Bon Echo Provincial Park is a bustling campground in South Eastern Ontario. We weren’t sure what to expect, now it’s one of our favourite destinations!
Bon Echo Park was added long after all of the other trip sites were booked - I got last minute cold feet on driving from Ottawa all the way to Hamilton in one shot, so decided to break it up a little.
Bon Echo was partway between those stops, and it was frequently mentioned in camping groups, so - somewhat miraculously - I found a site and booked it.
After a few weeks of peacefully exploring the rugged landscape of the Canadian shield, enjoying the quiet... we almost noped out of staying at Bon Echo, before even checking in.
Not wanting to make the full drive that day, and REALLY not wanting to look for a different campground, we grudgingly decided to stay.
We just hoped that it wouldn’t end up being one of those loud, “party” type campgrounds.
Our change of heart hit FAST!
We did our traditional drive through after setting up, kind of grumbling about the crowds everywhere.
Then we turned a corner and were faced with a view that made us both gasp at the same time - the boat launch in the Sawmill Bay campground.
Giant cliffs rose up over a gorgeous sapphire lake, and the lighting was magical.
Beyond just a boat launch, it was a beautiful day use area, with people picnicking as they watched others paddling about on the lake.
The whole thing felt like something out of a movie. Absolutely breathtaking!
Anyway, this is first time that we both wished we were into kayaking - and we might just end up being one, based on this park alone!
Loads to say - and way more pics than we have room for - so let’s get to it!
Campground Name: Bon Echo Provincial Park
Address: 16151 Hwy. 41 Cloyne, Ontario, ON K0H 1K0
Price Ontario Provincial Parks uses a pricing matrix across all their parks. See 2023 Camping Fees for more details.
Reservations: Ontario Parks Reservations
Booking and Registration
As always, booking the site was quick and easy through the Ontario Parks booking portal.
Because we booked so late in the season, we were lucky to find the single campsite we did.
We took it, and signed up for notifications - it was non-electrical, and we would have preferred a hydro site.
With other campgrounds, we’ve been able to upgrade to nicer sites through the notification system, just swapping our booked site out when a more desirable one became available.
That... did not happen with the Bon Echo booking.
In some cases, it was literally within a minute or two! I didn’t even have time to log in - super popular park!
Anyway, checking in was easy, but not as quick as usual.
The building was WAY too small for the crowds they were getting - people packed in after Porter, and a large line formed almost immediately - and we were EARLY!
Signage in the park is decent, not great.
Some of the one-ways aren’t marked really well, some signage is really assuming you know where you’re going after entering.
For example, the sign to our loop of campsite (Sawmill) is aimed to only be visible to those coming from the direction of the front entrance.
The first couple of times we went to the visitor center/etc, it was easy to miss the entry to our section.
Also, the road and trail signs are low contrast.
The brown signs with yellow paint don’t stand out super well when everything is in fall colours. We really like the bright blue / white signs that some parks have.
The map came as that newspaper format, which I like. It also had a HUGE legend on it, which I love.
I never would have imagined a campground map wouldn’t have a legend or any of the amenities marked on it, but then MacLeod Provincial Park happened, so here we are.
Also, there was a secondary campsite legend that let you snoop what each camp site could handle: Tent sites are represented by a triangle, and 4 different sizes of RV sites were represented by 4 other symbols.
For each of the 5 symbols, black indicated electrical, blue meant not electrical
On one hand, I appreciate the level of detail here, and it is really helpful for seeing which of the campsites we’re interested in for future trips will even work.
On the other? It’s a big spaghetti mess campground, so it’s visually chaotic with THAT much info represented.
Anyway, overall - with a couple exceptions, I’ll get to that in a second - the placement and scale on the map seem decent to good.
Maybe they can share their cartographer with Macleod?
This campground is a bit of a spaghetti mess in terms of layout, but the map makes it easier to get around.
Like Killbear Provincial Park, if you’re in one of the more interior sites and trying to get to / from your site... may be a 2 person thing - one to drive, one to navigate!
As a heads up...
The map cuts off weirdly by the south beach and day use area, and that section doesn’t seem to carry on to another page or anything.
