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Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre – behind the scenes

*COVID-19 TRAVEL ALERT – I am writing and providing you information on Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre.

I am not encouraging you to travel there right now. It is currently closed due to the pandemic* ⁠

Chances are good, if you have been to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario in the past couple of decades, you may have been to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre. It opened in 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Algonquin Provincial Park. Algonquin was the first provincial park in the system in Ontario. Created in 1893 as a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure ground.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitor centre building exterior face on - photo by Brian Tao

As a city-dwelling camper, one of the perks of visiting the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre is the flush toilets and free wifi! Aside from that, the Visitor Centre is a wealth of knowledge and exhibits about the Park’s natural and cultural history, has a quick service canteen type restaurant, a bookstore maintained by The Friends of Algonquin Park and an excellent observation deck with panorama views of the park.

Algonquin Provinicial Park visitor centre kathryn on panorama observation deck

How To Find The Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre

I’ve embedded this Google Map for you here. If you are diving up to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre from Toronto or any other place in Ontario (or Canada), click on “directions” and type in the address you are starting from.

To get from Algonquin Provincial Park to Toronto, the drive is approximately three hours south on Highway 11. The same in the inverse, it takes approximately three hours to drive north from Toronto to Algonquin Provincial Park via highways 400 and 11.

What Is Inside The Algonquin Park Visitor’s Centre?

Some say this is one of the best visitor centers they have been to in Ontario Parks. There are lots for every age kids to be entertained. In the foyer, there is a large board displayed where you can add your wildlife sightings for the day. During winter, even if you’re not actually seeing the wildlife, you can feel it all around you because you can see their tracks in the snow or on the ice. It’s the kind of feeling you don’t get other seasons of the year.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitor centre wildlife sightings board in foyer

It is a very large visitor centre and doubles as the Algonquin Park information Centre. Here you can pick up park maps, canoe route maps, get information on camping. The displays are all very detailed, exhibits are interactive and there is a theatre as well. Educational programs are run out of the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre.

Algonquin PP visitors centre bear exhibit

One of the coolest things housed in the building is the archives of the park. Even cooler is the flora and fauna specimen room downstairs. It’s actually not open to the public. Assistant Park Superintendent Rick Stronks – who is incidentally the Chief Park Naturalist, gave me and my friend and photographer, Brian Tao a backstage tour that blew our minds.

Algonquin Park visitors centre chief naturalist and assistant park superintendent, Rick Stonks behind the scenes tour with Kathryn

Rick’s job is to manage and administer the Natural Heritage Education program, oversee all operations of the Algonquin Visitor Centre, Logging Museum, Art Centre, Staffhouse and Outdoor Theatre. He coordinates the procurement of all natural and cultural history records as well. On this day, it was also to provide us with incredible entertainment and stunning knowledge.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitors centre bald eagle reports circa 1990

What is contained in this room is a record of every single type and species of bird, fish and mammal to have graced their presence into the park. It’s a huge catalogue. The undertaking of a job for Rick and his staff to have organized this over the years is gigantic. Some of the taxidermy and written records we saw are more than 50 years old.

Bird specimen taxidermy samples in the basement of the visitor centre in Algonquin Provincial Park

It’s incredibly important to mention that these specimens were not captured in any way. We were assured that each one of these specimens was already deceased when found. By and how whatever natural reason they were already dead and preserved for learning and cataloguing. Each specimen that is brought in is treated with care and respect and restored.

Algonquin PP visitors centre behind the scenes with Rick Stonks showing a mammal skull

Naturalists are wildlife specialists who track and study animals. Every single one of these specimens is used to track the movements throughout the park and area. The primary role of naturalists is to educate the public about the environment. They also maintain the natural environment on land specifically dedicated to wilderness populations. Their primary responsibilities are preserving, restoring, maintaining, and protecting the natural habitat.

Algonquin PP visitors centre behind the scenes with Rick Stonks showing a collection of flora

What To Do At Algonquin Park In Winter

Some of the hiking trails closest to the Algonquin Visitor’s Centre and handy to some of the Algonquin Provincial Park Campsites are Spruce Bog Trail, Beaver Pond Trail, Big Pines Trail and Lookout Trail. If you’re looking for a good place near the Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre to launch your canoe, you’re in luck. The Sunday Creek Access Point is in the vicinity. A map of Algonquin Park can be obtained at the Visitor Centre when they are open. Or check at one of the gate offices when they are open.

Algonquin PP Blue Jay visits camp site

Please note that this is not the place to go if you want to rent snowshoes or other equipment. Head to East Gate Gatehouse for those. During the lockdown, these facilities are not available. Before heading into the park, please consult the Ontario Parks website. Be sure to check which facilities are open to the public at this time.

You can read about my experience camping in a Yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park by clicking here. If you would like to read about my favourite hikes on the Barron Canyon Trail with my kids, you can do that by clicking here.

