Hiking in Charleston Lake Provincial Park

I had never visited Charleston Lake Provincial Park in Eastern Ontario before. And I don’t know why I waited so long before going, because this park is great for hiking! There are several trails of varying lengths, and I took advantage of a first visit to explore a few!

As its name suggests, Charleston Lake Provincial Park is located on the shores of Charleston Lake, a 26-square-kilometre lake northeast of Kingston in Eastern Ontario. The provincial park has several campgrounds, two beaches and a few boat ramps. But best of all, the terrain is rugged and rocky, which makes it a perfect place for interesting hikes.

A trail in Charleston Lake Provincial Park
Exploring Charleston Lake Provincial Park for the first time!

A bit of history

Charleston Lake Provincial Park is located in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, a granite arch recognized by UNESCO for its importance for biodiversity. I’ve always enjoyed my hikes in this area (at Marble Rock Conservation Area or at Rock Dunder for example), because the granite ridges makes it a fun and challenging hiking ground.

In the case of Charleston Lake, the particular geology of the place has not only shaped the landscape and its ecology, it also had an impact on its history. The First Nations used the rocks formation of the area for shelter. At the end of the 19th century, wealthy citizens built cottages and summerhouses there and Charleston Lake area became a popular vacation destination. Then, in the 1950s, the Ontario government began purchasing lands around the lake to protect the surrounding nature.

The trails showcase different aspects of the park. Here are the ones I followed:

Beech Woods Trail

A 1.8-kilometre loop with an elevation gain of 27 metres. I started on this trail simply because it’s the first one I’ve come across. The Beech Woods Trail showcases a beech forest and there are interpretive signs along the trail, highlighting the different habitats created by the tall trees in the provincial park.

The Beech Woods Trail gains elevation from the first few metres, then levels off to wind gently under the trees. Without being highly thrilling, the trail is great for a quiet forest hike that is neither too complicated nor too long.

Beech Woods Trail
A simple hike in the forest

Hemlock Ridge Trail

A 1.7-kilometre loop with an elevation gain of 28 metres. The trailhead of Hemlock Ridge Trail is right next to the Beech Woods Trail trailhead, so I followed it immediately after the latter. And things got a lot more interesting. As its name suggests, the trail winds under a canopy of hemlock trees and then follows a rocky ridge along a beaver pond.

Hemlock RIdge Trail
Ridges and pond

Then, to my delight, the trail got more rocky and rugged. In fact, it winds through a rock crevice for several metres. In some places the sandstone walls were way taller than me! Okay, okay, I was pretty impressed, but I have to admit that I was also a little nervous about surprising a snake hiding between the rocks (I really don’t like snakes). Luckily for me, I only saw millipedes winding their way across the rocky surfaces.

A millipede in Charleston Lake Provincial Park
Hello millipede

There are no interpretive signs, but it is possible to get a guide to learn more about the types of trees found along the trail.


Sandstone Island Trail

A 2.6-kilometre loop with an elevation gain of 44 metres. To access the Sandstone Island Trail, you have to drive a little deeper into the park to the parking lot where the trailhead is located. I was especially looking forward to hiking it, because it is arguably one of the park’s flagship trails.

The Sandstone Island Trail highlights the unique rock formations of Charleston Lake Provincial Park. After just a few metres, you reach what is probably the highlight of the trail: a rock shelter that has been used by the First Nations more than 1000 years ago. This rock overhang almost feels like walking in a cave and allows you to observe up close the impact of erosion of more friable rock surfaces.

Sandstone Island Trail
Walking under the rock

After the rock shelter, the trail gave me a first view of the lake. It was especially hot that day, and I would have been tempted to dive in the water, but I figured a swim in the lake would be for next time!

Charleston Lake
Beautiful Charleston Lake

The trail continued to be rocky and steep until it reached the top of the escarpment. Afterwards, the hike became easier and winds gently in the forest. At almost 3 kilometres, this was definitely my favorite trail of the day.

Shoreline Trail

A 2-kilometre loop with an elevation gain of 48 metres. The Shoreline Trail is the last one I hiked on that day. It’s also the only trail where I have encountered other hikers, a sign of its popularity. As its name suggests, the trail follows part of the lake shore and offers several viewpoints on it. Like the previous trail, it was also rocky and rugged, without being too difficult. There is a picnic area on a rock overlooking the lake.

The Shoreline Trail was also the trail that gave me a good scare on that day, as I came across a black rat snake, one of the largest snake species in Canada. No matter how harmless these snakes are, I’m always a little nervous when seeing one. Let’s say I watched carefully where I was stepping until I got back to my car!

Shoreline Trail
Hoping there are no more snake hidden along the way

UPDATE – Quiddity and Tallow Rock Bay Trails

I went back to Charleston Lake Provincial Park in August, this time to hike the Quiddity and Tallow Rock Bay trails. At 2.4 kilometres, the Quiddity Trail makes the round trip to a lookout point on Charleston Lake, while the Tallow Rock Bay Trail is a 10-kilometre loop (it is the longest trail in the park) and allows to further explore the landscapes of this beautiful provincial park!

The other trails

There is one other trail in the park that I haven’t had a chance to hike yet: the Blue Mountain Trail (accessed via kayak or canoe). I did hike to the summit of Blue Mountain though, by using an alternate trail, of which the trailhead is located outside the park.

Please note: you must pay the daily access fee to access the park. Charleston Lake Provincial Park is closed from mid-October to mid-May. A map of the trails can be found here.

For a list of Ontario’s provincial parks that I have visited, check out the National, provincial and state parks page.


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