Frontenac Provincial Park: Slide Lake Loop (3 days / 30 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 and backpacking trails on 10 interconnecting loops. 

This intermediate backpacking route follows the Slide Lake Loop—the most difficult hiking loop in the park due to its length and ruggedness. The trail crosses many barren rock ridges and features scenic lookouts, ponds, and marshes. The south part of the Slide Lake Loop overlaps with the Rideau Trail—the 387 km trail network between Ottawa and Kingston—and this section is jointly maintained by Ontario Parks and the Rideau Trail Association. 

Our campsites were chosen based on availability at the time of booking, so there are alternative ways to complete this loop. This freedom afforded by route planning is just one of the reasons Frontenac is a wonderful backcountry destination for all levels. The loop could be completed in less time by experienced backpackers wanting a challenge, while Frontenac’s other trails may be better suited to beginners!

Trip Completed: June 2022

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Arab Lake Parking Lot

Ending Point: Arab Lake Parking Lot

Total Distance: 30 km

Elevation Gain: 784 m

Duration: 3 days / 2 nights

Difficulty: Intermediate

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. Specific campsites are reserved. Friends of Frontenac Park maintains a list with photos and details of each site. 

Permits: Upon arrival, vehicle and campsite permits are picked up at the Park Office. If you will be arriving after the park office closes, staff can print your permits and leave them on a bulletin board outside the office.

Know Before You Go

Season: June was a great time of year to hike this route! The nights were windy and surprisingly cool, and the daytime temperatures were warm. In spring, expect to see plenty of wildflowers along the trail. 

Cell Reception: There was some cell reception along this route. When backpacking, I usually keep my phone on airplane mode to preserve battery.

Water: All campsites are on a lake and there are others along the trail for filling up along the trail. We each carried about 2L of water during the day, topping off once each day.

Wildlife: Frontenac is home to an abundance of wildlife—from white-tailed deer and wild turkeys to beavers and herons. The usual food-motivated critters and black bears are a risk, especially at camp. Each campsite has its own purpose-built locker for storing food and scented items. Frontenac is also located in an area marked by Ontario Public Health as at-risk for black-legged ticks—the species that carries Lyme disease.

Waste: Each trailhead and all campsites have outhouses. The trailhead does not have a garbage can, so waste must be disposed of outside the park or at home.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: We own our backpacking gear and did not need an outfitter for this trip. Frontenac Outfitters is the closest outfitter—located just outside the park—but it’s unclear if backpacking gear rentals are available. 

Shuttle: No shuttle is required as the route is a loop from the Arab Lake Parking Lot. 

Trip Report

Day 1: Arab Lake Parking Lot to Doe Lake (3.9 km / 75 m / 1 hour)

We left Ottawa after work—just before 5 pm—with a 2 hour drive ahead of us. After stopping for a quick dinner and picking up our permits at the park office, we parked at the Arab Lake Parking Lot. It was 7:45 pm by the time we got on the trail, giving us just over an hour to reach our campsite before sunset.

From the parking lot, we followed signage for the Corridor Trail. After about 600 metres, we left the Corridor Trail and turned onto the eastern edge of the Dedication Trail South Loop for the remaining 3 kilometres to Doe Lake. At the junction, signage helped point us in the right direction. 

Chasing sunset, we tried to keep our pace quick for this stretch, hardly stopping for pictures or breaks. Unfortunately, the moderately technical terrain and several muddy sections slowed us down—still, only to an average pace of 3.5 kilometres per hour.

We were greeted with a glimpse of an orange sky at the lookout over Doe Lake. By this time, the sun had set and we still had a bit to go. We pulled out our headlamps here, knowing we’d soon need the extra visibility to make our way through the forest. 

We arrived at our campsite to set up for the night at around 9 pm. It was dark and ridiculously windy and setting up our tent proved to be a challenge—it nearly blew away into the marsh behind the tent pad! We opted to set up our tent on the ground instead of on the raised tent pad, because it felt like a simpler task in the dark. We were eager to crawl into our sleeping bags and go to sleep! 

