Marble Rock Conservation Area has been on my list of places I wanted to visit for a while. I had heard that this conservation area north of Gananoque in Eastern Ontario had some challenging hiking trails. And as I have always enjoyed my hikes in this region of the province (at Rock Dunder for example, or at Thousand Islands National Park), I decided I should finally go explore Marble Rock Conservation Area before winter sets in.
The conservation area is named after the small hamlet of Marble Rock, where there were a few mills, a school and a general store. For more than a century, the area around Marble Rock has been exploited for its forest resources, by mining and quarrying, and by agriculture. The Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority ultimately purchased 710 acres in the area in order to restore and protect the forest.
An interesting story and a challenging trail… For me, those were the perfect ingredients to make this an interesting hike. And I was not disappointed!
The trails in Marble Rock Conservation Area are divided into two sections: the South Loop (approximately 7 km) and the North Loop (approximately 3 km). Before I even started my hike, I had decided that I wanted to hike both loops. The first few metres did not seem too hard, until I came to a sign indicating the way to the first lookout. Beyond that, the trail seemed to consist mostly of large boulders that I had to climb. The kind of hike I really like!
The climb up to the lookout was therefore interesting, in fact more interesting than the view at this first summit (called Leaning Rock). It was only my first kilometre in Marble Rock Conservation Area, but already I had had a taste of what this hike was going to be like.
After coming down of Leaning Rock, I arrived at the beginning of the South Loop. I decided to follow the trail clockwise, so I turned left on the trail.
The trails at Marble Rock were developed by the Rideau Trail Association. For me who have hiked the entire Rideau Trail before, there was a little something familiar about following this trail. In fact, as it have occasionally happened on the Rideau Trail, I sometimes had a little trouble making out the trail under all the fallen leaves, but I could rely on the blue markers to show me the way forward. The more I hiked, the easier it was to spot the blue markers.
After passing through a wooded area where I ran into a porcupine (who casually walked away), the trees became a little sparser and the trail started going up again. I made it to the top of Barn Hill which was arguably the best lookout of my entire hike. With the fall colours, the clearing stretching out in front of me was just beautiful.
The following kilometres continued to be steep. There were often large rocks on the trail, sometimes hidden under fallen leaves, making the hike a bit treacherous. The forest was beautiful, however. And since I like trails that offer a certain challenge, I could hardly complain. Here and there it was also possible to see the traces of the past of the place (the trail passes near the ruins of an old homestead).
I eventually reached the junction leading to the North Loop and decided to take this one clockwise as well. The North Loop seemed less traveled to me. The trail got a little harder to follow (I had to retrace my steps a few times to make sure I kept following the blue arrows in the right direction), but the forest was just as beautiful. In this even steeper area, the fall colours seemed even more spectacular to me.
The North Loop passes over several large rocky plateaus. Luckily, there were small cairns indicating the way forward because the blue markers were sparser.
The North Loop also goes around a lovely little lake on which the trail offers some viewpoints. As one sign explains, this unnamed lake was created a few decades ago by a beaver who constructed a dam over a small stream, forcing the water to collect there. When the dam breaks, the lake will disappear and only the original small stream will remain. Just a small reminder that nature is fascinating!
I eventually completed the North Loop and continued my hike on the section of the South Loop that I had not yet hiked. This section is considered the most difficult in the conservation area as it is particularly rocky and includes several steep climbs and descents. Saving this section for last might not have been my best idea, because my legs were starting to get pretty worn out. But there was nothing I could do but continue if I eventually wanted to make it back to the trailhead.
As I was starting to get rather tired, I hesitated for a long time before taking the detour to another lookout on the South Loop. I finally did it, and once again I felt the hike to get there was more interesting than the view at the top. The detour leads to a large rounded rock that you have to climb to get to the top. Is it the famous Marble Rock that gave its name to the village and the conservation area? I haven’t found out, so if you know, please leave the answer in the comment section below!
After passing by another beaver pond, after many climbs and descents, after countless large rocks that I had to climb, I finally came back to my starting point. My hike totaled almost 11 kilometres, with an elevation gain of 250 metres. It is definitely not an easy hike, but it is well worth it!
The parking lot, which was totally empty when I got to the conservation area, was full when I got back to my car. Marble Rock Conservation Area is apparently no longer a well-kept secret in the area!