Backcountry camping and paddling at Bon Echo

Today’s blog comes from Danny and Tiffany of Venturing Two.

Last weekend, we headed north to Bon Echo Provincial Park to document our first backcountry experience.

The park was buzzing with activity! There were BBQs at family and pet friendly beaches, people fishing, kids canoeing and kayaking, friends hiking to scenic lookout points, families observing pictographs, and fellow campers unwinding at lakeside campsites.

Top 5 reasons to visit Bon Echo Provincial Park

View from Mazinaw Rock.

  1. Fantastic landscape: Mazinaw Rock and the interior lake
  2. Plenty of water activities: canoe, kayak, and fishing
  3. Great for backcountry camping beginners
  4. Relax, unplug, and immerse yourself in the wilderness
  5. Spot wildlife, such as loons, falcons, and fish

Getting there

The park is about a three-hour drive from the heart of Toronto, or a 1.5 to two-hour drive if you’re coming from Kingston or Ottawa.

Map to Bon Echo from Toronto.

The location makes it an excellent choice for a day trip or weekend getaway. We arrived at the park later than we intended, but the beautiful sunset welcomed us upon our arrival.

Packing for backcountry

We packed rather minimally so that everything was able to fit snug tight into our backpacks. This also made traveling between the parking lot, the boat launch, and our campsite much more manageable.

Backpacks

Our recommendation: bring a lightweight and sturdy camping bag.

man carrying backpack and paddles

We brought our Arc’teryx Alpha AR 35L and Alpha FL 45L backpacks, and they carried all of our essentials without any added weight from the bag itself. They’re also weather- and abrasion-resistant, which is a bonus when it comes to backcountry camping.

Clothing

Our recommendation: pack clothing items that are easy to dry, breathable, and can be layered; bring a light shell jacket to protect you against the elements.

We brought our Arc’teryx Zeta SL shell jackets, which are super lightweight, pack-able, and water resistant. We ran into some rain, and luckily our jackets kept the elements out so that we could continue our adventure! It also got pretty chilly at night, but we had sweaters and thicker socks to keep us fairly warm.

Food

Our recommendation: Dehydrated foods, nuts, dried fruits, and energy bars. For the campfire, we roasted sausages, chicken skewers, and roasted potatoes.

skewer over campfire, pot over fire

For quick meals, we made oatmeal and instant noodles. Lastly, for snacks, we ate crackers, nuts, dried fruits, and energy bars.

Sensitive items

Our recommendation: bring dry bags.

Highly recommended! Since most of our time was spent in the water, we brought our dry bags to keep our camera gear and electronics safe.

Dry bags are waterproof rubber bags that float just in case the canoe gets wet or flips over. They also double as a food bag for you to hang up on a tree at night.

Camping essentials

Filtering water.Water filter: the lake water was really clean, but we still had to treat it with our water filter from Sawyer. We had a great gravity water system set up that supplied us with an abundance of water.

Bug repellent and bug net: we certainly love our little buzzing friends. June and July are peak mosquito season. You could check the Bug Activity Forecast on the Weather Network prior to your trip. The forecast said there was moderate bug activity, so we kept our bug nets on the whole time, and they did us wonders.

Ropes: an all-around great thing to have in your camping bag. We used ropes to stabilize our tent and hang our food bag.

Getting to the campsite

Our campsite was situated on an island at Joeperry Lake, one of the interior lakes at Bon Echo.

To get to our campsite we…

  1. Danny getting canoe ready.Registered at the main gate
  2. Signed in for a canoe rental at Bon Echo Outfitters
  3. Picked up firewood at the wood yard
  4. Parked at the Joeperry parking
  5. Hiked with our camping essentials to the Joeperry boat launch (this is also where you pick up your canoe)
  6. Loaded our canoe
  7. Paddled 15 minutes to our campsite

Quick note: The Joeperry parking lot is just past Hardwood Hill Road, and the hike to the boat launch was a short 500 m. Although we packed light, we still had to make a second trip to the car to grab our firewood.

Remember to keep packing minimal and compact to avoid multiple trips to the car.

If you like to explore off the beaten path, we highly recommend camping at Joeperry or Pearson Lake. We encountered very few people, and sometimes we got the lake all to ourselves!

Picture of the campsite from the water.

Our campsite was 523, located a 15-minutes canoe ride away and on a quiet island across from the boat launch.

This was probably one of the best campsites on the lake because it’s very private and has an incredible view. Also, no motorboats, so the area remains silent.

While canoeing into the campsite, we saw fellow campers fishing, a loon looking for food, and campers from other parts of the park.

Timelapse of the tent going up.

It was very easy to lose track of time, so when we arrived at our campsite, we quickly set up our tent and got our campfire going. Menu of the night: sausage, chicken skewers, and roasted sweet potato.

By 7:30 p.m., we were presented with an incredibly vibrant and warm sky. This also meant a quick sunset photoshoot!

Picture of canoe on shore.

Morning photography

At 5:00 a.m., we headed out for our first full day of shooting.

To our luck, the morning greeted us with heavy mist! Such a contrast from the previous day. We canoed and snapped some incredible shots before going down to Mazinaw Lake.

Morning photo of canoe on shore.

Our activities

Exploring by canoe: our favourite part of this trip! The gentle paddling around still water was fun and relaxing! Plus, we also got a good upper body workout.

Paddling in front of Mazinaw Rock.

Exploring the beaches: it was nice to see so many people out and about. While eating our afternoon snack, we sat by the beaches and observed the bustling area filled with families BBQing, children making sandcastles, and people paddleboarding.

Walking the beach.

Exploring Mazinaw Lake/Rock: at sunset, we witnessed the sun beaming onto the rock, painting it orange! We now know why so many people admire this landmark. It was also delightful to canoe right along the rock to see the pictographs up close.

Pictograph.

Hiking: we hiked the Cliff Top Trail (1.6 km round trip) that led us right to the top of the Mazinaw Rock, overlooking most of the park, the narrows and the sandy beach.

From the top of the lookout.

To get to the trail, we paddled for about 10 minutes from the Bon Echo Outfitters lagoon. There were also Ferry services available to the base of the trail, but it’s much more exciting to paddle there. To find out more about the other hiking trails, click here.

Final Thoughts

View below from top of lookout.We were blessed with pristine nature and excellent conditions for photography (despite the Saturday shower) that made documenting our journey much more memorable.

During the car ride home, we were already planning our next trip! We can’t wait to return to explore the rest of the area.

To follow us on our adventures, check out our Instagram @venturingtwo. 

Happy exploring!