Campsite: We camped at site 2c on Doe Lake. It has a tent platform plus a large tent pad if you prefer staking your tent in the ground. The three sites on the lake are close together with average privacy, but there is a great view and excellent water access with a sandy bottom—perfect for swimming! Each campsite has its own food locker and all three sites share an outhouse.

Day 2: Doe Lake to North Buck (14.7 km / 394 m / 4.5 hours)

Given our late night, we had a slower morning, sleeping in a bit. The strong winds from the night before hadn’t let up at all, so we were eager to pack up and start hiking. All in all, we left at a good time—just after 9 am. 

To complete the full Slide Lake Loop, we took the long way to our second campsite on the north side of Buck Lake. We started the day backtracking a bit along the Dedication Trail South Loop until we reached the junction pointing us along the Slide Lake Loop and toward campsite 4 on Big Salmon Lake.

We quickly ticked off the first few kilometres. The terrain was fairly flat and forested, featuring several beaver dam crossings and some grassy areas dotted with wildflowers—just a taste of what we’d continue to see along this route this day. We were eager to reach Big Salmon Lake as the halfway point of our route for the day. It took us about two hours to reach this cluster of campsites where we stopped at an empty site for lunch.

After lunch, we continued on the Slide Lake Loop toward the Camel Lake–Big Salmon Lake portage. Here, we got a bit turned around, following what appeared to be a trail along the shore past the portage. We soon learned our mistake and checked our map, realizing we should have followed the portage trail for about 100m, as the Slide Lake Loop branches off at the top of the hill. 

At the next junction, we stayed on the Slide Lake Loop, heading towards campsite 1. From here, the trail begins to open up as it climbs above the treeline to Mink Lake Lookout—the highest point in Frontenac Provincial Park. The section from Big Salmon Lake to North Buck Lake is rugged and rocky with steep ascents and descents—what makes this route intermediate in difficulty. With fatigue setting in, we stopped for more breaks than planned and this second half of the day felt never-ending.

We were relieved to reach the North Slide Junction, marked by a large signpost where the South Slide Lake Loop trail diverges from the main Slide Lake Loop trail. The signpost informed us we were 2.4 km from our campsite. From here, the trail climbs to reach an unremarkable lookout over North Buck Lake, then the terrain gets steadily easier as it descends to lake level. Once past the portage to Slide Lake, the trail is flat and made for a quick final few hundred metres to our campsite. 

Campsite: We camped at site 1c on the west shore of North Buck Lake. It offers good privacy despite being close to sites 1b and 1d. There isn’t much of a view and the water access is muddy and weedy, so it’s not the most ideal for a swim! Each campsite has its own food locker and all four sites share an outhouse. 

Day 3: North Buck Lake to Arab Lake Parking Lot (11.6 km / 315 m / 3.5 hours)

By 9 am on our final day, we had our campsite packed up and were on our way back to the parking lot. Our route for the day took us along the rest of the Slide Lake Loop to where we camped on the first night at Doe Lake, then back to the car the same way we initially hiked in.

The first kilometre brought a few technical and steep descents as the trail winded through the forest. We then emerged in a grassy field with a mowed path for us to walk through. On the other side was the South Slide Lake Junction, marked by an information panel with a map and wayfinding information for Rideau Trail hikers. From here on, our route followed a section of the Rideau Trail, meaning two types of trail markers were visible along our path—blue diamonds from Ontario Parks and orange triangles for the Rideau Trail. 

At the junction, we continued to the left of the information panel—in the direction the orange markers were pointing. Moments later, we took a break at West Slide Junction to change into shorts and reapply sunscreen and bug spray. 

