a peek inside the fishbowl

12 Jul, 2011

Camping at Bon Echo, part 1

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

This Flickr set represents a mere fraction of the photos I took while we were away. You will, no doubt, notice a very high ratio of chipmunk photos. What can I say? They’re cute. (This is one of my faves in the whole bunch.) STEEL YOURSELF FOR THE CUTENESS. You might just fall over.

We are a camping family. We’ve been going every year since the girls were wee. I think Sarah was about 18 months old when we started camping.

This year we went to a place called Bon Echo Provincial Park. I wanted to share more about it because it is really and truly a lovely spot that deserves a little spotlight shone upon it.

If I had to summarize our trip in a handful of words I’d put it this way: good weather, bad bugs. (In fact, the bugs are going to get their own special post. THAT’S how much I have to say about the matter.)

We chose to visit Bon Echo, not just because it’s totally new to us, but it has some really unique geological features. Mazinaw Rock, for one, is a monolithic escarpment that rises 100 metres straight out of the one of the deepest lakes in Ontario and features ancient native pictographs. It’s one of the largest collections of pictographs in Canada and is designated a national historic site. And it’s breathtaking.

Mazinaw Rock

Rocks aside, it goes without saying that whatever place we went to had to have a great beach. The swimming at Bon Echo was pretty close to perfect. There was good sand, bordered by a very large shady area with picnic tables. The main beach is a good size and the swimming area is clear of weeds and is virtually rock-free. I liked that the swimming area was clearly marked with ropes and is divided in two lengthwise, the smaller of which was super shallow and perfect for the youngest of children. You caught a glimpse of that in this post but here’s another view:

The main beach

I have had a lot of time to think about the appeal of camping recently (which is what happens when you go five days without Internet, TV and lots of other distractions). It’s not for everyone, and I think it’s safe to assume that men and women approach it in unique ways. Camping is a boy’s paradise. There is meat involved. And fishing. And beer. Playing with fire is sanctioned (nay encouraged)! Camping is a license to get dirty and stay dirty, and to do boyish things like pick up snakes and poke at giant beetles.

I know I am generalizing, but womenfolk might want to get something different out of camping. Perhaps I only speak for myself here but I seek the silence and beauty of the natural world. A quiet paddle, a shady hike, a sweeping sunset, time on the beach with the occasional cooldown in the water.

I seek rest above all else but Mark says camping reminds him of his childhood. See, different for everyone.

There is a price to pay for this “rest” I seek. A campsite has to be scouted and booked months in advance, there is some major food-related planning involved as well as an adjustment to a lifestyle that might make germo/dirtophobes a little kookoo crazy.

Long ago I determined that I could muster enough for five nights of camping, no more and no less. It is the perfect length of time to live outdoors and out of a cooler.

I can pack enough meals for five days… but it’s just long enough in other respects too. After five days it all begins to wear thin. I start missing regular showers, clean hair, and a clean bed, not to mention a bug-free environment. By the end of five days I’ve had enough sand, sun, and hanging out with family 24 hours a day while living out of a duffel bag. I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy myself. I did, because in exchange for the bug bites and sand in my underwear I get this:

View from my towel, on the main beach

Camping means different things to different people. We are car campers, which basically means that we’re the kind of people who load up their vehicle and practically pitch a tent beside it.

While we were there the eldest asked me whether she could hang out in the tent.

“HANG OUT IN THE TENT?” I asked, trying not to sound incredulous but not doing a very good job of it. “We only do that when it rains or we’re sleeping!”

As soon as I said that, I changed my mind. The fact is that camping, and being on vacation, means something different for everyone, and my kids are beginning to develop their own ideas of what it means to have time off. Some people like adventure; some people like to cuddle up with a comic book. Both are ok.

Bon Echo is the kind of campground where there’s something for everyone, no matter your camping preferences or camping skill level. You can hike in to a secluded camp spot far away from running water or you can rent a yurt (like we did in Algonquin in 2009) or even a cabin on a hill.