If you aren’t into glamping, or any other Algonquin Provincial Park camping and lodging options, there are some alternative accommodations. Look to try accommodations on the outskirts of Algonquin Provincial Park. Check out some of these accommodation options (this Booking.com site pays me a commission for booking at no charge to you!):



Booking.com

The Friends of Algonquin Provincial Park have an Algonquin Park Wild Bird Live stream on Youtube. If you’d like to see who is at the feeder, check it out there:

If you have been to Algonquin Park in Ontario, you may have been to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre. It opened in 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Algonquin Provincial Park

Oldest Countries In The World

Having my kids home for virtual school is kind of interesting. It’s fun when I’m not totally stressed about them using my computers, while I am requiring their usage myself. Back in the spring, a random question of “What’s the youngest country in the world?” (click here for that answer), sent us on a research mission that opened a can of knowledge worms. It was cool looking up the answer to that one and so I took on their other thirsty knowledge questions. To the opposite of the younger countries on earth, and by request, now we present the Oldest Countries In The World (by nation’s age, not population).
Beautiful Italian Coast, stock image on wordpress

The Oldest Countries in the World

After all the research we have done off and on over the months, one thing is for certain, it’s almost impossible to get an exact list with dates of confederation or incorporation of some countries. Over the thousands of years, borders have changed, wars fought, islands and peninsulas conquered. Governments, dictators, dynasties and monarchs have come and go. It might be impossible to detect the oldest country in the world on earth on record. This list contains what we know are some of the oldest and ancient countries in the world.

Ethiopia

Most historians will agree on Ethiopia being one of the oldest countries known in the history of the earth. Recorded monarchies appear BC and it’s seemingly a common agreement that the country itself actually developed sometime around 980 BCE. Skeletons and human life have actually been recorded millions of years and kingdoms ago.

An interesting fact about Ethiopia – Ethiopia is the only African country to have never been colonized by European countries. While once occupied by the Italians for a short period in the 1930s, every time they defeated their invaders.

 

 

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Greece

The borders of Greece as we know them today are different from Ancient Greece. Independent from the Ottoman Empire since 1821, and before that conquered by the Byzantine Empire, there’s no question that Greece is one of the oldest nations in the world but has changed hands and the borders have shrunk over time. Ancient Greece was an architect to the modern democratic electoral systems we live by today. Like other ancient civilizations, there are ruins of art, literature and medicine proving that they were indeed an advanced society.

 

 

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Japan

Japan has laid claim to being one of the oldest countries in the history of the world and there isn’t a single soul out there who will dispute it. On record, one of the first Japanese Emperors ascending to the throne was been listed at 660 BCE. References to Japan appear in text from China in 300 BCE. Like other countries, there have been many hands who have ruled over this land, but this country has had staying power.

Egypt

How old is Egypt? What would be your guess?

2000 years old?

Is Egypt 3000 years old?

Egypt is actually older than that. Egypt is more than 6000 years old!

At different points throughout history, what we know as Egypt today was occupied and ruled by the Persians, Nubians, Greeks and Romans. Quite a tumultuous history!

 

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China

One thing is for sure – China is one of the great cradles of civilization and the country itself has always been united. Well, it hasn’t broken up, so that’s what’s meant by that. China’s first dynasty, the Xia Dynasty is on record from 2070 BCE, making it one of the oldest in history.

 

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San Marino

San Marino is one of the oldest countries in Europe and the smallest! The founder of the country was escaping Croatia for his beliefs in Christianity and founded the Republic of San Marino around 300 CE. The country is landlocked by Italy and now operates as a microstate. The constitution of San Marino was written in 1600 CE, also making it one of the oldest in the world.

Iran

The Persian Empire – now known as Iran – has been around since before 550 BCE! The current country of Iran has observed it’s current borders for hundreds of years. Iran was known as Persia until the 1930s. There is evidence of civilization in the area all the way back to the Bronze Age and at one time was the biggest empire in ancient history!

France

As a country, France is not as old as some on this list, but France does have a record of being a Kingdom since 481 with the accession of King Clovis. Traces of human life date back to the landmasses that are now France over 1.8 million years. West Francia became the Kingdom of France officially in 987.

Interesting fact – Marseille is actually France’s oldest city. The colony of Massalia (now known as Marseille) on the Mediterranean Sea was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC.

My daughter fell in love with Paris, France after we visited in April 2019. I know for a fact that one day we will be back. Check out some of our adventures here:

Best of Western Europe With Kids – Portugal, Spain and France

Doors of Lisbon, Barcelona and Paris

I personally have been to the Alps as well. Read about where you need to stay if you are in that area:

Club Med Les Arcs Panorama – Summer Fun In The French Alps

Armenia

Although Armenia is part of the former Soviet Republic, it gets a place on the list of the oldest countries on earth. Some of the first mentions of Armenia appear in texts from 600 BCE and is one of the first states to accept the concept of  Christianity. Technically making Armenia over 2600 years old.

