Frontenac Provincial Park
Where the wilderness meets the lakes, Frontenac Provincial Park in southern Ontario is filled with incredible scenery and wildlife, back-country tranquility and fascinating history, all just a few hours’ drive from the big cities.
Part of the UNESCO-listed Frontenac Arch Biosphere, the park encompasses 5,355 hectares of rugged and beautiful nature and incredible wildlife. Best accessed by foot or by paddle, there are over 100 km of hiking trails and 22 lakes to explore. Adventurers can also camp out year-round in one of the 48 campsites, but just bear in mind you’ll have to haul in all your gear with you. No car camping here! Note that Frontenac Provincial Park is in bear country, so stay vigilant.
The nearest big hub to Frontenac Provincial Park is Kingston, just 40 minutes’ drive away. Best accessed by car, the park is two hours’ southwest of Ottawa and halfway between Montreal and Toronto. For more info including directions, check out their website or read on to discover more about one of Ontario’s best natural treasures.
More about Frontenac Provincial Park
Frontenac Provincial Park is part of Ontario’s Frontenac Axis, a 2.1 billion-year-old rocky landscape that was once part of an ancient mountain chain bordering the Canadian Shield and the Adirondack Mountains.
Characterised by dense forests and shady pathways, the park is dotted with granite outcrops and deep, crystal-clear lakes that were carved out during the last ice age.
Almost reminiscent of the wilderness you would expect to find up in Canada’s remote far north, it’s hard to believe that this is just a few hours from the United States border and the cosmopolitan trio: Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
Motorised vehicles are prohibited within the park itself and visitors are encouraged to explore on foot or by paddle. Thanks to that restriction, wildlife reigns supreme here, with everything from chipmunks to foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer, black bears, moose, otters, coyotes, wolves and beavers. There are also over 170 species of bird, including impressive birds of prey, like hawks, osprey, golden eagles and bald eagles.
Frontenac Provincial Park is also home to hundreds of different plants and ecosystems, like marshes, forests and rugged granite ridges with the odd windswept pine. Gorgeous all year round, it really comes to life in fall, when the leaves on the trees turn into a kaleidoscope of autumn colours and the temperature is perfect for hiking and sitting around a campfire at night watching the sunset over the lakes.
Summer is probably the best time to explore Frontenac’s Provincial Park by water, with 22 lakes and paddling trails ripe for exploring.
Some of the paddling trails involve ‘portages’, where you have to lift your boat/kayak/canoe/paddleboard out of the water and walk anywhere up to a kilometre carrying it. There are shorter portages, like South and North Otter Lakes. Alternatively, stick to Big Salmon Lake, a 6km long lake with islands, sandy beaches, cliffs, easily-accessible campsites and plenty of nature and wildlife to view from its banks.
During summer, the lakes are perfect for swimming. You can take a dip in all the lakes in the park, just be warned that some are deeper and colder than others! Other activities include fishing and ice fishing in the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Into hiking? You’re in heaven: pick from a selection of trails from an easy 30-minute loop to 21-km trails where you can stop for a night or spend a full day (8+ hours) exploring. Just make sure you leave early, bring plenty of water and let others know when you’re going, what you’re doing and when to expect you home.
Back in the days of early European settlement, Frontenac Provincial Park was home to several hamlets, farms and mines and you can stumble upon old ruins and abandoned places when you’re out hiking. If you’re keen on historical sights, check out the Tetsmine Lake Loop Trail, which passes by the remnants of crumbling 19th century farmsteads and long-forgotten mica mines. The Little Clear Lake Loop and Big Salmon Lake Loop also pass by a couple of old century-old houses and overgrown farmland.
For true rough and ready ramblers, the wilderness campsites make for the perfect escape from reality where you can kick back under the trees and the stars and recharge amongst nature. The closest campsite out to the car is a 20-minute hike, so you’ll want to pack light and come prepared. Most sites are also accessible by canoe or kayak.
From April to November, the 48 backcountry campsites can get booked up, especially on weekends, so be sure to reserve a spot before you go. In the winter, campsites are issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Whenever you’re camping, just be aware that you’ll need an interior camping permit, which you can get from the park office on arrival. If you’ve never tried winter camping before, then the Friends of Frontenac organise introductory winter camping workshops so you can get to grips with it before heading out into the wild.
All sites include a tent mat, a firepit (for when there isn’t a fire ban), a food locker and a non-flushable toilet. Make sure when you camp you put your food, toothpaste and any strong- smelling products in the locker. You can also put them in a bear-proof bag and string it up on a rope dangling from a tree branch, as long as it’s way off the ground and far away from your tent.
If that all sounds a bit too complicated and trekking in with your gear isn’t your idea of fun, then fear not. You can go car camping in Bon Echo Provincial Park and Sharbot Lake Provincial Park, hit up a private campsite or just head down to Kingston where you can get a night or two in a comfy bed with a hot shower and a good feed and recharge before heading back out to explore the trails again in the morning.
Know Before You Go
- You can rent kayaks, canoes & SUPs from Frontenac Outfitters at the park entrance.
- The Frontenac Provincial Park visitor centre is open year-round. It has a shop, washrooms and snowshoe rentals.
- Friends of Frontenac offer wilderness survival courses in the park and introductory winter camping workshops.
- Plan your hiking/paddling route (and don’t forget to bring a map).
- Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, waterproofs and warm layers.