Four Short Hikes

I’ve earned my badges!


I like hiking. On our trip to Bon Echo Park last week, despite running back and forth on sick puppy business, I managed four of Bon Echo’s trails. I was surprised at how different they were, even though they were all relatively short and within a three-kilometre-square piece of land.

1. High Pines Trail (1.6 km)

If you look at the photo, the High Pines Trail is the pink loop that begins at the lower right-hand corner of the High Pines badge. I loved it! Forget the Grandes Eaux Musicales de Versailles, this was the most musical walk I’ve ever had. The air rang with the flutey songs of Hermit Thrushes and Veeries, the long whistle of Broad-winged Hawks, the complaint of Eastern Wood Peewees, the “T-shirt! T-shirt!” call of Ovenbirds (I think it sounds like a spraypaint can being shaken), and the rap-tappings of various piciformes. I saw a pair of them on a pine, and was convinced that they weren’t Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. If they were the Black-backed Woodpeckers I think they were, they’re a first for my life-list.

The hike went up hill and down, never hard enough to necessitate grabbing a small tree for support. Cai was my only companion, and he and a doe startled each other at the top. The doe stepped back a few paces, and Cai kept looking over his shoulder as we continued.

2. The Bon Echo Creek Trail (1 km)

The web of broken squiggly lines between the High Pines badge and the Creek badge represents the Mazinaw Lake campground. The blue line bordering the southwest of the campground is Bon Echo Creek. Between the creek and the road that parallels it is a red dotted line I added with marker. This is the Bon Echo Creek Trail. I would heartily recommend it as a preschooler’s first-ever hiking trail. 

This is no baby-buggy road, but a real trail. It begins at the road, and runs toward Mazinaw Lake. Near the beginning is a small rise; after that the trail is straight and level, with the road only steps away if the child wearies or gets a boo-boo. The trail is lined with ferns and young trees, and offers glimpses of the creek through the leaves. At the end of the trail is a little footbridge that leads back into the campground — or if you’re Cai, you’ll turn right and pull mummy straight over to the dog beach.

3. Pet Exercise Trail (2.4 km)

If you follow the road that parallels the Creek Trail, you’ll eventually come to the day-use parking area. Just beyond that is the off-leash doggie trail. Again, I’ve added it onto the map, to the left of the Creek badge. The shape and size is a guestimate, but it takes into account the steep rise and descent.

Once again, this is a real hiking trail, with muddy bits and a swampy bit and lots of woods and the usual number of mosquitoes. I applied some holistic rosemary-oil doggie bug repellant to Cai (and myself), and didn’t find the bugs annoying at all. And Cai? Oh, those shining eyes! He was absolutely thrilled to be off leash in such an interesting area. What fascinated me was that he only left the trail once; mostly he stayed on track, sniffing and splishing and giving his legs a good stretch. The park guide suggests an hour for this trail, but we were through it in 25 minutes. Then we headed to the dog beach for some bobbing-for-balls. Happy dog!

4. The Shield Trail (4.8 km)

So far, each of the trails I’ve discussed took me half the length of their suggested time. Not so the Shield Trail. It suggests two hours; I did it — with neither dog nor human for companion — in 110 minutes. And it’s not because I was lingering!

I was glad to have the Shield Trail guide booklet with me. The booklet focusses on the previous use of this area: it was a farm. The trail starts on the old Addington Road, 90 km of 19th-century rut. Turning aside from an unsuccessful exploratory mine pit (mining didn’t “pan out” here either), one heads into a 100-acre tract of government-issued “free farmland” that was supposed to bribe settlers into staying in Canada. The land was simply surveyed for size, not for feasibility: this is soil-poor Canadian Shield.

I kept walking, shaking my head, wondering how long these settlers toughed it out before running away screaming. I would have run myself, except that the final quarter of the trail is a line of bushel-basket-sized boulders. And from starting out as a confident rosemary-oil-scented bugproof hiker, I finished as a blood pizza. The silence was deafening: where were all the birds? I finally decided that the mosquitoes and deer flies had chased them all away. All in all, it was the most depressing trail I’ve ever hiked — which added the perfect atmosphere of authenticity to the  trail guide’s history lesson.

4 Responses to Four Short Hikes

  1. jamesviscosi says:

    Sounds like a great park! The Shield Trail sounds fascinating; I love trails that go through historic areas like that. There’s a trail at Palomar Mountain where you can see the grave and the remains of the cabin of the first settler to live up there. Interesting stuff.

  2. eyegillian says:

    Your description of the Shield Trail reminds me that I’d never make a good pioneer. I like exploring, but I’d hate the feeling of being trapped on a plot of land-locked wasteland populated (over-populated) by mosquitos. I wonder whether there are any records of how many people went stark raving mad living isolated in the woods? (Starkers in mosquito country, now there’s a recipe for disaster!)

  3. livingisdetail says:

    Thanks for taking me hiking. Yes, the historical aspect would add a lot for me as well. Are there any old chimmneys or signs of the settlers still in existence or has it all been reclaimed by the spooky sounding atmosphere of the place?

  4. lavenderbay says:

    It is a great park, James. I would heartily recommend it to birders, families, people interested in the First Nations, hikers (besides the short trails, there’s a longer triple loop called the Abes and Essens Trail that provides a few campsites for a two-day hike), photographers, novice or advanced canoeists — it’s just a super place.

    Although there are other trails in Ontario with the remains of homesteads, and at least two excellent reenacted-village-type attractions, there was no evidence of human habitation on the Shields Trail besides the Addington Road and the little mining essay, no more than a dent beside the road.

    I could have said more — probably its own entry — on the Shields Trail. The drawing on the booklet is actually idealized, suggesting that the settlers arrived to prefab log cabins and a cleared trail to reach them. The thick woods behind the pioneer family are what I — and they — actually experienced. The only cleared area on this particular trail is the swamp. It was different from any “pioneer walk” I’ve ever been on. The booklet mentioned that the settlers fled not the mosquitoes and deer flies, but the blackflies, which bred and bit during the too-short planting season. Dog help us!
    So yeah, without the booklet it would have simply been a nasty hike. With the booklet, I gained a lot of sympathy for the pioneers — in fact, about as much as I could handle at one go!

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