We had the most fun mini adventure to Point Pelee National Park to stay in their Otentiks this March Break. Here’s a little recap of our trip!
We switched up our March Break tradition ever-so-slightly this year and decided to visit Point Pelee National Park to check out their Otentiks instead of our usual trip to a yurt in Pinery Provincial Park. We’d heard so many good things from people who’d stayed in the Otentiks and we thought this would be a good excuse to see what they were all about. We always enjoy Point Pelee in the warmer months, but we weren’t sure what to expect for the winter. Camping at this time of year might sound a little crazy, but I’ve come to love it and I find it equal parts refreshing and cozy with the winter scenery, quiet campgrounds, and heated accommodations that they have at a lot of National and Provincial parks now. I have not always been a natural camper, but now I’m the first one in our family to remind us to book our March Break camping trip every year.
About Point Pelee National Park
Point Pelee National Park is a peninsula on Lake Erie in extreme Southwestern Ontario and the tip of the peninsula is actually the southernmost mainland point in all of Canada. The actual southernmost point is on Pelee Island, which is in the lake a bit further south. Point Pelee is Canada’s second smallest national park and it’s quite easy to get around and see everything on foot and by bike. The peninsula has beaches running up both sides, with a large marshy area on the east side between the main road and the east beach. This is a super popular park during the summer months, with lots of beautiful spots for sightseeing, sandy beaches, and easy walking trails. It’s a bit quieter in the winter, but it still draws a bit of a crowd on a sunny day. We usually just drive over for the day in the summer, but we’d heard so many good things about camping there that we decided to try it out for our little March Break adventure this year.
Staying in the Point Pelee National Park Otentiks
Point Pelee doesn’t have a traditional campground area, but they do have a little village of “Otentiks” that you can book. An Otentik is basically a cross between a cabin and a yurt and as I said before, people just love staying in them.
The Otentiks come equipped with bunk beds to sleep six, a small table and chairs, an overhead light, and a very toasty heater controlled by a furnace on the wall. If you’re adventurous, a few of the Otentiks have wood burning fireplaces instead. Each Otentik also has a nice front porch, two sturdy Adirondack chairs, a picnic table, fire-pit, and a gas BBQ.
It’s important to note that you don’t drive right up to the Otentiks. Instead, there’s a parking lot a small distance away, and you walk about 100-300 metres in to get to your Otentik, depending on which one you’ve booked. They provide big wagons to help you bring all your stuff over, which work really well with big wheels to go over all the bumps on the foot path. Getting your stuff in to your Otentik is definitely still a bit of a workout though!
The washrooms are located in a building a few steps away from the Otentiks, along with a dishwashing station, which we found to be a very handy amenity. The washrooms were warm, well-lit, and plentiful.
We’ve stayed in the yurts in nearby Pinery Provincial Park many times so we couldn’t help but compare, but overall we found there were things that we preferred about each different experience and dwelling. One of the things that we noticed about the Otentiks was that they weren’t equipped with a little wall of hooks and a bench like the yurts have and we definitely missed it for all our coats and boots at this time of year. A few of those over-the-door hooks would be handy if you’re staying here to help you hang things from the bunk beds.
The yurts we stay in also have a little stainless steel counter area for preparing food, whereas the Otentiks only have a plastic shelf that doesn’t work quite the same way. For heat, the yurts have little gas fireplaces, which I always find so cozy to sit by, but the Otentiks just have a little rectangular heater on the wall. Just as effective, but not as cute. 🙂
I think it’s also really important to note that there’s basically no cell phone service in the park, except in a few areas if you’re near one of the stores, so you won’t be able to relax in your Otentik and check in with all your friends on social media or catch up on email. A little break is good for us all though.
What we did in Point Pelee in March
There’s actually a lot to do in the park at this time of year, despite it being a place that you might usually think of as a summer destination because it’s basically just one big beach. 🙂 I’ll go over a few of the things that we did, although I have to say that even though this park is tiny, we didn’t even come close to doing everything I was hoping to do. Basically, we just ran out of energy. I was surprised to see at the end of the trip that we had actually accumulated close to 20,000 steps each day, even though it felt like we barely even scratched the surface of all the different hiking and exploring possibilities. So I guess that explains why some of us were so beat.