We crossed Devil’s Gorge after a few hundred metres of steady climbing followed by a technical descent. The trail then left the shaded forest for several kilometres of walking on barren ridges in the direct sun. This landscape was a welcome change and made this trail feel much further than a few hours from home! Walking through these grassy areas reminded us of ticks, and even though we knew it would be smart to change into long pants, we were just so hot from the sun. 

Eventually, we reached the top of Flagpole Hill—the highest point of the day and the best lookout along this route! Here, we took a short snack break. We were hungry for lunch, but wanted to get out of the sun and hike a little further. These next 2.5 km dragged on—in and out of the sun—with some elevation changes.

We had hiked 7 km upon stopping for lunch at Doe Lake where we camped two nights before. To our surprise, it was still very windy here! After lunch, I took a dip in the lake before we hiked the final few easy—albeit rocky and slightly inclined—kilometres back to our car. 

Reflections

This trip was my second time visiting Frontenac and it’s easily my favourite park in Ontario! The trails and campsites are impressively well-maintained, demonstrating a strong presence of Ontario Parks staff and Friends of Frontenac Park volunteers dedicated to protecting this outdoor space. I know I’ll return soon to Frontenac—I’ll just need to decide between a fall hike, canoe camping, or, if I can summon the courage, a winter trip.

What Went Well

My new hydration bladder kept me hydrated! This was my first backpacking trip with my 2L hydration bladder and it’s a game-changer for me. On previous trips, I’ve had difficulty with dehydration, so I was hoping having easy access to my water supply would ensure I’d drink more and consistently throughout the day. To round out my trail hydration strategy, I also carried a lightweight 500mL bottle to use at camp. Once arriving at camp, I’d pop a Nuun electrolyte tablet into this bottle to help me rehydrate. 

What Didn’t Go Well

We underestimated the importance of tick protection. Walking through long grass can’t help but remind you of ticks. Despite discussing the fact we should do a tick check, we forgot to actually check our clothes and bodies for ticks at the end of each day. In the car on our way home, I noticed a small black insect crawling up my leg and immediately flicked it off without thinking much of it. This prompted us to pull over and thoroughly check for ticks. Sure enough, my boyfriend found a tick on his leg. He removed it with tweezers and captured it in a plastic bag alongside the one that had been crawling on me. 

We submitted photos to eTick—a public platform available to residents of Canadian provinces—that luckily confirmed the ticks were not the black-legged variety that carries Lyme disease. Ultimately, finding these ticks was a wake-up call on the importance of tick protection, regardless where we’re hiking.

We got pretty sunburnt from long stretches of trail in the direct sun. Like most Ontarians, we’re used to hiking trails in a shaded forest with some sunny openings or lookouts every now and then. This is true for much of the Slide Lake Loop, but half of the route also takes you over grassy and rocky land in the direct sun. We both got pretty sunburnt, which, I’ll admit (even as a redhead!), is the result of being a little lazy when it came to sunscreen reapplication.

I’m not a fan of arriving at camp after dark… Arriving at an unfamiliar backcountry site in the dark triggered one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve had in a long time. I typically feel so at ease while camping, soI felt unprepared and unable to cope. I fell asleep unsure whether we’d continue our route as planned. In the morning, I was feeling a bit better—albeit emotionally drained and sleep deprived—and as much as I wanted to head back to the car and go home, I also knew that pushing myself to continue would probably make me feel better. For next time, this means that starting a backcountry trip after a full work day isn’t the best idea for me.

Gallery

Link to photos in Google Drive folder

IMG_1764: Sunset at the lookout near Doe Lake

IMG_1802: Campsite 2c at Doe Lake

IMG_1920: Mink Lake Lookout

IMG_1950: Signage at North Slide Junction

IMG_1992: Campsite 1c at North Buck Lake

IMG_2062: Signage at South Slide Junction

IMG_2090: Crossing Devil’s Gorge

I don’t think captions are necessary for IMG_1853, IMG_2050, IMG_2156, IMG_2178, and IMG_2185.

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 and avidly backpacking for the past 3 years. 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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