 

 

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India

Arguably – I will be including this country, India. The current form of India, with its current borders was founded in 1947. That was when India was finally free from the rule of the British Empire who ruled and robbed the land for a few hundred years. This is where we can argue about whether or not India belongs on this list.

The subcontinent of which India finds itself has been inhabited for an estimated 5,000-6,000 years. The regions developed their own language, culture and religion. It’s the second most populated country in the world and the seventh-largest landmass.

 

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Portugal

Portugal is definitely not as old as a country as Iran or Greece or Ethiopia. What makes Portugal stand out is the stable and unchanging country borders they’ve held since 1139. Meaning Portugal has seen a thousand years of stability.

The capital city of Lisbon is said to be older than Rome, in Italy. Prior to being established as Portugal, and before being on record is officially the oldest country in Europe, the land areas passed through a lot of different colonizers, empires and civilizations.

 

My kids and I visited Portugal in April of 2019. It’s one of their favourite places! Check out our archive of experiences here:

Lisbon Itinerary – How To Do 3 Days Without A Real Plan

Lisbon Castle – Castelo Sao Jorge, A Must See Attraction

Exploring The Marionette Museum In Lisbon – Museu da Marioneta

What About Peru?

The civilization in the area of Peru has definitely been documented over the past couple of thousand years. No argument that the Inca empire, which pre-dates the colonization of Peru is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. But, Peru and other countries in South America were colonized by European countries and did not have the defined borders or governments in place to qualify them areas as countries before that.

machu picchu aerial in peru, one of the oldest countires in the world, also one of the oldest civilizations in the world

Have you been to any of these older countries on the list? Do you have any other suggestions on what the oldest nation in the world could be? Leave a comment below and please let me know.

What are the oldest countries in the world? Which civilizations date back farthest? How old is Egypt? How old is Iran? How old is China? Read on to find out!

Hiram Walker Whisky Tour – The J.P. Wiser’s Experience

One of the best things to do in Windsor, Ontario, in my humble opinion is The J.P. Wiser’s Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. When I think back on memorable experiences, this is definitely one of them. Not only do you get to tour through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation areas, the tour concludes with a whisky sampling session. Definitely worth it! Read on to learn about the history of whisky in Canada and what we sampled at the end of the tour.

I was hosted by Visit Windsor Essex in November 2019 with my friend, Kasia from Kasia Writes to cover the Windsor International Film Festival and have a girl weekend getaway. Whisky was a big part of the fun!

Due to the current public health crisis, the J.P. Wiser’s Experience Centre remains closed to the public and tours are suspended for the time being.  For more information, please contact J.P. Wiser’s Experience Centre directly. Be sure to visit when it is safe to do so!

Selection of whisky bottles throughout history in J.P. Wiser's distillery bar in the shop. The Hiram Walker whisky tour starts here.

Who is J.P. Wiser and Hiram Walker?

John Philip (J.P.) Wiser owned and managed farms in Canada and the United States. In 1857, he bought a distillery in Prescott, Ontario and the following year, he started importing corn from the United States. During this time he was growing his own grains – rye, barley and wheat and experimenting with flavours. After profiting from the American Civil War, he used some of his proceeds to purchase bushels of grain, new malt houses, a rectifier column, a copper tank receiver and a cooperate. By the turn of the century, J.P. Wiser was exporting whisky all over the world and was the third-largest distillery behind Hiram Walker and Gooderham & Worts.

In 1838, Hiram Walker moved from Boston to Detroit to work in a grocery store. Working his way up, in 1846, he began to operate his own store and started wholesale grain trading with local farmers. Seeing an opportunity, sometime in the early 1850s, Hiram was buying moonshine and using it to make blended whiskies to sell in his store. He was so successful that in 1857, Hiram bought 468 acres of land across the river, in Windsor, Canada. On it, he built the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery.

Canadian Whisky Barons

Other noted Whisky Barons in Canada are Gooderham and Worts and Henry Corby. In 1846, Gooderham and Worts singlehandedly changed the practice of distilling in Canada. Their double distillation method gave birth to a light, smooth whisky instead of the unbearably harsh moonshine. Their distillery is the famed, no longer in use distillery in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Henry Corby bought a flour mill on the Bay of Quinte in 1853. Four years later he began distilling the mill’s surplus grain in Corbyville just north of the city of Belleville, Ontario. Henry imported US corn for his light whiskey, but he also added his own homegrown rye to add flavour and his personal character.

"Hiram Walker" by In Memoriam: -Tripp- is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
“Hiram Walker” by In Memoriam: -Tripp- is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Hiram Walker Distillery

At Hiram Walker, 80% of whisky made in Canada is made at this distillery. So bear with me, J.P. Wiser’s Whisky is made at Hiram Walker, I’m going to go through and tell you why. And J.P. Wiser’s is not the only brand made at Hiram Walker. They can not tell us what other brands are made there because some are the competition!