Picking a campsite can be a tricky operation if you’ve never done it before. Basically we look at the campground map online and suss out the best spot in terms of privacy (each site is rated), its proximity to the comfort station (there is such a thing as too near or too far), and of course the beach.

When you’re car camping in a place like this, you have no idea who your neighbours are going to be. It’s a total crapshoot, but I do recommend booking your site Monday to Friday and avoiding weekends if you can. It’s a little more peaceful if you do.


The campsite beside us was empty almost the entire time we were there. The occupants showed up on Friday. It was an older couple with a pick-up truck/trailer combo. They were alone but for a quiet little Sheltie. They were utterly silent the whole time they were there, she in her hammock, he in his folding chair, just staring into the trees. On the same day we also got new neighbors across the street; a large family (5 or 6 boisterous kids of different ages), with a barky dog and a radio.

We lucked out this year. The neighbours were good and the site was nice. For the record we booked spot #105 in the Sawmill Bay “neighborhood” of Bon Echo. It was pretty close to perfect. There was a lot of greenery around and privacy was decent (I found this to be true for Bon Echo overall).

Our site was 294 steps to the comfort station (not that I counted). This has its good and bad side. It’s GOOD because it meant that we were not disturbed by idling cars and people traffic, and BAD because that’s about 290 steps too many when you’ve really gotta go.

Many aspects of camping have to do with waiting. You’re waiting for the fire to get burning, waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the sun to come up or go down. Everything takes longer. Overall I would say this is good for my brain, even the drive time. Speaking of which, going into our camping trip this year I knew we were going to have problems regarding our car. The Prius was not going to be able to hold all of our gear, and we had more of it than ever, including a much larger tent that our friends loaned to us. So when a PR agency that represents Ford contacted me about test driving a Ford Explorer, I had to say yes. So I have a bit of a review coming in the next couple of days, as well as a few other things to get off my chest. :)

Coming up:

7 Responses to "Camping at Bon Echo, part 1"

1 | Lynn

July 12th, 2011 at 8:00 pm


You know I hate camping. This summer we’ll be taking the kids for the first time ever.

The fact that the bugs bothered even YOU makes me terrified. I await your report with baited breath. Don’t leave me hanging, I need to know all the gory details so I can justify the purchase of head-to-toe bug gear to my husband.

2 | Sarah (mrsgryphon)

July 13th, 2011 at 6:05 pm


Bon Echo is on my list of Parks I Must Visit in Ontario! Glad to hear you enjoyed it! (We just booked a 25 night camping road trip across 4 provinces, so I’m the choir that you’re preaching to!!)

3 | andrea

July 16th, 2011 at 4:15 pm


Lynn: you will be fine. And it will make a great story, whatever happens. :)

25 nights! Sarah! I bow down to you!! That’s amazing!

4 | A road trip with Ford >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 8th, 2011 at 5:06 am


[…] timing. We needed a vehicle that we could load up with our camping gear and take down bumpy roads for a week in July and they had one they could lend to us. In essence, the perfect test drive […]

5 | Camping at Presqu’ile Provincial Park – part one >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 29th, 2014 at 10:31 am


[…] is not as stately or woody as some of the more northern sites, and not as scenic as Bon Echo or Grundy Lake. I don’t think people come here for the hiking trails or the views, it’s […]

6 | Faustina

May 18th, 2015 at 1:04 pm


This may seem like a weird question, but this there anywhere near the park to get groceries?

We have three kids and a small car which means that we usually unload the car and set up tents etc. and then go get groceries locally. There isn’t really room in the car for equipment plus kids(especially as they get bigger!) plus coolers(the sleeping bags usually go in the cooler) and food. If there isn’t a grocery store nearby we’ll have to reconsider our car options.

7 | andrea tomkins

May 19th, 2015 at 9:27 am


Hi Faustina,
I couldn’t remember, so I checked the Ontario Parks website (http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/bonecho): “Ice and groceries are available outside of the park in Cloyne, seven km south of the park on Highway 41.”

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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