I just came back from a short stay at the cottage in the municipality of West Nipissing in northern Ontario. More specifically, I was in the small village of Lavigne, which is located west of the large Lake Nipissing and about 15 minutes north of Mashkinonje Provincial Park.
Mashkinonje Provincial Park is a non-operating provincial park, like Burnt Lands near Almonte, which I visited a few weeks ago. This means that there is none of the usual infrastructure you would normally find in a provincial park (like a parking lot, washrooms, information office, etc.), but since it is a public land, it is still possible to access it. So I had to go explore it, of course.
“Mashkinonje” is the Ojibway name for muskellunge (or muskie), one of the largest fish found in Lake Nipissing. The lake and its western bay surround the park, which has several significant wetlands, interspersed with granite ridges and wooded areas. A true paradise for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts!
Even though Mashkinonje Provincial Park is a non-operating park, it has 10 hiking trails, totaling almost 35 kilometers. With my sister-in-law Mireille, I hiked five of these trails in two days of hiking, which I will describe below.
Martin Pond Trail
Finding the parking lot that gives access to the Martin Pond Trail was an adventure in itself. We had to take a small, unnamed gravel road to get to a tiny open space that we assumed (and rightly so) to be the parking lot. A blue tag on a tree indicating the start of the trail, as well as a map of the area, allowed us to guess that we were at the right place.
From the first metres on the trail, we realized that it would not be an easy hike for two reasons. The first, because the trail was not well-groomed and overgrown, so that we had to fight our way through waist-high ferns and brush. In some places there were also fallen trees on the trail that had to be bypassed. Let’s say I was happy to wear long pants and long sleeves.
The second reason is because there were a lot of deer flies. Like, a lot. A LOT. I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with that many flies on a hike. We covered our heads and sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent, but there was nothing to do, they were constantly buzzing around us so much that we wondered if they were going to end up driving us crazy.
Actually, a good part of my photos of the trail are unusable because flies were blocking the lens. NO KIDDING.
Is it weird to say that we enjoyed the hike anyway? It must be said that even if the trail was sometimes completely covered, it is still well marked. Once we got used walking in the high brush and started easily spotting the blue markers, the trail was not too difficult to follow. A long wooden boardwalk in the middle of the forest almost gave us the impression of having discovered a secret passage through the wilderness of West Nipissing.
The Martin Pond trail is a 4-kilometre loop around a pond (Martin Pond I guess?), But since it also connects to the Pebble Beach Trail, we decided to follow this one too in order to extend our hike of the day.
Pebble Beach Trail
The Pebble Beach Trail was a bit more challenging physically, as it follows a granite ridge along the West Arm of Lake Nipissing. If there had been no flies, this hike would have been perfect. I love to hike on rocky ridges with good climbs and descents. In addition, this sector probably had the prettiest views of the park.
And since we were in mid-July, we were delighted to discover several blueberry bushes on the rocky ridges. And what’s better than to snack on wild blueberries while doing your favourite activities?
The trail is named after Pebble Beach, which we got to mid-way of our hike. I admit that I was tempted to dive in the cold water of the lake in order to get rid of the flies. Instead, we didn’t even dare to take a break (you have no idea how the flies were unbearable every time we stopped walking) and we quickly continued our hike.
The trail (which is 3.4 kilometres long) eventually brought us back to the Martin Pond Trail, which we continued to follow to return to the parking lot. In all, the hike on the two trails totaled 7.4 kilometres.
Maybe we are a bit crazy, but Mireille and I decided to return to Mashkinonje Provincial Park two days later. This time, we decided to explore the eastern sector of the park, the one east of Highway 64. Parking was easier to find (a sign with the name of the park indicates the access). I think the Loudon Trail is the most popular in the park. There is a pavilion with picnic tables, restrooms and even some interpretive signs. Not bad for a non-operating park!
The trail wanders around the Loudon Basin Peatlands a provincially significant wetland. The first kilometre was rather easy to follow (it is even accessible to people in wheelchair). The following kilometres were more similar to the hike of the previous day. Rocky ridges, a little elevation, overgrown paths, and lots of wild blueberries.
The trail eventually leads to a high lookout tower. From the top, you could see the peatland landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a beautiful sight.
And what about the deer flies? They seemed more bearable on that day. Perhaps there were fewer. Or maybe we were just used to them at this point.
The hike on the Loudon Trail (including the return trip to the lookout tower) was a little less than 5 kilometres.
Since we still had energy after the hike on the Loudon Trail, we decided to explore another area of the park. This time, we headed south, to another parking lot along Route 64, giving access to the Samoset Trail.
The Samoset trail is 3.4 km long, but it seemed a little longer to us. The hike was a little more strenuous than on the other trails. Maybe we were getting tired. Maybe we were starting to get really fed up of the flies and the overgrown paths.
The trail passes through wooded areas and over rocky ridges, but also near some swamps. For the first time, we also had to deal with flooded and muddy sections. Let’s just say that I had to do the rest of the hike with wet shoes.
Interestingly, a section of the Samoset trail is part of the famous Trans Canada Trail (which goes through the park).
Lapin Beach Trail
After the Samoset Trail, the Lapin Beach Trail almost seemed like a breath of fresh air. With a length of 1.4 kilometres, it is a short loop which passes through Rabbit Beach. A good wind from Warren Bay chased away, for a moment, all the mosquitoes and deer flies. A welcome break for us, before the loop brought us back to the Samoset Trail which we had to follow again to get back to our car.
The hike on the Lapin Beach Trail combined with the return trip on the Samoset Trail totaled nearly 7 kilometres (with an elevation gain of 82 metres).
Some things to know before you go
There are other trails in the park (the longest is 5.4 kilometres) that can be combined to create long loops if you want to spend the day there. Wilderness camping is allowed in some places (but not on the beaches).
Although overgrown and ungroomed, the trails seemed to us well marked everywhere. At each intersection of trails, their names are indicated, and there is usually a map of the area. If you follow the blue markers, it’s hard to get lost.
We saw several traces indicating the presence of bears and moose, so it is better to equip yourself with a bear bell.
And don’t forget your mosquito repellant. Seriously.