Since meeting my friend Jason last year, he has been going on about this place called McCrae Lake. I had never been there and according to him, it was a gorgeous place to spend a weekend camping, fishing and enjoying nature. The Thanksgiving long weekend was approaching and as I hadn’t had any plans yet, I decided it would be a good weekend to check the place out. It was also the perfect weekend to test out my brand new dutch oven and make a turkey dinner on the fire, something I’d never done before.
We were a bit worried with the long weekend it would be really busy and we wouldn’t find a site. Although, the parking lot was busy, it wasn’t overfull, so our chances looked pretty good.
Before parking the car, I saw this cool salamander which set my hopes high for some wildlife!
There was a short portage from the parking lot to the lake and it was super easy. We made two carrys as we’d brought alot of stuff. Jason had advised me that we would have two small portages to go over and that was it, so we’d brought the big blue bear barrel to hang this trip instead of my wee little bear vault that we’d taken to Killarney. I forgot how much food you could pack in one of those big blue barrels and we certainly made use of the extra space.
Fall was upon us and we had some gorgeous views as we started our paddle on McCrae Lake. I was so happy I could’ve burst!! I loved small waterways, as many of you know by now, and this was one of them. I just grinned like a crazy person and kept taking photos of all the pretty colors along the way. The area wasn’t at peak but it was still pretty awesome!
After paddling about 15 minutes or so, we reached the second portage. I was glad that Jason was here as I don’t know if I would’ve known exactly where the portage was? There is a campsite to the right of it and no sign to advise where to go. Common sense would get me where I needed to be eventually, but having someone who knew the area was definitely helpful.
There was a waterfall and some rapids and the portage went around that. We stopped at the bridge on the way back from dropping off the canoe and some items at the other side. The view was stunning!
The portage was quite simple and short and after we explored the bridge and falls area a bit, we got back into the canoe and paddled through the creek and more gorgeous views.
Yes, I am addicted to taking photos, especially when I have calm mirror water to play with!
We paddled for maybe an hour, finding a few open sites along the way. They all looked like great sites, but I wanted an extra awesome one so we continued paddling around looking for the best spot. Eventually, we found it!
I loved this campsite. It had an amazing firepit with a huge grill someone left and it would be perfect for all the cooking we would be doing. As the dark clouds kept passing over, we set up the site quickly, to ensure we had shelter when the rain hit. It was due any time and I wanted to have a nice dry place to chill out. Also, with 3-4 hours of cooking, which is what the turkey roll we bought called for, we needed to be comfy cozy by the fire.
As we didn’t have a tree anywhere to use on the opposite side of the fire pit, I had to get a bit creative with the tarping this trip. There were 2 trees about 10-15 feet away on either side of the pit, (well slightly behind it but close enough). And there were lots of trees behind the fire pit, but there were none in front. What I did was run a line from the 2 trees on either side of the pit and then I ran a line from the centre of that line to one of the trees behind the pit. This line would be my ridge line. We put the tarp over the ridge line and then secured it on either side using the trees on the side or putting stakes in the ground and tying the lines down to them. This created the exact effect I wanted and made for the perfect shelter from the wind and rain while still being able to be in front of the fire and cook on it, well, in my mind it did anyways, lol.
I set up the site, while Jason got some firewood, as we would be needing a lot for cooking for several hours. The rain was falling on and off in between the sun coming out. The weather was very strange, one minute you were warm from the sun, then hot, and then the clouds would come and a cold wind would whip in and make you wish you had a winter jacket and a toque on.
Once we got everything set up, we got a good fire going so we could create some nice hot coals for the dutch oven. I had posted on Camping Ontario the week of the trip to ask what everyones’ food plans were and got alot of good suggestions on what to make.
We settled on a turkey roll, white meat with stuffing in the middle. Although it had suggested we cook it from frozen, the roll served 6-8 people and we didn’t want to have to worry about huge leftovers, so we defrosted the roll so we could cut it to make it a bit more realistic of what we would eat and then just left it refrigerated afterwards. We figured this would also cut down the cooking time. The box said it would take about 4 hours but I was also advised the dutch oven I got from Outdoors Oriented would cook the food faster than a regular oven, and we weren’t cooking from frozen, so we also took that into account.
Jason seasoned the turkey with a mixed bag of spices we’d put in a ziplock before heading out. It looked and smelled great! Now it was time to test out the dutch oven. We put in in the coals as we’d seen online and put some on top, set a timer and let it do it’s thing!
I had set the timer for an hour just to check on things. We had no idea what was happening inside the pot. Good thing we checked because it was pretty much cooked! Just some of the stuffing hadn’t cooked yet in the middle of the roll. We put it back in the coals for about a half hour while we started preparing the gravy and mashed potatoes. YUM!
