Some trails sneak into your life effortlessly, quietly, without much fanfare. One day you turn around and there it is, lying on the ground behind you like an unspooled thread. Other trails take years to complete. Not because they are so long but because every time you attempt to hike them, something comes up between you and the trail: lack of time, bad weather, non-hiking mood, other laziness-inspired excuses. Lakeshore Trail in Silent Lake Provincial Park is one of the latter.
Ever since we learned about this 15-kilometre trail during one of our visits to the park, we’ve been making plans to hike it. Each subsequent visit was supposed to be the one when we complete this trek, and yet every one of them went by and the trail remained untouched by our hiking boots. We made forays into it in the summer and then in the winter, never getting more than a couple kilometers in. On one occasion, we came determined not to let anything stand in our way, only to be sabotaged by our own inability to wake up on time. By the time we got out of the tent well after noon, all we were able to do is cover the same two kilometers in search of a geocache that wasn’t even there. We were close to declaring this one a lost cause. I even started to believe that it was a phantom trail that only revealed itself to worthy hikers and we hadn’t earned our access just yet. But then, inspired by our continuous and, in the end, successful attempts to paddle to the Big Bend in Arrowhead, we decide to give it another go and booked a camping trip to Silent Lake for the end of September.
One reason I like camping at Silent Lake is the park’s walk-in sites. Located about 5-10 minutes away from the road, they offer a great ratio of backcountry feel to the effort involved. Sure, it’s no wilderness and people are within sight but no vehicles are seen or heard so that’s a big plus. Considering all that is required is a ten minute stroll, that’s a great alternative to car camping where you get to wake up to the views of your own or someone else’s car, or worse – trailer, sometimes with a persistent hum of a generator thrown into the mix.
So yes, those ten minutes can make a huge difference. I admit that difference can tip towards negative when you arrive late at night and still have to do the set-up in the rain. That’s when those extra ten minutes required to get your gear to the site start to feel like a Pacific Crest Trail, and random thoughts pop into your head uninvited, like “Wouldn’t it be easier if I didn’t have to clamber over wet roots in the dark?” or better yet “Why not just book a cabin; Silent Lake has some fabulous cabins after all.” All those thoughts are gone the next day when you get out of the tent and plunge right into the serenity of the forest.
That serenity must be in the air. That’s the only way I can explain why sometime around ten the next morning we were still struggling to leave our snugly cocoons. Needless to say, all our plans to wake up early and hit the trail by 11 went out the tent window. We kept saying to each other that it was time to get moving, but then inadvertently got lulled back to sleep over and over again by the pitter patter against the tent roof. Isn’t that the most soothing sound in the entire universe? That pitter-patter alternated between occasional dribs and drabs from trees and actual rain through the morning as we prepared and ate breakfast. We huddled under a tree with our coffee refusing to put up a tarp because the weather forecast promised the rain would stop by the morning (come on, weather people, you have one job to do!).
At one point, as I gazed into the dark vortex of my coffee cup, I could sense the beginning of an excuse swirling inside my head, that seductive whisper: You could just stay by the fire, do nothing. What if the rain doesn’t stop? What if the trail refuses to reveal itself yet again? Luckily, we are not easily led astray, at least not this time. The rain must have sensed our determination and by noon was gone, leaving behind nothing but a faint haze of memories. And also wet roots and rocks, and generous helpings of droplets from tree branches. By one, we were done with breakfast (or should I say brunch?), cleaned the dishes, packed away food into the food storage, ready to hit the trail. It was a little later (a lot later) than we planned to leave but with six hours recommended for the trail, we still had enough time to complete it before the sunset.
Our hike started with familiar sights: a lookout over the lake, an island we once swam to. But once we got past the often trotted terrain, we knew the curse of the Lakeshore Trail had been broken.
The trail hugged the shore tightly at first, then merged with a bike trail, one of the three loops in the park. Eventually, they parted ways (to be reunited once again towards the end) as the Lakeshore Trail veered off to visit other smaller lakes, the names of which seemed to have come from a thesaurus under the word “silent”. We passed by Quiet Lake, Soft Lake, eventually settling by one of those noiseless bodies of water for lunch, or whatever you call a meal consumed at 3 p.m.
The area does live up to its quiet reputation. It’s an introvert of the parks. With no cottages lining the shore, no motor boats allowed on the lakes and hardly any people on the trail, we could submerge ourselves into the gentle hum of the forest.
The trail, while long, didn’t present any challenges. The path was well marked. There were a few ups and downs but for the most part it was an easy hike through the woods. We finished in a little over five hours, and that included a lengthy break.
By the time we got to the final section of the trail, most of the pouty clouds parted letting through the sun. I knew there was a reason the trail kept avoiding us for so long. It just wanted to present itself in its best attire. Fall, more subtle in Toronto, had been hard at work fitting the forest at Silent Lake with flashy garments, weaving her signature reds and yellows into the green tapestry. A trail of multicoloured yarn lay in her wake, a reminder that soon all of her glorious creations will be discarded on the ground. But she seemed unfazed by it, hard at work to give every tree and bush a makeover, probably because she knows she’ll get to do it all over again next year.
As for us, happy to have put this elusive trail behind us but also hoping to explore it again in other seasons, we watched the sun repaint the sky to match the trees before darkness spilled all over the forest.