The part that IS shown in that corner (by the dog beach) actually leaves off some info - the basketball court, a washroom building, the trail that continues from the dog beach down to the south beach, etc.
Also, another little annoyance: I wish that the Ontario provincial park maps - and signage - would share common symbols, abbreviations, ways to represent certain things, etc.
Consistency is a good thing, especially when you’re going to a bunch of different parks in a summer!
As with most Provincial Parks, Bon Echo is a mix of electrical and non electric sites, none with water or sewer hookups.
There is a fill station on the way in, with one fill platform on either side of the single lane.
The platforms are immediately across from each other, so only one vehicle can fill at a time.
There’s a fill and dump station on the way out - it’s laid out such that it’s definitely no small task to get to, if you need to dump before getting to your camp site.
For slower days, the dump station is a decent layout - long, kind drawn out.
The fact that it’s only got 2 dump platforms for that many sites - especially given how busy it gets here - I imagine it’s absolutely hellish on the way out on summer weekends / after a long weekend.
So really, only 2 people can fill their water tanks at the same time.
Beyond that, there are potable water taps throughout the park.
We didn’t cross the narrows onto Mazinaw rock, though - The signal may be worse there. Then again - it’s much higher up than the rest of the campground is - so maybe not?
Bon Echo is not a super accessible park.
The roads are very hilly and uneven, none of the trails were wheelchair accessible. The comfort stations are all supposed to be barrier free, but some didn’t seem all that accessible in terms of getting to them from the road / trails.
The one on our campsite loop had one small path to get up to it, and it jutted out from a parking spot - not even a marked accessible spot, at that.
When we pulled up, a car was parked in that spot, so we had to walk up a hill of grass. I feel like not having pathways blocked is a pretty basic accessibility issue.
For the boat tour, I had a difficult time getting down to the dock in a walking boot, I definitely don’t think it would have been accessible for wheelchair users, and would have been difficult for anyone using a cane, etc.
The main beach had steps to get down to it, the north beach required a very overgrown and narrow trail hike to get to, the pet beach also requires a trail walk (not super even) to get to, as well as a bridge with steps to get up to it.
Even the south beach required a bit of a trail walk from the parking lot - not super long, but also fairly narrow. It may have been accessible, but it’s questionable.
Bon Echo seemed to be a VERY dog friendly park.
While furry friends aren’t allowed on the main beaches, there’s a beautiful dog beach that they can go off-leash on, and there’s a pet exercise trail as well.
Something we found really cool was how many people took their dogs out paddling. We saw a LOT of well-behaved dogs just chilling on stand-up paddleboards with their owners - it was super cute!
This was a VERY dark campground during our stay.
We were shocked that no one had any outside lights on at all, despite our section of the campground being completely booked.
Usually there are string lights, door lights, and tiki style stick lights... but there was NOTHING!
On the subject of darkness, Bon Echo Provincial Park is far enough away from cities to be very dark sky, and there’s a dark sky park not far from it - North Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve.
There are two gate houses - The park office as you enter the park - where you sign in - and one JUST beyond that , which is labeled as being the campground gatehouse.
We didn’t have to check in there, though, so not sure what the deal is there?
I wonder if during the busier season, campers are supposed to bypass the first one, and leave that for day use?
Campground Amenities & Info
Overall, the park area and amenities were clean and tidy, though some of the grassy areas were not well kept.
We were kind of surprised that the grass areas of this campground were the most poorly maintained and overgrown we’ve seen of any campground - including MacLeod, which was a crap show from start to finish.
The less busy parks were generally pristine on this front.
Bon Echo Provincial Park has more comfort stations and flush toilets than most of the other provincial parks we’ve been to.
Each of the main campground sections - Fairway, Hardwood Hill, Midway, and Sawmill Bay - have their own comfort station with flush toilets, laundry facilities, and showers.
There are also comfort stations with showers and flush toilets in the day-use area and in the Camp Cabins section.
Beyond that, there are also vault toilets and flush toilets scattered throughout the Mazinaw Campground, including at the day use area and near the lagoon.
