Today’s blog comes from Evan Holt, a Content Development Specialist for Ontario Parks. Evan has completed the Frontenac Challenge five times!
I first heard about the Frontenac Challenge a few years ago. As a seasoned camper, the challenge to hike Frontenac Provincial Park’s 11 loops and 160 km of trails between September 1 and October 31 intrigued me.
I hit the trails and quickly fell in love with this amazing park. Years later, I’ve completed the Frontenac Challenge five times, and learned a lot along the way.
In this blog, I will pass along some of my Frontenac wisdom, and help you get ready to complete the challenge this fall.
The ultimate hiking challenge
The challenge was created by Park Superintendent Lloyd Chapman in 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ontario’s provincial park system. If you can complete the 160 km challenge by Halloween, you will be presented with a certificate of accomplishment.
Complete it five times and your name will be engraved on the “800 km Club” plaque. After 10 times, you will be recognized on the “10 Challenge Under Their Boots” plaque.
Frontenac is a park full of challenges. Other challenges are the All-Season Camping Challenge, which asks eager campers to camp at least one night in each month of the year for 12 consecutive months.
Then, the Junior Hiking Challenge, where youth up to 12 years of age can take part in a mini Frontenac Challenge to complete six of the main loops in the park.
This year, you can register for the challenge online through the Friends of Frontenac website.
There will be signs with key words related to each year’s themes for you to enter into your log. Log sheets for this year’s challenge are to be submitted online.
Please contact the park for assistance with registration.
The signs at the beginning of each section are bang-on accurate for how long each loop should take you, so consult them for an approximation of how long your journey is going to take.
Frontenac is anticipating a busy fall season. Here are a few tips from what I’ve learned completing the entire 160 km challenge multiple times:
Consider visiting during the week (Monday – Thursday)
Weekends can be busy, and if you’d prefer to have a quieter experience on the trails, weekdays are your best bet.
Get your map
The first way to prepare for the challenge is to download the PDF map of the trails (and campsites) from Ontario Parks’ website.
You should also be sure to pick up the more detailed map, created by the Friends of Frontenac. It’s available at the park office, online at the Friends of Frontenac website, and some outfitter stores.
Start early and arrive early to the park
The challenge lasts two months, but you have two things against you the longer you wait.
Temperatures in 2019 during the first week of the challenge ranged from +25 to +15, while the last week ranged from +15 to -3. A few nights at the end of October saw a skiffle of snow, and didn’t have the comfortable camping temperatures of earlier in the month.
Your days also range from 13 hours of daylight at the start of September to 10 hours by the end of October. That extra daylight can make the difference between finishing Slide Lake comfortably, or running into a trickier situation in the dark.
Remember, some of Frontenac’s trails are long and can require an entire day to complete.
The park recommends arriving early in the morning (the park office opens at 8 a.m.) so you can complete your hike in daylight, and for a less busy experience.
I brought most of my regular camping gear on the first journey, but quickly learned that this is longer than your average portage. Cut down on everything when camping during this hiking challenge.
For the most part, I just brought a day pack with the bare essentials. I found being light and nimble allowed me to cover the most ground without being exhausted at the end of the day. You can also plan your trips around a campsite, returning each night to it so that you don’t have to keep carrying so much bulky gear.
Remember: as park-lovers, we all need to do our part to help the environment. Please pack out what you pack in and dispose of food and waste properly. If you happen upon garbage in the backcountry, please pack it out with you.
Your feet will take a pile of punishment during this challenge. Frontenac Provincial Park was the site of a mining facility, which tells you the terrain is going to be rocky. Having good hiking boots and socks will save your feet.
While not essential, they saved me from slipping on wet leaves and moss quite a few times late in the season. If you’re carrying a heavy pack, it will also help you manage the weight a little better as well.
Once most of the leaves have fallen off the trees in October, it makes for judging where you are going to step tricky. Poles help you probe a few areas that could be boggy, slippery or frozen.
Enjoy the hike
It IS a challenge, which means you will be covering a lot of ground in the park. But make sure you take the time to stop and take in some of the majesty of this beautiful park.
The sound of crunching leaves as you hike is an all-time favourite of mine and the smells of fall with little to no bugs bothering you makes for an ideal adventure.
Fall weather is kind of finicky.
Have lots of layers, including a good packable rain jacket to stow away in your pack in case of sudden showers.
Rain pants will help protect you on windy days, and keep you warm on the cold days.
Even just a thin waterproof/windproof layer can make the difference.
Pack the batteries
Bring a headlamp in case you get stuck on the trail and still have lots of ground to cover while the sun has set. More important yet, make sure the batteries are charged or have extras.
Be sure to either turn off your cell phone, or put it in airplane mode as there is no cell phone coverage for about 95% of the park. As your phone tries to search for a signal, it will quickly drain your battery, leaving you without a phone to take photos, or better yet, make an emergency call if you run into trouble leaving the park.
Feeling turned around?
Make sure to pick up a map of the park at the front gate when you sign up for the challenge. I found all 160 km of the trail very well marked. You will find the familiar little blue diamond hiking sign along the trail every so often so you won’t stray too far from the path.
Once the leaves cover the forest floor though, it becomes a little easier to wander off the beaten path. If you haven’t seen a hiking sign in a while, I found the most reassuring thing to do is just turn around and look behind you. You will usually see a sign for hikers headed in the opposite direction, so you will know if you are on the right path.
A whistle is a perfect signalling device if you get lost or injured. Follow all safe hiking rules, and be sure to leave details of your travel plans with someone.
Looking for more hiking and trail etiquette tips? Check out this blog.
Is this your year?
I’m sure to give it a go this year, and I hope you accept the challenge as well.
See you on the trails!
If you’re taking the challenge, Frontenac would love to see and hear about your progress!
Use #FrontenacChallenge on social media and be sure to tag the park in your hiking photos (@frontenacpp) for a chance to be featured on their page.
Planning on camping at the park while completing your challenge? Check out these backcountry blogs for a safe and successful trip.