A Natural View: Slide Lake Loop, Not for the Faint of Heart

Terry Sprague

Slide Lake from one of the highest points in the park.
Photo by Terry Sprague.
[This article ran in the April/May 2016 issue of The SCOOP.]

I have aspirations of hiking the Slide Lake Loop at Frontenac Provincial Park this year, just to show my new artificial hip who’s boss. Okay - maybe next year. It will be my third time, the most recent being in May just a couple of years ago. Fond memories of a difficult, but memorable trek over some gorgeous and rugged habitat.

The view from the top of the 150-foot-high granite mountain on this trail is spectacular. Below, Slide Lake shimmers in the light breeze, sunlight casting blackened shadows of trees and surrounding boulders eerily upon its surface. Through binoculars, one can make out the miniature forms of painted turtles as they bask in the rays of the sun. It is wild country at its best and so remote that the chance of bumping into another hiker is unlikely.
My first hike along this trail at Frontenac was in 2003 when I was 58 years old. I found the hike challenging, even then. Strange, how the climb over this rocky terrain, considered the most rugged in the entire 14,000-acre park, got so much more difficult in just a decade! Park literature describes the nine-kilometre hike as “extremely difficult.” There is no reason for me to dispute this after crab-walking and bum-rocking our way to the finish line, a hike that took us seven hours. We were not in a hurry though. We often stopped to take in the phantasmagoria. Hikes at Frontenac are not meant to be marathons; they are meant to be savoured.

In Frontenac Park speak, nine kilometres is considered a stroll. Most of the trails are 12 or 15 km in length – nice, pleasant walks that can be completed in five or six hours. The trail we were on is only a small inner loop of the much longer 21-kilometre Slide Lake Loop, on the Park’s eastern side, off Old Perth Road. Call this inner loop an entry-level or a junior walk, if you want, but despite its shorter length, it is no less challenging.

Completing the hike is only one of the day’s challenges. Reaching the trail is another. Like so many other trails in the Park, access is from another nearby trail, which means one has to walk several kilometres before even beginning the hike! The Slide Lake Loop is accessible from a couple of other trails both “a fur piece” from the start of the trail. Thirteen years ago, we opted for the water access and canoed for an hour and a half on Buck Lake from a tiny boat launch along Old Perth Road to reach the trail. On our most recent effort, we parked our car along Old Perth Road, followed a two-kilometre section of the Rideau Trail, and commenced our hike in lowland – once farmland between 1853 and 1940, we learned from literature. It all started coming back to me, even the red trilliums, right where I remembered seeing them in bloom ten years earlier.

It was a great way to warm up before the trail got really down and serious. The weather was near perfect – scattered clouds to keep temperatures tolerable, and a slight breeze to keep any black flies at bay. The lack of appreciable wind allowed us to savour the wavering trill of toads, and the unmistakable songs from migrant pine, Nashville, and black-and-white warblers. The haunting flute-like notes from an invisible hermit thrush wafted in on the slight breeze from an adjacent wooded area.

Despite a precipitous climb, and slopes so steep it was necessary to lower ourselves in reverse, there was wildlife. We found two lime-coloured smooth green snakes, one of which was cooperative enough for a close-up photo. A young water snake also crossed our path, as did a garter snake. What we didn’t see, we saw evidence of their passage. Deer, incredibly, walk these steep inclines, only scant inches from a sheer drop of a hundred feet or so. Squirrels, chipmunks – all were present in this unforgiving terrain, created more than a billion years ago on what is known as the Frontenac Arch. There were flowers, too – both trillium species, spring beauties, and one of the earliest still blooming, the dandelion-like coltsfoot.

Slide Lake is neatly tucked in behind a narrow ridge of granite that separates it from the much larger Buck Lake. In earlier days, pioneers logged on this side of the Park, floating the logs across Slide Lake where they were shifted across the 25-metre rocky ridge. To get the logs into Buck Lake, Slide Lake had to be raised to float the logs closer to the ridge where wooden rollers anchored securely into the rock were used to coax the logs over the edge; hence, the name of Slide Lake. Some didn’t make it and these inadequately tethered logs sank where they remain to this day. Once in Buck Lake, the logs were boomed and floated to a sawmill on Mississauga Creek to be sawn.

In sharp contrast, the terrain where we came in from Perth Road and, subsequently concluded our hike, was once farmland, relatively flat. After all these years, it had refused Nature’s attempts to naturalize it into forest. Meadow grasses still grow where ploughs once turned over the sod for crops as recently as 1940. In that time, an almost one-kilometre long lake, large enough to show up on Google Earth, was a farmer’s field until abandoned in 1940, after which natural succession had taken over and produced a small forest. Beavers moved in about twenty years ago and flooded it to become the now treeless lake that it is today.

If planning to do this hike, take lots of water (we ran out with another three kilometres to go), good hiking boots, a walking stick or walking poles, and pack some Ibuprofen. You’ll likely need it!

Some easy terrain before the trail really gets rugged.
Photo by Terry Sprague.