Bonnechere Provincial Park is an interesting and beautiful protected space on the Bonnechere River in the Ottawa Valley. It’s just south of Algonquin Provincial Park and the closest villages are Killaloe and Barry’s Bay. To give you a better frame of reference, it’s about two hours west of Ottawa and 2 hours and 30 minutes north of Peterborough. The most popular things to do at Bonnechere Provincial Park are camping, canoeing, swimming at the beach, and hiking.
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When I visited Bonnechere Provincial Park, it was just the beginning of fall weather. Fall happens a bit earlier than other places in southern Ontario as it’s situated farther north. It was late September and the leaves were beginning to change colour. I traveled to Bonnechere Park with my sister, and we spent a couple of nights in one of the cabins there. The cabins are very comfortable and cozy, and you can easily go canoeing and hiking right from your log home. I’ve written all about my experiences staying in a rustic cabin at Bonnechere Provincial Park. In this blog post, I’ll be going into some detail about the hiking you can expect at the park.
Bonnechere Provincial Park: What to Expect
Generally speaking, you wouldn’t venture all the way out to Bonnechere Provincial Park simply to hike on the trails. These are wonderful hiking trails in the Ottawa Valley, and this is one of the best provincial parks near Ottawa, Ontario. However, you’ll generally combine this trip with an overnight camping trip or a stay in one of the cozy cabins. I also recommend canoeing or kayaking on the Bonnechere River to fully appreciate your surroundings. A combination of hiking and canoeing will allow you to view this unique natural scene from all angles.
I recommend hiking on the McNaughton Trail before doing any other activities at the park. The hiking trail has so many informative signs that allow you to learn about the geology of the region. You’ll learn about the terrain of the land and the river throughout the hike and when you venture out on the water later that day.
Hiking the McNaughton Trail
The McNaughton Trail is the main and only hiking trail within the grounds of Bonnechere Provincial park. It’s an easy 2km loop walking path through the forest that takes about 40 to 60 minutes to complete. It might seem like it would take less time to hike that distance, but there’s so much to learn about the trail and the region along the way. Here’s a map of Bonnechere Provincial Park, and the McNaughton Trail is the “path” on the left side of the map.
Learn about the natural and cultural history of the Bonnechere River and the Ottawa Valley through the trail’s “Footprints in Time”, or “FIT”. You’ll come across 13 giant footprints on the trail featuring sign posts with valuable information and details. Small plaques swing out from the sign posts and there’s information on both sides. Some of the details involve little activities involving all of the senses. It’s fun for the whole family to discover the wooden posts on the journey.
On some of the signs, I learned how the Bonnechere River is constantly changing. There are several oxbows that are continually reshaped over time, creating unique habitats for flora and fauna. The sandy riverbanks are always shifting, and there are so many twists and turns in the river (it’s a really interesting place to go canoeing!). When the water level drops, some of these oxbows can get cut off from the main river until the water level rises again (or permanently). These wetlands and marshes offer nesting grounds and habitats for for aquatic species and wildlife.
Log Buildings of the Ottawa Valley
As we continued to walk along the McNaughton Trail, we stumbled across a small settlement of log houses. There are a few reconstructed log homes to resemble ones from the 1800s when Europeans settled along the Bonnechere River. Not only did we learn about the natural history of the region, but also a piece of the culture background, too. It’s some of the most intriguing hiking near Ottawa because it combines a beautiful setting with local history.
Walks of the Little Bonnechere River
Once you’ve completed hiking the McNaughton Trail, there are many more hiking trails near Bonnechere Provincial Park. If you’re thinking about visiting Ontario parks near Ottawa, you can make Bonnechere Provincial Park your base while tackling several hiking trails in the Ottawa Valley. There are 10 more trails of varied lengths and difficulties called the Walks of the Little Bonnechere River. While it’s possible to purchase a hard copy of the book at the park office, you can also reference this digital copy. Here are a few of the Walks of the Little Bonnechere River that you will want to check out while you’re there.
Whispering Winds Lookout on Egg Rock
This is a challenging hiking trail that starts in the parking area and ends at the Whispering Winds Lookout. It’s an out and back trail that takes about 30 to 40 minutes total. You’ll enjoy panoramic vistas of the Bonnechere Valley, Stringers Lake, and the Madawaska Highlands. This breezy spot provides a sanctuary from biting insects, and you might see turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks if you’re lucky.
High Falls on the Little Bonnechere
It’s a challenging, two hour walk on the original section of Old Bonnechere Road. The hike itself isn’t too challenging, but it’s the distance that makes it a bit of a trek. At the end of the path, you’ll be able to admire the rushing waters of High Falls. At one time, there was an important dam here that held back the powerful waters. But, over the past 100 years or so, the natural world has reclaimed this historic dam and the waterfall flows as nature intended.
Payne’s Pine Trail
Payne’s Pine Trail is an easy loop hiking trail that takes about an hour. It’s described as a meeting place between the nature of the north and the nature of the south. You’ll see the jack pine and red pine trees of the northern boreal forest, as well as a typical spruce bog environment of the north. Eventually, you’ll reach the flooded swamps of the Little Bonnechere River. There’s a lush, green habitat that looks more like the Carolinian forests on the north shores of Lake Erie.
Bonnechere Park Map
For a frame of reference, here’s a map of Bonnechere Provincial Park. You can see how far it is from your home to help plan your getaway. As I live in the Toronto area, I spent two nights at Bonnechere Provincial Park because it takes around 4.5 hours to drive there one way. By staying for two nights, I had one full day to go hiking, canoeing, spending time at the park.
Have you ever visited Bonnechere Provincial Park? How about any other Ontario parks near Ottawa or any other hiking trails in the Ottawa Valley! I want to hear all about your experiences and personal recommendations in the comments section below.
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