Firewood and ice are available to purchase at the gatehouses. Interestingly, this campground uses a voucher program for the firewood- you pay up front, the collect your firewood at the woodyard.
The Bon Echo park store was a bit different from the other park stores we’ve seen.
Rather than being at the front gate and run by the park, this gift shop is well into the park and run by the Friends of Bon Echo Park.
It’s called Greystones Gift Shoppe and Café, and it is also where you buy tickets for the boat tour and ferry rides to Mazinaw Rock.
It has cute merchandise that was a bit different than we’ve seen at other parks, and there’s also a little café in there.
Note: You can’t drive up to it, you have to walk maybe ¼ km from a nearby parking lot.
The Bon Echo Visitor Center is located right next to the gift shop - again, a bit of a walk from the closest parking areas.
It’s housed in one of the old, original cottages from when the Bon Echo Inn was still operating.
It has displays relating to the history of the inn, as well as some park history, and about the local wildlife, Mazinaw Lake, and Mazinaw Rock.
Pro tip: If you’re nervous at all about boating, maybe don’t look at the lake depth display before taking the boat tour, LOL! (It’s the second deepest lake in Ontario!)
This park has several day use type areas, and there are picnic tables everywhere - the beach areas (which also have a bunch of grills), a picnic shelter by the lagoon, and random picnic tables on shore near the Sawmill bay boat launch, etc.
If it’s somewhere with a scenic view, there’s probably somewhere nearby to picnic.
Some notes on the beaches:
There’s a long day use area running from the footbridge, past the dog beach - there’s a basketball court just past the dog beach - all the way to the south beach.
The thing is, that whole area isn’t represented on the park map at ALL - it shows the pet swimming area, and kind of stops at that point.
The trail that leads to the dog park from the footbridge basically continues along the waterfront to the South Beach, and there are a couple parking lots at the far end of the south beach / day use area.
The Main Beach is accessible from a large parking area that also leads to the Lagoon section.
It’s a nice sandy beach, with long, wide steps to get down to it, and plenty of sand to stretch out on.
This one was a disappointment - it’s prominently marked on the map as a swimming area, but with no info on how to actually get to it.
We could see it from the boat launch in the Sawmill Bay campground, drove around and ended up calling the park office to ask where the beach access was.
As it turns out, it’s mostly via stairs from a couple specific campsites above it - I think 121 and 122 was what she said.
There was also a really rustic trail leading from the boat launch to the north beach, but it was fairly rough and overgrown, and I gave up a short way in - it was a bit much to do in an air cast.
The Unnamed Beach
Weirdly, there’s a long beach area that’s a LOT easier to access, and it’s not even marked on the map!
It goes from the tour boat dock, most of the way towards the Narrows., and is accessed via the parking lot for the visitor center. The area was wide open, and had a great view of the lake and Mazinaw rock.
It seemed to be a good place for launching kayaks - several people were doing so as we walked along that beach.
The Bon Echo Lagoon
The lagoon is one of the day use areas, but is also a boat launch, and where the boat rentals are handled.
There’s a comfort station with a shower, as well as a picnic shelter and various areas to just lay out and enjoy a picnic.
The Narrows Lookout
Not really a “day use area” - and may not have been intended for picnicking - but it has a few benches overlooking the lake, and was a great place to grab a bagged lunch and just take in the scenery.
The Sawmill Bay Boat Launch
This was our favourite place to picnic during our stay.
There are a few scattered picnic tables, and a few benches - all with an AMAZING view!
Parking was a bit of a zoo on the Saturday afternoon, so keep that in mind.
Bon Echo has a huge variety of different types of camping available, from backcountry sites - apparently some are canoe-in campsites! - and car camping, to yurts and cabins available for rent.
We stayed in the Mazinaw Campground - specifically, the Sawmill Bay section.
We didn’t get a change to even see the Hardwood Hill campground or any of the backcountry campsites, but we did a quick tour of the other Mazinaw campground areas.
In general, the campground was tightly packed but nice.
None of the sites really seemed to have a lot of privacy. Trees between the sites are pretty sparse - you can see through to several campsites in any field of vision.
