quebec Tourism.