I had went back to an old favorite I used to use when I first started backcountry camping, Betty Crockers instant mashed potatoes. Yes, we could’ve made potatoes from scratch but this was so simple and we had already had so much extra weight, this was an easy way to keep that down some and make the cooking super easy. You just add some boiling water and stir, easy peasy and tastes delicious.
We then made up the gravy. I have always made gravy more or less from scratch and pride myself on my awesome gravy, but today we were using St. Huberts turkey gravy mix in a packet. You just add boiling water and stir. Again, super easy and it was quite delicious!!!! Time to eat!
I know it might not look like a feast but dinner was delicious and I was happy we brought so many extra things in now. The weather was turning once again and we managed to get in a game of washer toss (camping version made with a game board drawn in the dirt and rocks for washers). Then it started to rain quite a bit, so we hung out under the shelter and waited for it to pass with a yummy cocktail.
Earlier, we went to hang the rope for the bear barrel and had had a little issue. I had tied my small camp shovel to the end of the rope as weight instead of using a rock. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the rope went up and around the branch really easily…. but… when we went to give it slack so it would fall, it didn’t. I guess it was too light! lol. We pulled it once the wrong way and it was pretty much stuck up there for life. I was pretty upset as I really loved the shovel. It folded up into a small pouch, but was very sturdy and great for cleaning coals out of the firepit, or digging poop holes, etc. Jason, somehow climbed the tree like it was a coconut tree and got up to the branch and got the shovel down! AMAZING!!!!
The rain fell harder so we put the grill over the fire and covered it with a big piece of foil. This would keep the fire from getting drowned out by the rain, and keep it burning, and it worked really well.
Jason took a few neat pictures with his camera (photo cred: JK). It stared getting really chilly out,so around 1030-11ish we headed to sleep. I was a little cold already and I hoped it wouldn’t get much colder.
It rained most of the night and made me feel damp, which I did not like at all. At 6:45, I woke up to find the sky fairly clear and waited for the sun to rise while trying to catch a big fish for dinner tonight!
I didn’t have any luck at all fishing, not even a little tiny nibble, so when the sun came up, I went to get my camera (iphone) and took some photos instead. I could always catch something that way! 🙂
The sun took the night chill from me and warmed me up and even though it was only a few degrees, it felt much warmer. I started a fire and got breakfast going.
I had eggs on toast and Jason had a huge omelette using some salsa I’d dehydrated, ham, bacon and cheese with toast and strawberry jam. It was pretty yummy. I often bring my eggs already cracked in a bottle but someone had posted on Camping Ontario recently, that they use them whole out of the bottle. I have always only scrambled them so I wanted to test this out. I am thrilled to say it worked amazingly well. I poured 2 whole eggs out for my over easy eggs and then shook the bottle for the eggs left in there, for the omelette. I guess I never thought they would stay together like that, but I’m super excited they did. Thank you Laura Edmonds for the great tip! Since then someone has posted a warning that you can get very sick from pre cracking eggs like this. I personally, have been doing it as long as I’ve been backcountry camping and have never had an issue, but I prefer you know all the facts. I don’t want anyone taking a tip from me and getting sick, so please educate yourself and make your own decision on this one.
After the customary hot chocolate and baileys, we went down to the shore to get some sun and shed a few layers while teaching each other some knots.
I went from a toque, rain jacket, fleece jacket, dry wick jacket, long sleeve, t shirt and tank to just a tank in about 20 minutes but it was still super cold up on the site. We had a little bay on the one side of the site that blocked the wind and when the sun was there it was just super. Jason put on his hip waders and attempted to catch a fish and actually succeeded! YAY!!! FISH FOR DINNER!
We packed up the site, put lunch into the backpack with some snacks and water and headed off to explore the lake and do some more fishing. Jason had a few favorite spots to check out so we did that and I took some photos along the way…. of course!
Then the craziest thing happened… I CAUGHT A FISH!!! I was sooo elated and I didn’t even know it was on my line at first, but there it was! Happy HAPPY Camper! I was just sitting there reeling in my line and I see this fish swimming towards to boat. I was like WOW! Look at that! and I actually thought the fish was either free swimming or on Jay’s line, but incredibly it was on my line!!! I pulled it into the boat and voila! There it was! Jason showed me how to take the hook out and hold it by it’s mouth for my picture! Yeehaw!!! Thank you Jay!
We paddled along looking for some firewood and a good place to clean the fish, also still fishing en route. We found a big rock in the middle of the lake and settled on that. Jason cleaned both fish and put them in ziplock bags for dinner. I had brought a cooler bag with some ice that was holding our drinks and the eggs until this morning and brought it just in case we caught some fish to take home. We put the fish in there until it was time to cook them. This would be the first time I’d ever eaten a fish I’d caught backcountry camping. Happy HAPPY HAPPY CAMPER!!!
