Thursday, September 3, 2015

Here are my quintessential seasonal trips - what are yours?

Winter, spring, summer, or fall -
when's your favourite season to travel?
A few weeks ago on my regular Wednesday photo survey on my Bear Lair Communications Facebook page, I asked readers what was their favourite season of the year to travel in.

That got me to thinking … Perhaps I should share the quintessential experiences I've enjoyed while traveling in each of the seasons.

Now I should say there are a couple qualifiers in this. First of all, if you forget about traveling, autumn is my favourite season of the year, period. I love the fall colours and everything else about the autumn - but that doesn't mean that I would travel to a destination just have a "seasonal" fall experience - although there are some really nice places to go in North America for that.

And if I had my choice, I would pretty much always spend any cold months travelling to warm, tropical or semi-tropical destinations so I could paddle and watch birds and other wildlife in comfort. But because some of the places I've loved to travel to don't really experience four seasons like we do in North America, I'm going to restrict this particular article to places where you can experience a real distinct season. No trips to Thailand in winter, no sojourns to Antarctica or Australia during our summer.

In other words, it's places I've travelled to in North America. Here we go.

SPRING: Ah, spring...when a young man's heart turns to ... baseball. Well, some young men's hearts. The rest turn to ... birding.
The snow geese have returned!

Spring is the time when hundreds of flocks of migratory birds make their way north from their wintering grounds, to build nests, mate, and raise new birds. There are many places to see the flocks migrating, but one of my favourite places is the Cape Tourmente National Wildlife Area in Quebec, just east of Quebec City.

I had a chance a few years ago to experience the annual snow geese migration, and loved it. It's a great place to spot other birds and wildlife, as well. While you're there, be sure to visit the Ste Anne de Beaupre Basilica, Montmorency Falls, and Canyon Ste Anne.

SUMMER: This is a tough one. There are so many amazing places to go, experiences to enjoy in the summer, all over North America. I guess if pushed to pick one destination above all the others, I'd go with Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. I've visited there many times since the late 1960s, it's still one of my favourite places to go in the entire world.

The park offers something for everyone, from hardcore wilderness lovers to fishing fanatics, from campers to those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors from a cozy lodge. You can canoe, hike, fish, camp, go for scenic flights in a bush plane, tour the park logging museum and visitor centre, go bird- or wildlife-watching, participate in a wolf howl, enjoy some excellent art displays (or even learn to paint like Tom Thomson!). If camping isn't your thing, three excellent lodges service the park: Killarney Lodge, Bartlett Lodge, and Arowhon Pines Lodge.

video

It's tough to beat a misty morning on Algonquin's Lake of Two Rivers.

FALL: It seems like I'm falling back on Ontario again, but there's a reason for that: If you want to see autumn in all its splendour, Ontario - along with Quebec and the Maritimes - is the place to be.

This is just a very small hint of Ontario's autumn colours.
While autumns on the prairies have their moments, and B.C. falls are often like extended summers, the rich palette of colours created by the oaks, maples, birches, and other deciduous trees of Eastern Canada, the mix of reds and browns and yellows, cannot be rivalled.

I discovered this years ago, when I went on a family Thanksgiving weekend getaway to Deer Lodge in the Haliburton Highlands. At 14, I was really too young to appreciate for very long - I was a teen-ager stuck with adults, and upset I couldn't watch a CFL football game between Ottawa and Montreal - but looking back at some of the slides my dad took reminds me of how gorgeous early October is in the east. Ditto, when you drive through New Brunswick or Nova Scotia in mid-autumn.

Again, Algonquin is a great place to be in autumn; so is Gatineau Park in Canada's national capital region, just over the border into Quebec, outside of Ottawa. I've only been there in winter, but if photos are any indication, it is probably THE place to be, come October. (Just be ready for lots of traffic...)

WINTER: As previously mentioned, given my druthers, I'd ruther go someplace warm in the winter where I can paddle or watch birds and not have to put on five layers of clothing.  However that's not really winter is it?

The trouble is, I'm not a skier, not a snowmobiler, I don't really snowshoe very much (although I've done all three) and it's really hard to paddle a canoe or kayak in the winter. But if you want to have an iconic winter travel experience, you have to try dog sledding.

Mushing through the mountains!
(Photo courtesy of Snowy Owl Sled Dogs)
I've had the opportunity to enjoy it in northern B.C. as well as in K-Country - specifically, the Spray Lakes, in Alberta.  Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours run some wonderful programs in the provincial park that incorporate different elements of winter experiences into their packages.

You can do half day trips, day trips, overnight trips and experience some Aboriginal culture as part of those trips.

There really is nothing quite like the silence of the Rocky Mountains, as as you mush along the trail at high speed, being pulled by a trained dog team... all you hear is the sound of the dogs' feet crisply pattering over the snow and the rush of the wind in your own ears as you glide over the frozen white carpet.

Well, there you have my personal favourites for travel in the various seasons. What are yours?

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