Grab your picnic basket and towel. If you’re looking for a day trip and maybe a “Sunday drive” type of summer outing, provincial parks fill the bill in so many ways and the seasonal day pass is your ticket to nature and nearby community attractions.
This week we are highlighting three parks further along the Highway 11 North corridor and a turn to the west within northeastern Ontario.
Esker Lakes Provincial Park, near Kirkland Lake
Nancy Daigle is the Park Superintendent for all three of the following cluster of parks.
Esker Lakes’ chain of spring-fed lakes was created by glacial ice thousands of years ago.
“Now they are beautiful, secluded lakes surrounded by lush boreal forest. Visitors can swim, canoe, hike and camp along their shores," she said. "From July 29 to Aug. 1 the Park will see the return of Blueberry Fest. Activities are planned throughout the weekend including a camper/staff baseball game, discovery programming and a camper variety show. Great day out for day use visit.”
Kettle lakes are created when huge blocks of glacial ice calve off of the glacier (like icebergs) and are buried in sand and gravel that’s washed off the ice sheet. The blocks of ice melt so slowly that they make a deep hollow that keeps its shape and forms a small kettle-like lake.
The lakes here were made by a river that was flowing over the glacial ice. The river made a thick, wide riverbed of sand and gravel. When the glacier melted away, the riverbed remained on the landscape.
“It’s called an esker by geologists," Daigle said. "The Munro Esker is the longest in Ontario at over 250 kilometres long.
“The Lonesome Bog Trail circles one of our most scenic lakes, crossing a bog at one end with a boardwalk.
"Visitors can hike across the boardwalk and experience the rich plant life that flourishes in the bog.
"The trail passes through a Jackpine Forest, a key boreal tree species, and past huge erratic boulders left behind by glacial ice.”
Check out the interpretative centre and the old-style display of local birds/animals on the free-standing signs and the large picnic shelters.
The Toburn Mine Property at the east entrance to Kirkland Lake has a great local historical significance. Toburn was the first operating mine in the Kirkland Lake camp. It is a self-guided tour - free - pen all day, every day from May to October. I like the rock specimens in the parking lot and there is a digital tour and printable pdf.
Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, near Timmins
Kettle Lakes contains 22 spring-fed lakes, some with sandy beaches, some are perfect for swimming, paddling and fishing.
It also has great day-use facilities, including four hiking trails from 1.5 to 3 kilometres in length, and is easy to navigate. There are large picnic shelters here as well at the main beach and playground.
The park’s spring-fed lakes were formed by glacial “icebergs” that were buried under sand and gravel by a huge glacial river. A wide river flowed over the glacial ice, reaching the melting edge where Kettle Lakes is today. The river formed a waterfall at this edge, burying the ice blocks that had fallen away from the glacier.
“Today, these ‘kettles’ contain a range of water bodies, from open spring-fed lakes to wetlands like floating bogs,” Daigle said.
Hike the Tamarack Trail to see some of these different stages of wetland development.
I like that Kettle Lakes has 14 kilometres of designated biking trails ranging from easy to moderate levels of difficulty winding through a mature Jack pine forest.
One will lead you to Slab Lake where you can have a swim before continuing your journey. What I like about this park is that you have a ring road that is approximately 10 km in length that passes by many of the kettle lakes where you can swim and picnic away from many others; you get the secluded feeling; bicycles are available for rent at the front gate.
“Kettle Lakes has it all!" Daigle says. "You and your family can have a picnic, go for a swim on a sandy beach, drop into our visitor centre and talk to a park naturalist or see a nature program, bike through forest trails, go for a hike or rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. You’ll have to come back more than once to do it all!”
In Timmins, interesting attractions include Nickie’s Trails, Archie’s Rock, High Falls and the McIntyre Mine head frame, but a visit could include a new lookout that offers spectacular views of the city and into an active open-pit mining operation.
Newmont Porcupine has officially opened its Hollinger Open Pit Lookout. It will be open every year from June 1 to Sept. 30. During that period, people can access it seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., except during blasting periods that run from 11:30 a.m. to noon and 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Ivanhoe Provincial Park, near Foleyet
This is another park with a landscape sculpted by glacial ice.
Several small kettle lakes nestle around a long narrow esker (the gravelly riverbed of a stream that once flowed across glacial ice) that runs through the park. The 8 km Esker Trail follows this winding narrow ridge, surrounded by the Boreal Forest. This forest is filled with migratory songbirds – Magnolia, Black and White, Blackburnian and Northern Parula are some of the species that nest in the park.
“The lake is the main focus with two long beaches providing fine sand and shallow water, plus a playground, just perfect for families; rentals like canoes, kayaks and paddleboards will help you get out on the water and explore the shore,” said Daigle.
Fishing is a big draw so a day trip alone is a chance to wet your line within Ivanhoe Lake.
“Walleye and Northern Pike are the most sought-after species, and the fishing is very good,” she added.
Day visitors can rent a canoe or kayak to get out on the water and closer to the fish or bring a motorboat. There is a boat launch between Red Pine and La Baie campgrounds. You might hear the heritage drone of the heritage Beaver floatplane taking off from its nearby base.
The park has four hiking trails, from 800 metres to 8 kilometres, that pass through a range of park landscapes.
Ivanhoe Lake is also a great spot for birding, including colourful warblers, eagles and waterfowl. What I like here is a secluded day use picnic area on a small peninsula on Saw Lake, a little bit of seclusion. It is on the ring road that meanders through the park so take along your bicycles.
“Along with the sand beaches, big lake and great fishing, hiking boating and paddling, Ivanhoe Lake is one of the best places for sunset-watching. “
Before the sun sets go into nearby Foleyet for two stops. Check out the General Store which is just that, a place where there is everything to behold. Across the street is the Northern Lights Restaurant is the place to see the mystical white moose.
When you visit a park stop in at the gatehouse or park store and purchase a souvenir crest.
Dave Hunt is a Market Development Specialist for Ontario Parks he explains.
“At park stores and merchandise, there was a realization of a need to provide visitors with something unique to each park. The park crest project, started in 2019, was the solution to this need," Hunt said.
"Designed by Ulla Clark, with input from individual parks, each crest depicts a unique landscape or attraction," he added. "Visitors can purchase either a patch or sticker with the individual park crest, through the online store or at participating physical stores in the parks during their operating season.”
And for some added fun to collecting the park stickers and badges, visitors can order their very own Ontario Parks Passport to help them keep track of their past, present and future provincial park adventures.
Parks are for people a day-visit basis it is like being on the back roads yours to discover this summer. Here’s the map.