a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Jul, 2017

Camping at Bon Echo, Cliff Top Trail

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting|travel talk

Everything was soaked on Monday morning, which was not a surprise given the rain storm we had the night before. We had planned to hike the Bon Echo Creek trail but once we got there we realized it was way too muddy and impassable in parts. (Note to self: make sure all family members have hiking boots next time.)

The rest of the day was spent in a pleasant limbo between our campsite and the beach. We went on an outing to Smart’s Marina. It’s is the closest place to get ice if you’re camping at Bon Echo. We also found the wood was better than the stuff we bought from Ontario Parks (in other words, dryer).

Tuesday was a bit more exciting. The hike du jour was Cliff Top Trail, which is on the other side of the lake from the campsites. Last time we were here we paddled over in a rented canoe.

Canoes and kayaks at the bottom of Cliff Top Trail, Bon Echo

This year, we took the Mugwump ferry. The schedules are posted throughout the park. There is a ferry departing almost every day of the week, every twenty minutes. You get the tickets at the Gift Shop (grab some maple chews while you’re there, they are good!) and hang out at the boat launch until it’s ready to go.

Mugwump Ferry, Bon Echo Provincial Park

Something new to us: in an effort to restore the trail and cut down on trail erosion, the Friends of Bon Echo group have a pile of small gravel bits at the boat launch. Visitors can do their part by grabbing a big can of it and bringing it over to the other side. Dump it on one of the marked gravel piles when you arrive at the appointed spot.

Cliff Top Trail rehabilitation program, Bon Echo

It’s just one small thing you can do to save the trail. (Also, stay on the path, don’t litter, and don’t damage anything along the way, of course!)

The ferry is short ride, very smooth, and quite scenic. See the tiny colourful smudges in the photo below? In the water at the bottom of the cliffs? Those are kayaks and canoes. (More on that later!)

View of the cliffs from the ferry, Bon Echo Provincial Park

There were about 20 of us who came over to hike the trail. What I didn’t consider was the bottleneck it would create on the trail when so many people come over at once. Most people were beginner hikers and slow walkers. Here at Casa Fishbowl, we are fast walkers who like to hike in a tranquil setting. In hindsight, it would have been better to disembark and zip ahead of the pack or hang back. It was very busy, but even that didn’t diminish the trail’s beauty and the amazing views at the summit.

(For fun I tried recreating a couple of the same photos we took back in 2011!)

Sarah at the end of Cliff Top Trail

View at the Cliff Top Trail, Bon Echo

I forgot to mention that Cliff Top trail is moderately steep (or maybe you already deduced that with a name like “Cliff Top”). I definitely wouldn’t hike this trail in sandals or flip flops. Running shoes are required here!

Here’s a view of what visitors are in for:

A view of Cliff Top Trail, Bon Echo

Hike to Cliff Top Trail

Bring water too. Even though it’s a relatively short distance, it is hot at the top and you’ll be glad you brought it once the hike is over.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to not rush things too much. Otherwise you’d miss some sights, such as these pretty mushrooms breaking through the leaves:


… and of course, that view:

View from the top of Cliff Top Trail, Bon Echo Provincial Park

It was busy at the top and we took a few photos and checked our email. It’s one of the only places at Bon Echo that gets a strong and stable signal. There is no WiFi or cell service at Bon Echo for the most part. There are a couple of places you might be able to find a weak signal, but it was here, at the top of a cliff, that I found myself replying to urgent work emails. I realized that it felt pretty good to be completely offline. I wasn’t obsessively touching my back pocket to make sure I had my iPhone with me. And my days, and those tiny, amazing moments that fill my days, weren’t interrupted by notifications and the need to send out an update on social media. (“Hold on a sec everyone! I have to update my Instagram!”) It was remarkably liberating, and dare I say, luxurious, to keep these moments all to myself. The only people I shared them with were the ones who were closest to me. My time was truly my own.

Speaking of tech, we were hanging around the summit of Cliff Top Trail and a young family had come up behind us. The daughter, who was about three, was perched on a parent’s shoulders and playing a loud game on a mobile phone. On one hand, I generally take a “whatever works for you” perspective regarding parenting decisions. e.g. Kid only wants to wear dinosaur rubber boots to preschool, even during a summer drought? Hey, whatever works! Kid needs to be bribed with goldfish crackers to get in the car seat? Hey, whatever works! Kid demands to watch Paw Patrol at the end of a pretty trail with a gorgeous view? … I am sorry, but I find it tough to drum up enthusiasm for my old “whatever works” stance.

Ok, sure, whatever works, Paw Patrol family! Go ahead and let your kid watch whatever they want, whenever they want. But what’s the cost here? A disconnect with the outside world? An inability to cope with life without technology? Terminal impatience? Attention deficit disorders? What will be the outcome, 20 years from now?

Or maybe I’m a hypocrite because I checked my email at the summit? Sigh.

Our kids were surprised to see the little girl with the phone, and watched with interest as the girl’s young family members started clamouring to watch. That kid is missing out on so much, and let’s be honest with ourselves, a device can be a real crutch for parents. I don’t want to forget that great things can happen when we put the devices away, not just for kids, but for adults as well. It’s about time and place, right?

WELL. This post certainly didn’t end how I expected it to. I’d love to hear your thoughts on kids using tech in the (near) wilderness of camping! Do you, or don’t you? What are your rules, if any?

4 Responses to "Camping at Bon Echo, Cliff Top Trail"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park, family kayaking to Mazinaw Rock - a peek inside the fishbowl

July 31st, 2017 at 9:00 am


[…] leave from the Visitor’s Centre. One brings visitors over to Cliff Top Trail (as mentioned in this post) and another serves as a guided tour of the pictographs. We chose to go on our […]

2 | Misty Pratt

July 31st, 2017 at 2:02 pm


Booooo, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Never in my life would I think to offer my kid a device while in the outdoors (and trust me, I’ve had my share of challenging moments taking kids on hikes!!!) We usually do special snacks, which gives the kids energy and will entice them to finish the walk ;)

3 | andrea tomkins

August 1st, 2017 at 9:49 am


I think incentives are a great idea when in a challenging setting like this, but it’s a good idea to plan the right ones, at the right time. Special snacks are a great idea! Especially something that will give them enough energy for the return trip.

4 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive One last trail at Bon Echo (with an extra challenge that is both disgusting and cool) - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 1st, 2017 at 6:46 pm


[…] (Hopefully, they aren’t incentives that involve mobile devices, as per my wee rant in this previous post.) For us, the payoff of a great view is a big one. Or, as Misty commented, a special snack is also […]

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