That said, it didn’t FEEL like our neighbours were up in our business.
As a note, a lot of the sites seemed to be a fair amount bigger than what they’re rated for.
There were a few really nice sites that say RVs up to 18 ft, and would easily - EASILY - have handled our 27' motorhome, or even bigger.
Entertainment and Activity
As you might guess, water activities are a huge focus in this park... but there’s still plenty to do, even if you’re not into kayaking.
Bon Echo Provincial Park is known for having some amazing hiking trails - some of which are listed, and others are more short, recreational walks in the park.
The listed ones include:
Abes and Essens Lake Trail - closed during our stay, due to storm damage.
Bon Echo Creek Trail
1 km linear / 2 km return, easy. This takes you along the Bon Echo Creek, shockingly enough 🙂
Cliff Top Trail
This 1.5 km / 3 km trail is at the top of Mazinaw Rock, is rated “moderate to difficult”, and is only accessible by water. You can boat in yourself, or you can buy a ferry ticket to drop you at the base of Mazinaw Rock.
There are 4 lookout points along the trail, we heard people up there often, calling down from the top of the cliff face.
I bet they had some AMAZING panoramic views of the area from up there, we’ll definitely be checking it out next time we go.
High Pines Trail
This one is a 1.7 km loop, and rated moderate. It’s accessible via a parking lot off the main road - between the two gate houses - and takes you through various forests and past some ponds.
A 4.8 km loop that’s rated moderate, this one takes you across some rugged landscape and through hardwood forests, cedar lowlands, and you can even see a beaver swamp!
After seeing those otters at Lake Superior Provincial Park, I wish we could have made this walk, and gone to see beavers, too!
Pet Exercise Trail
This one is designated as an off-leash area, and is accessed via the road that goes to south beach.
The dog trail isn’t marked on the map very well, but it’s easy enough to find when you’re actually there.
It’s a 1.4 km loop, and designated as “easy”.
The walk from the “parking for visitor center and amphitheatre” to the lookout at the narrows is an easy walk, and might even be wheelchair accessible - I did it in a boot, no issues.
It’s about 0.3 km from the parking lot to the point, and there are a couple benches at the end.
The point is an AMAZING place to see the sunset - about 30 minutes before sunset, Mazinaw rock went GOLD .
If you’re a bit more mobile, there are a few spots along that walk where you can walk down right to water level, then follow that path along the shore all the way to the point.
When you’re walking back from the point - If you want to continue that walk rather than go straight back to the parking lot - you can go through a stand of trees and down to the unnamed beach (the one in the cove with the tour boat dock).
From there, you can take some stairs up to the parking area, or continue past that dock and up to the visitor center / gift shop / etc.
At one spot, early on, a branch of it kind of loops back along the shore, to look at the dog beach and foot bridge from a marshy area over the water.
The only reason I knew it was there was because the path showed up on my Pokemon Go screen.
It’s an obvious path - not professionally cleared or anything, but not “boldly going where no one has gone before”, either.
When I went, it was ablaze with fall colours at the beginning, and just gorgeous. The view of the shore was beautiful, and gave an awesome view of the fall colours by the bridge.
Possibly not wheelchair accessible, but I did it in a boot with no problem.
Bon Echo Provincial Park has numerous opportunities for boating of all kinds, between Upper Mazinaw Lake, Lower Mazinaw Lake, and the surrounding lakes.
The two main lakes are connected by the narrows - a narrow, SUPER shallow channel near the Dennison memorial walk.
Bon Echo made us want to get a canoe or kayak more than anywhere else, including Quetico Provincial Park. The calm bay by our campsite looked so tame and mirror like, it seemed totally doable.
The canoe rentals - and kayak rentals - there would be a great way for us to test the waters (HAH!), but it didn’t really fit into our plans this time around.
Anyway, we saw all kinds of canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and even a few power boats - we were surprised they made it through the shallow waters of the narrows!
Anyway, on the Saturday of our stay - a clear, sunny day - the lake was just COVERED with people boating. We’ve never seen anything like it, the photo doesn’t do justice to the actual numbers!