We headed back to the site and relaxed for a while and eventually got a fire going to make dinner on. Jason cooked the fish in some oil we’d brought in the dutch oven and I made the pasta we’d planned having as our meal, as a side. I’d brought dehydrated rose sauce, 2 types of dehydrated mushrooms and dehydrated asparagus. I also had a can of shrimp, but since we had fish to accompany the pasta, we would skip that for tonight.
Honestly, I would’ve been happy eating the fish all by itself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the pasta was really tasty, but fresh fish …. WOW! SOOO GOOD! I wish I could share some with all of you, although, I’m sure many of you are way ahead of me on this first, but I’m just happy I finally got to do it! (last weekend I got to eat a fresh caught fish while backcountry camping, but I did not catch the fish myself, still good but different for sure!)
After dinner we enjoyed the hot fire. The temperature dropped quite a bit and was still going down. It was supposed to be -2 at around 5am and I was a bit nervous about it. Last night, I was a little cold and it only went down to around 4 degrees. I guess we would see. Jason took a few more night shots with his camera. This is something my iPhone doesn’t do that I wish it would. Maybe one day I’ll get a real camera? LOL
We made up hot nalgene bottles using a pot of water heated on the fire. I wasn’t taking any chances tonight and I was really glad I did it.
I was nice and toasty warm all night that night in my sleeping bag. When I woke up around 7 to go to the bathroom the bottle was still lukewarm and I was really impressed. Who needs hot rocks ?
When I got back from the bathroom I checked the weather and it was -4 with freezing fog. WOW! That sounded pretty frigging cool! I put on a few layers and my gloves and headed to check things out!
I took a bunch of photos, but I honestly could not capture the full effect.
Sooo pretty and it didn’t even feel that cold for some reason. Not like yesterday morning. The sun quickly came up and warmed the air and the freezing fog flew away. LOL
I made some boiling water on the fire and put the dehydrated strawberries in it for the pancakes. I packed a few things that we wouldn’t need any longer and went back to some nicely rehydrated berries about 30 minutes later. They were plump and ready for some pancakes. I brought all the cooking items and ingredients to a nice spot in the sunshine to keep me warm and made up some pancakes while Jason warmed up the bacon on the fire.
Once the pancakes were flipped, I sprinkled them with chocolate chips, then when they were taken out of the pan and drizzled with pancake syrup. They were absolutely delicious!
We cleaned up after breakfast and Jason went fishing for a bit. I took the time to hang up my hammock in the sun and have a little nap like a lil kitty in the sunbeam. It was lovely.
When Jason returned, we finished packing up the site and loaded the canoe. I had not yet been to the top of the cliff across the lake from our site, so we paddled over to it and went for a hike to check things out!
Once at the top, which didn’t take very long to get to, the view was incredible! It is called the Crow’s nest lookout and you can also get to it by hiking The McCrae Lake Conservation Trail which is 2.8km’s one way.
The water was so clear you could see right to the bottom !
After we climbed back down the trail and got into the canoe, it was time to slowly head back. We took some shots of the base of the cliff, and then headed onwards.
We stopped along the way to do some fishing but sadly, didn’t catch anything further.
Way too soon we were back at the portage. On our way in I had noticed a few beer cans by the fire pit of the campsite right at the portage. Someone had moved them to the fire pit, but hadn’t packed them out. I grabbed a plastic bag from the backpack and put them in it and packed them out. Another one for #CleanUpOurParks !
One last shot as we pulled up to the take out and the trip would be done.
I really enjoyed my time at McCrae Lake and can see myself visiting this area again and again. It was a place I would feel safe doing some solo trips too and now that I knew the good fishing spots, I might be able to catch a few more.
We topped off the trip with a few cold ones at my favourite place to eat near Port Carling called Bass Lake Roadhouse and stuffed our faces. It’s not that we didn’t eat well over the weekend, but we’d skipped lunch today and well, there’s something about being in the backcountry that always makes me starving when I get out no matter what, so no point breaking old habits that are kinda awesome right?
AFTER ARRIVING HOME, we discovered I’d left my really awesome cooking grill on the firepit, and Jason realized he’d lost his phone. If anyone happens to see either of these items anywhere at McCrae, I would really really appreciate it if you could get in touch with me. The phone is being replaced but has some priceless items on it, as all our phones do, memories, photos and things that can’t be replaced. I can replace the grill but it was my favorite one, steel and strong out of a hibatchi I used to own. You can see a photo of it in the fish cooking picture, my grill is under the dutch oven and is also under the toast in the breakfast photos where I cooked eggs. Thanks!
I really hope you enjoyed visiting McCrae Lake with me and you come back to check out my blog again soon! Thanks to Jason for showing me this awesome spot and for taking a bunch of really awesome photos with your fancy camera. Also, thanks to you all for checking out my blog over and over again. I am very grateful this thanksgiving for the support and love my readers show me every day! Truly. I hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving whatever you did!
If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I am able to.