J.P. Wiser's exterior at Hiram Walker Distillery, Windsor, Ontario

What Is Canadian Whisky? And Why Do We Call It Rye Whisky?

Canadian whisky is called rye whisky because long ago, rye was the predominant grain used in the mash. The first recorded whisky making in Canada is in 1769 at a distillery in Quebec City. By the 1830s, more than 250 distilleries were using surplus harvest grain to produce an oily, pungent moonshine.

Americans in the northeast referred to it as rye to distinguish it from American whiskeys like bourbon. (Note, Canadians spell it whisky – no “e”). Why rye? Rye is a very hardy grain that withstood the colder Canadian temperatures. Hence, Canadian Whisky came to be known as rye whisky.

J.P. Wiser's 15 year old Canadian whisky bottle

In order to be called Canadian whisky, the rules and legal definition is pretty simple:

  1. It must be made with a cereal grain (by international law, this is true of all whiskies). In Canada, each grain – rye, wheat, corn or barley – is fermented, distilled and aged separately and then blended together in different ratios to create a wide variety of taste profiles. It can be any cereal grain, not just rye.
  2. The cereal mash, distillation and ageing must take place in Canada. So it’s a true “Made in Canada” product.
  3. It must be aged in wooden barrels, 700 litres maximum for a minimum of three years.
  4. It has to be a minimum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), also known as 80 proof.

Canadian ryes generally have a higher rye content, but there’s no law that says rye actually has to be used.  Confused yet? It’s not rye whisky if it isn’t made with rye. It’s just called Canadian whisky.

J.P. Wiser's Deluxe Canadian whisky bottle

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is American whiskey that is made primarily from corn. Corn must make up 51% of the mash. Bourbon sold in the United States must be produced in the U.S. and stored in a new container of charred oak.

For reference, American rye whiskey must have 51% rye in the mash bill. So, Canadians use a variety of different mash bills – that’s a combination of grains (rye, wheat, corn or barley) in different proportions and then blend them after maturation to create different flavour profiles and a pretty damn smooth product.

The Myth Of The Brown Vodka

A terrible perception of Canadian whisky or rye whisky I have heard is that it is essentially brown vodka. I would argue that Canadian whisky is actually quite tasty and nothing like vodka at all. The process of Canadian whiskies is much like whiskies from other countries.

Canadian whisky is known for its smoothness, has flavour notes of sweet vanilla, caramel toffee. Often there are tasting notes of honey and fruit. Different flavours are attributed to different ingredients in the mash.

J.P. Wiser's Legacy Canadian whisky in a glass at the end of the J.P. Wiser's / Hiram Walker whisky tour. Definitely not brown vodka.

Why is J.P. Wiser Whisky Made at Hiram Walker?

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Most bourbon distillers in the U.S. were located in the south and that meant that their whisky could not be transported and sold in the north. So, Canadian farmers and distillers were needed to send whisky south of the border to satiate the thirst of the northern Americans. Whisky was also used by doctors and medics as a disinfectant for wounds. I’d be crying over spilling whisky on my legs!

BUT, following the Civil War and the First World War, in the United States was a long period of prohibition. Prohibition dealt a really heavy blow to the distilleries in the United States, the Canadian distilleries were no longer operating at full capacity and values dropped substantially, even with all the bootlegging that was happening. Not only was it illegal to sell bottles of alcohol, but the bars were also closed, rendering all sales of alcohol illegal.

Times were so bad, this allowed for one businessman, Harry Hatch, to buy four out of the five largest whisky distilleries in Canada: J.P. Wiser’s, Corby Distilleries, Hiram Walker & Sons and Gooderham & Worts. And Hatch did so within a ten year period. They were all sold for a basement bargain price. And this is the consolidation of the Canadian whisky industry.

J.P. Wiser's Rye Whisky on shelf in the bar at the brand experience. Picture taken at the end of the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour

Hiram Walker Whisky Tour – The J.P. Wiser’s Experience

Now, let’s get on with the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour! The J.P. Wiser’s Experience takes you backstage through the production facility. You get to experience the story of Canadian whisky – from its vibrant history to the craftsmanship and process behind making it.

We had a guide for the whisky tour group – obviously, they would not allow us to wander alone and unsupervised. All tour attendees have to be legal drinking age, which is 19 in the province of Ontario. In order to participate in the tour, participants are required to wear closed-toe shoes. The J.P. Wiser’s Experience is approximately 90 minutes long. Important to note – the whisky tour is not suitable for anyone with mobility, heart conditions or balance disorders. We climbed the stairs numerous times and there were some precarious walking paths on the plant floor.

I can’t give away too much of the behind the scenes information, because it’s on a need to know basis. As in, you will need to take the tour. I can explain the production process though.

