Level Pelee yurts: Nature with out the work of actual tenting

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When it comes to constellations that are revealed, Point Pelee turns out to be a reasonable substitute for Bobcaygeon. I know this because it’s 11pm and I’m lying on the shore of Lake Erie, fascinated by countless stars scattered across a gigantic sky.

Point Pelee National Park, a tongue of sand jutting into the lake, is the southernmost point of mainland Canada. It is also a dark sky sanctuary.

There’s no moon tonight, the weather gods have gifted us mostly clear skies, and Tragically Hip is on my mind.

My husband and I have become starfighters over the past few years. The coincidence of a convertible and a back road in Hawaii led us to the wonders of the night sky. Ever since then, looking up has lured us into nature again and again.

The truth is I’m not an astronomer. I really don’t care much about planets let alone constellations and I’ve fallen asleep in every planetarium I’ve ever visited. But the sheer beauty of the night sky – especially reflected over dark water – well, that’s something else.

Point Pelee also offers the option of sleeping in a yurt. Who could resist?

It’s not exactly a yurt. The park describes it as a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector’s tent and has christened it the somewhat intriguingly oTENtik. However, aside from the weird name, they got everything right.

For those who want the pleasure of sleeping in the middle of a national park without the hassle or privation of camping, the yurts are perfect.

Built on a timber deck, they offer heat, power and indoor sleeping accommodation for up to six people. There’s also a wooden table with six chairs and a stainless steel food prep area stocked with basic crockery, utensils, and pots and pans. There are two bright red Adirondak chairs on one deck, and I sit in them, sipping my morning coffee and watching the woodpeckers scamper between the trees. A fire pit, picnic table and gas grill complete the amenities.

Beyond the relative comfort of space, the yurt offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in a place of fabulous beauty.

Bald eagles overhead

For nature lovers, the Point Pelee swamp is the main attraction. It is one of the largest remaining swamps in southern Ontario and home to all manner of chattering, flying, crawling, sliding and swimming creatures.

Today, a family of wood ducks swim in the cattails, while less-shy mallards splash vigorously, using the swamp as an oversized birdbath. Two bald eagles soar overhead while flocks of silvery minnows dart from our shadows.

We walk around the moor on a one kilometer long boardwalk, binoculars in hand. Many benches offer us the opportunity to sit quietly and wait for the sounds and sights of nature around us to resume.

Point Pelee’s other attraction not to be missed is its beautiful sandy point – the official point where Canada’s mainland ends.

Bike paths, hiking trails, and boardwalks run between the swamp and the peak, meandering through the park’s diverse ecosystems. And of course beaches.

Our perfect starry sky beach was a stunning sunset beach just a few hours ago.

Most of the west side of the 15-kilometer-long park is a sandy beach, with well-maintained washrooms and changing rooms in several places.

We’ve brought our kayaks to the park in the past, but for a late October visit we’re opting for bikes instead. They prove to be an ideal way to explore in the quiet off-season.

We zoom from trail to peak to the beach and then back to the campsite where 24 yurts provide the park’s only lodging option.

From a parking lot we load our supplies into a wagon for a short walk into the forest and to our yurt. Delimited and oriented away from each other, the buildings maximize a sense of privacy and seclusion.

Yet they are all just a short walk from a central building with a washroom, shower and dishwashing facilities.

We opted for minimal fuss and equipment, bringing only linens and easy-to-prepare food. But as crazy as it sounds, I’d probably use the power to put a small coffee maker in it next time.

Between sunset and stargazing is the perfect time for a campfire and the gooey indulgence of toasted marshmallows.

Finally, it’s dark enough to take a cup of hot tea and an armful of blankets to the beach. But first we switch on the gas-powered stove in the yurt and set the thermostat to a comfortable 24 degrees.

This is definitely my camping style. I’m already planning a return trip with snowshoes in hand. No doubt we’ll have a national park to ourselves once the gates close for the day. And just imagine the starry sky.

When you go:

  • Point Pelee National Park is just over 200 miles from Oakville. Follow the 401 towards Windsor and look for the signs to Leamington and Point Pelee.
  • You can currently rent Point Pelee Yurts through March 2023 for $128 per night. Eventually rentals will open for the next season, although that date is yet to be determined. Accessible and pet-friendly yurts are also available.