Frontenac Provincial Park: Arab Lake to Devil Lake Backpacking Loop (4 days / 35 km)

Frontenac Provincial Park is a four-season, backcountry-only park located just 45 minutes from Kingston, Ontario. The park offers over 100 km of hiking trails on 10 interconnecting loops. 

Our trip was planned around availability and specific campsites we wanted to visit, so we didn’t necessarily complete full loops of any trails. This freedom afforded by planning a route in Frontenac is what I think makes the park a wonderful destination. In my eyes, Frontenac is to backpackers what Algonquin is to flatwater canoe trippers—there is something for everyone!

The route we covered follows sections of most of the hiking loops in the northern half of the park, which are rated as less difficult than the rugged terrain of some of the loops in the southern half. The trails and campsites are incredibly well-maintained by Ontario Parks staff and volunteers with the Friends of Frontenac Park, and we’ll definitely be back to explore more!

Trip Completed: August 2020

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Arab Lake Parking Lot

Ending Point: Arab Lake Parking Lot

Total Distance: 35 km

Elevation Gain: 738 m

Duration: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Beginner

Location

Frontenac Provincial Park is located in eastern Ontario near the town of Sydenham. The park is only 45 minutes from Kingston and about 2 hours from Ottawa.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Anishinabewaki, Mississauga, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo (source). 

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

Map: Frontenac Park Map by Ontario Parks (We used the 5th edition of this map, but the 6th edition is available now)

Campsite Reservations: Campsite bookings are made in advance through the Ontario Parks Online Reservation system. You reserve specific sites along the trail.

Permits: Upon arrival, permits are picked up at the Park Office at the south end of the park.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: We did not use an outfitter since we had our own backpacking gear. 

Shuttle: The route was a loop from the Arab Lake Parking Lot, so no shuttle was required. 

Trip Report

Day 1: Arab Lake Parking Lot to Devil Lake (9.3 km / 3 hours)

We left Ottawa mid-morning, arriving at the park office by lunch time. After picking up our permits, we ventured toward a picnic table behind the building to eat our PB&J sandwiches for lunch. We then drove a few minutes to the Arab Lake parking lot where we had planned to begin our route. We were on the trail by 1 pm!

We started on the eastern side of the Arkon Lake Loop, heading in the direction of the Big Salmon Lake Parking Lot for about a kilometre. At the fork, we jumped onto the Big Salmon Lake Loop (where it’s interconnected with the Little Salmon Lake Loop) toward campsite #3. 

About 6 kilometres in, we left the Big Salmon Lake Loop and turned onto the eastern section of the Little Clear Lake Loop. Soon after, we joined the Hemlock Lake Loop on our way to campsite #10. At the final fork, we turned east onto the Gibson Lake Loop. The first campsite we came across was ours! The terrain was pretty flat and easy the whole way, and it took us under 3 hours to hike the 9 km.

Campsite: We stayed at campsite 10d on Devil Lake. It had a decent view with a picnic table and benches around the fire pit, but it was fairly close to the other 3 sites. There is a shared outhouse and each site has a food locker! The water was quite weedy and we didn’t go swimming, though the people staying at the neighbouring campsites did. 

Day 2: Devil Lake to Kingsford Lake (plus Kingsford Dam return) (8.7 km / 3 hours)

With only 7 km ahead of us to reach Kingsford Lake, we slept in and took our time packing up our gear. We left at 12:30 pm, heading north to the top of the Gibson Lake Loop. The geography was quite interesting along this section and our map pointed out the location of Frontenac’s only fen—a peat-forming wetland that developed over thousands of years!

After about 4 km, we continued on the top end of the Testmine Lake Loop toward campsite #11. Along the way, we passed the historical site of the Crab Lake Mines, marked by signage explaining its history. This was quite cool!

I don’t clearly remember any clean water sources along this leg of our trip. Luckily, we each carried about 2L of water and didn’t need to fill up. We arrived at our site around 3 pm and I eagerly jumped into the water for a swim!

After dinner, we also walked the 1.5 km return trip to Kingsford Dam. It felt amazing hiking without a pack! Though there wasn’t much of a view, it was neat to see cottages right outside the park’s boundary. There is also a parking lot here for campers and day-trippers. 

Campsite: We camped at site 11b on Kingsford Lake. This site was private, featured a food locker, a newly-constructed tent pallet, and an outhouse shared with 11a. The path leading to the water—while lined with poison ivy (marked by a signpost)—opens to a nice view of McNally Bay. 

