Top 3 Daytrips for Fall Paddling in Frontenac Provincial Park
With the leaves changing and fall colours starting to light up the backcountry, paddlers are eager to hit the lakes for their final outings and take in the sights. Whether renting a canoe for the day, taking your kayak out before putting her in storage, or even considering a couple hours on the paddleboard, fall paddling is arguably the best time to be on the water.
Frontenac Provincial Park, Ontario’s most southern wilderness park, is one of Ontario’s best kept secrets and is home to some of the region’s best fall paddling. Carved out by glaciers from the last ice age, the rugged granite Canadian Shield outcrops, crystal-clear lakes, natural wetlands, and wind-swept white pines create the illusion of being in Canada’s far north. It offers outdoor enthusiasts 13,000 acres, 22 lakes, 160 km’s of hiking, and 48 interior campsites.
With that in mind, we’ve put together Frontenac Outfitters’ top 3 daytrips for fall paddling in Frontenac Provincial Park. They can be done in a few hours, but if you slow down and enjoy the scenery, there’s plenty to explore for a full day of canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding!
1. North Otter Lake to South Otter Lake to Doe Lake
Located just outside the park entrance is the public launch for South Otter Lake, which is separated from North Otter Lake by a culvert. It is possible to paddle through the culvert to the northern lake, but it’s important to note that North Otter is completely landlocked by private property – paddlers are not able to go ashore given the lack of public property or crownland.
As such, we suggest paddling North Otter first and then backtracking to South Otter; the southern lake features a public island to investigate and is connected to the park office. You can dock at the office to get out and stretch your legs, take advantage of their picnic tables for something to eat, and use their washrooms. After that, a quick paddle takes you to a short portage (341 meters) into Doe Lake, a smaller lake that is located within the interior of Frontenac Park.
Things to Note:
- To shorten the outing, consider eliminating North Otter from your route or Doe Lake if not wanting to portage
- All three lakes offer great fishing for Bass, Pike, and Black Crappie
- Parking at the South Otter launch is free, but it is public access for those with motorboats and trailers – please be considerate and leave enough space for others when parking your vehicle
2. Mitchell Creek to Birch Lake
On the western side of Frontenac Park, Mitchell Creek meanders its way along until it opens into Birch Lake. This is a fantastic route for those wanting a relaxed outing that offers plenty of opportunities for fishing (Bass, Pike, and Lake Trout), photography, birding, and spotting other wildlife native to the area. If you paddle to where campsite cluster #7 is, a nearby hike will take you to some key landmarks in the park: The Old Birch Lake Mine and Three Old Homesteads.
The far shore of Birch Lake lies outside of the park boundaries, which means the lake is shared by a few cottagers with motorboats. Accordingly, we recommend sticking to the southern shore that is within the park boundary and offers places to pull ashore for a short hike, a quick snack, or even a refreshing swim if you’re feeling bold!
Things to Note:
- To lengthen the outing, try launching from Desert Lake and making your way into Mitchell Creek from there – it’s also possible to access Kingsford Lake at the far end of Birch Lake for those wanting an extended adventure
- The shoreline is quite rocky, so it’s important to take care when pulling out to take a break
- Free day-parking is available along Canoe Lake Rd. right after the bridge that crosses Mitchell Creek, or for small fee, folks might be able to park at Snug Harbour depending on their availability
3. Three-Lake Loop: Big Salmon, Little Clear, and Little Salmon Lakes
Unlike the previous routes, the Three Lake Loop is rigorous and offers more of a challenge. It requires three portages making it a true full-day outing, whereas the former suggestions can be completed in four hours or less if paddling with purpose. However, it is the most scenic trip and is entirely within the park, so you get the best wilderness experience without motorboats or cottages.
Beginning in the heart of the park at Big Salmon Lake launch, head towards campsite cluster #5 at the far end of lake. Two-thirds of the way (approx. 1hr of paddling), the first portage into Little Clear Lake is found on the north shore and is considered ‘moderate’ in difficulty given its length of 923 meters including two hills.
Next, we suggest taking some time to explore Little Clear and visit the island before undertaking the next portage. If you’re an angler, rumor has it that the fishing on this lake has resulted in some big, bucket-mouth bass being caught; it’s also common to catch a glimpse of deer, blue herons, loons, beavers, otters, and other curious critters. After your exploration, it’s time to head to the 856-meter portage located in the south, western corner of the lake – this trek is considered moderate and features one hill.
Little Salmon Lake is quite small, hence the name, so we recommended paddling the perimeter of the lake and taking in the beautiful fall scenery. The Moulton Gorge runs into the northern tip of the lake, while the portage to Birch Lake gives you an opportunity to pull out for lunch, a hike, and a quick break before the final journey back to Big Salmon Lake. This last portage is found at the south, western end of the lake and is a moderate 974-meter hike with one hill; once you’re back to Big Salmon, the launch is a quick 20min paddle away!
Things to Note:
- To lengthen this route even further, it can be altered into a much more difficult five-lake loop (Big Salmon Lake, Labelle Lake, Big Clear Lake, Black Lake, Little Clear Lake, and Little Salmon Lake)
- At the far end of Big Salmon next to campsite cluster #5, there is a short hiking trail that leads you up the cliffs to a point that overlooks the lake
- Parking is provided approx. 200 meters from the Big Salmon Lake launch, but you are required to purchase a day pass from the park
Frontenac Provincial Park provides ample opportunities for memorable fall paddling adventures, and our top three daytrips are only a fraction of the routes available. For first time visitors or those newer to the area, we encourage you to come discover your favourite; if you’re already familiar with the park, let us know what route(s) you prefer!
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