J.P. Wiser's Hiram Walker Whisky tour - Canadian Rye Whisky tour guide

Production Of Whisky

First in the process is milling and cooling. In the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour, you get to go onto the plant floor. The grains are milled to a fine flour to expose the key component, starch for the cooking process. J.P. Wiser’s sources all their grain from Canadian farmers. Each grain provides a different taste in the whisky. Corn gives a sweet creamy taste, barley provides a nutty flavour, rye leaves a cinnamon and clove spice character while wheat is the bread palette.

The flour gets transferred to a tank where it’s cooked to 75 degrees celsius, to break it down into simple sugars. As mentioned above, Canadian whisky makers are free to use any combination of grains in their blends. J.P. Wiser’s whisky is made with corn and rye. Goooderham & Worts with corn, rye, barley and wheat. Lot 40 is made with 100% rye.

Kasia and I on the J.P. Wiser's Experience Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. We are inside where 80% of the whiskey in Canada is made.

Fermentation of Whisky

The J.P. Wiser’s experience next takes you to the fermentation area. The liquid called a mash is sugar-rich and is then moved to a fermentation tank. This is where yeast is added. The yeast consumes the sugar and transforms it into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide. After three days, the fermentation creates a distiller’s beer that will reach an ABV of 14-16% for corn and 8-10% for rye, barley and wheat. This process creates five different flavours: fruity, floral, grassy, soap and sulphur.

On this Hiram Walked Whisky Tour, I did get to stick my finger into the mash, which was distilled corn. It wasn’t boiling hot as I expected, but in true “what am I thinking” fashion, I licked my fingers. It tasted awful. I seriously need to stop volunteering to do things first.

J.P. Wiser's Hiram Walker Whisky Tour Kathryn tasting mash

Distillation of Whisky

The next stop on the J.P. Wiser’s Experience is the distillation process. This is where liquids are separated based on their boiling points. Science lesson, if you have ever cooked with alcohol, you will have learned that alcohol boils at 78 degrees celsius and water will boil at 100 degrees celsius.

Distilling in a copper removes the sulphur smell and flavour. Canadian whisky distillers use different types of copper stills, depending on the grain they’re using and the flavour profile they’re looking for. J.P. Wiser’s whiskey starts with one pass through a tall copper, cylindrical beer still, which boils the distiller’s beer and turns it into a grain spirit.

J.P. Wiser's Copper Stills in Hiram Walker Distillery

From here, depending on the blend, they move on to one of the three possible steps:

  1. Put into a cask to mature so it can be used as a flavouring whisky for blending with a base whisky
  2. Distilled a second time in a column still to concentrate the alcohol to 94.5% ABV. This creates a light and refined spirit that can then mature to form a base whisky.
  3. Distilled a second time in a copper pot still  – for rye whisky. It’s a slower process that gives the distiller the ability to increase the concentration of the fruity, floral and grain notes while retaining the spicy qualities of the rye grain.

J.P. Wiser's Lot 40 Canadian Whisky distill fermentation

What’s your favourite way to drink whiskey?

How do you drink your whisky? Neat? With water? On The Rocks? With Ginger Ale? Other?

The Hiram Walker Whisky Tour concludes with a sampling session of some of the award-winning whiskies from the distillery. It was like years of sweet history in my mouth. We tasted J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe, J.P. Wiser’s 15-year-old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek. Lot 40 is the one I liked the best. Notice the glasses in the photo below – we sampled with a snifter. Not to be confused with a wine glass, a snifter has a narrow top that traps the aroma inside the glass. The rounded bottom allows the glass to be cupped in the hand. Body heat from the hand warms the whisky.

The whiskey tasting selection at J.P. Wiser's distillery experience - we tasted J.P. Wiser's Deluxe, J.P. Wiser's 15 year old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek from Hiram Walker Whisky Tour

Prior to the J.P. Wiser’s Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour, I completely lacked all appreciation for how to properly taste whiskey prior to this tour. It’s a true art!

 

J.P. Wiser's Rye Whisky Hiram Walker Whisky tour tasting

One of the best things to do in Windsor Is The J.P. Wiser's Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. Not only do you get to tour through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation areas, the tour concludes with a whisky sampling session. Read on to learn about the history of whisky in Canada and what we sampled at the end of the tour.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail – A Fun Hike With Friends

*COVID-19 TRAVEL ALERT – I am writing and providing you information on Watkins Glen Gorge Trail. I am not encouraging you to travel there right now * ⁠

Where am I happiest? Outside of course. Take me on a trail and I’ll love you forever and ever and ever. Take me to Watkins Glen Gorge Trail and we are on like Donkey Kong!

Total disclaimer – I am out of love with the guy I hiked the Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with. I was in my early 20’s and he’s ancient history. That hike was great though!

