This 4th of July we wanted to just relax and stay at home. We love going up north and hanging with friends or watching the fireworks at my parent’s cabin, but the dealing with traffic did not seem like a good way to spend our time off. Plus this summer is so packed with long weekends away and different events that we wanted to spend some time at home and still do something fun.
We had read about someone else’s experience at Island Lake Recreation Area’s Canoe-Campground before and thought it would be a perfect stay-cation. It’s under 30 minutes from our house, but it’s still a different activity in a place that feels four hours north. We love camping, but busy weekends like the 4th have campgrounds filled with RV’s and people stacked on each other like sardines, not really a relaxing way to spend a weekend.
The fact that these camps are secluded and only accessible by the river had us sold right away. There are two campground that are reservable over the phone for a minimal price, call the number on their website in order to check availability and claim your spot. You can leave your car in the parking lot there for free as long as you have a recreational passport on your license plate.
The camp sites themselves are really nice and pretty big. We only had our small tent there, but it had plenty of room for several tents and gear if you were going with a bigger group. There are only vault potties, so be prepared to hold your breath when needed. There was also some firewood left on the site, but for the most part you need to bring your own.
In order to deal with the pick up/drop off vs. paddling upstream the way we came, we ended up driving two cars and leaving the truck where we started and my car where we would end the trip. That way once we were done, I drove my car to the beginning, picked up the truck, then went back for my husband and the kayaks. After everything was loaded up again we went back one last time to grab my car then headed home. A little chaotic but it was way easier than paddling up stream.
If there isn’t a way to have a car at the drop off and pick up spots, check with local canoe liveries like Heavner Canoe Rental or Village Canoe Rental to see about getting a ride back to your vehicle when you’re done with your trip.
We started off at the dam at Kent Lake inside of Island Lake Recreation Area. From there it’s about a 4 mile trek down the river with the current to the campsites. The river itself seemed a bit more challenging than other spots of The Huron: shallow (due to no rain) and a lot of trees down that meant some interesting maneuvers. We didn’t have any spills though and people were doing just fine in heavier canoes and with less experience. The journey from the dam to the campgrounds took us about 3 hours since we were relaxing more than paddling, but still left us pretty tired by the time that we arrived.
In the morning after we packed up, we paddled down to Placeway Picnic Area to end the trip. It was about a mile, 30 minutes, or so from the campsite, and it was really peaceful in the calm of the morning. We were pretty sore from yesterday’s excursions, so we let the current take us for most of the trip.
You can add to the trip by starting further up the river in Kensington Metro Park or up in Milford, but for us this was the perfect amount of time. Here’s a great map of the Huron to help you plan where you can start and end your trip from.
For food we decided to keep it simple and easy since it was our first time kayak camping. We roasted hot dogs and s’mores over the fire and enjoyed breakfast burritos I made at home for breakfast. There’s all of these fun and unique cooking recipes on Pinterest to try, but it was easier not to worry about cooking anything too complicated or forgetting something necessary at home.
I froze the burritos and the hotdogs (along with the chocolate) and put in a soft-sided cooler (easy to shove in small spaces) with some freezer bricks, a frozen water bottle, and some cold brews. It ended up staying cold all trip. We did bring our small cooking stove as a back up and to boil water for coffee in the morning; we got this silicone coffee filter a while back and it worked great (similar here).
We kayak pretty regularly, but never packing more than a cooler of tasty treats, so the thought of piling our camping stuff along for the ride was a bit overwhelming. I would definitely recommend practicing packing your kayak before you leave to make sure that everything fits and you can easily get it all organized when you’re by the river. Here’s a list of things that I wish we had packed but unfortunately forgot (it’s a learning experience):
Camp Shoes – all I brought was my river shoes so my feet were soaked all trip
More Drinks – I definitely underestimated how much we would need!
Long Sleeved Apparel – Keep the bugs off at night and for when the sun goes down
More Snacks – we were starving by the time we got off the river, so we basically went through all of the trail mix and granola bars we packed. Next time I think I’m going to try this bonfire popcorn and bring some more extra goodies.
Extra Firewood – somehow we managed to keep the fire going up until we were ready for bed, but we probably could’ve done with some more to be safe. The hard part is bringing it in. My husband’s kayak had a lot of deep pockets since it’s a fishing kayak, and that ending up being a perfect place to keep it all dry.
Overall it was a great way to spend a holiday weekend night. It was shockingly peaceful and it felt like our own piece of paradise. I’ll never forget the number of fireflies dancing at night or how we somehow kept the fire going with what little firewood we had brought. I would definitely recommend going and finding a little adventure!
How did you spend your holiday weekend?