A Different Side of Bon Echo: Hiking the Abes and Essens Trail

Every year, we like to try a new outdoor activity. Last year, we went white-water rafting at Glacier National Park in Montana. The year before, we tried sea kayaking at Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. And before that, it was our first multi-day canoe trip through Algonquin’s Barron Canyon. This year, we decided to go on an overnight backpacking trip. We’ve done a fair share of hiking but all of the trails were short and could be finished in one day.

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Abes EssensFor our overnight adventure, we picked the Abes and Essens Lake Trail in Bon Echo Provincial Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to experience a different side of Bon Echo. We camped at this park before but stayed at one of the campgrounds close to Mazinaw Lake and those tend to get overcrowded, especially on weekends.

The trail is only 17 km long and can certainly be covered in a day but also has five campsites along the way for those who’d like to camp overnight. We booked site #530 on Little Rock Lake. Our plan was to cover most of the trail on the first day. That way we wouldn’t have to rush packing the next morning and still have plenty of time to finish the trail and drive back to Toronto.

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We arrived in Bon Echo late on Friday and stayed the first night on one of the sites at the Hardwood Hills campground. In all our years of front-country camping, we have never been anywhere this quiet. That was probably why we slept in. Even our younger son, who usually wakes sometime between six and seven, slept until 11. So if you are looking for peace and quiet but without all the work of back-country camping you should check it out. Plus the campsites are pretty big and private, especially further away from the comfort station.

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The next morning, we packed up our tent, made our favourite Power Breakfast to keep us going, picked up our permit from the office and set out on a trail around 1:30. We started at the trail end, which is a bit down the road from the trail parking lot. The Abes and Essens Lake Trail has three loops: 4, 9 and 17 km. At the beginning we met quite a few people finishing the first loop. As we passed the first fork, the number of people dropped significantly. We met lovely campers at site 526 and there were a bunch of tents set up on site 527. Once we got to loop three, we stopped for lunch and some rest.

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The scenery wasn’t breathtaking but it was pretty with small lakes, rocky shores and beautiful flowers. As for the terrain, there were some ups and downs but overall the trail was not difficult. We had to take off our shoes to cross the stream leading into Abes. There were a few rocks you could use to skip across but we didn’t want to risk getting all our stuff wet.

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There were two more sites on Abes Lake, both occupied and looking pretty big. Once we got past Abes, the trail became really overgrown and that’s where I tumbled over and hurt my ankle. Even as I was falling down, two thoughts shot through my mind: What if I broke something? How are we getting out of here? Once the pain became less intense, we figured it wasn’t a fracture after all and since the only way to get out of there was to keep walking we had to move on. My husband piled up my backpack on top of his own, my kids found me a nice stick and I just hopped along.

The chunk of the trail between Abes and Little Rock Lake was probably the worst part of our trip. And not only because I was hurting and slow. It was really overgrown and at times hard to see the trail. Mosquitoes were ruthless and after a while our younger son, who is a human mosquito magnet, got really cranky. So after two hours of mosquitoes buzzing, my ankle throbbing and my son complaining, an orange campsite sign was a welcome sight. Since it was already almost seven and my foot didn’t look too bad, we decided to stick to our original plan and camp there.

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Site 530 is the only one on the lake and since no one seems to be hiking along loop three, not a single person passed our site during our stay there. As I was lying on the rocky shore with my foot stuck into the lake, breathing in the solitude and tranquility, I realized that’s what happiness felt like. There were clouds of dragon flies and damselflies swooshing above and it made our son very happy since they eat mosquitoes. The way he put it: this is a blessing and it’s beautiful too.

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Just to recap the rest of our stay. The site had a beautiful view of the lake but hardly any space for a tent. After some turning this way and that, we managed to squeeze it onto a tiny piece of soil between the rocks. On our way out, further down the trail, we did find more space that could be used for a tent and someone had obvious done that before. After the tent was up, we made a minestrone soup but added too much lentils and dried vegetables so it turned into a minestrone stew. Our kids proclaimed it the best meal ever. The next day, while my husband and kids were packing, I was soaking up vitamin D, cooling my ankle in the lake and making friends with minnows and tadpoles.

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It took us two hours to finish the trail. We stopped at Mazinaw Lake for a swim to wash off dirt and sweat, grabbed some ice-cream in Cloyne, dropped off kids at home and headed to an emergency room.

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Ah, memories…

8 thoughts on “A Different Side of Bon Echo: Hiking the Abes and Essens Trail

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  5. Great post! Your photos are gorgeous. We are camping at Abes in a few weeks. Do you happen to remember how long it took you to hike to the Abes campsites? Did you swim in any of the lakes along the trail? We are doing the same as you and car camping the first night and then hiking the next day. Thanks for your help!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, John. I don’t remember exactly how long it took us but I’d say about 3 hours. No, we didn’t swim but the Abes sites looked like they had good access to water. Enjoy your trip and make sure to stop by Mazinaw Lake if you haven’t been there already.

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