a peek inside the fishbowl

31 Jul, 2017

Camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park, family kayaking to Mazinaw Rock

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

Part way through our stay at Bon Echo we rented kayaks and went for an explorational paddle. We usually rent a canoe while we’re camping at other sites but Bon Echo is the best provincial park to do it, especially for beginners.

Kayak and canoe rental is pretty easy here. Just drop by the area they call the Lagoon (find it on the map on the back page of the campground newspaper), pay, grab your gear (they provide life jackets, paddles, and an emergency kit), choose your vessel, and go.

Tip: if you have time, try a couple of different kayaks before committing to one. There are different shapes and sizes, and they handle differently. I randomly grabbed one that happened to be a bit longer with a longer, tapered nose. The eldest chose a smaller one. It was more stable in the water but harder to steer and kept veering off in all directions. (In other words, it took more paddling to keep it pointed in the right direction.) Choose wisely! Speaking of tippy…

The Lagoon is a very shallow starting point, which is perfect for beginners, and, er, people who have spent time in a canoe but are nervous about graduating to a solo kayak. I climbed into mine and promptly lurched sideways, so much so that I had to put my hand down in the water – touching lake bottom – to prevent the kayak from filling with water. (That’s how shallow it is at the start, thankgod.) Mark had to come to my rescue and got me righted again. I only took on a bit of water and thankfully, the camera didn’t get submerged.

This year, for the first time, we opted to rent four kayaks instead of one canoe. It was the right decision, and I’m so glad we did it this way. We booked them for four hours, not really knowing how long we’d need. (You can also opt for one hour or all day.) Our plan: to explore the pictographs along Mazinaw Rock and if we had energy left, to head over to Bon Echo Creek. (For the record we were out for about three hours.)

Mazinaw Rock is a 100m high cliff that looms large at Bon Echo. It’s a distinguishing feature of this park and it is absolutely stunning. What’s more, it features 260 indigenous pictographs, drawn at eye level if you’re sitting in the canoe on Mazinaw Lake. Apparently, it’s the largest collection of its kind, making it a designated National Historic Site of Canada.

I should mention that Bon Echo has a couple of ferries on the go. If you aren’t up to the idea of being the captain of your own ship, there is another way of seeing up close. Both ferries 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 own.

Kayaking over to it to the cliff is an easy paddle, even for someone who’s new to kayaking and whose pride was still smarting from that earlier incident.

Kayaking at Bon Echo Provincial Park

I quickly learned how to distribute my balance to stabilize the kayak and my blood pressure returned to normal.

Here’s a tip: if you need to seriously readjust yourself, or reach for something behind you in your backpack (i.e your camera or water bottle), paddle back to the Lagoon or up to a place called “the Narrows” on the way to the pictographs. It’s shallow enough there and you won’t tip over, or if you do, it won’t be serious. Just stick to the sides. I pulled myself up atop some river rocks so I could safely get my camera out of my bag. It was a bit rough getting back off of them, but I did it.

The middle channel, which is marked, is for bigger boats to pass. (Fun fact: there used to be a bridge across The Narrows!)

You can see The Narrows in the background of this photo:

Family kayaking rocks

You can see there were lots of people on stand-up paddleboards too – including many kids. That tells you something about how calm the water was!

Warning: you will want to take a thousand photos and your family will leave you in their wake.

Solo kayak at Bon Echo Provincial Park

Kayak to the pictographs, at Bon Echo Provincial Park

The big, big, big Mazinaw against the sky, Bon Echo

Before you know it, you will reach Mazinaw Rock. The scale of it will leave you feeling very small. And I’m not just talking about the massive size, but the scale of time as well. While the cliff looms large over you, you can’t help but think about yourself as the tiniest speck on the geological timeline.

Mark takes a closer look at the pictographs on Mazinaw Rock, Bon Echo

Kayaking under untold tons of rock, Bon Echo

The girls enjoyed it too, and I saw them chatting and paddling:

Incredible scale of Mazinaw rock, Bon Echo

The pictographs were fascinating. Many were faded and hard to spot, but once you knew what you were looking for they slowly started making themselves known to us.

Pictograph at Mazinaw Rock, Bon Echo Provincial Park

The images represent animals and humans, symbols, and spiritual figures. Do the pictographs tell a story or are they a “Fred was here” kind of tag? There were also tally marks; the width of a finger in groups of three, four, five. What were they counting? (Sigh. Maybe we should have taken the guided tour after all. Next time!)

The pictographs aren’t the only art form that appears on Mazinaw Rock. “Old Walt” is a tribute to Walt Whitman organized by Flora Denison Macdonald, who owned property in the area. Although the poet never visited Bon Echo, this superfan commissioned two stonemasons from Scotland to chisel his words into the rock in 1919.

"Old Walt" carving at Bon Echo Provincial Park

It reads:

OLD WALT
1819-1919
Dedicated to the democratic ideals of Walt Whitman
by 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.”

We paddled to the cliff and back, and decided that we had time to cruise past the main beach and check out Bon Echo Creek:

Kayaking down Bon Echo Creek

If you need to get out and stretch your legs, you can do so by the foot bridge:

Time for a leg stretch

… and then we forged ahead:

Bon Echo Creek: shallow and peaceful

The water was incredibly still; the banks, shrouded in deep green shade. The only thing that disturbed the peace was an occasional dragonfly, schools of minnows, and one slow-moving motor boat. We spotted a turtle sunning itself on a log. Other creatures of the forest remained invisible to us.

It was definitely worth the side trip.

This is one of my favourite photos from the day:

Me in a kayak, at Bon Echo Provincial Park

Click to enlarge!

When we crossed this bridge on foot the day before and we met a perky little red squirrel going in the opposite direction. Imagine our surprise when we saw him again during our kayaking trip! You can see him on the railing if you look closely. Do you think he’s posing for the photo, or trying to cross? :)

The best thing about being on the water is the peace and quiet. It’s so tranquil, and when you rest your oar and float you feel your stresses draining away:

Kayaking at Bon Echo Provincial Park

Exploring Mazinaw Rock by kayak was really the highlight of our stay at Bon Echo. I think I’ve found my new favourite family activity. I’m a kayaking convert and would love to do more of it.

p.s. I’m still adding to my photo set from this trip but you can have a peek right here.


1 Response to "Camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park, family kayaking to Mazinaw Rock"

1 | Brenda A

July 31st, 2017 at 3:07 pm

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Beautiful! It really is a special place to paddle!

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Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!


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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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