Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Bon Echo Provincial Park - Abes & Essens Backpacking Trail

Location: 70 km North of Napanee
Website: Ontario Parks
Camping Facilities: Backcountry (hike-in only)
Grade: C+
Stargazing: Excellent
Summary: An uneventful, rugged hike leading to forgettable, swampy lakes. Better off going to Joeperry/Pearson
Essens Lake Bon Echo Provincial Park
View of Essens Lake at sunset
Thoughts: I like Bon Echo as a park, given its natural beauty, the big rock, the pictographs and its proximity to major urban centres.  However, that's also the reason you can't find a car camping site here in July and August (even though it has 528 car campsites, which is large by Ontario standards).  On top of that, most of the car camping in this park is beyond terrible.  So to enjoy this park, I opt for the less popular Joeperry Lake.  But one year, my regular camping companions and I thought we'd try something new in Bon Echo, the even less popular Abes & Essens Backpacking sites.  I'm sure you'll have  no problem booking these, no matter what time of year.  They're not extraordinarily difficult to get to, but the hike is probably beyond the imaginings of "weekend fun in the outdoors" for most Bon Echo campers.

View from a campsite on
Essens lake - note: swampy

There are two sites within a reasonable trek from the trailhead, both of which are at Essens lake.  Our site at Essens was a swampish pond of a lake, with bugs to match.  The lake is just really small and mucky. We tried to scoop some water that we could filter and drink, but found whatever we scooped up was black with silt and organic matter.  I don't know if you could have even settled the stuff out, this water was really thick.  There were also plenty of leeches to keep us company on our swims.  The site itself was on a bit of a slope, but there was a reasonably flat stretch to pitch the tent.

Essens Lake Bon Echo Provincial Park
More swampiness on Essens
For its scenic value, the Abes/Essens trail is not worth the effort.  Even the park's literature describes the sights as "intriguing"; that doesn't strike me a strong endorsement, considering the hyperbole that's generally infused into park publications. Admittedly, the camping was at least peaceful;  not a single person in the park thought it would be a good idea to hike this trail, even in peak season.  We didn't see another soul the entire weekend.  So if you want solitude, you'll find it at Essens Lake.  And I'm willing to bet you'll find greater solitude at Abes Lake, given the distance that has to be covered to get to the sites there. Frankly speaking, the hiking trail that loops around Essens doesn't have much to offer in the way of scenery, perhaps that changes when you get up to Abes.  But I have my doubts and I don't know if its would be worth the effort to ever find out.

Abe-Essens Trail Map
 (Source: Bon Echo Park Tabloid,  2008)
Addendum:  Judging from this interesting hiking log, the trip up to Abes is not worth your time.


  1. Which site # did you stay at?

  2. Do you have any more pics for site 526 you could email me?

    1. I do, just let me know where to send them.

  3. Please send to: okorsal {@} gmail.com

  4. Thanks - your article just saved just a swampy mistake of a trip!

    1. Glad to help, Christopher. I hate dissuading people from any form of camping, but I think this place is a tough sell when Joeperry and Pearson are just around the corner.