Frontenac Provincial Park: Salmon Lake to Buck Lake Loop (4 days / 25 km)
Frontenac Provincial Park is a beautiful park, especially in the fall. It lies on the southern end of the Canadian Shield and during October, combines spectacular fall colours with beaver ponds, scenic ridges, granite shield outcrops, wetlands, and mixed forest.
This is a backcountry park, but it is one of the easier ones you’ll encounter, as the trails are relatively flat. There are also many interconnected loops you could do depending on how far you wish to hike, adding more exploration to your trip. The trails are very well marked, with blue hiking signs always visible. The least backcountry part of the trip is that you’re in relatively close proximity to other campers at your campsite, as they are grouped in clusters of 3-4 sites, so you may see and/or hear your neighbours. This may be reassuring if you’re a relatively new hiker.
There is a lot of cultural heritage in the park as well, and locations of significance are marked on the map and with signs along the trail. With cool nights, a stiff breeze, and falling leaves, I had a gorgeous three-night stay in the park.
Trip Completed: October 7-10, 2022
Starting Point: Frontenac Provincial Park, Big Salmon Lake parking lot
Ending Point: Frontenac Provincial Park, Big Salmon Lake parking lot
Total Distance: 25.3 km
Elevation Gain: 50 m
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights
This route is located in Frontenac Provincial Park, which is 45 minutes for of Kingston and 3 hours east of Toronto. There is one primary road going into the park, called Salmon Lake Rd, and the parking lot and visitor’s center are located here.
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of the Wendake-Nionwentsio, Mississauga, and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: Frontenac – Ontario Parks Map (can be purchased at the visitor’s center)
Campsite Reservations: Yes you need to make reservations through the Ontario Parks Reservation System. Select “Backcountry” then “Frontenac”. From there, you can select the specific campsites you want.
Permits: Yes you need to pick up your permit at the Park Office.
Know Before You Go
Season: Late spring to early fall. I personally think fall is the best time – besides the spectacular fall colours, there are no biting bugs and you’re not a pool of swelting sweat at the end of each day. Just dress warmly for cool nights!
Cell Reception: Variable, depending on which route you take. I had reception during most of this trip.
Water: Each campsite is on a lake for obtaining water. The hiking route also passed many lakes, so water is easy to come by as long as you remember your filter (there is a lot of beaver activity around).
Wildlife: Nothing of concern; there are racoons, deer, squirrels and chipmunks, so food is at risk if left out, but there are food lockers at each campsite so storage is easy.
Waste: There is a shared enclosed privy at each campsite cluster – remember to bring toilet paper. There are garbage cans at the park office and there are outhouses just past the Big Salmon Lake parking lot. When checking in, I was offered a garbage bag by park staff (in case you forget yours).
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: I did not use an outfitter. If you’re doing a canoe route, there is an outfitter in Sydenham if you wish to rent a canoe.
Shuttle: A shuttle was not needed, as this is a loop.
Day 1: Parking Lot to Doe Lake (6.1 km)
This trail was mostly in forested areas. Beaver dams, mushrooms, garter snakes, falling leaves, and at the end of the day, the sun peaking through the clouds across the lake…an easy hike ending in a lovely evening. Hiking time 1hr 45 min.
Campsite: I camped at site 2c, Doe Lake. This was a very exposed site with the lake on two sides and a marsh on the third. It had a large wooden camping platform. There was a smaller cleared dirt area where a tent could fit as well. There was lots of poison ivy outside the trampled main area, and it also bordered a marshy area, which could signal many bugs if you came in the summer. Like all campsites at this park, it has a picnic table and a fire pit as well. Water was easily obtained from the lake.
Day 2: Doe Lake to North Buck Lake (8 km)
There were more granite outcrops in this section, but still lots of forest. Part of the trail here overlaps with the Rideau Trail, which really just means there are additional trail blazes (triangles) marking that section. Again, everything is so well marked, there’s no risk of getting lost.
For me, the biggest risk was simply walking off the trail as I kept looking down for critters and mushrooms and forgot to look for signs! There’s a lovely lookout from Flagpole Hill that had a view of some striking fall colours. There’s also a bridge crossing ‘Devil’s Gorge’ – so named on the map – but don’t let the name fool you, it’s simply a pretty little rock-strewn gorge surrounded by higher granite walls. Hiking time 2 hr 30 min.
Campsite: I camped at site 1d, North Buck. This site faces directly across the lake. Water was slightly trickier as the lake was shallow here and a few strategically placed rocks helped get a few inches deeper. Like all campsites at this park, it has a picnic table and a fire pit as well, plus two logs for sitting around the fire pit.
Day 3: North Buck Lake to Big Salmon Lake (6.7 km)
This section was my favourite, especially the part just after leaving camp where you walk a narrow outcrop between two lakes. This section has a lookout at the highest elevation in the park, ~185m, called Mink Lake Lookout, with a sweeping panoramic view. There were a couple of very short ascents/descents but none were tricky. It also included crossing on a beaver dam, which is always fun. Hiking time 2 hrs.
Campsite: I camped at site 4d, Big Salmon. This site had a long view across the lake but also was near a curve so had a nearer lake edge as well. The neighbouring campsite was fairly visible. Like all campsites at this park, it has a picnic table and a fire pit as well, and a large log bench by the fire pit.
Day 4: Big Salmon Lake to Parking Lot (4.5 km)
The hike out was easy, as the trail is fairly flat and well-packed. The last part overlooked Big Salmon Lake and the reflected yellow/red trees in the water. Hiking time 1hr 20 min.
Fall camping is beautiful, but ensure you have the appropriate gear to stay warm, especially at night. The temps dropped to 1 C at night, and I was warm because I was prepared with an insulated sleeping pad, a well-rated sleeping bag with a liner, layers of wool clothing, and a warm hat. Hot drinks and a fire are great, but they won’t get you through the night!
The hiking times were fairly short, and so one risk of leaving camp early is that you arrive at your next site before those campers have left – just something to keep in mind. It also means you have lots of free time at camp, so decide what you want to do to keep yourself occupied – a book, exploring nearby…whatever works!
I have a biology background and enjoy being outside with nature in all its forms, and have a passion for photography and videography of all critters great and small. Feel free to peruse my nature videos from around the world on my YouTube channel.
YouTube: Nature Tidbits