The boat launches at Bon Echo were SO MUCH NICER than any of the other parks we were at.
They were well maintained, looked inviting, and the launches into the water looked safe and easy to handle. This probably contributed greatly to this park being the one that made us WANT to take up boating.
Some of the other boat launches we’ve seen... were kind of terrifying, tbh.
Overall, we’d rank the Bon Echo boat launches right up there with Rideau River in terms of quality.
Bon Echo and Rideau are the only two parks we would have been comfortable using the boat launches for, when it comes to our small 17' power boat and trailer - some would have been ok for something like a kayak, though.
Anyway, there are actual boat launches in the Sawmill Bay campground (adjacent to North Beach), the Lagoon, and on Bon Echo Creek.
We also saw people launching kayaks right from the shore in a few areas, including the day use area, the narrows, and the unnamed beach near the narrows.
Ontario Parks rents canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards out of a small building at the Lagoon.
Everything is first-come, first-served - they don’t accept reservations - and include paddles, personal flotation devices and a marine safety kit.
We didn’t see anyone fishing in boats during our stay, but did see a handful of people dropping a line from the shore at the narrows.
That said, apparently Mazinaw Lake is known for Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Northern Pike, Small and Large Mouth Bass, and Yellow Pickerel.
When we were on the boat tour, the guide mentioned Sturgeon residing on the bottom of Upper Mazinaw Lake, but I didn’t hear anything about fishing for them.
Interpretive Boat Tours
Generally speaking, we’ve avoided doing any group or public activities on our trip. Camping is our way to vacation while keeping things low-risk.
That said, it’s hard to go to the park with the Canada’s largest collection of native pictographs... and not be able to see them.
So we observed some tours from the shore, to see what style boat it was, how full the tours were, etc.
We decided that aiming for the last available tour on Sunday would be the least busy, and relatively low risk.
Damn, are we ever glad we went!
The Boat Tour
The boat tour started us out along the campground side of the shore. The tour guide - who was adorable - was well-rehearsed and confident as she told us about the coastline, the depth of the lake, etc.
She was able to keep us all engaged and entertained for the entire 45 minutes!
As we pulled up to the 100 metre high Mazinaw Rock, she went into a pretty in depth description of what granite is made of.
We took far too many photos of the stunning Mazinaw rock - who knew rock could be so gorgeous?
The Indigenous pictographs were really interesting, and many of them were shockingly clear for how old they were, and how weathered they had to have been.
The guide was able to explain what they meant - some as markers, some as offerings, others representing various spirits - and the materials they were made of.
At the end of the tour, they pulled up to a certain spot on the lake, and explained the park’s name.
“Bon” being French for “Good”, the park’s name meant “good echo” - and the spot they took us to was apparently known as the BEST place to experience that echo.
So, they arranged for everyone in the boat to shout a word at Mazinaw Rock - 3 different short words, with breaks between - so we could hear the echo.
We were both shocked at how loud and clear the echo was! It sounded like there was another group on top of the cliff yelling right back at us!
In Case You’re Wondering..
First off... yes, it’s a bit spendy, but we both agreed that it was totally worth it.
The seats were comfortable enough - we were expecting basic benches, but these were padded. The boat ride was smooth, even though the water wasn’t as still as the day before.
There was a roof or canopy of some type overhead, with plenty of breeze flowing through from the front and sides.
We visited the last weekend of September, into October. Who would have thought we’d be writing about sand beaches after October 1?
The weather was shockingly warm for the season, and the sandy beaches at Bon Echo were BUSY on the Saturday of our stay - especially at the Main Beach.
The water was REALLY shallow, really far out - really clean and clear, too.
As with all Ontario Parks we’ve been to, there are no lifeguards on duty at any time.
While the Ontario Parks page, the park’s map / newspaper / etc don’t mention rock climbing, apparently the rock face of Mazinaw is a popular spot for rock climbers.
When we were on the interpretive boat tour, the tour guide mentioned rock climbers, saying there would very likely be some out as we approached a certain section of the area.
Sure enough, there were a few people getting dropped off there.