Photo taken by the uber-talented kevin wagar #chasingwaterfalls #momswhohike #friendswhohike #hikingday #waitwhatseries #waterfallchasers #myFLXtbex #watkinsglenstatepark #watkinsglengorgetrail #watkinsglengorge #upstateNY #fingerlakes #watkinsglen #racinghistory #upstatenewyork #iloveny #hikingmom #hikingadventures #womenwhohike #girlswhohike #sheexplores #empirestateofmind #empirestate #sheadventures #liveyouradventure #wildnewyork #hikeNewYork #choosewaterfalls #newyorkhike #senecalakearea
photo by Kevin Wagar

Prior to my registration and attendance at TBEX, which is a travel blogging conference that was held in Corning, New York in September in 2018, I was honestly not very familiar with the Finger Lakes area of New York State. And I’m a little ashamed of that because it’s only a 4-5 hour drive from Toronto.

In my defence, it is a different country.

Hiking Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail #chasingwaterfalls #momswhohike #friendswhohike #hikingday #waitwhatseries #waterfallchasers #myFLXtbex #watkinsglenstatepark #watkinsglengorgetrail #watkinsglengorge #upstateNY #fingerlakes #watkinsglen #upstatenewyork #iloveny #hikingmom #hikingadventures #womenwhohike #girlswhohike #sheexplores #empirestateofmind #empirestate #sheadventures #liveyouradventure #wildnewyork #hikeNewYork #choosewaterfalls #newyorkhike

I can tell you that after spending a week in the area, it’s a place worth knowing. And the Fingers Lakes is a place worth revisiting. Between wineries, breweries, cute small towns, scenic lakes, a thriving arts community, stellar local cuisine and drool-worthy restaurants in Corning, you can easily create a 7-10 day itinerary and still not see it all.

The Finger Lakes are 11 glacial lakes, all of which are shaped like fingers. Located in the central region of New York state, the region is best known for its impressive gorges. The gorges were shaped by water and ice over some 10,000 years.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail #chasingwaterfalls #momswhohike #friendswhohike #hikingday #waitwhatseries #waterfallchasers #myFLXtbex #watkinsglenstatepark #watkinsglengorgetrail #watkinsglengorge #upstateNY #fingerlakes #watkinsglen #racinghistory #upstatenewyork #iloveny #hikingmom #hikingadventures #womenwhohike #girlswhohike #sheexplores #empirestateofmind #empirestate #sheadventures #liveyouradventure #wildnewyork #hikeNewYork #chrisrudder #rudderless

Where is Watkins Glen?

Watkins Glen is an Upstate New York village in Schuyler County. When I think back about what I remember most of the village of Watkins Glen, it is the deep and proud race car history and Watkins Glen State Park. For a half-day activity, hiking the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is one of my top recommendations.

If you haven’t done the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail hike yet, it’s definitely worth the trek. This was my first time there and I say “first” because I did this with my friends, Kevin from the Wandering Wagars and Chris from Rudderless Travel, you may also know us from the spectacular web series, Wait What?! I know I’ll be back with my kids one day so they can experience the majestic waterfalls and scenery as well. There are some really iconic places there to take pictures! The experience of walking under the waterfalls, seeing the rock faces and formations from erosion, hold on… I won’t get ahead of myself.

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Watkins Glen Gorge Trail

The trail starts at the Entrance Amphitheatre. Head up the stairs, cross the Sentry Bridge over the Entrance Falls into a section called Glen Alpha.

Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most well known in the Finger Lakes Region. Within the 2 miles of the trail, hikers can see nineteen waterfalls – 19! It’s truly amazing to see.

It took us approximately 4.5 hours to do the trail. I’d say 2.5 hours of that was dedicated to stopping to take pictures and some video clips. And moments of making fun of each other, we do that a lot.

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The entrance is located right in the Village of Watkins Glen on Franklin Street. There is a pay parking lot on site ($8 for the vehicle). If you’re up for an additional walk, you can park on residential side streets and walk over to the park entrance.

You can hike the gorge trail to the end and then turn around and go back the way you came. Or hike the loop – you can hit the end of the gorge trail and then head up the Indian Trail. From the Indian Trail, check out the gorge from above and come back to the park entrance. The hike is approximately 2.4 miles, which equals 3.86 kilometres.

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 It’s Classified as a Moderate Hike

This Gorge Trail hike is listed as a moderate hike. I found it to be quite easy as I’m in decent physical shape and I’m confident my four year old son and nine year old daughter could do this hike without issue. I would say that they have done more difficult treks with naked Barbies and Thomas the Tank Engine trains in their hands.

It’s a moderate hike because of the number of stone stairs that you are required to climb through the gorge – there’s a lot. I didn’t count them, but they were the thorns of my friend Chris’s existence that day. The terrain isn’t exactly even either. If you are not wearing the right shoes, the trail could be slippery as there is water everywhere.

Indian Trail is classified as an easy hike.

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Bring A Change Of Clothes

Do not expect to stay dry on this hike. If you have non-cotton clothing suitable for the outdoors to wear that keeps moisture away from your skin, that is best to wear. Clothing like that can be purchased at MEC. Also, prAna has clothing for outdoor adventurers that I love as well.

Have a change of clothes and shoes in your waterproof backpack or in the car so you’re not travelling anywhere after with wet underwear and socks.

