For our next sumer time excursion in Lennox & Addington, my partner Heidi and I set our sights to the northern portion of the county for a highly anticipated escape to The Addington Highlands. There, we would spend three days exploring the splendid scenery of Bon Echo Provincial Park. From hiking, kayaking and scenic boat tours to delicious local food and beyond – get ready for our biggest Lennox & Addington adventure yet!
Without further delay, join us and be completely immersed in the immaculate verdant expanse of #BonEcho.
Day 1: History, Hiking & One Heck of a Sunset
On the morning of our trip, we ate a quick breakfast at home and hit the road by 7:30. After a short, yet beautiful road trip along the 41, we arrived at Bon Echo and drove along the main park road to a parking area near the visitor’s centre. As we followed a footpath leading toward a nearby beach, we were met by one of the parks unofficial greeters. A rather chatty and fuzzy little fellow if I do say so.
Standing in The Company of Giants
As we stepped out onto the sandy beach that hugged the shore of Mazinaw Lake, we were halted in our tracks by the astonishing spectacle known as Bon Echo Rock. Standing an incredible 330 feet at its highest point – this geological marvel looks out over the entire park with an air of omnipotence and divine presence.
The word Mazinaw is derived from the Algonquin word: “Mazinaabikinigan-zaaga’igan,” which literally means: “painted-image lake.” For the Anishinaabe First Nations, Mazinaw is a place of great spiritual significance. Perhaps within a similar context to how the ancient Greeks regarded Mount Olympus – as a physical or earthbound link to their mythology, gods, spirits and ancestors.
Uncovering Bon Echo’s History and Legends
The park visitor centre is located in a cabin called Dollywood, which is one of the original rental cottages left over from the former Bon Echo Inn which was closed in 1928 – and burnt to the ground after being struck by lightning in 1936. The inn was a massive three storey building that was originally a religious retreat and later turned into a vacation spot after being purchased by prominent Canadian Suffragette Flora MacDonald Denison.
In 1959, Flora’s son (famous Canadian journalist and playwright Merrill Denison) donated the surrounding land holdings to the provincial government to be turned into a provincial park space for conservation and public enjoyment. Throughout the life of the inn, several prolific Canadian writers and artists came to visit and be inspired by Bon Echo, including members of The Group of Seven.
Within the visitors’ centre there are several exhibits representing several intriguing chapters of Bon Echo’s history. Most fascinating among them is the information about the relationship between Mazinaw Rock, and the First Nations. Here you can learn more about the 200+ ancient pictographs that adorn the great rock along the water’s edge.
Above is a reproduction of a pictograph representing Mishipizheu a mythical creature or deity from Anishinaabe lore, which means “Great Lynx” (or Panther in Ojibwe). This massive horned underwater cat would swing its tail, creating waves, winds and storms. It is also linked to the legend(s) surrounding “Nanabozho” or “Nanabush” who is a prominent spirit or Trickster appearing in many Anishinaabe stories.
A Memorable Hike on the Shield Trail
After an enlightening stop at the Bon Echo Visitor Centre, we were itching to get out and explore more of the park. We made the short journey to a little side-road on the west side of Highway 41, where we’d find the entry point to The Shield Trail: a moderate difficulty 4.8-kilometre loop (2+ hours) that carves its way through the rocky and rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield.
The first portion of the Shield Trail followed a segment of the now overgrown Addington Road. Throughout the hike are points of interest and the now virtually invisible locations of old homesteads that have been long since reclaimed by the young forest. Perhaps all that remains of them are a slight depression in the earth where a cellar once was.
Along the walk are the faintest echoes of human habitation – now replaced by the beautiful forest which is thriving, but still recovering from extensive logging operations that had stripped much of the surrounding trees throughout what is now Bon Echo Provincial Park.
Serene lakeside views, flourishing wetlands and teeming beaver ponds adorn the trail revealing a wondrous variety of ecosystems.
The forest floor is awash in a multitude of colours and varieties of moss, and other types of flora. A truly mesmerizing spectacle to take in.
A striking example of the rocky terrain throughout the Canadian Shield. During the Ice Age glaciers and receding ice sheets moved across the entire region over 11,000 years ago. Large and often gigantic boulders called erratics lay in place, as they were left behind by the long since melted ice that carried to their locations.
Crushing Our #FoodieGoals at The North of 7 Codfather
After a hardy hike on the Shield Trail, we had built up quite the appetite, so we decided to take a quick 15 minute drive South, to Northbrook Ontario in search of some hearty local fare. After reviewing the menu at the North of 7 Codfather, we discovered a bountiful offering of classic comfort food favourites we couldn’t refuse.
