A Classic Summer Beach Vacation
By Michele Peterson
Photos: Judy Hammond and Ontario Parks
Does your teen think the perfect summer vacation means shopping malls, video games and Facebook? Then it’s time to pack the camping gear and head south
Located a three hour drive from Ottawa on the northern shores of Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County, Sandbanks Provincial Park offers enough fun to entice even the most city-bound teen.
With a stretch of white sand so spectacular it’s known as Ontario’s Riviera, this natural playground offers an unplugged pace with the simple pleasures of campfires, canoeing and lazing on the beach. Here’s the lowdown on your teen’s next fave place.
Camping builds confidence
Before you even leave home, get your teen involved in choosing the campsite online, checking the weather forecast and plotting your driving route rest stops. A visit to Mountain Equipment Co-op or a local sporting goods store to shop for camping equipment will help build excitement and get them engaged in planning. Younger teens will enjoy exploring the time machine on the Camp 24 website (www.campsite24.ca), an interactive resource offering an introduction to Ontario Parks’ geological, aboriginal, early pioneer and modern history.
Upon arrival, a few survival skills go a long way in adding to your teen’s camping independence and confidence. When you check-in at the Park Office, ask for extra maps, details on park events and about poison ivy or other hazards.
Teenagers love building fires, so keep older teens busy collecting firewood, lighting and tending the campfire. Pitching a tent is another “Survivorman” skill that will last a lifetime. When it comes to cooking, encourage your teen to host an evening s’mores event or, as they build confidence with their outdoor culinary skills, plan and cook a meal. A grocery store is a 20-minute drive away in Picton.
Cycling is an ideal way to begin exploring Sandbanks Provincial Park’s 1,509 hectares (3,729 acres). Teens can pedal (in pairs or groups for safety) the Woodland Trail, an easy, traffic-free, five-kilometre (3.1-mile) trail, which begins at Outlet Beach, passing through Woodland Campground, treed areas and pastures, to end at powdery Dunes Beach at West Lake.
When it’s time to cool off, they’ll enjoy channeling their inner Huck Finn with an excursion on a canoe, kayak or paddleboat on the sleepy Outlet River. Personal flotation devices are available to borrow at the Outlet River Wood Lot and boat rental facility for a refundable deposit of $25 and
must be worn, even if your teen is an excellent swimmer. As they paddle their watercraft, they won’t even notice they’re getting an education on the great outdoors. Sandbanks Provincial Park attracts many birds such as marsh wren, swamp sparrow and pileated woodpecker as well as butterflies and the rare musk turtle.
Although Sandbanks has many inland attractions, its most irresistible summertime appeal is the beach. Home to the world’s largest freshwater sandbars, this seemingly endless stretch of golden sand offers bikini-ready waters for swimming, wave action for body surfing and impromptu games of beach volleyball or Frisbee on Lake Ontario. On windy or cool days, West Lake offers warmer and calmer waters, but you need a vehicle to get there.
Just steps from Lake Ontario is the Parks Store, a favourite hangout for the young-at-heart of all ages. Pick up fixings for s’mores, popcorn for the campfire or enjoy an ice cream. It makes a perfect midday break or spot to wind up to a day of fun in the sun. Who knows, maybe your teen will meet their next BFF–best friend forever– over a frozen slush treat.
You’re never too grown-up for a game of hide and seek. Geocaching is a treasure hunt you can do anywhere in the world. Just input the Sandbanks postal code K0K 2T0 into the Geocaching website (www.geocaching.com) and see how many caches are hidden in the area. Registration is free.
Another fun option is the Nature Shoppe, operated by the Friends of Sandbanks Park. Located within the Visitor Centre and open daily throughout the summer, it sells souvenirs, clothing and gift items. Teens can also learn about environmental protection and sustainable tourism while they spend their hard-earned babysitting money or allowance.
The fun doesn’t stop at sundown
Evening theatre, workshops and historical re-enactments take place during special park events throughout the camping season. For a flashback to the 50s, the Mustang Drive-In theatre in Picton makes a fun evening out for the whole family. Sign up for their newsletter online and get the latest news on movies—from Harry Potter to summer classics—plus the scoop on all-nighters and admission.
The natural setting and simplicity of camping offers a welcome escape from today’s hectic and high-tech lifestyle. No matter if you go for a quick beach getaway or a longer stay, camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park is sure to make special summertime memories for your teen. No Nintendo needed!
If You Go:
• Official Ontario Parks website:
• Friends of Sandbanks:
• Official Prince Edward County Tourism:
• Mustang Drive-In:
Camping Reservations 101
Campsites: Scoring a tent or trailer campsite at Sandbanks, one of Canada’s most popular campgrounds, takes advance planning. The park has 549 campsites but the occupancy rate in July and August is 95 per cent. Bookings are accepted five months in advance of your arrival date, so don’t wait until the last minute. Consult Ontario Parks reservation website and search by date, individual campgrounds and individual sites.
The most popular campgrounds are Outlet Sector A and Woodlands Campground (new hydro sites). Campsites directly on the beach overlooking Lake Ontario offer stunning views but limited shade or privacy. Cedars Campground campsites are set in a wooded area (watch for poison ivy) with more shade and privacy.
Cottages: Another option to consider, if you want the outdoor experience without roughing it, are one of the Ontario Parks Roofed Accommodations. This collection of yurts, rustic cabins and cottages are located in select parks. Visit www.ontarioparks.com/english/roofed.html or
call 888 668-7275.
In Sandbanks Provincial Park there are two roofed options. Jacques Cottage, a charming heritage home overlooking the water, offers seclusion and plenty of space for growing teens. Maple Rest Heritage House is a fully-equipped four bedroom, four bath Victorian home, with a screened-in porch, that sleeps eight.