Tent camping with the dog sounds like a good idea … until it isn’t.
Last spring we headed north – not extremely north, just to Pancake Bay Park an hour’s drive from Sault St Marie, Ontario, Canada for a two-day camping trip. Pancake Bay has a dog exercise area, several miles of trails and a dog beach. A dog beach! Perfect.
Pancake Bay Provincial Park also has yurts – permanent tent-like structures with cots, heaters and electricity. However, dogs are not allowed in the yurts. Not perfect.
My dog can stay at the Four Seasons, the Ritz Carlton and The Weston – and enjoy a doggie room service menu at the latter – but he can’t stay in a yurt at any Ontario Provincial Park. We’ve complained about this before (see here).
Pancake Bay, like anywhere outside, is best experienced with your pup so camping it is and I packed the car with the best intentions. I don’t own an RV – I needed a tent, a sleeping bag (affiliate link), bug spray and an air mattress (affiliate link). Or at least that’s what it said when I Googled ‘how to camp.’ I bought the gear, listened to some advice, and headed out determined to experience life outside my comfort zone. Or any comfort.
What could go wrong?
Well … late spring anywhere north of Toronto is cold, especially at night. Waking up to 4 degrees above freezing meant it was even colder during the sleeping hours. My little cocker-cross Victor isn’t a cuddler – but he was that night. I brought his flannel jammies (yes, he has a pair) to keep is aging joints warm and added his outdoor jacket. I curled up around him on our air mattress covered with all the blankets and towels I brought (not many).
Then I zipped the sleeping bag over our heads – it was that cold – and my dog farted. Of course.
It was a long cold uncomfortable night.
In the morning, we woke chilled to the bone and covered in a damp layer of dew … I knew what I had to do.
Our camping group (those without dogs who stayed in yurts), met up at the nearby Voyageur’s Lodge & Cookhouse for breakfast. Log-cabin furniture, historic images of river voyages, and canoes define the décor at this motel-style accommodation with restaurant specializing in whitefish dinners, gift store, home-made apple dumplings and a gas station.
I was on a mission and it wasn’t breakfast: “Please tell me you have a room available tonight,” I pleaded at the front desk. “Two left,” he said. “One dog-friendly.”
Night two of my first camping trip with the dog ever was spent in a quirky log cabin themed hotel room. We loved it. Even my dog, after an introductory olfactory tour of the room with two beds, couch, and mini fridge, stared at me with eyes that said, “now this is more like it.”
Camping for the first time? Learn from my mistakes. Here’s what you need to know:
- Stay warm. Shoulder seasons get cold, and sometimes so do summer nights. Take an extra blanket, or better yet, buy a sleeping bag designed for below freezing temperatures (check the temperature rating. I didn’t). Let your dog crawl in. He’s a great heater.
- Stay off the ground. Placing a tarp underneath the tent is a good idea and I did, but the ground was extremely damp, and I needed more. A very thick air mattress is mandatory – a fold-out cot even better.
- Stay close to the dog beach. Select your campsite prior to arriving if possible. Pitching your tent close to the dog-friendly zones makes for easier play. For instance, Pancake Bay is parallel to Highway 17 and our campsite was a narrow strip of trees away from the road – we were within earshot of traffic. Also, I had to drive to the dog beach, which kind of beat the purpose of being in the great outdoors.
- Stay close to your dog. Parks require dogs be leashed (but weren’t extremely strict at the site). I use a harness with my dog to eliminate pulling on the collar, especially during wooded walks. A carabiner is a lifesaver – I use it to clip the leash to my belt loop for hands-free walking or to a pole when needed. Carabiners should be mandatory on leashes.
- Stay at a lodge. Ultimately, the cold, damp and far away showers didn’t suit me, so I got a room. My dog couldn’t have been happier curled up on the bed at The Voyageur’s Lodge & Cookhouse, a pet-friendly rustic-themed hotel a six-minute drive from Pancake Bay Provincial Park. When camping, keep the number of the nearest pet-friendly accommodation in your back pocket – just in case. My dog was glad I did. So was I.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Both The Voyageur’s Lodge & Cookhouse and Pancake Bay Provincial Park are within easy driving distance of Lake Superior Provincial Park home to Agawa Rock Pictographs – centuries-old red ochre images drawn on rock faces by Ojibwa shawmans. Defining the region is spectacular Group of Seven inspiring vistas and lakeside trails (many former Voyageur portage routes).
Dogs love outdoors, beaches, trails, waterfalls – Katherine Cove and Old Woman Bay are both ideal picnics stops, and Sand River is an easy walk to the edge of photo worthy rapids.
Read about our Chutes Falls Provincial Park adventure here.