I’ve said it many times before: for me camping is all about connections. It’s about spending uninterrupted time and strengthening ties with my family. Sometimes, it’s about getting lost in nature (not literally) and reconnecting with myself, like during my solo trip. And then at times, it’s about connecting with my friends. Case in point: our recent trip to Bon Echo.
Bon Echo Provincial Park
Falling for Fall Camping
Summer is officially over but it doesn’t mean you have to put your camping gear away. Fall has so much to offer that it will make you fall in love with camping all over again. Here are some reasons why we love fall camping so much:
View from the Crack, Killarney Provincial Park
Well, it is an obvious one. Albert Camus once said that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I could use hundreds of words to describe the second spring and wouldn’t come even close to capturing the beauty that is a forest in the fall. It’s as if nature, in the face of impending monochromatic winter, splashes all its paints across the canvas.
Looking up, Canisbay Lake Campground, Algonquin Provincial Park
Feast for Senses
Fall is a feast not only for your eyes but all the other senses as well. Cool crispness of the morning, earthy smell of mushrooms, crunchy leaves under your feet, campfire smoke dancing in the sunlight, multicoloured foliage twirling in the wind. Fall air is filled with beauty and tranquility.
Rediscover Your Favourite Parks
It is a great opportunity to rediscover your favourite parks and see them in a new light, both literally and figuratively. With the beach weather gone, fall is a good time to try new activities that parks have to offer, explore new trails and locations.
Canoeists on Mazinaw Lake, Bon Echo Provincial Park
Speaking of the weather, cooler temperatures make most camping activities, like hiking and biking, more pleasant and less sweat-inducing. Yes, the evenings are usually chilly but they make campfires even more inviting and conversations more sizzling. Plus a hearty stew tastes so much better on a chilly fall night by the fire!
Getting Wood at Killarney Biking at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park
Absence of Bugs
No bugs! To all those people who can’t go camping because of pesky mosquitoes and flies – fall is the time to try it.
Finally, one of my personal favourites – fewer people. Parks tend to get overcrowded in the summer. As the number of park visitors subsides in the fall, I can finally find much needed solitude and refuge from the city buzz. As the nature starts slowing down preparing for the winter, I am inspired to do the same: breathe in deeply, exhale slowly, calm down my racing mind and listen to myself.
For a list of great Ontario Parks to visit in the fall, check out my article on Parks Blogger Ontario.
A Different Side of Bon Echo: Hiking the Abes and Essens Trail
Every year, we like to try a new outdoor activity. Last year, we went white-water rafting at Glacier National Park in Montana. The year before, we tried sea kayaking at Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. And before that, it was our first multi-day canoe trip through Algonquin’s Barron Canyon. This year, we decided to go on an overnight backpacking trip. We’ve done a fair share of hiking but all of the trails were short and could be finished in one day.
For our overnight adventure, we picked the Abes and Essens Lake Trail in Bon Echo Provincial Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to experience a different side of Bon Echo. We camped at this park before but stayed at one of the campgrounds close to Mazinaw Lake and those tend to get overcrowded, especially on weekends.
The trail is only 17 km long and can certainly be covered in a day but also has five campsites along the way for those who’d like to camp overnight. We booked site #530 on Little Rock Lake. Our plan was to cover most of the trail on the first day. That way we wouldn’t have to rush packing the next morning and still have plenty of time to finish the trail and drive back to Toronto.
We arrived in Bon Echo late on Friday and stayed the first night on one of the sites at the Hardwood Hills campground. In all our years of front-country camping, we have never been anywhere this quiet. That was probably why we slept in. Even our younger son, who usually wakes sometime between six and seven, slept until 11. So if you are looking for peace and quiet but without all the work of back-country camping you should check it out. Plus the campsites are pretty big and private, especially further away from the comfort station.
The next morning, we packed up our tent, made our favourite Power Breakfast to keep us going, picked up our permit from the office and set out on a trail around 1:30. We started at the trail end, which is a bit down the road from the trail parking lot. The Abes and Essens Lake Trail has three loops: 4, 9 and 17 km. At the beginning we met quite a few people finishing the first loop. As we passed the first fork, the number of people dropped significantly. We met lovely campers at site 526 and there were a bunch of tents set up on site 527. Once we got to loop three, we stopped for lunch and some rest.
The scenery wasn’t breathtaking but it was pretty with small lakes, rocky shores and beautiful flowers. As for the terrain, there were some ups and downs but overall the trail was not difficult. We had to take off our shoes to cross the stream leading into Abes. There were a few rocks you could use to skip across but we didn’t want to risk getting all our stuff wet.
There were two more sites on Abes Lake, both occupied and looking pretty big. Once we got past Abes, the trail became really overgrown and that’s where I tumbled over and hurt my ankle. Even as I was falling down, two thoughts shot through my mind: What if I broke something? How are we getting out of here? Once the pain became less intense, we figured it wasn’t a fracture after all and since the only way to get out of there was to keep walking we had to move on. My husband piled up my backpack on top of his own, my kids found me a nice stick and I just hopped along.
The chunk of the trail between Abes and Little Rock Lake was probably the worst part of our trip. And not only because I was hurting and slow. It was really overgrown and at times hard to see the trail. Mosquitoes were ruthless and after a while our younger son, who is a human mosquito magnet, got really cranky. So after two hours of mosquitoes buzzing, my ankle throbbing and my son complaining, an orange campsite sign was a welcome sight. Since it was already almost seven and my foot didn’t look too bad, we decided to stick to our original plan and camp there.
Site 530 is the only one on the lake and since no one seems to be hiking along loop three, not a single person passed our site during our stay there. As I was lying on the rocky shore with my foot stuck into the lake, breathing in the solitude and tranquility, I realized that’s what happiness felt like. There were clouds of dragon flies and damselflies swooshing above and it made our son very happy since they eat mosquitoes. The way he put it: this is a blessing and it’s beautiful too.
Just to recap the rest of our stay. The site had a beautiful view of the lake but hardly any space for a tent. After some turning this way and that, we managed to squeeze it onto a tiny piece of soil between the rocks. On our way out, further down the trail, we did find more space that could be used for a tent and someone had obvious done that before. After the tent was up, we made a minestrone soup but added too much lentils and dried vegetables so it turned into a minestrone stew. Our kids proclaimed it the best meal ever. The next day, while my husband and kids were packing, I was soaking up vitamin D, cooling my ankle in the lake and making friends with minnows and tadpoles.
It took us two hours to finish the trail. We stopped at Mazinaw Lake for a swim to wash off dirt and sweat, grabbed some ice-cream in Cloyne, dropped off kids at home and headed to an emergency room.