From what it sounds like, there’s some sort of ferrying system, where you canoe in, do your rock climbing, and get picked up / dropped off somewhere afterwards?
I’m guessing if rock climbing is your thing, you’ll know what I’m talking about... because I sure don’t!
This is one of the most photogenic places we’ve ever been, full stop (HAH!)
Around 1-2 pm, the lighting on the sawmill boat launch area - and shortly thereafter, the foot bridge and creek - was absolutely magical.
From the lookout at the narrows - campground side - the view of the rock changes every 15minutes or so, with different lighting and cloud conditions bringing different colours out from the rocks.
That spot is great for sunsets. It WOULD be great for northern lights, but there’s a street lamp right at the tip there where it opens up.
The foot bridge and main beach area are great for sunrise.
There are trees between it and that street lamp, most of the beach is north facing, and it’s a relatively safe path to get to in the dark.
We had thought the north beach would be good for northern lights, but the trail is a bit too much to navigate in the dark, with equipment.
Amazing landscapes, obviously, the rocks, water, kayakers, beach - there’s no shortage of things to photograph. Even the creek - pictured above - was surprisingly gorgeous.
We were fortunate to have the fall colours, but most of this would be beautiful any time of year.
We closed out our trip keeping absolutely on the same pattern we’d established throughout the entire trip - we really didn’t see much in the way of birds!
The park information touts peregrine falcon nests, as well as Great Crested Flycatchers, Kestrels, Loons, Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers.
We saw a couple of Blue Jays and a REALLY mouthy crow, that’s about it.
Unlike every other park we’ve been to - which only had programming during the summer months - Bon Echo PP actually had some programming during our stay!
Additionally, they seemed to go beyond the children’s programs that seemed to be the focus elsewhere.
One of the offerings during our stay was a guided night hike about owls!
Anyway, the amphitheatre at Bon Echo Provincial Park is HUGE, so I bet the programming is pretty popular.
There are a decent amount of pokestops in the park, mostly located around areas of interest - the beaches, the visitor center/ amphitheatre/inn/etc.
The area between the narrows and the visitor center has the highest concentration, with a few stops and a couple gyms.
Cell reception was decent enough to play from anywhere in the park, and there were spawns everywhere.
This park was wild for how quickly we went from “Ugh” to planning to stay here multiple times next year. I guess first impressions aren’t always accurate - when we pulled up, I was second guessing staying at all!
That said, there were a TON of people - we saw more people in the first 3 hours, than I think we’ve seen on the entire trip - almost a month - combined.
Between that, the difficulty getting camp sites, and some of the logistics of staying here (the dumping station) we know that future trips are going to need to be planned with even more of an eye to detail than we normally do.
Also, now we have to figure out how we’re going to bring a kayak with us next year.
We really like that there are several spots that we feel like we could just hang out all day - and not just a beach.
The Sawmill campground boat launch, for instance. Who ever thought that a BOAT LAUNCH would be an attractive place to just chill?
I’m glad this was the last stop on our big trip. We ended it all on a really great note, and the timing worked such that we finally got some great fall colours.
This was also the stop where we could kind of slack on getting work done, and just really enjoy the park without keeping an eye on the time. It was a really great park for that!
Sorry Sandra, guess you’ve got another person to compete with for those prized camping spots next year!
Anyway, only one more Provincial Park camping trip planned this season - Algonquin Park!
More Campground Reviews
Want to read some more of what we have to say about the campgrounds we've stayed at? Here are some more reviews!
Chutes Provincial Park
Conestogo Lake Conservation Area
Driftwood Provincial Park
Elora Gorge Conservation Area
Fifty Point Conservation Area
Killbear Provincial Park
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Long Point Provincial Park
MacLeod Provincial Park
Meaford Memorial Park
Neys Provincial Park
Port Burwell Provincial Park
Quetico Provincial Park
Rideau River Provincial Park
Selkirk Provincial Park
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Turkey Point Provincial Park
Valens Lake Conservation Area
Share the Love!
Also, be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter, so you never miss out on any of our nonsense. Well, the published nonsense, anyway!
Finally, if you love this post, please consider sharing the link on social media!