Day 3: Kingsford Lake to Little Salmon Lake (7.7 km / 2.5 hours)

Sleeping in again, we were packed up and on our way just after noon. It was a little cooler this day and I decided to wear my hiking pants instead of shorts, which ended up being a good decision as we came across some narrower, brushier sections heading south on the western edge of the Tetsmine Lake Loop. 

After the second lookout, we continued on the same loop toward campsite #12 on Lynch Lake. At the fork, we headed south on the Hemlock Lake Loop, then continued onto the western edge of the Little Clear Lake Loop. This brought us right to the sign for campsite #6 on Little Salmon Lake! 

Overall, it took us about 2.5 hours to hike this leg. The terrain was unremarkable and I remember being quite disappointed by the non-lookouts!

Campsite: Our site was 6d on Little Salmon Lake, and though it was close to 6c, this was my favourite site on the trip! As an avid swimmer, there’s nothing I love more than a beautiful lake and I’d come back just to swim here again. Like the other sites on this trip, there was a food locker for each site and a shared outhouse nearby.

Day 4: Little Salmon Lake to Arab Lake Parking Lot via Bufflehead Trail (8.9 km / 3 hours)

Knowing we had a 2-hour drive home, we actually managed to get up in good time and be on the trail before 9:30 am on our last day! This was definitely the hilliest and most difficult leg of the trip. To start, we backtracked a few hundred metres from the day before, heading along the top of the Little Salmon Lake Loop toward the Arkon Lake Loop. 

To add a bit of distance to this leg—and make it a bit more interesting—we planned a bit of a detour back to our car. Once on the Arkon Lake Loop heading south (which is interconnected with the Little Salmon Lake Loop), we turned onto the Bufflehead Trail. There were a couple of steep climbs on this trail but the lookouts were more rewarding than the others on our trip. We even stopped for lunch at one!

At the end of the Bufflehead Trail, we continued south on the western edge of the Arkon Lake Loop, which took us right to the Arab Lake Parking Lot. We managed the 9 km in about 3 hours at a fairly quick pace. 

Reflections

This trip was my first time visiting Frontenac and it certainly received a five-star rating from me! We were impressed with how well the trails and campsites are maintained—demonstrating a strong presence of the Friends of Frontenac Park association volunteers dedicated to protecting this outdoor space. We will definitely be back! In fact, we had booked another trip earlier this spring, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

What Went Well

It was a pretty relaxing trip! This was our third backpacking trip of the summer (and our third ever!). It wasn’t a record-breaking or limit-pushing trip by any means, which reminded us that camping trips don’t need to be gruelling all the time! 

Food lockers are a game-changer. Every site throughout the park has a food locker! Not having to do a bear hang seriously contributed to our relaxation on this trip. 

We saw so many solo hikers! While I didn’t complete this trip solo, I am definitely interested in trying solo backpacking (once we upgrade to a smaller and lighter tent, that is). Frontenac would definitely be an excellent park for a solo adventure since the trails and sites are so well-maintained, there is some cell service in the park, and there are several emergency barrels located throughout the trail system. (Plus, to my point above, you wouldn’t have to do a bear hang alone!).

What Didn’t Go Well

I was not happy about the rain on Day 1… For some context: while hiking the Highland Backpacking Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park just a few weeks before, 50 mm of rain in one day left us almost completely soaked with no chance to dry out overnight. Luckily, it was the last full day of our trip, so we packed up our wet gear, managed with damp clothes to the car, and dried everything out at home. So, when it suddenly began pouring rain less than an hour into our trip, I was thinking about the worst case-scenario.

I immediately concluded that our jackets and clothes would be soaked for the next four days and I’d be cold and miserable! This was obviously not the case. By the time we arrived at our first campsite, the rain had stopped, and with a bit of sun the next morning, our clothes mostly dried out overnight. For me, the lesson in this is simply to stay positive (and trust my gear and preparation)!

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Author Bio

Sarah loves spending time outdoors—be it on foot, in the water, or on her bike. She’s been camping all her life but is relatively new to backcountry trips. An endurance athlete at heart, there is nothing she loves more than the physical and mental challenge of any camping adventure. When Sarah isn’t sleeping in a tent, she can be found training for triathlons and dreaming of travel. She currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario. 

Instagram: @sarahvt97

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