After wholeheartedly embracing winter I can look back at the colder months fondly. We had a rather beautiful and fantastic winter season in South Eastern Ontario – and personally, I developed a new appreciation for it altogether. But, at this point, I think winter is being a bit clingy, and quite frankly, I need some space. I think we all could.
Despite winter’s best efforts to overstay its welcome, and refusal to take a hint – there is a distinct warmth upon the wind, and the lingering late-winter snows are no match for the radiance of the sun as it once again favours our corner of the Earth.
For our latest adventure, Heidi and I decided to put the urban sprawl in our rearview, and journey into the wilds of Frontenac County! We wanted to hike some trails, scope out some wildlife, and spend the day exploring rural Ontario on a quest to find signs of spring, and perhaps a few hidden gems along the way.
Essential Supplies at The Glenburnie Grocery
Before embarking on our quest, we stopped at a quaint (and closer than you think) hidden gem situated just 18 minutes North of Kingston to pick up some provisions. The Glenburnie Grocery is well known to locals, and a personal favourite spot of mine for shopping a great selection of locally produced food. If you haven’t heard of it, and want to buy local – I highly recommend visiting this classic-style grocery.
With healthy nutrition at the forefront of our intentions, Heidi made sure to select only the best sweet and sugary baked treats imaginable: a pair of Mrs. Garrett’s raspberry flakeys and a package of the store’s own cherry fruit pastries. As we paid for our supplies, I felt better knowing that if we got lost in the wilderness, we could survive on pastries until help arrived.
First Sighting: Loughborough Lake Boat Launch
After leaving the Glenburnie Grocery, we travelled another 11 kilometres North on Perth Road for a stop at the Loughborough Lake boat launch to get our first glimpse at the natural wonder about to unfold before us. It was here, at this scenic spot that Heidi spotted a pair of Mute Swans gracefully swimming together upon the open water within the small marshy bay.
What a magnificent first sign of spring! Swans are a fascinating species of waterfowl that truly embody the concept of loyalty. They mate for life meaning that once a pair has accepted one another, they become bonded for the remainder of their lives. Watching the birds as they swam along the water’s edge was an inspiring experience – and a sure sign that our search would yield fantastic results!
Gould Lake Conservation Area
Encompassing a sprawling 20 kilometres of beautiful trails and rugged terrain is the picturesque Gould Lake Conservation Area. This beautiful place has plenty of trails that are prime for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing – however they are not groomed so visitors should be ready to break their own path as they explore the area. I highly recommend bringing proper footwear if you intend to traverse the trails at Gould Lake during winter.
The sun was still relatively low in the sky when we arrived and beyond the shoreline, much of the bay was still frozen over. The snow was relatively deep in many areas so we only scouted a few of the trails but otherwise didn’t venture too far from the park entrance. The Limestone District Board of Education conducts their outdoor education programs at Gould Lake – using the barn adjacent to the beach as its base of operations.
The barn itself is a vast and impressive building. I loved the bare sheet metal exterior and enormity of it. The dim mid-morning light cast eerie shadows on the barn, giving it an imposing and edgy feel as it stood ominously amid the silence of the surrounding park grounds. It’s definitely among the places I would go in the event of a zombie uprising.
Scenic Views at Sydenham Point
After checking out Gould Lake, we made our way South to the historic village of Sydenham Ontario to snap some panoramic photos of the aptly named Sydenham Point Park. Looking out from the Western bank of Sydenham Lake, this charming park area offers some breathtaking scenery with conveniently placed park benches, picnic areas and a playground for little explorers.
The day was getting warmer, and indeed sunnier as we made our way out to the point, casting the still frozen inlet of Sydenham Lake beneath a beautiful blue sky. It was a most welcome sight after several weeks of overcast weather and persistent mid-march snowfalls. The light at the end of that snowy tunnel was visible once more!
A Lovely Lunch Break in Sydenham Ontario
After taking several photos of Sydenham Lake, we grew fairly cold as the wind still had the echoes of winter whistling upon it. As I finished taking one last panoramic shot for Facebook, I looked up to see Heidi hastily making her way back toward the parking lot. “Where are you going?” I yelled.
