Bon Echo – The search for the next great campsite…
As a part of the “summer of camping” that my wife and I planned out for this year, I recently had the chance to spend a few days in Bon Echo Provincial Park. Located about 2.5 hours away from Ottawa, Bon Echo is nestled in the middle of nowhere, Ontario, which is one of the main things I look for in a campground. I don’t want to be able to go to Walmart to grab a thing I forgot or to be able to go into town if there’s a rainy day. I want to get, as the Crash Test Dummies once said, “stuck right out in nature”.
Growing up back in Nova Scotia, my family and I used to spend 2-3 weeks each summer in Kejimkujik national park which is a huge, beautiful park, so it set the bar pretty high for me at an early age. Now that I have my own family and recently purchased a pop-up camper, I’ve been searching for a similar experience for my children.
The camping options
For years, I was a tent guy, but with a family who can’t quite give up all of the comforts of home (like beds and not having bugs in your hair all the time) we’ve upgraded to a tent trailer. There are hundreds of site in the main campground area, Mazinaw, and the majority have electrical hookups. Purists may dislike this idea, but it means that I can charge my phone in the trailer and take more Instagram pictures!
The sites are a mix of private and semi-private, unless you really want to get away and book one of the backwoods, canoe-in, or overnight hiking sites. We oped for a site that looked, online, to be a semi-private site in the Midway area of the Mazinaw campground. We chose this area for several reasons; it had electrical, it was pet-friendly (so the dog could come with us), and it was radio-free. Nothing ruins my out-in-nature feels like having the site next to me blaring their stereo for 12 hours a day.
What’s to do?
There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied on a weekend trip. I’m not convinced that there’s enough to do if you were to stay much longer, but hey, to each their own. There are three natural sand beaches (including a dog swimming/exercise area), rentals for canoes and kayaks (which also have “trails” which range from an hour to 5 days in length), and eight hiking trails (ranging from 1km up to 17km).
If you do take one of the canoes or kayaks out, I highly recommend taking a trip over to Mazinaw Rock. Here’s at and above water level, you can see one of Canada’s largest visible collections of pictographs. Some of these pictographs are estimated to be upwards of 1,000 years old. These are rock paintings, done largely in ocher, and are far more detailed and impressive than Petroglyphs (rock carvings) which can be found elsewhere.
Bon Echo is also the home to Peregrine Falcons. These birds are on the threatened list in Ontario, so Bon Echo is one of the best sites to see these beautiful birds of prey. In addition to the falcons, you can also see Turkey Vultures, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (until I visited, I thought this was just an insult I learned from cartoons from the 70’s and 80’s), Loons, and red-Tailed Hawks, to name just a few. If you’re looking to check a few boxes in your ornithology journal, you can pick up a checklist and more information in the gift and book shop on site.
If you’d rather catch your dinner than thaw it, you’re in the right spot. Mazinaw Lake (which butts up against Bon Echo), is full of fish. Pike, Pickerel, Bass, and Trout all call the lake home. Toss your line out from a point on the shore or rent a canoe and get out into the lake.
Bon Echo is bike-friendly, but not very. If you’re looking for a park where you can get some solid rides, in, this isn’t it. Bikes are not allowed on the trails, only the camp roads. The kids might benefit from having them, but there’s not much for an adult with a bike to do here.
There is also a visitor’s centre which has some neat information and artifacts from the history of the park grounds. It only take about 15 minutes to read all of the displays and play with all of the interactive exhibits, but it’s worth the trip.
Comforts of home
Bon Echo has a number of facilities which make life in the woods a little bit easier. There are proper washroom facilities with flushing toilets and running water scattered around the Mazinaw campground. If you find yourself running low on reasonably clean clothes (honestly, folks, we’re in the woods, nobody cares how dirty you are :)), there’s a laundromat on site that is reasonably priced.
If you’re looking to grab something you forgot, like bug spay or food, you’re out of luck. The closest grocery store, including the nearest ice vendor, is located outside the park, 7km away in Cloyne. This sort of grinds my gears. I try to remember everything, but if I’m living out of a cooler for a few days, I don’t want to have to keep driving 15km to get a bag of ice. Honestly, if this is my biggest complaint with the park, it’s a fairly minor one.
There is a park store, operated by the Friends of Bon Echo park, called the Greystones Gift and Book Shop. Here, while they don’t have ice or Muskol, they do have Bon Echo Swag and books, so there’s that.
Will we go back?
I’m not sure. It’s certainly a beautiful park and an exploration of the pictographs could certainly have occupied me for a few more days, but I don’t feel like there were enough activities to keep it interesting for the kids, and the lack of biking trails is a major bummer for me. Your results, of course, may vary.
- Dog friendly
- Canoe and kayak rentals
- Electrical hookups
- Friendly, knowledgeable staff
- Lots of campsite options
- Not a party campground, mostly families.
- No bike trails
- No camp shop for supplies
- Limited hiking trails
For more information, and to book your next trip, check out the park’s page here.