February 23, 2017

Chimney Bluffs State Park

Frankie was on winter break from school this week, meaning that with a little schedule finagling, we had a free day together for a mid-week hike.  I was craving an adventure, something off our beaten path, and considered various options before settling on Chimney Bluffs State Park.  I hadn't been there since I was pregnant with Frankie, and I thought he'd enjoy seeing the eponymous spires, pinnacles, and cliffs.  Plus, there is the whole attraction of the lake...  Kids love water, and he hadn't seen a Great Lake since camping at the Pinery last May.  He wasn't thrilled about the idea of driving an hour to get there, but I brought along a new kryptonite for passing travel time: a sketchbook and pen.  I think he was actually (briefly) disappointed when we arrived.  He happily drew Calvin and Hobbes all the way home, too. 

There are multiple parking areas at Chimney Bluffs.  We parked at the western lot, on Garner Road.  From here there is a short paved path down to a picnic area by the lake shore.  The Bluff Trail heads off to the east through the trees near the edge of the water.  It veers inland a bit to cross a bridge over a wetland, then works back closer to the shore again.  The woods are elevated above the rocky shore line, perched on a miniature bluff right from the start.  Frankie was just itching to get down the slope so he could throw rocks in the water.  I assured him the trail goes down to the water after crossing over the tops of the bluffs, and he was eager to keep moving.

We enjoyed the hike through the woods to the bluffs enormously.  Frankie was waxing poetic about all the mud, declaring it his favorite thing about hiking in the spring.  He thought the bluffs were cool, too, but wasn't impressed enough to want to hang out.  He was determined to get down to the water.  The beach is suitably rocky, and he started flinging immediately with great abandon as soon as we arrived.  The trail comes down right by the eastern parking lot on East Bay Road, so I began gradually moving westward along the shore.  I never want to hang out right by a parking lot.  I promised Frankie we'd find a spot to take a long break further east.  Unfortunately, I kind of let him down on that one, although not by design...

I had been prepared for there to be a lot of snow and ice along the beach.  It is February, right?  So even though I'd always previously made a loop of hiking the Bluff Trail down, and the beach back, I researched other options.  If the beach wasn't passable, we'd climb back up the eastern end of the Bluff Trail, then make a loop following the Drumlin Trail (see State Parks map here).  Frankie was not interested in the Drumlin Trail; he wanted to go back by the water.  And it seemed perfectly fine, at first, except it was super wet.  We couldn't find anywhere dry to set down our bags, so we kept moving, looking for that perfect spot.  The trouble came when we had to pass the drainages coming down off the bluffs.  The spectacular spires form through erosion; snowmelt and runoff wash down through the clay, with diminutive mudslides carrying sediment into the lake, muddying the water near the base of the bluffs.

To get back to the parking lot along the beach, we had to cross numerous such mud drainages.  The stuff was like quick sand!  Nothing dangerous, but we both ended up wet and muddy.  And worst of all, the sensation of sinking uncontrollably in the mud frightened my poor little guy.  At first he was only slightly nervous.  I held his hand tight, and we got through each section fairly quickly.  I pointed out another family hiking east with two older boys, maybe 9 and 11, who were absolutely loving the mudslide areas, seeking out the deepest spots to play.  He didn't get really scared until the last and biggest crossing, when several attempted routes proved impassable.  When I offered the option of turning back, he refused, because then he'd have to re-cross all the smaller mud drainages (which now seemed scarier).  Once we were through the last mud crossing, there was a sort of dryish fallen log and I sat Frankie down for a rest.  I felt horrible that he had been so scared, but a lollipop and a cuddle cheered him up. 

Part of the problem may have been that he'd stuffed his pack full of giant rocks!  He likes carrying the backpack so he can bring back treasures: cones, leaves, nuts, feathers, rocks, bark, shells, pods.  He calls it his "adventure pack" to differentiate from the bigger backpack he uses for school.  However, since kids shouldn't carry too much weight, I've always been super careful about what goes into his pack.  For example, when we set out today, his rain coat was the only thing in the adventure pack; I was carrying his snacks and water and extra layers.  I knew he added a few things at the beach, but until today, he has only collected small rocks.  Reasonable rocks!  He has a few dozen from the Pinery in a mason jar on a bookcase in his room.  But that adventure pack was HEAVY.  He actually told me, it's good training!  Poor Frankie. 

Apparently my lesson for the day is that I need to more closely monitor what he stuffs in that adventure pack.  Luckily I had a change of clothes waiting in the car, so he changed and was comfortable for the drive home. We definitely got our adventure! 

the short paved trail down toward the lake
first close up of Lake Ontario
the distant bluffs; the trail starts out as an extension of the mowed lawn on the right of this picture

Frankie happily embraces mud season ethics -- always go through the mud, not around




Frankie stuffed all these rocks into his backpack


  1. cool pictures!!!!!! Super--looks like fun! I always loved it there! Haven't been now in a LONG time. How far did the Frankster carry those ridiculous rocks?