“I’m cold. Time for lunch,” Heidi replied as she tore a strip out of the footpath. She didn’t stop for anything, leaving me to stand in the chilly wind and quickly realize that she had the right idea. Lucky for us, our lunch destination: The Point Restaurant was only a short distance away.
The point is a classic feeling restaurant with a bright interior and welcoming atmosphere. The ample windows allow a fair amount of natural light into the dining area, and there is a selection of interesting historical photographs of Sydenham on display.
The lunch menu consists of many staple favourites, with a fresh and elevated approach to casual dining. Heidi chose the signature Clubhouse Sandwich, which came stacked with tender turkey breast, bacon, and the traditional lettuce, tomato and mayo.
What set it apart from a run-of-the-mill clubhouse was the thick turkey and unmistakable flavour of locally smoked bacon. In fact, The Point endeavours to use locally sourced ingredients as much as possible.
I had the most brilliant Brisket Sandwich I’ve ever tasted, which consisted of succulent slow-n-low roasted beef slathered in The Point’s in-house bourbon BBQ sauce, and crispy onion straws on a fresh bakery bun. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, and the proprietary sauce had a blissful marriage of tangy, sweet and smoky flavours.
The Point is undoubtedly a hidden gem for travellers and a favourite dining venue for locals. The combined quality of the food, and effort to support local food suppliers easily place this charming little diner on my must-visit list.
A Nostalgia Overload at Trousdale’s General Store
After lunch, we made our way to Sydenham’s storied source of all things nostalgia: Trousdale’s General Store. This spellbinding slice of history is Canada’s oldest still operating general store, first established in 1836! Stepping through the front door is like a trip through time as you are instantly met with a sight typically reserved for old movies, or history books.
Heidi and I were like a couple of kids in a candy store as we snooped around Trousdale’s selection of intriguing wares. In addition to a massive variety of snacks, hot sauces, clothing, vintage style toys, locally crafted furniture and decorations there are several artifacts of local history on display. In the store, you’ll find an old Model T Ford and the original horse-drawn wagon that was used to deliver baked goods during the store’s fledgling days as a bakery.
Trousdale’s is a living example of the social pillars upon which similar communities were built before the turn of the century. The General Store was once the central hub where everyone would go to purchase supplies, medicines, and order other items essential to daily life. After all, there was no such thing as Amazon.com back in those days.
I could have easily spent the entire day getting lost in in this fascinating and historic store, but we had to keep moving, and continue on our adventure in Frontenac!
Signs of Life at Frontenac Provincial Park
Spanning an impressive 5,355 hectares (53.55 kilometres) of pristine forested land and twenty-two immaculate lakes is the famous Frontenac Provincial Park. This captivating natural space sits on the Southernmost edge of The Canadian Shield offering campers, hikers, and visitors alike a brilliant area to explore, spot birds and wildlife or simply step outside the chaos of urban life for a while.
Frontenac Park is an ideal area that’s only within a few hours drive from major city centres like Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. The camping features are quite popular during the summer, but Frontenac is a mere 45-minute drive from Kingston which adds a lot of appeal for day trippers.
The park is open year-round, with a variety of activities ranging from fishing, wildlife viewing, interior camping, canoeing, swimming, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter camping and of course hiking.
Heidi and I decided to take the Arab Lake Gorge Trail – a 1.5-kilometre loop that would offer an easy 30-minute hike through a beautiful but rugged little gorge featuring vast wetlands and rocky granite outcroppings. A large part of the trail was on a boardwalk that led us along a genuinely breathtaking route through the gorge itself.
As we walked along the boardwalk, the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of moving water and singing birds. All through the bottom of the gorge, a previously frozen stream was in the midst of thawing, which was beautiful to behold. Everywhere we looked, the once thick snow and ice was melting and gradually feeding the babbling stream beneath the warmth of the afternoon sun.
I had to stop, close my eyes and just bask in the peace, and quiet that surrounded us. The moving water, the chirping of chickadees, and the sound of the wind as it gently worked its way through the trees. No car horns. No sirens. No ringtones. Seriously, there is next to no cellular signal at Frontenac – which I found absolutely delightful.