Yes, I’m telling you this as a Mom. And as a decent human being who knows how awful it is to sit in wet underwear.

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When Is The Best Time To Go?

The Gorge Trail is heavily trafficked. We arrived there on a Friday, the second week of September, close to noon and I wish in hindsight that we had gone earlier in the day to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, we were all out the night before partaking in some libations with friends, so…. I’ve never been one to wake up early to see sunrises, but I’ve heard being here as early to dawn as you can is something to behold.

Due to the crowds, we waited to get the right picture and that often meant waiting for quite a few people to walk through at their pace.

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While it does look like you could dip your feet in the water here, but please note that swimming is not permitted in the gorge.

If you do the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail hike early in the morning you might find it less populated. If you do have an emergency, you need to make sure you have mobile phone service to call for help.

Important to note: we did have cell phone service through the Gorge Trail and Indian Trail loop. We all had Roam Mobility SIM cards in our phones which worked well in the larger population areas, but in some of the small towns and rural roads we passed through, our service was spotty. It’s fun to disconnect, but not when you want or need to have the service.

The Most Iconic and Picturesque Shot

beautiful waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail

Here it is, it is THE PICTURE everyone must get when going into Watkins Glen Gorge Trail.

I’m including a ton of pictures in this post as I am hoping to inspire others with the awesomeness that is Watkins Glen State Park so they can get out and see it for themselves. The pictures of this gorgeous hiking trail do not do it justice at all. There are so many layers of erosion that you can touch and examine, there is moss and new tree growth everywhere. It’s quite amazing.

Chasing Waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail with Christopher Rudder and Kevin Wagar

I’d like to thank my friends Kevin and Chris for spending the day out there with me. It’s amazing that we survived that week of road-tripping there, wine tour, the few days at the conference, eating almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner together, the day of hiking and then driving home. And we’re still friends.

What was awesome about being with them is I actually got pictures of myself that aren’t just selfies! Well, I took some of those too, but they also took pictures of me. They substituted as the perfect Instagram husbands for the day, hahaha.

Girls Who Hike - Kathryn Dickson in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail
photo by Kevin Wagar

The Places You Will Go

I read to my kids a lot and a fallback story that I reach for is “The Places You Will Go”. It contains one of my favourite Dr. Suess quotes:
“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

That way. I’m just going to keep going that way.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail entrance from above

This hike is a seasonal one and the park closes in November for the winter. It will reopen again in April. This is not a place you’ll want to be sliding around when it’s frozen as gorgeous as I bet it would be.

Travelling to Watkins Glen and want to stay in the area? Check out some accommodation options (this Booking.com site pays me a commission for booking at no charge to you!):


Booking.com

What is the most epic hike you’ve been on? I’ve seen some great waterfalls and blazed some amazing trails around the world (like in Latvia and France), but I have to honestly say that my favourite people and places are within a five-hour drive from my home in Toronto.

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Hiking and Travelling in Ontario – Lockdown Edition

Hi readers! Happy New Year, it looks like we all survived and limped over the finish line. Please, pat yourself on the back, it’s well deserved. Despite all the difficulties everyone has been through, what has amazed me is the continual spirit of the travel community to keep the essence of adventure in our cores. Myself included. However, hiking and travelling in Ontario during this lockdown is a bit of a different beast. I’m not even talking about getting on a plane and going to a foreign country.

There is an ethical dilemma that has been weighing on me a lot as of late and I felt conflicted. I did not feel right writing anything new and publishing in the past month as COVID-19 cases around the Greater Toronto Area have been soaring. Simply put, I care a LOT about our outdoors and about my readers and if I am writing and providing you information, it’s meant for you to enjoy it. And enjoy it when it is safe to do so. Just because I have published a Guide to Hogg’s Falls in Grey County, I am not encouraging you to travel there from Windsor or Ottawa (or from any other distance of note) to visit right now. ⁠

Hoggs Falls in Grey County, Ontario
I love sharing trails, insider tips and insights with everyone. Getting out in nature is so good for our health and wellbeing, especially right now. Exploring Ontario is so much fun because there’s always something new I can stumble upon. Nothing brings me more joy than promoting counties and tiny towns in the province of Ontario. Or recommending restaurants and small businesses that everyone needs to know about. I’m constantly compiling and sharing information on where to see the Best Sunsets In Ontario or where to find the Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in Southern Ontario. They get updated every so often.

HR Frink Centre hiking trails to see the best fall colours around Belleville and Trenton, Ontario
On the other hand, information requests I have received for how to get into conservation areas that are closed for the season or due to Covid-19 measures or how to skirt paying for parking or admission in certain parks or conservation areas is not something I want to be known for. Please, do not ask me how to do that and please, do not attempt to do that.

