Bon Echo Review

My husband, step-son and I went camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park on the Victoria Day long weekend this year. Here’s our review:

I had heard good things about this park, so we decided to check it out. We had site #240 in the Mazinaw – Midway area. It was a good sized site and elevated, but it had a bit of a slope — not the greatest for setting up a tent. Decent privacy, and surrounded by oak trees so it had enough shade as well. This site is very close to the outhouse, but a good 5 minute walk to the comfort station and water taps. There was a trail roughly 50-100 feet from our site, where some loud (and probably drunk) people were wandering through at night — there was an alcohol ban so I guess they thought it would be safer to drink on the trail rather than at their site. During the day, we heard lots of birds and even had a Blue Jay stealing food out of our dogs dish :/

Greedy Blue Jay

Two Kayaks at Mazinaw Rock

Two Kayaks at Mazinaw Rock

Pictographs on Mazinaw Rock

Pictographs on Mazinaw Rock

Bon Echo i
s especially known for the ‘Mazinaw Rock’. It is a 300 foot tall cliff that juts out of Mazinaw lake and is approximately 1.5 km long. Mazinaw is Algonkian for “painted rock” and refers to the 260+ native pictographs along the water line (one of the largest concentrations of pictographs in North America). The pictographs, which include depictions of canoes, religious leaders and spirit beings, were made with a recipe of red ochre from 400-900 years ago. Bon Echo is French for “good echo” — because the rock is so massive, it produces great echoes off the lake. 

In 1919, the then owner of the Bon Echo Inn (and the property that would later become the park) had a dedication to the poet Walt Whitman chiseled into the rock:

Mazinaw Rock dedication to Walt Whitman

“Old Walt”

Dedicated to the Democratic Ideals of
Walt Whitman
Horace Traubel and Flora MacDonald
“My foothold is tenon’d and mortised in granite
I laugh at what you call dissolution
And I know the amplitude of time”‘

The Park also allows rock climbing on the cliff. You must register with the park first and if you are not part of the Toronto Section of the Alpine Club of Canada, you have to let the park staff inspect your climbing gear. I have no experience climbing (plus I’m way too chicken anyway 😉 ), but we did enjoy watching others scale the cliff. You can also take the Mugwump Ferry (or your own boat or canoe) across to the Cliff Top Trail for spectacular views.

Bandit having a blast at the Bon Echo dog beach

Bandit having a blast at the Bon Echo dog beach

Bon Echo has a couple of different beachs. Both swimming beaches looked pretty good with lots of shade. We spent most of our beach time at the Dog Beach (Pet Recreation Area). The water is pretty shallow — great for chasing balls and splashing around! There were also a couple of picnic tables, a garbage can and a grassy running area. Not too far from the dog beach is an off-leash pet trail as well.

There is a channel/creek just south west of Midway and Fairway campgrounds with a boat launch. This channel would be a great place for kids to learn to paddle a canoe. The water is calm and there is little boat traffic.

There are yurts available, however they seemed very close together with no privacy in between. I wouldn’t recommend them.

If you prefer to get off the beaten path, there is a Radio-Free campground (Hardwood Hills) on the western side of the park with car sites, as well as walk-in sites. You also have the option of back country camping. There are 5 sites on the Abes and Essens lakes overnight hiking trail (3 loops, 4 to 17 km). And, there are 25 canoe-in campsites on Joe Perry lake, which is only a 500m portage along a wide, fairly flat trail from the parking lot just past Hardwood Hills campground. There are canoe rentals available at Joe Perry lake if you don’t have one or you don’t want to carry it. All backcountry campsites are available for online, site-specific reservations, which is awesome!

Basically, Bon Echo seems to have it all. Campsites seem pretty well spaced. Staff were helpful and friendly. There is LOTS to do at this park — great for canoeing, boating, hiking, swimming and camping with dogs. We got skunked for fishing, but I think that has more to do with my bad luck than the lake 😉 Bon Echo is a very popular park so if you’re planning on booking a yurt, long weekend or any weekend in July/August, do yourself a favour and book early!



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