Ilona Kauremszky discovers the mysteries of a stunning wilderness escape within driving distance from Niagara Falls.
“Did you hear that?”
“What do you think it was?”
“I think it’s coming closer.”
With clenched fists, I huddled inside my sleeping bag, trying to disappear inside this makeshift cocoon. I always enjoyed the country and was prone to outdoor adventure but this episode took the cake.
Welcome to Bon Echo Provincial Park, the home of mysteries. Convinced it was a black bear, the next morning we laughed about it over coffee and a lumberjack breakfast.
Land of lakes
This Land’o’Lakes territory about a 413km drive east from Niagara Falls has always been a tonic for urbanites. Surrounded by mixed forest on the southern cusp of the Canadian Shield, the area is big on white pine and cedars but the real majesty belongs to the 100m high Mazinaw Rock soaring over southern Ontario’s deepest lake, Lake Mazinaw.
The Algonquins paid homage to the sacred spot and in the 1800s an American dentist loved the place so much he bought it, constructed a log house and named this piece of heaven Bon Echo because of the acoustic quality. Flora MacDonald Dennison, a renegade feminist and businessperson, became another owner, converting the lodge into an inn that attracted artists, clairvoyants, and feminists. The hippie of her day, Flora wanted a New Age after the stodgy Victorian era.
Today remnants of this period linger but the single biggest attraction remains “Canada’s Gibraltar” or “Old Walt” named by Flora to commemorate the poet Walt Whitman.
His words are chiseled into the hard granite. Amid the vacationers who bathe at South Beach and snap holiday photos of the mighty Mazinaw Rock this Whitman testament reads: “My foothold is tenon’d and mortised in granite. I laugh at what you call dissolution and I know the amplitude of time.”
We paddled our rental canoe in search of the ancient pictographs of Bon Echo. Here we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious paintings (there are over 250 of them) as we retraced the steps of the Aboriginals who once plied the Mazinaw by birch bark canoe.
Hiking the Cliff Top Trail
We parked the canoe on the shoreline and hiked the Cliff Top Trail (accessible by boat only), a 2km hike that includes a staircase which leads to the summit of Bon Echo. The reward is an awesome panoramic view
No wonder The Group of Seven (Canada’s Algonquin School landscape painters who dominated the arts between 1920 and 1933) hung out here.
Eyes shut, the late summer sun and country breeze carried a warm scent of sweet grasses as I tried to capture this moment to memory.
For more information about visiting see Bon Echo Provincial Park
Five other national parks near Niagara Falls
1-Arrowhead Provincial Park
In the heart of Muskoka Arrowhead Provincial Park has two lakes, Mayflower and Arrowhead, ideal for paddling and fishing (a fishing license is required).
2-Samuel de Champlain Park
Samuel de Champlain Park lies on one of Canada’s old fur trade routes.
3-Grundy Lake Provincial Park
Grundy Lake Provincial Park is popular for family camping. The lakefront sites are the favorite spots.
4-Inverhuron Provincial Park
Inverhuron Provincial Park is known for its sandy beach, dunes and sunsets.
5-Presqu’ile Provincial Park
Presqu’ile Provincial Park has a 2.5km sand beach with plenty of campsites from the shoreline to the forest. See the second-oldest working lighthouse on Lake Ontario there.