Plus, after pounding close to five kilometres worth of challenging and gorgeous hiking trails, we agreed that we had more than earned ourselves an epic feast of deep-fried delights.
I went with a three-piece basket of The Codfathers signature fried chicken. Each piece was wonderfully crispy on the outside while succulent and juicy on the inside. The serving of french fries was equally made to perfection with a golden exterior and fluffy texture. It also came with a tasty dish of delicious house-made coleslaw.
Heidi was in the mood for something spicy, so she asked for the “EL Dorito” burger, which came with a house made spicy sriracha ketchup, mushrooms, cheese, spicy Doritos, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. It made for a bold and snappy take on a traditional mushroom cheeseburger with the right balance of flavour and heat to give it some kick.
Checking-in at The Pine Grove Motel
With a most satisfying dinner sorted, we headed over to the Pine Grove Motel, which was just a short distance from the restaurant – and got ourselves checked-in. The motel is only a 15-minute drive from Bon Echo and nearby restaurants, and stores in Northbrook or neighbouring Kaladar.
An Astonishing Sunset at The Narrows
After getting our accommodations sorted, we headed back to Bon Echo for a leisurely stroll along the beach that looks out at Mazinaw Rock and to witness one of Bon Echo’s storied sunsets. The day’s cloud cover had partially fragmented, and as the approaching dusk drew closer – the face of the rock was cast in a symphony of colours, cast upon it by the waning sunlight as it was filtered through the thinning clouds.
As day transitioned into night, the rocks seemed to glow like a searing cherry hot ember in a blacksmith’s furnace. The refracted solar rays made the rock face appear as though it were illuminated with a seeming divine light of its own. As we stood there, at the narrows we were also joined by numerous other campers, along with their children, friends and pets. Each of us staring absolutely dumbfounded at the solar display before us.
There wasn’t much conversation aside from the occasional murmur or hushed exclamation. “Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful,” I heard someone say. “My family has come here every summer since I was a kid.” said another.
As our first day exploring Bon Echo Provincial came to a visually and spiritually impactful close, we (reluctantly) left the park truly humbled, absolutely amazed – and hungry for more.
Day 2: Exploring Mazinaw Rock From Bottom to Top
We awoke like a pair of excited kids on Christmas morning and got prepped for a full day of hiking, and further exploration of Bon Echo Provincial Park. Before embarking on a day of outdoor and physical activities, it was important to first and foremost secure a proper breakfast and we found the answer a mere two minutes away at Addison’s Restaurant in Northbrook.
Addison’s is a classic family restaurant that is very popular with both the local crowd and out-of-towners. To keep things simple we went with a pair of Addison’s breakfast specials – which really hit the spot. Before leaving, we took a peek at the dinner menu and quickly decided that we’d soon be crossing paths with Addison’s once more.
Perusing The Goodies at Greystones | Friends of Bon Echo
The first item on the day’s itinerary was a visit with the Friends of Bon Echo at the Greystones shop, which is located right next to the Bon Echo Park Visitor Centre. Greystones is one part gift shop, and one part camping supply post. There is also an eclectic collection of local artwork on display, and for sale at Greystones.
All proceeds from the items sold in the store support the activities provided by the Bon Echo Friends including sustainability projects – as well as the Mugwump Ferry and Wanderer Boat Tour – both of which were on our agenda for day two.
This gorgeous rustic cabin turned retail outlet is a great place to browse souvenirs, clothing and snacks including t-shirts and a series of badges that correspond to the different activities within Bon Echo Park. The little patches were reminiscent of my childhood years spent in the Cub Scout and Heidi’s time as a Girl Guide.
Once we had conquered some more hiking trails, we’d certainly be heading back to Greystones to purchase the corresponding badges which would make really cool mementos of our adventure in Bon Echo.
A Ride on The Mugwump Ferry & Hiking the Cliff Top Trail
(Please check with the park about ferry availability for the 2020 season)
Next up, we climbed aboard the Mugwump Ferry for a ride to the entry point of one of Bon Echo’s most popular hiking routes: The Cliff Top Trail. This large pontoon boat conveniently carries passengers on a round-trip to the Cliff Top trailhead providing passengers with an up-close preview of the mountainous cliff they are about to ascend.
