If you want to camp near a 100 metre high cliff and swim in one of the deepest lakes in Ontario, then Bon Echo Provincial Park should be on your list of places to camp at this year.
Environment: Bon Echo Provincial Park is located in South Central Ontario, near Kaladar. It was established in 1965 and is approximately 66 square kilometres, making it a good-sized park for camping. Bon Echo is situated on Mazinaw Lake, which at 145 metres is the deepest lake in Ontario, after the Great Lakes. The southeastern shoreline of Mazinaw Lake features the 100 metre high Mazinaw Rock, which has approximately 260 native pictographs. The pictographs are one of the best collections to be found anywhere in Canada. The park was named “bon echo” or “good echo” because you can hear your voice echo quite well if you are paddling along the Mazinaw Rock shoreline. Rock climbing is another attraction of the park and I have enjoyed watching rock climbers at work.
Beach: The nicest beach is at the Sawmill Bay campground and overlooks Mazinaw Rock. The larger beach is located at the south end of the park by Lower Mazinaw Lake. The larger beach tends to get quite crowded because it is in the day-use section of the park.
Camping: There are 528 campsites at Bon Echo, with 132 sites having hydro available. Highway 41 slices through the park, with about 400 campsites located on the east side of Highway 41 and the rest are on the west side. If you want to camp by Mazinaw Lake, then select a campsite on the east side of Highway 41 in either the Sawmill Bay, Fairway or Midway campgrounds. My favourite is the Sawmill Bay campground because it is quieter and has the camper’s beach, which overlooks Mazinaw Rock. Backcountry camping is available on the west side of Highway 41. There are five campsites that are located along the Abes and Essens Lake Hiking Trail and 25 canoe-in campsites are available on Joeperry and Pearson Lakes.
Canoeing and Boating: Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the park and from a local outfitter just north of the park along Highway 41. You will need a canoe or kayak if you plan to see Mazinaw Rock close up, including the pictographs. Be careful while paddling! Mazinaw Lake is large and I found that the winds would blow from the west across the lake and make paddling conditions quite challenging. In addition, you will need to watch out for powerboats and the wake that they leave behind as power boating is permitted on Mazinaw Lake. Bon Echo also has a boat launch at the south end of the park. Powerboats are not permitted on any other lakes in the park.
Fishing: Trout, pickerel, bass and pike and other species of fish can be found in this region.
Hiking: There are 5 hiking trails that range in length from 2-17 kilometres. The Cliff Top Trail is a “must-see” because it offers one of the best panoramic views in the province. You must take the Mugwump Fairy across the narrows in Mazinaw Lake to Mazinaw Rock. From there, you climb a series of staircases 100 metres up to the top of the cliff. There is also a short 2-kilometre hike on top of the cliff. Another option is the Bon Echo Creek Trail, which follows Bon Echo Creek to Mazinaw Lake and is only 2-kilometres as well.
Shopping: Camping supplies are available outside of the park and a few kilometres north on Highway 41, overlooking Mazinaw Lake. For a greater selection, go south seven kilometres on Highway 41 to Cloyne.
The Amphitheatre: The amphitheatre is located at the south end of the park.
The Visitor Centre: The Visitor Centre is located in a quaint old cottage close to Mazinaw Lake and is worth seeing.
Wildlife: I found the best opportunities for viewing wild animals to be early in the morning while the other campers were still asleep. The campground roads on the west side of Highway 41 are a good choice.
In Conclusion: The July-August occupancy rate for 2009 was 74%, however, this number is misleading because the park is always busy on weekends. There is plenty to see and do at Bon Echo, including: Mazinaw Rock, the pictographs and to swim in one of the deepest lakes in the province. You can easily spend a week there. I have completed five camping trips to Bon Echo and still haven’t had a chance to fully explore the west side of the park. I intend to do this on my next trip there.
My Park Rating: 5 out of 5