The East Beaches
The peninsula is made up of a strip of land to the west with a strip of road, beaches, parking lots, etc., and then it’s mostly just marshes on the east side. However, if you manage to get across the marshes, there’s a thin strip of beach that runs between the marshy area and the open water of the lake. To get to the east beaches, you can either go all the way to the end of the peninsula, or there’s a trail you can take that cuts through, which you can access right near the visitor’s centre. I believe it was called the Shuster Trail. Once you get over to the east beaches, you feel like you’re off in your own little world. They’re great in the summer, but at this time of year, you’ll find all kinds of beautiful driftwood trees washed up along the shore, just dripping with icicles from the waves constantly washing up over them in freezing temperatures. It was a unique situation to come across because the temperatures were warm enough that the lake hadn’t frozen over and you could listen to the waves washing up on the shore, but it was also just cold enough to create these beautiful ice formations. Definitely worth the walk over there and a bit of ducking and climbing to walk down the shore through all the trees that had washed up on land.
The Boardwalk Loop
This is a favorite any time of year and it’s usually the first thing you’ll see photos of if you search up “Point Pelee National Park”. I was worried it would be closed at this time of year, but it was open and there were a lot of families that had come to the park to check it out that day. The boardwalk loop is a continuous 1km trail consisting completely of a continuous boardwalk that takes you out over the marshes for a close up view of ducks, geese, and swans, all of which we saw the day we were there. There’s also a really fun viewing tower that you can climb up to get a better view of everything.
The Tip of Canada
If you walk all the way down to the end of the peninsula, you’ll find yourself at the very southernmost point of mainland Canada. In the summer months, there’s a shuttle that runs from the visitor’s centre out to the tip, but during the winter, the gate is open, so you can drive a little further down the road yourself if you don’t want to walk the whole way. We just took our bikes from our Otentik in Camp Henry and rode all the way down. I think it’s about 2.5km each way? The thing we found so funny was that the sandy part at the end of the peninsula is actually quite long in the summer and it’s quite a trek across the sand to get all the way out to the tip if you really want to say you’ve done it. At this time of year, the sandy part is mostly underwater, so it’s not very far at all to get out the very end. So the southernmost point of Canada is significantly less far south at this time of year. Still fun though!
Point Pelee is so great for sunsets! It’s just a short, easy walk over from the camp to the beach, so it’s easy to get there in time when you notice the sun is setting. We didn’t bring any real camera gear with us this time, so Chris made a little makeshift tripod for us to try to get a photo with the sunset. It did the trick!
The thing about me is that I can never get enough when it comes to hiking trails. I would happily start walking first thing in the morning and keep going right until bedtime. I was looking forward to spending a lot more time on trails this trip, but with everything else, we really didn’t spend a lot of time on the actual trails in the park. One morning I thought we’d just start out with a light walk after breakfast and then do something a little more ambitious in the afternoon, but we only got about halfway through my intended route before everyone decided that I duped them into walking way farther than they thought and demanded we turn around. I didn’t think it was that far. 🙂
We headed down the Chinquapin Oak Trail from an access point near the camp. I was thinking we’d aim to meet up with the little 1km loop trail at the DeLaurier Homestead and then head back, but we only got as far as the cemetery before everyone was thoroughly annoyed with my plans. We’d never ventured back there though, so it was a great opportunity to check out the cemetery where some of the original inhabitants of Point Pelee park were buried, including some of the homesteaders who had lived there before it was a park, as well as quite a few indigenous inhabitants of the area. It was super interesting to read about how that little historical cemetery came to be there.
Along the way back we ventured out into a few of the little “Cactus Footpaths” that jutted out from the main trail, which go out into the meadow areas and give you a close up view of some of the really interesting plant-life that grows on this peninsula. Lots of cactus and snake grass, which is so different from what we have growing naturally in other areas just outside the peninsula. Nature is always fascinating, isn’t it?
Maybe next trip, I’ll be able to give you my first-hand account of a few more trails, but for this trip, that was about all the actual trail-walking we did.
So that was our little adventure! Hopefully some of what I shared here will be helpful to anyone looking to plan a trip to Point Pelee! Have you ever been camping in an Otentik or a yurt?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.