Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: July 2019
Charleston Lake is located in South Eastern Ontario, just north of the St. Lawrence River. The rocky lake and surrounding forest area are an extension of the Canadian Shield, one of the largest and oldest geologic continental shields in the world. The shores as well as the islands of this lake are a mix between private property and the provincial park. Nevertheless, it is one of the best provincial parks in Ontario that is relatively close to Toronto for fishing, swimming, boating and camping.
The park offers a variety of accommodations, including just over 200 campsites spread across three campgrounds, 10 interior campsites that require you to hike or paddle to reach your site, 4 yurts, and one rustic cabin for those that want a bit more comfort. We are always up for a challenge, so we booked one of the farthest interior campsites located on Covey’s Gap.
Day 1: The paddle in
We had a slow start to our morning because yours truly stayed out a little bit longer after softball to celebrate another victory with the team. There might have been some tequila shots and karaoke involved. We arrived at Charleston Lake shortly after 2p.m and checked in at the Gatehouse to collect our campsite permit. We then drove to the Discovery Centre to pick up the key for the canoe (it was waiting down at the canoe launch), paddles, and life jackets. We then drove to the canoe launch to start our journey in the water. It’s about 100m or so walk from the parking lot to the canoe launch.
It was hot and humid outside and there was a heat warning in effect, so it was nice to be out on the water. It would have been even better to be in the water. We used that as motivation to get to our campsite. It took us just over an hour and a bit for us to reach our site at 509 on Covey’s Gap. It was a nice paddle in as the water was relatively calm. There were an insane amount of these mini algae blooms that we passed on the journey to our campsite. Algae blooms have been an issue recently in some of the lakes in Ontario and can be quite harmful as they can deplete oxygen levels and release toxins into the water. So that was particularly alarming.
It was a little unclear where to park our canoe to get out, but we found a shallow area and managed to drag the canoe out of the water while trying to avoid the algae blooms that formed in the little cove.
Our site came equipped with three elevated tent platforms, but only two could be used to pitch your tent onto as a picnic table was on the other one. We pitched our tent on the middle of the three elevated platforms. The site was definitely private, but didn’t provide as good a view overlooking the lake as some of the earlier interior sites that we passed along the way.
Immediately after setting up our tent, we changed into our bathing suits and went for a swim in the lake to cool down. Swimming is the only tolerable way to beat the heat. We entered the water at the large rocks where the signpost for our site and the site next to us was located. The quality of the water seemed better here (i.e. no algae blooms). Plus, you could just push off the rocks rather than wade through all the weeds in the water.
Once we dried off, we went for a short canoe ride a bit further past our campsite.
Once we got back, we made tacos for dinner in the fading daylight. As soon as the sun completely set, we retired to the tent as a certain someone was quite tired from the night before. Plus, the mosquitos were out in full force.
Day 2: The paddle around
Neither of us got a very good night of sleep as it was quite hot and humid outside. The forecast was calling for some rain overnight, so we slept with the fly on our tent, which made matters worse. Turns out it didn’t actually rain. Either way, we were happy to get out of the tent in the morning and spend the day in and around the water.
After eating some breakfast (which consisted of scrambled eggs), we canoed back to the canoe launch. Midway through our journey the wind picked up, and unfortunately we were going against it. And we still had the hardest part to come: crossing the lake to the other side. Usually when it’s rockin’ and rollin’ on the water we hug the shoreline as it offers a bit more protection. Plus, if you tip over, it’s easier to flip the canoe around when it’s shallow and scamper back in. At this point, we were committed. Turning back wasn’t an option. Especially since we needed to refill our water bottles.
And to make matters worse, K accidentally knocked his sunglasses into the water while swatting away a deer fly (these suckers were unrelenting … even out on the water). We searched the water for a few minutes in the hopes that they would float. They didn’t.
Once we returned to the canoe launch, we locked our canoe up and walked over to our car. We decided to start the day off with a few hikes before the heat kicked in. Besides, this gave our arms time to recover from the intense canoeing to get back to shore.
We parked our car at the parking lot located between Beech Woods Trail and Hemlock Ridge Trail. The trailhead to both these hikes is a mere few steps from the parking lot. We started off along Beech Woods Trail (1.8km loop, rated easy). The path was relatively flat and wound through a forest of (as the name suggests) Beech trees, providing much relief from the sun.
After looping back to the trailhead, we stopped at the car to drink some water before hiking along the Hemlock Ridge Trail (1.7km loop, rated moderate). This trail meanders through the forest to reach the hemlocks and a marshy area.
By the time we wrapped up we were sufficiently sweaty and hungry. The temperature was 30°C (40°C with the humidex). We drove over to the beach area which features a picnic area with a few picnic tables and beach. We fried up some veggie burgers and then headed down to the beach. The beach itself was pretty decent and had pretty good shade coverage. No motor boats are allowed along this stretch of the shore. We laid our towels in a nice shade patch and then went for a swim to cool down.
We didn’t linger too long once we got out of the water as our shade patch was diminishing. We decided to embark on a couple more shorter hikes before making the paddle back to our campsite. We hiked along the Sandstone Island Trail (2.6km loop, rated moderate), which was probably my favourite hike in the park. The trail weaves along part of the shoreline before looping back into the forest, all the while featuring some neat rock formations along the trail.
Once we made it back to the car it was a short drive (a few hundred metres) to get to the trailhead of our fourth and final hike of the day, along the Shoreline Trail (2.0km loop, rated moderate). Two of the interior campsites are located along the trail (501 and 502). It also featured a very nice picnic area with large flat rocks jutting out into the water. There were a few people here, otherwise we would have probably gone for a swim.
By the time we wrapped up our hike and returned to the car, it was around 3:30p.m. We drove to the canoe launch to paddle back to our site. This time there was no wind hindering our journey. We took a short stop around the spot K lost his sunnies to see if we could spot them on the bottom of the lake or near the shoreline. No such luck.
Even though it was still super hot outside, we made a fire after dinner. We purchased firewood and lugged a bag of it (plus a bag of kindling) in our canoe. We were not returning with it, so might as well burn it. All.
Day 3: The paddle out
The forecast was calling for a thunderstorm in the morning. We were a little anxious given that we were leaving today and had to canoe back. I woke up around 6:15a.m to use the washroom. At this point it wasn’t raining (yet), so we decided we might as well pack up our tent and head out. We contemplated making breakfast, but decided to just canoe back and instead make some food at the beach area.
We canoed into a slight breeze, but it wasn’t nearly as terrible as the day before. The promise of rain was on the horizon as the clouds were moving in quickly behind us. We canoed with a sense of urgency. The first bit we hugged along the shoreline as we’d have to pull over onto land in case of heavy rain, or worse, lightning. The biggest challenge was crossing the lake to the other side. Luckily we managed to make it back to the canoe launch relatively unscathed. It was lightly sprinkling on and off during our final 10 minutes in the canoe. As soon as we loaded our gear into the car, it started to downpour. All we had left was to lock the canoe back up. No big deal. Needless to say, we weren’t going to be making breakfast at the beach area.
Instead we stayed in our car and drove west to Presqu’ile Provincial Park to spend the remainder of the week.
L & K