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A weekend at Pinery Provincial Park and the difference between camping and just visiting

We decided to celebrate the August long weekend camping for a couple of nights at Pinery Provincial Park this year.   We’d never been to this park but it has been recommended to us so many times, we thought we’d check it out.  And now that we’re home, I’ve had a few people ask what we thought of the park and if we would recommend it to other campers.

The answer is a bit tricky.

You see, we had a nice weekend.  Our goal for this trip was mostly to enjoy the park’s beautiful beach, visit the nearby beach town of Grand Bend and just chill-out.  That’s what beach-camping trips are all about for us, and that’s exactly what we did.

The park is lovely, with an excellent visitor’s centre that features engaging exhibits on the park’s natural history, and unique environment and aquariums stocked with the several species of turtles found in the park.  A park naturalist was at the centre and we had a nice chat about a family of wild turkeys Alex saw very early Sunday morning.   We spent about an hour in the visitor centre and learned a lot about the area’s ecosystem.

Pinery also has 10 short walking trails. We didn’t take any of the hikes, but we plan on returning to the park and will be sure to add a few of the trails to our agenda. 

And of course, there is the beach.  Perfect for playing in the day….

And admiring sunsets when the day draws to a close.

But to be honest, camping at Pinery was a bit of an adjustment for us. You see, it was busy.  Really busy.  There were people everywhere, all the time.  The camp roads always seemed to be busy with vehicles - many of them driving way too fast for a park road. And in all my years of camping at provincial parks, this weekend was the first time I’ve ever had to wait in line (more than once) at a campground comfort station to “use the facilities”.

I know what you’re thinking. “Of course it was busy.  It was the August long weekend”.  And you are right.  In fact, we were warned to expect a lot of people.  But we also noticed something different about the crowd.  We noticed a lot of people who were staying on campsites in tents and trailers, but they didn’t really seem to be “camping”. That especially includes the rather large family that took up two sites directly behind us.  They were there to party, with bright lights and really loud music just as we were getting ready to settle down for the night at 9:45 pm. 

I was thankful that a brief and polite request from me to turn the volume down was respected. But not until I was stared at with disbelief when I explained I had a kid who was trying to fall asleep (and a campfire I wanted to enjoy in peace, and stars I wanted to gaze at above the treetops). “Sleep? Now?” The patriarch of the partiers asked.   That conversation happened at 9:48 pm. 

I was equally thankful when I saw them pack-up and pull out of the site Sunday morning. 

So, what is “camping”? To us, it’s enjoying our natural surroundings.  It’s disconnecting from the rush and routine of every day live and reconnecting with each other.  It’s about being quiet enough to hear the birds and the waves rushing up on the beach from the Great Lake found beyond the dunes, just metres away from our campsite.  It’s learning at least a little bit about an environment different from home.  When we go camping, we seek the peace of being “out there”. 

“Camping” can be sleeping in a tent or a trailer or in a hammock tied to the tree. It can be done deep in the wilderness or on an organized campground with your vehicle right beside you.  You see, I think camping is a mindset.

Last weekend, the vibe in the park didn’t feel like “camping” to me.  Or at least, it didn’t feel like the other people there defined camping the way my family defines it. It seemed as though the park was just a place to stay, rather than a place to experience. That was a bit hard for me to accept, and it took me a bit of time to relax. 

I’m not judging the other people at the campground that weekend.  In fact, I hope that they learned something cool about the environment and gained something good from being outside.  And I hope that their experience at Pinery prompts them to get more involved in “camping” (as I define it) and develop a greater appreciation for being nature’s guest when they visit a park again.  I also hope it prompts them to learn some campground etiquette like respecting your neighbours and respecting your natural surroundings.

So there you have it. I think Pinery Provincial Park is lovely.  I would go back, but not during a holiday weekend in peak tourism season.  And I would recommend the campground with caution and a healthy warning that this is a very busy park that attracts more tourists than “campers”. 

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