May is birdwatching month at Point Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario. Birders flock (yes, I said it) to this mostly marshland conservation area. I’m here with my dog Victor days before the ornithology season starts.
Yet there are binocular-carrying bird-enthusiasts here already.
I’m not interested in spotting rare species, but I do love anywhere I can take my dog – whether the birders like it or not. (Birders often don’t like dogs).
Point Pelee National Park, and its checkered history, is stop number four of our 2017 quest to visit at least one Parks Canada site each month this year – thanks to our free 150 Pass distributed in honour of the country’s sesquicentennial.
Day one is unseasonably mild. Day two is unseasonably cool. Alas, it’s the perfect combination to test my new Fjällräven lightweight jacket and determine its ‘dog hiking’ compatibility.
Fjällräven Canada sent me a burnt umber Women’s Raven jacket in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links are in blue.
Fjällräven is a Swedish company now in Canada and distributing outdoor active ware and backpacks at quality stores such as Nordstrom. I selected this style because of the durable canvas material and pockets – four front pockets and an inside zippered one offer room for poop bags, a collapsible water dish, water bottle and random treats mandatory during any long hike.
First, Dog-friendly Point Pelee National Park.
Day one (the warmer day) we park at the Visitor’s Centre, the auto endpoint of a paved road leading from the Point Pelee’s entrance along this peninsula’s shoreline. At the Visitor’s Centre, we (yes, the dog too) ride a shuttle 2.5 km to the 42 degree North latitude point. Then a half kilometre walk gets us to the beach – just south of the 43 parallel, a point in line with Northern California and parts of the Mediterranean. It’s mainland Canada’s southernmost tip.
Sounds balmy, right?
Not today. It’s windy (though not penetrating my Fjällräven jacket), waves are rough and the sun isn’t intense enough to warm the sand.
I’ve stood at the Southernmost point of the U.S. in Key West, Florida and now, I stand at the Southernmost tip of Canada. They’re not the same.
But where Key West has views of Cuba, Point Pelee has views of Ohio … very distant views.
This Point is bird migration central, along with a killer undertow – literally. Don’t go in the water and don’t let the dogs in. People have drowned here.
Otherwise, it’s a beautiful view of Lake Erie. The hard-packed path from the shuttle drop-off point to the actual point is an easy walk. (Of course, there’s a leash rule and pick-up-the-poop policy).
In fact, most of the park’s eight trails – 14 kilometres in total – are hard packed, some gravel and easy to follow. Victor has no problem running along and crossing bridges over marshes, ponds and even former canals near the 1830 DeLaurier Homestead (where my favourite trail starts). The historic house is a restored reminder of pioneer days when most of this land was orchards.
The park does a good job of documenting its somewhat controversial past, long before conservation reclamation in the 1970s. Prior to that, this land was hunted, fished, clear-cut for ship lumber, farmed by homesteaders and, in the 1960s, over-run by cars and vacation properties. Most of those cottages were removed in the 1970s, and nature (in a new form) reestablished itself among the evidence of human interference.
Also, two-thirds of the park is marshland – hence the bird populations. Yet even this can – and must – be experienced.
Start with the view.
Beside the marsh boardwalk is a 12-metre high viewing tower, which Victor happily climbs but is disappointed when he encounters nothing but wind at the top. He also willing follows me along the boardwalk – a weaving path of wood elevated over the marshland. During a 20 to 30 minute walk, we experience what’s it’s like to be fully encompassed in a marsh. Note two thirds of the way along, the railing disappears. Then it’s just high reeds separating us from the water.
Bring a long camera lens.
If your dog likes to swim, you might be ‘fishing’ him out at this point. Fortunately, Victor doesn’t – he also doesn’t like canoes. Those can be rented May to September for a more authentic tour of the wetlands.
Point Pelee is an extremely popular National Park, so the spring and fall shoulder seasons are ideal times to visit and few people object to Victor being his adventure loving self. At times, we had trails to ourselves.
Yes, dogs can go in the educational Visitor’s Centre and on the shuttle to the point. Picnics tables and shelters are throughout the park but there’s no camping. Private campsites exist in the region, along with cottage rentals and B&Bs, though few allow dogs. We ‘pupped out’ of rustic accommodations and end up at the pet-friendly Talbot Trail Inn and Suites motel in town. Very basic accommodations, but not camping.
Good enough place to hang our jackets … ok, more about that next.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Point Pelee National Park is located in Leamington, Ontario in Essex County about 60 kilometres from Windsor. Almost 400 species of migrating birds stop here annually. There’s 14 kilometres of walking trails, including a marshland boardwalk.
The park is home to mainland Canada’s southern-most point, more at-risk species than any other national park in the country and Canada’s only naturally occurring population of endangered eastern prickly pear cactus, according to National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of Canada (available on Amazon – affiliate link) – a highly recommended guide.
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