Have Snowshoes, Will Travel – Frontenac Provincial Park, Ontario

Travel is what we live for. My husband Jack and I constantly peruse maps, guidebooks and the internet in search of that next great destination. The world is a big place, and we greedily want to do it all, leaving little opportunity to return to favorite destinations. There is, however, one spot that we revisit again and again.

Family connections, a sense of history and appreciation for a beautiful and unique part of Canada keep us coming back to Frontenac Provincial Park. Located near the busy city of Kingston, and less than half a day’s drive from Toronto, Montreal, Syracuse or Ottawa, Frontenac Park provides both a haven of rugged wilderness and a snapshot of Southern Ontario’s fascinating human past. Frontenac is a 4-season park, but perhaps our favorite season is winter, when snow softens the park’s craggy contours and it becomes sheer joy to traverse this dramatic backcountry on a pair of snowshoes.

Frontenac Park encompasses the southernmost section of the vast Canadian Shield. Although the landscape varies considerably throughout the park, its overall nature is rocky outcrops, pristine lakes, wetlands, and quiet forests. Designated a provincial park in 1974, Frontenac Park’s human past is now reflected in a few ghostly fenceposts, building foundations and scattered farm and mining implements. I always smile to myself as I recall the words of Thomas Freeman, an early resident of the area, “The land is covered with ridges of granite rock and is good for nothing except timber”.* Perhaps this echos my own ancestors’ sentiments as they attempted to carve a home out of a similar landscape in a neighboring county. I consider myself fortunate to enjoy a physically easy existence, and to have the luxury of recreational snowshoeing as opposed to the back-breaking work of taming the likes of Frontenac Park.

We have snowshoed several sections of the park on many occasions, but perhaps our favorite outing is the Slide Lake Loop. More prominent than any signs of past human activity are the stupendous views of frozen lakes, beaver dams and occasional glimpses of white-tailed deer as we climb a rocky prominence that skirts the entire west side of Slide Lake. Beaver activity is evident on this hike and almost everywhere in the park. At least one of the trails on the Slide Lake Loop travels along an original beaver trapline, another human enterprise undertaken at various times in Frontenac Park. A cold wind keeps us moving, and we welcome the shelter of the forest as we drop down to lake level. Approaching the northernmost sections of our loop, we encounter a partially frozen waterfall with long picturesque icicles drooping from branches. Leaves embedded in the frozen waters of Slide Lake slow us down as we enjoy endless photographic opportunities. The return hike is along a narrow strip of land separating Slide Lake from much larger Buck Lake.

The Tetsmine Lake Loop, in the Park’s north end, affords a somewhat different experience. The landscape is similar, but has a more intimate feel with fewer big views and more gentle woodland. After a Christmas snowfall, we find ourselves breaking trail in fresh snow. Snowshoeing through the forest on quiet single-track, it’s easy to forget that most of the trails in this part of the park follow old mining, logging and homestead roads from the mid-1800’s to mid-1900’s. Today the area is tranquil and seemingly untouched by humans. One of the best things about snowshoeing Tetsmine Lake is what we don’t see. Despite the fact that we don’t observe a single deer, it is obvious that they are everywhere, lots of them. We see large indentations in the snow where they have bedded down, and tracks branching out in every direction. The occasional rustle in the bushes indicates their presence, and we feel their eyes must be following us as we make our way. We enjoy their unseen company while marvelling at their stealth.

As we complete the loop, we see another set of tracks, this time of the human variety. When we get back to our car, we laugh out loud as we read the note on the windshield from my brother … despite recovering from a broken ankle, he and his wife couldn’t resist the urge to take to their snowshoes and follow our footsteps for part of the loop. Yes, our family connections and ties to Frontenac Park and its environs, both past and present, are strong indeed! I know that we will return over and over again.

* Historical data is taken from an essay written by Christian Barber in 1993 and published in Frontenac Provincial Park’s 1996 map/trail guide. Also by Christian Barber with Terry Fuchs, Quarry Press has published an informative history of the park, Their Enduring Spirit, The History of Frontenac Park.

Practical Information:

The website link for Frontenac Provincial Park is http://www.ontarioparks.ca/english/fron.html. More detailed information can be found on the Friends of Frontenac Park site, http://www.frontenacpark.ca/. Maps are available at the park office or can be downloaded from the Friends website. Please note that a small fee is payable for use of the park. For snowshoe rentals, check out Trailhead at 272 Princess Street in Kingston http://www.trailheadkingston.ca/.

The official City of Kingston website provides information on this interesting destination in its own right, http://www.cityofkingston.ca/. We always stay at the Hotel of Mom and Dad, but the “Visitors” tab on this site will provide you with several accomodation choices.

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Debbie McKeown