Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Bon Echo Provincial Park - Joeperry Lake

Location: 70 km N of Napanee, ON
Website: Ontario Parks or Friends of Bon Echo
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Canoe-In / Backcountry Lite
Grade: B+
Stargazing: Excellent
Summary: Great backcountry experience for novices, easy access, some sites are densely clustered, but generally tolerable

Joeperry and Pearson Lakes Map
(Source: Bon Echo Park Tabloid, 2008)
Thoughts: If you're looking for a pseudo-backcountry experience without much work, Joeperry is a good option. I've been taking first-time campers here for years and I don't think I've had one person come away disappointed. It's a big enough lake to allow for a good number of campsites, but small enough that paddling to them isn't a battle.

There's an easy 500m portage to the lake, along a wide access road that has a few ups and downs (the steepest hill is right at the end, approaching the water, but you walk downhill when going into, which is a relief). As well, there's a decent little beach at the north end of Joeperry.  There are usually a few families of loons that are active on this lake, plentiful deer (have had morning visits on my site on occasion) and a pack of coyotes (often audible at night), which add an additional wilderness element.  There is even some bear activity from time to time, so you'll want to hang your food properly (a cooler with rocks on it won't cut it).

Bon echo provincial park joeperry lake
Joeperry lake from site 508
Regarding the sites, some are a touch close together, but generally you can't see other campers. You can often hear them, but it's a reasonably big lake, so the noise shouldn't be a big disturbance. All site have a privy box, firepit and picnic tables. Sites 503-511 have some positive and negative points (like all things in life).  The closest sites are all adjacent to you, so unless your neighbours are noisy, you will hardly know anyone else is around.  These sites can be rocky and some are difficult to dock at.  That being said, they're generally the last to be booked so unless you plan early, these sites may be the only options available.  Additionally, they're all connected by a footpath, so if you have a very large group, you can easily access each other's sites without having to get back into your boat.

The island sites (especially 520) are popular, though inexplicably so in my opinion.  520 gets a lot of traffic around it from people trying to reach the 503-511, in addition to curious paddlers just scoping out the lake.  As well, 520 is on a slope and it can be difficult to find good spots for multiple tents.  Sites 522 & 523 are flatter (though smaller as well), but we've had issues with raccoons here (heck, we've had issues with raccoons all over this lake).

Pearson lake, which is connected to Joeperry, is a reasonable option, though accessing it can be difficult. You either head south from the dock through a maze of reeds (navigable, but it might get tricky in low light) or the long way around the island. It is a nice lake and the sites feel more remote, so if you're not arriving too late in the day, you might want to consider Pearson.

Overall, I do recommend Joeperry.  It was my very first canoe-camping experience, and it changed my whole perception of what camping can be.  While seasoned canoe-campers won`t find much challenge or adventure going to Joeperry, it`s probably one of the best places to take new campers to show them the wonders of Canadian shield country.

Hiking: There is only one hike in this park that I can recommend and it`s the Cliff Top Trail. Great view from the top of the rock (you have to pay to be ferried across to the trail, just a few dollars though). The Shield trail is incredibly boring with very few sights. The "lookout" towards the end of the trail was sub-par, mostly blocked by trees. Don't even bother with the Abes and Essens Lake trail. I've hiked the 9km loop and while mildly challenging due to its length, it is a let down. Not much scenery to be found and it can be very buggy.

Carvings of Walt Whitman Poetry
 on the Bon Echo Rock
Paddling to the Bon Echo Rock


  1. I can think of one first time camper that was disappointed, but that's because he hates everything. ;)

    Good spot - let me know if you need pics. Also, when do we get to see reviews of Quebec parks? Hautes Gorges has to be an A, if not an A+!

  2. I'm definitely going to post it, it is pretty fantastic. Hautes Gorges is someplace I wish we had spent more time.

  3. thanks for the review I am looking to go to JoePerry (weird name like aerosmith guy?) for my bday this year with my hubby and two dogs, does anyone have any problems with dogs in the canoes or dogs on the campsites? I was thinking maybe about camping at sites 501 and 502 to the right of the boat launch, any ideas about those sites?

    1. Don't know how I missed this comment...

      I hope that you had a great time with your husband and dogs on 501 & 502. From what I've seen, those are great sites.