As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent an incredible bit of time up north this summer, which is good. Getting copious amount of sun and exercise, which is also good. But what is even better than all of this is that none of it has been the opposite, bad. Last summer as readers of this blog will know there were several distinct moments where our northerly fun was quashed by heavy handed administration, crumby weather and other campers who lacked basic etiquette. This year has been the polar opposite. Weather – lovely. Companions – a joy. Other campers – pleasant. Administration – unseen. And, as always, Ontario Parks – magnificent. I can only hope you have been enjoying it as much as I.
So this past weekend we blasted up the Trans-Canada highway bound for a park I had heard a lot about but never visited. Oddly, it was a park for which many sung its praises but no one ever said exactly why. No one ever explained what made it so great. It was almost as if there were some indescribable element that everyone experienced but instead trying to explain it, they simply said… ‘go and see.’
Bon Echo was the park and it lived up to much of its hype. And as it is not the mandate of this blog to leave you guessing, I shall try my best to convey its majesty.
Located in between Belleville and Renfrew, Bon Echo is considered by many to be one of the post picturesque parks in Ontario. Heavy coverage of old pines, which have been left to grow since the early 1900’s, leave ground level relatively sparse. None-the-less, smart site placement allows for excellent privacy for most campers. The Group Sites, where we stayed, are secluded and natural, many offering paths to private beach areas off of Joeperry lake. The park itself, with its clearly cut paths and high canopy with sparse ground coverage truly reflects the use of the park as a resort and a children’s camp, as it was used from 1900 – 1950.
Bon Echo’s true defining feature is Mazinaw Rock. Rising erect directly out of Mazinaw Lake, Mazinaw Rock stands above the water over 100 meters and carries for over 1.5 km. When I first saw it I could do nothing but stand awestruck. It is as if picked directly from a Group of Seven painting, and, indeed, the Group of Seven did frequent the park, and I am sure stood equally awestruck as I.
We were quick to rent canoes and paddle alongside the great wall. Mazinaw Lake, I quickly realized, has one of the most interesting topographies I had ever come upon. Upon leaving a lagoon where you rent canoes, the land parallel to Mazinaw Rock at the other side of the lake, about .5 km across, abruptly juts directly towards the rock wall. This means the lake suddenly narrows to only a tiny passage right next to the wall before quickly widening again. This forms a peninsula which, viewed from above, is one of the parks most unique features.
Canoeing next to the wall you are treated to several other surprises. Native Canadian pictographs can be faintly seen painted on the rock wall. 260 of them total! We were told about them before heading out but they are still very difficult to see. Another option is to take the Mugwump Ferry on which an experienced guide will point them out for you. Drifting along you come upon another bazaar sighting. A memorial to poet Walt Whitman is actually carved into the wall in foot high letters. Former owners of the area commissioned the memorial and it still stands today. A slight shame to perform such a novelty in a place of such grandeur but certainly an interesting spectacle.
There is also a spectacular trail that hikes on top of the wall and is only reachable by boat. The park operates a shuttle at the price of $3 per rider that will take you across, or you can rent a canoe and dock it. Either route to get there is definitely worth the price of admission.
The beaches of Bon Echo are decent. Several options are available, one grassy, one with fine rock, and the last pure pebble. The Mazinaw is actually the second deepest lake in Ontario, and due to the extreme glacial impact, sand and mud are quite rare under the water. The pebble lake bed means the water remains quite cool, though with the summer we’ve had it is still perfect for swimming. This also means that fish and other lake species are not all that numerous in the area. Though the park is one of the few places where you can find Ontario’s only lizard, the Five-Lined Skink.
Bon Echo is another of Ontario’s absolute treasures. And although I have done my best to show its wonder, I still implore you to ‘go and see.’