The trail is a moderate difficulty uphill hike that is roughly 1.5 kilometres round trip. It involves several flights of steps as you “climb” to a series of fantastic lookouts on the way, and at the top of the trail. There’s one washroom near the beginning of the trail and several areas where hikers can take a break on the way up.
Beneath the awes inspiring presence of Mazinaw Rock, The Mugwump Ferry returns to the dock after dropping passengers off at the Cliff Top trail.
The first of roughly 200 stairs we began our breathtaking ascent to the top of the cliff.
Not all the stairways on the Cliff Top Trail were man-made. These ancient roots provide a series of natural steps along the way, with railings to assist hikers at the steeper sections.
The first lookout point offers a sensational view of lower Mazinaw Lake and the Lagoon, where canoe and Kayak rentals are available.
A captivating panoramic vista awaits from this platform at the top of the trail, looking down at The Narrows. This is just one lookout point located at the top.
As we begin our descent, we are treated to a wonderful series of new perspectives that we didn’t notice on the way up.
Taking a Ride on The Wanderer Tour Boat
A fascinating and thankfully breezy ride aboard The Wanderer tour boat made for a perfect way to cool down, and enjoy a rest while continuing our second day of exploring the park.
The tour offers passengers an up-close and intimate look at the face of the cliffside, and an interpretive guided tour highlighting some of the most detailed indigenous pictographs painted upon on the face of the rock.
For visitors who aren’t kayak or canoe savvy, this detailed and educational tour is the best way to get a close look at the rock and learn more about local wildlife and history thanks to the knowledgeable tour guide(s).
The rock from afar. Early in the tour, the boat will slow down and passengers are encouraged to yell out at the rock and listen to the brilliant echo, for which the park was named.
Ancient white cedars that are over a millennia-old still cling to the cliffside in places, while younger trees grow upon the edge of the rock. Several different colours are visible on the cliff where veins of quartz, mica and granite are present.
A striking depiction of Mishipezheu (The Great Lynx).
So Nice, We Ate There Twice!
After yet another full day of enjoying the great outdoors at Bon Echo; it was a good time to head back to Northbrook and reflect on our experience over some dinner. We decided to return to Addison’s once more, to test drive the dinner menu. We started our meal with an order of bruschetta that tasted even better than it looked. Topped with fresh tomato, red onion, feta – then drizzled with balsamic vinegar – it was a fantastic opening event.
As soon as I saw that the dinner special was Prime Rib I was all in. This generous slab of beef was tender and cooked to perfection. At my request, the chef covered my mashed potatoes in the demi glaze or Au Jus from the prime rib which again, made for a dish that tasted just as beautiful as it was presented.
Heidi had the Chicken Florentine which is a tender roasted chicken breast that is lightly breaded and stuffed with spinach and feta cheese before being topped with an ample dollop of buttery hollandaise sauce. For her side, Heidi chose the Obrien Potatoes which are thinly sliced, and cooked with onions and peppers. Pure decadence.
We didn’t have room for dessert after such a royal feast – so we were content to return to our motel where we fell into a food coma for the remainder of the evening.
Operation Turtle Rescue
We awoke on the third day of our trip, only to be met with mild thunderstorms and sporadic rain that was heavy at times. As we sat outside our motel room hoping for the weather to clear up, Heidi noticed a tiny object in a rather large puddle in the parking lot. At first, it looked like a rock, but this rock would occasionally rise to the surface of the puddle before sinking and exhaling a series of tiny bubbles.
I walked over to investigate, and lo and behold, there was a tiny baby snapping turtle fluttering about in the puddle, likely thinking it was a swamp. We acted quickly and gently captured the little hatchling in a cup before walking to a nearby creek and releasing it in a more turtle-friendly environment where the poor guy wouldn’t get run over or stepped on.
After waiting a while longer, we realized that the elements were not going to cooperate with us – and headed home. Perhaps rescuing our little hero on the half shell would place us in Mother Nature’s favour – and grant us fair weather and clear skies for our return visit to Bon Echo.
To be Continued…
Thanks for reading the first installment of our amazing trip to The Addington Highlands! This blog was so huge we had to split it into two portions. The first two days at Bon Echo Park were absolutely amazing! As always, we’ve included a Google Map that tracks our journey and pinpoints the locations we visited, as well as some bonus spots to check out.
The story isn’t over yet! We returned to Bon Echo the following weekend for some more hiking, a kayaking adventure and also checked out a local food truck that’s making some serious waves in Kaladar!
Make sure to check out Part 2 of Can You Hear The Bon Echo right now!