I really enjoyed my hike on the Manitou Mountain Trail last March, so I wanted to head back to Calabogie in Eastern Ontario, this time to get to the top of Dickson Mountain.
Dickson Mountain is the highest mountain in the resort managed by Calabogie Peaks Resort, a ski resort located in the Ottawa Valley, about an hour from Ottawa. At 375 metres above sea level, it is not a very high mountain, but for the region, it is still notable!
According to the trail map, the Skywalk Trail loops at the top of the mountain. So I intended to follow it and then hike back down via the Lost Valley Loop, another trail I haven’t yet hiked in the area. I parked my car in front of the ski resort visitor centre and easily found the trailhead. I was ready to start another hike in this beautiful area!
Skywalk Trail… or almost
First observation: the trail climbs steadily right from the start. The hike seemed to me a little more challenging than the Manitou Mountain Trail. But I wasn’t going to complain, I enjoy trails that offer a good physical challenge!
Second observation: the trail seemed to me to be much less traveled than the others in the area. The trail was bushy, not well maintained and a bit difficult to find at times. That surprised me quite a bit, because some of the other trails in Calabogie (Manitou Mountain or the famous Eagle’s Nest for example) are among the most popular trails in the Ottawa area.
But the Skywalk Trail (marked with blue lines on the trees) was so bushy that at one point I lost track of it. I retraced my steps several times, but I just couldn’t find the way to go. A little disappointed, I decided to change my itinerary. I was going to start with the Lost Valley Loop, then come back down the mountain via the Skywalk Trail.
Lost Valley Loop
So, take two. After this false start, I retraced my steps and found the Lost Valley Trail and started my hike again. That trail seemed to be much better marked and maintained than the Skywalk Trail. But the climb continued to be steady. The trail was so steep in one place I even had to grab hold of some roots to make it up the hill!
But after that steep climb the trail leveled off and the hike became easy and pleasant. The Lost Valley Loop is located between Manitou Mountain, Dickson Mountain, and Juniper Ridge (hence its name, Lost Valley). The trail forms a loop, which I followed on its eastern side. At some point on the trail, it is possible to take a short detour to the Juniper Ridge Lookout. After another steep climb (luckily, there was a rope there to help with the climb) I arrived at the lookout, which has a lovely view of Calabogie Lake.
After the lookout, I continued to follow the Lost Valley Loop until I came to an intersection with the Indian Pass trail.
Indian Pass, Manitou Mountain Trail and the ascent
Indian Pass is a short trail that connects the Lost Valley Loop to the Manitou Mountain Trail. And it was arguably one of the most enjoyable parts of my hike. After a steep descent, the path winds gently between a few ponds and rocky ridges. It felt good being under the trees (the cool weather had driven away all the mosquitoes) and I even saw a few orchids along the trail!
Indian Pass eventually joins the Manitou Mountain Trail (the trail I followed at my last visit). I only stayed on this one for a few metres, until I reached another intersection with a trail leading to the Skywalk Loop. On the map, this section of trail does not appear to have a name and is simply identified with the word “Ascent”. Let’s say I had been warned.
And indeed, this trail was an ascent. The climb was steady, but much less steep than that of the Lost Valley Loop. I still had to stop a few times to catch my breath (don’t judge me, it has been a long time since I last hiked a mountain!).
And slowly but surely, I eventually made it to the Skywalk Trail and the top of Dickson Mountain!
Dickson Mountain is named after James Dickson, a provincial land surveyor. The ski hill of Calabogie Peaks Resort is located on the north side of the mountain, but the top and the south side of the mountain has remained wild and undeveloped.
The Skywalk Trail makes a loop of about 1.5 kilometres at the summit of the mountain. Also called Mikana Miigwetch, which means “Path of Thanks” in the language of the Madawaska Anishinabe, the trail is a tribute to the First Nations of the region.
And that trail was so beautiful! It’s hard to beat the spectacular views of Manitou Mountain and of the Eagle’s Nest Lookout, but Dickson Mountain can compete with these two. The trail follows the rocky sides of the mountain for several metres, offering magnificent views of the Madawaska region.
I had achieved my goal for the day of reaching the summit of Dickson Mountain. So I started the descent, this time following the Skywalk Trail back down.
Where is the trail?
After leaving the loop at the top of the mountain, the Skywalk Trail brought me to the top of the ski slopes, where the silent chairlift seemed a bit sad without the snow. So far the trail was well marked and easy to follow. Then things got a little tougher.
It took me a while to find the next blue markers, until I realized they were painted on the rocky ground of a ski slope. So I continued my descent following one of these slopes. Nothing very difficult, but nothing very exciting either.
Then the blue markers led me off the slope, back into the forest. Then from the forest, I came to a clearing, completely covered with brush. And, again, I ended up loosing the trail again.
It might have been wise to turned back and continued to follow the ski slope down the mountain. But I’m stubborn and continued to push my way through the brush and painfully made my way back down.
Occasionally I could find a blue marker, proof that I was heading in the right direction and was still, somewhat, following the trail. But the trail seemed completely nonexistent to me. It is as if this portion of the forest had been logged a few years ago, with debris and tree trunks left behind, and the trail ceased to be maintained.
I admit that a few times I wondered if it was safe to continue. I was lucky to wear long pants and long sleeves, because this bushwhack could have been even more painful and unpleasant. But I slowly made my way through the brush, and eventually came back to the point where I had lost track of the trail earlier in the day.
Anyway, aside from this difficult descent, I enjoyed my hike to the top of Dickson Mountain. Another proof that there is so much more to see in the Calabogie area than the famous Eagle’s Nest Lookout!