Come Wander
Michelle Kobzik Weekend Wanderer

Michelle Kobzik

Elementary School Teacher
Calabogie, Ontario – Ottawa Valley

For many, summer doesn’t officially begin until the final bell rings on that glorious late June afternoon. That’s when students and teachers alike head out on vacation, finally ready to flip the switch from “work” to “play”. But for Michelle Kobzik, all year round is a travelling adventure! A teacher by day, Michelle shares her passion for the outdoors with her students daily, but once out those elementary school doors on Fridays, she is an avid weekend adventurer who doesn’t have to go far from home to explore stunning wilderness and discover new experiences to push her limits.

Growing up in the Ottawa Valley with a bold intrepid spirit, she has mastered the art of wandering in her own backyard and yet still finds the land and its people surprise her time and time again. Just two winters ago, she stumbled upon a Facebook picture of a massive ice castle in her home town of Calabogie. Immediately, she and her husband jumped in the truck and drove straight to it, returning to it that night once again to see it lit up in all its glory. For Michelle, there is never a shortage of spontaneous fun when you’re always ready to rediscover the place you call home.

As someone who loves to be outside, how does wandering here in your backyard compare to travel elsewhere?

That’s simple. A lot less people and a lot more wilderness.

You are constantly uncovering new spots to explore in the wild. What is one ‘hidden gem’ in the Ottawa Valley that visitors would be surprised to find?  

Probably the frozen waterfalls at the bottom of the Eagle’s Nest trail. A lot of locals didn’t even know they existed until I showed them my pictures. The hike to the top of Eagle’s Nest is very popular, but very few explore the bottom Manitou Mountain Trail section. There is also a little cave along the trail that I used to spend hours in as a kid.

Adding new experiences to your travel log must be fun, but is there one thing you love to do time and time again?

Floating down the Madawaska River! I have a group of friends who get together every year to float from Cherry’s Point to the Springtown Bridge. It is roughly eight kilometers and takes about two hours depending on the current that day. We all show up with a floatie and hang out as the river takes us for a ride. It’s amazing.

That sounds relaxing! After a busy week in the classroom, how else do you unwind?

I don’t drink alcohol so it’s not happy hour, and I also don’t drink coffee so it’s not a quiet book in a cafe. I like to recharge by going outside – by hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, ice climbing – it all depends on the season, really.

Ice climbing is such a unique hobby. Where would you suggest are the best spots to go climbing for an experienced climber, and someone just starting out?

My husband is an ice climber, so he introduced me to it! For an experienced ice climber, there are lots of options in Calabogie and the Bancroft area. I would suggest Bow Lake and Diamond Lake in particular. For those just starting out, there is a man-made wall in Haliburton which offers courses for beginners (Medeba).

What is one wandering tip you would offer visitors to Ontario’s Highlands?

I’ve got a couple actually. Bring an actual paper road map with you, because cell service does not always exist here. Make sure your gas tank is full, you just never know how far you might end up going. And always have a camera on hand. I love taking photos and every single view around here is inspiring.

Where is your favourite spot to take a selfie?

Probably the top of Eagle’s Nest Lookout. The view honestly goes on for miles.

You must need to fuel up after all your adventures. What is your go-to meal of choice?

Ice cream! I come by it honestly. My dad loves ice cream and always took me to Tracey’s Dairy as a child. As an adult, I’ve decided to branch out and explore more of my options. Last summer, we tried a new spot every time we travelled, which is where I discovered Scoops in Pakenham and Knuz in Burnstown. Tracey’s is still my favourite though. It’s the most affordable and has the widest variety of flavours.

Your two-year-old daughter must have loved that. It’s awesome that you are introducing her to such epic adventures at a young age. In your opinion, where is the best place to explore with kids?

We love to go camping as a family, and highly recommend Bonnechere Provincial Park for families with young children. There is a beautiful beach with shallow water which makes it ideal for swimming with kids. The Bonnechere River flows into Round Lake so there’s a lot of opportunities to view wildlife and go paddling. I’m also a huge fan of their book tree. It’s a pretty cool place to explore with kids.

Not only are you a weekend wanderer, but you also explore Monday through Friday during the summers. What is special about wandering during the week?

The best part about adventuring during weekdays is that we avoid the crowds. Our area isn’t overly busy to begin with, but summer is definitely “tourist season”. We can go to the beach on a weekday and have it all to ourselves! Same goes for camping; if we go from Monday to Friday, we can always find a spot that’s peaceful.

So, would you say that visitors coming on a weekday are more likely to see the area through the eyes of someone who lives here?

Yes. Exploring during the weekend is great, and staying longer into the week will allow visitors to experience this area the way we, the locals, know it. It’s a slower pace and can be very calming. There’s nothing like it.