Eureka! It would appear that our mission to find signs of life after winter was indeed a success. As Heidi’s photos illustrate, we were completely surrounded by 100% pure, natural and undisturbed beauty. The way that the ice takes on an infinite variation of shapes and forms as it melts forming tiny icicles or jagged edges was spellbinding.
On the “walls” of the gorge, we also saw the emerald gleam of tiny little ferns that had survived their frozen stasis within the snow and were now bathing in the sunlight – providing a distinct metaphor that winter is truly the precursor of new beginnings. After enduring a harsh, and formidable winter – these frail little plants were reaching for the sky once more.
As we neared the edge of the gorge we suddenly heard a tiny little ruckus occurring among the snowy crags between the rocky outcroppings. “SHHH!” Heidi said, as she held up a hand and raised her camera. I followed her line of sight and quickly saw the source of the commotion.
A rather peppy pair of chipmunks were darting about from crack to crevice chasing one another and making quite the racket in the process.
Seeing these little guys above ground was another sure sign that spring was at hand. It was hilarious to watch them zip around frantically, and then suddenly freeze, or hide for a moment before resuming their shenanigans. They were likely trying to remember just where they had buried all those acorns in the fall – or trying to scope out the other’s stash for an easy payday.
As we made our way up the other side of the gorge I couldn’t shake this feeling. The best way to describe it was pure bliss. There’s something about taking a hike or nature walk that fills the soul with positive energy. I felt like I was in my element. Completely detached from the trifles of modern life and tromping about the trails like an expert. I was king of the jungle!
Right up until I planted my foot on a rather icy patch of slush and fell on my butt like a sack of Big Macs. Much to the amusement of some birds and a particularly saucy red squirrel who tittered away – virtually cackling at my clumsy spectacle. Heidi had a good laugh too, while she snapped a few photos of the squirrel as he continued to sass me from his perch.
With only a slightly bruised ego, I brushed myself off and we continued along the remainder of the trail leaving the giggling of that rude little rodent behind us. The rest of our hike went off without a hitch as we continued to revel in the natural splendour all around us. There’s nothing like a scenic hike, or walk through the forest to help reboot, clear your head and find a fresh perspective.
Hiking is not only good cardiovascular exercise, but it can help reduce stress and keep you centred. No matter how hectic or crazy life can seem, you can visit a place like Frontenac Provincial Park, and watch life continue to unfold in its simplest and most primal forms. The wind keeps blowing, the earth keeps spinning – and the birds keep singing.
One last Pit-Stop at The Limestone Organic Creamery
After exploring but a fragment of the things to do and see in #inFrontenac County we were getting fairly tired. As the afternoon sun dipped lower in the sky we got back into the car and started to make our way home. I was still a bit miffed after that business with the verbally abusive squirrel – so I demanded we get a treat on the way back.
Luckily, the Limestone Organic Creamery was on the way, so we stopped in to stock up on a few munchables before calling it a day. This was my first visit to the store and I was blown away by the amazing selection of local food from all over the region. There was cheese from Wilton, Prince Edward County and The Bay of Quinte as well as freezers full of meats, ready-bake meals and more!
There was also an ample variety of irresistible baked goods, and craft sodas from Muskoka Ontario among the shimmering glass bottles of milk, and the best chocolate milk you’ll ever taste. In the end, we chose a pair of raspberry scones and cane sugar sodas, as well as a few other goodies for the freezer at home.
Discover Endless Possibilities #inFrontenac!
This brings us to the end of our latest adventure! From quaint, historic towns and villages, agricultural communities and vast natural habitats to explore there is an infinite amount of experiences to enjoy in Frontenac County! Rural Ontario offers a bounty of potential for travellers and is always much closer than you think. I hope that this story inspires you to plan a trip of your own!
As always, we’ve placed the locations from the itinerary for this trip in a handy Google Map to help you get started. For more information about what you can discover in Frontenac County visit their website! As always, thanks for reading and keep wandering!
Photography: Heidi Csernak