Living through Lockdown Edition version 2021 in Ontario is not a plump bowl of cherries. I would love to pack up my Jeep and the kids and head back to Sudbury for some winter fun. It’s painful that we cannot. Full stop, I understand the desire to go out and explore. I am simply asking you to do so within the legal confines that we are currently faced with. I’m not the law. I cannot stop you from travelling from Toronto to take in a weekend away in Prince Edward County because you feel you need a weekend away.

Ethically, I will not encourage you to do that either.

Yes, I am acutely aware that transmission rates of Covid-19 from travel are low and it’s more likely to be spread indoors in close-contact settings.

Kathrynanywhere hiking in Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, Grey County. Hiking and Traveling in Ontario - Lockdown Edition

I will encourage hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and travelling safely while abiding by current guidelines⁠. If that means we are not supposed to venture far away from our home towns, that’s what I currently encourage. I’m going to resume publishing posts and have faith in the universe that soon it is safe for everyone to safely explore these destinations again.

There is hope on the horizon all. We just have to get there.

Be safe and see you on the trails at some point.

Pre-sunset at North Beach Provincial Park in Prince Edward County

Restaurants On King Street West – Best Take Out Options in Toronto

So here we are Toronto, back in lockdown. I don’t know about the rest of you, but cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of my life was never part of my plan. Yes, it’s healthy and yes we can argue that it can be more economical to do so. However, it takes a lot of time and energy. Time we could be listening to our children. Time we could spend out walking a few blocks and getting fresh air. In the interest of saving my sanity and investing in keeping local businesses alive as best we can, I admit to turning to my neighbourhood restaurants on King Street West for the best take out options. 

Restaurants on King Street West

From Strachan Avenue to Spadina Avenue these local restaurants on King Street West are in need of the love of the neighbourhood. Do your part and support local! If you can, skip the delivery fee, walk to pick up your meal or ride your bike. If that’s not possible all of these restaurants on King Street West use delivery services such as UberEats and Skip The Dishes. Here are some of my favourites and recommendations for you to pick from – not a single one is part of a chain or big box store. They are all locally owned and operated.

King Rustic

Gourmet Comfort Food at it’s finest! Dishes here are made from scratch, in the kitchen of the restaurant from recipes passed down from generation to generation.

You can order online from King Rustic here.

 

Beast Bogeda

Tucked onto a quiet street in a residential neighbourhood and basically behind a church is the altar of food. Get it, church, alter? Haha.

Anyway, Beast is the type of restaurant you can never get bored of. The originality and taste of the food is extraordinary. The price is good and while it is a carnivore’s dream, it is also vegetarian friendly. I’ll order from them again and again.

 

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You can order online from Beast Bodega here.

 

The Wheat Sheaf

The staple of the corner of King and Bathurst, The Wheat Sheaf is famous for its wings. While the price has gone up quite a bit since renovations between 2019-2020, they’re still tasty as all hell. And I’m a sucker for good wings. Other food options as well!

You can order online from The Wheat Sheaf here.

 

Rosina Restaurante

Hands down, the best pizza in the city can be found right here at Rosina Restaurante. My kids cannot get enough of it. This is the kind of place where the servers know your name and always want to return.

 

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You can order from Rosina Restaurante by calling them on the phone at 416-519-2994 after looking at their menu.

Bamboo Buddha Chinese Restaurant

There’s a very unscientific method to measuring how good a Chinese food restaurant is. This method is pretty much only mine and it’s not for others to take seriously… My measure is how good the General Tao chicken is. Bamboo Buddha manages to make and serve the best I’ve ever had. And seeing as though on a busy street such as King Street with a high turnover of dining establishments, this one has stood the test of time of being in business more than 15 years.

 

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You can order from Bamboo Buddha by calling them on the phone at 416-504-9311 after looking at their menu.

Oretta Cafe

The most divine desserts and pastries? Find them at Oretta. If you didn’t know before how badly you needed them in your life, you will after you taste them.

 

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You can order online Oretta Cafe here.

 

Wvrst

Normally, this is the place to go for communal beer hall good times where sausage is always on the menu. Pretzels and duck fat fries are also good. One of the coolest aspects of the delivery or take away options here is the massively extensive beer menu.

 

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You can order online from Wvrst here

 

Marben

For the farm to table food, it doesn’t get any better than Marben. And for takeout, they offer a couple of options which I think are amazing. You can do a same day order on Skip The Dishes and Ritual or you can do a custom hot takeout that has to be ordered a day in advance. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only for hot takeout, menu predetermined.

You can order online from Marben here.

 

Big Smoke Burger

Using top quality and local producers where possible, these burgers are amazing. And there are a few locations in Toronto. This one just happens to be walking distance from my front door.

You can order online from Big Smoke Burger here.

Patria

 

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You can order online from Patria here.

 

Hope this list of restaurants on King Street West in Toronto that provide take-out and delivery options has inspired you to support the local economy during this time. Of course, it’s safest to cook at home, but for the nights you need a break and you’re in downtown Toronto, consider some of these options.

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