Sunday, November 9, 2014

Outdoor Challenges

Anyone reading this blog probably doesn't need a reason to go outside.  I'm going to guess you are already a fan of camping, hiking, fishing, or any other activity that takes place in the open air.  But, if you are like me, maybe you need some inspiration for where to go or what to try next.

I've seen quite a few things online that would be fun, challenging, and provide an excuse to get outside and do more things in nature.  Some of them are official challenges run by either Ontario Parks, or some other non-profit organization.  Some are goals I've seen groups of people trying for that have no real backing other than some like minded outdoors people challenging themselves.  There's no badge or name on a plaque, just the satisfaction of knowing you've done something pretty darn cool.

So, I thought I'd post them here with links for the ones that have an actual page with more information, not just for readers, but for myself as well.  Kind of a bucket list I guess.  Here goes.

section badge for Rideau Trail
1. Major Trail End to End 
There are several "big trails" in Ontario (and I'm sure there are lots in other provinces as well) that people aim to hike the total length of.  In the US, there are several that people do all in one go, like the Appalacian and the Pacific Crest.  These challenges take months to complete and many more to prepare for.  Sadly, the ones in Ontario are hard to do in such a way.  There are few places to camp and some are almost entirely on private land where no camping is allowed.  What a lot of people do is keep a log of the sections they've done.  Some trails have patches you can send away for if you want an official acknowledgement of your success.  You simply send your hiking log and a small fee to the administration body of the trail and voila!

Here are some trails that offer badges for completing trails either whole or in sections
Rideau Trail
Bruce Trail
Ganaraska - Note: There's no pictures of the badges but they are listed on the downloadable merchandise order form at this link.
Oak Ridges Trail
Also note that in most cases you need to be a member of the trail association to qualify.  Memberships are usually about $30 for the whole family, but check each trail's websites to get an accurate amount.

While badges aren't really a reason to get out and experience these trails, it sure can help kids get excited about it.  My kids love trail patches.  They aren't in scouts or guides, but we plan to make a quilt/blanket with all their patches at some point.  You can also buy badges for different parks if you've stayed there, and some parks have them for each of their trails (Algonquin, Bon Echo and Killarney to name a few.)

2. Long Distance Hiker Badges
This program is run through the Hike Ontario program which encourages people of all ages to get out and hike.  There are three levels.  The Red Pine badge requires 550km of hiking with at least 150km to be on 2 of Ontario's long distance trails.  Second is the Trillium which requires a total of 950km with 150km on 3 long distance trails.  Third is Tamarack which requires a total of 1500km with 150km on each of 3 different long distance trails.  I'm working on getting a bit more information on this program to clarify the requirements (example what trails qualify etc)

3. The Meanest Link
A canoe trip that takes you through some of the prettiest parts of Algonquin Park?  Count me in!  This has been on my to do list for a while.  The Meanest Link is a multi night canoe route that joins 4 Algonquin Outfitter locations and therefore is broken into four sections.  Huntsville to Brent, Brent to Opeongo, Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake and Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville.  You can do this trip in one big trip (can take up to 3 weeks) or do it in smaller sections.  For more information, check out the Algonquin Outfitter's website.

4. Frontenac Challenge
The Friends of Frontenac Provincial Park offers a few neat challenges to it's users.  The first is called the Frontenac Challenge.  The goal here is to hike all of the parks 11 trail loops during September and October.  People who complete the challenge get a certificate and their name on a plaque in the park office.  At one time, Frontenac also offered a challenge where you had to camp at least one night in the park during each month of one calendar year, but I can't seem to find that one any more.  There is also a Junior Hiking Challenge that only requires completing 6 of the hiking loops in the months of September and October. To complete the challenge, you first register at the gate, and get a "passport." Along the trail are signs with key words that you need to write on your log sheet.  These change every year depending on the theme chosen for the season. Here's some helpful hints on completing this challenge.

5. The Algonquin Park Lakes Challenge 
This isn't an official challenge, just something I've seen on camper's blogs and on a few Algonquin forums.  The challenge is to paddle as many bodies of water as possible in Algonquin Park and keep a running tally of them.  This includes rivers, ponds, lakes and creeks.  If it has a name on the Park map, you count it.  While there's no badge for this one, it sure provides a good excuse to try out sections of the park you've never been to before.  You can track this in a few ways.  The easiest is to make a list of lake names, but it could also be cool to have a copy of the park map that you can mark your routes on.

6. Races
If you are a runner or a biker, there are some cool races that take place in Ontario Parks (and other parks across Canada)  Some of them have entrance fees, some require you to raise pledges to help support the park itself.  Either way, it's a fun way to help out a good cause and spend some time in the outdoors.  Some examples in Ontario:
Arrowhead Provincial Park: Running Scared - 5K zombie run - race along the parks trails and ry to avoid the zombies who seek to steal your life flags.
Pinery Provincial Park - Road Race - Includes a 200m fawn run (kids run?) and races from 2km to 10km including wheelchair categories.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park - Xterra Triathlon this event includes a full triathlon, a short course triathlon, a duathlon and 2 running races.
Sandbanks Provincial Park - Sandbanks hosts a few events in the fall, from a 5 and 10K event day to a marathon that lets you qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Of course you don't have to limit yourself to runs that are held in parks.  There's lots of great trail runs that raise money for local charities.

7. Every Park Challenge
This isn't an official challenge anywhere that I've been able to find, but a while back, Ontario Parks had a list of parks and you went through and checked off the ones you'd been to.  I always thought a cool goal would be to camp in all the Ontario Parks (that allow it...obviously some aren't going to be included in this)

8. Big Wild Challenge 
This is run by MEC as far as I can tell, and raises money for CPAW, an organization that helps protect wilderness areas all over Canada.  At the moment, the website merely says thanks to those who participated in 2014, but from what I can tell, there are several races held through the year or you can make a DIY Big Wild Challenge where you register a big trip (say a long canoe trip) then gather pledges to donate to charity.  Pretty cool.

9. Heathy Hikes 
A simple challenge to encourage more people to use Ontario Conservation Areas.  You simple register and log your hikes that take place in the 36 Ontario Conservation Areas between May 1 and October 31.  There are random prize draws made after the end of the season.

Please keep in mind that not all of these official challenges may be held each year.  I've tried to only post about ones that have at least run a few years.

I hope this helps people set some goals and encourages you and your family to get outside more.

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