On August 7th, a friend (Aidan) and I set out to attempt to thru hike the Rideau Trail in Ontario, Canada. The trail is 327km in length and spans from Kingston to Ottawa. It is maintained by the wonderful and generous Rideau Trail Association volunteers that keep the trail running.
Unfortunately, our thru hike attempt was cut short when my hiking partner experienced some sever blisters and decided he needed to get off trail. I decided not to continue alone as I wasn’t comfortable with stealth camping alone. I hope to get out there and finish the trail at a later date, but sadly it won’t be this summer.
Our trip coincided with a heat wave with daily temperatures around 30 and with humidity at 40, night time temperatures only dropped to about 23 to 25. It was hot and humid, but luckily we made the best of it.
The Rideau Trail is broken up into 19 maps starting with 1 in Kingston and ending with 19 in Ottawa. Throughout the report I will refer to sections or points on the maps with their number (i.e. 01A) and if you’re interested in seeing that on the maps you can find them here! I want to provide as much detail on the trail as I can, so this will be split up into two articles. I, also did not have an accurate gps tracker for daily mileage, so all distances reported are those from the Rideau Trail maps.
Day 1: 23.8km 01A – 02C
On Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed to Kingston where we met my grandmother who agreed to watch my dog Spud for the journey. We arrived in downtown Kingston around 1pm, and found a parking lot for our rendezvous. The trail head is in front of Kingston City Hall and it was insanely busy.
Finding parking was an adventure of its own and we ended up just having to quickly grab our stuff from the car off the side of the road and say some quick goodbyes. The waterfront park and trail area were super crowded but we managed to find the trail head and start our trek at 2pm (although we forgot to get a picture in front!).
From there we followed the waterfront trail along Lake Ontario for the first part of our day. This is a multi-use recreational trail, and most of the trail markers are on posts in the grass which made it very easy to follow. We made it to the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, where there was an event going on (so busy!), and then discovered the trail was closed until Lake Ontario Park.
This detour sent us onto our first road walk of the day up to King st and then through the park back onto the trail. When we arrived back onto the trail we took our first break near a dock. We ate some snacks and filtered some fresh lake water to carry us into the afternoon.
From the Water Front Trail we were taken onto the streets of Kingston. We walked through some cute neighborhoods and got a lot of funny looks. When we finally hit a dirt trail our feet were thrilled (although it didn’t last long). I finally decided that I needed to have a pee break before we got back onto the roads and just as I got my pack off it started to pour!
The rain was refreshing and our stuff managed to stay dry. We made it to the Kingston Via Rail station (you need to go THROUGH the station) and almost continued down the track instead of going through but thankfully, I checked my GPS just in time.
After the Via Rail station there was more road walking until we hit the Cataraqui Cemetery. The cemetery was quiet and pretty, but seemed like it went on forever. From the cemetery we went back onto the roads until we hit the K&P trail, a gravel multi-use recreation trail from Kingston to Pembroke.
There were many swamps around this trail, and not many great water sources. Luckily, as our water was dwindling we found a running stream just on the side of the trail. This was good enough for me! We filled up our water and continued on (it was around 6:30pm).
We made it to a private section of the trail that felt like we were finally hiking. It was through some forest and even though the bugs were getting bad it felt good to be out of the city! There was a clearing and got to see the beautiful sunset sky and a rainbow. We almost stopped to set up camp but saw what we thought would be some good water on the map ahead.
Unfortunately, the water was just a ‘stream’ that went over the trail and I ended up walking through, completely soaking my shoes!
After that we had about a km of road walking until we made it to our first farm of the trail with a ladder to get over the fence. It was about 8:30 at this point and our daylight was quickly fading. We decided to set up camp quietly and respectfully just off the trail with some tree coverage in the farmers field (THANK YOU FARMER <3). We decided not to eat dinner as the bugs were bad, we had very litter water and we wanted to just get to bed. After getting the tent up we found a tree to hang our food and went to “sleep”.
Day 2: 27km 02C – 04B
At 5am, my alarm went off and I quickly turned it off to and made Aidan wake up. We wanted to get out as early as possible to avoid being found, and to get an early start on the day. Aidan slept like a baby all night, I on the other hand barely slept and was convinced every noise was a farmer coming to yell at us. We were pretty close to the road and at one point a car with their high beams on illuminated the tent and I thought we were about to be run over by a tractor. Thankfully, it was just the road.
We woke up to a fog covered field, socks and shoes still soaked, and a crazy amount of crickets. We both had a couple pairs of dry socks so we put those on, packed up as quickly as we could and headed out of our site. We planned to have breakfast when we found a water source later on the trail.
Going through the farmers field was very picturesque, but with the rain storm the previous day everything was wet and swampy. We made it back onto the K&P trail, and when we got to 03A we took a foot and snack break. Aidan had some pretty narly blisters already so he tended to those.
We saw lots of bikers on this trail and a couple asked us where we were headed/what we were doing, which was nice! We kept hoping someone would toss us a water bottle… We trekked on and I saw that there was water a km away so I high tailed it as fast as I could to make it there.
But of course, the water was another stagnant creek/swamp, so we decided to hope for better water along the way. We continued along the K&P trail for most of the morning, and tried our best to ration the 2L of water (total) we had left from yesterdays stream.
We finally made it to Foodland in Sydenham around 12pm after 6 hours of hiking. We set our stuff down on a bench in the park across from it and I went to go buy water, gatorade, and POUTINE! The chip truck beside Foodland was delicious and a much needed treat. Aidan went in to get some more bandaids for his feet.
We took a long lunch break here, laid out the tent fly and our sock to dry, ate our poutine and made the dehydrated spaghetti with tomato sauce. I even took a little nap in the grass. Finally, at 2pm we knew we had to get on the road if we were gonna make it to Gould Conservation before dark.
On the way from Foodland we got back onto some trails that took us to Knowlton Lake with Peter’s Perch. It was such a beautiful lookout and there was a bench which ended up being our second lunch stop. We made tortillas with peanut butter and honey, and watched some cottagers from way up high.
Once we got out of this section of trail we had quite a bit of road walking until gould conservation, and this when the heat really started to get to me. It was 40 with the humidity, no clouds in the sky and no shade in sight. As we walked down the road a nice lady came up her driveway to ask if we were hiking the Rideau Trail and if we needed water.
It was so kind but all of our bottles were filled from Foodland so we declined and kept going. I became super emotional after this because of the heat and started just crying as we walked down the road. We finally found some shade on a super long driveway and decided to take a break there. We drank a bunch of water and Aidan convinced me to keep going.
As I sat there sobbing into my water bottle texting my mom and he was like “you know this sucks, but once we get through it we can say ‘yeah it sucked, but I still made it my bitch'” and so we had a good laugh. I finally got myself together and we continued onto Gould Lake.
We finally made it to Gould Conservation around 630 and when we finally got off of the road and onto a trail, it was completely overgrown and after the first blaze we couldn’t find any others. This was super frustrating so we turned around and went back onto the road and decided we would just walk up to the conservation entrance that way.
After another km or so on the road, we decided to make camp in the forest off to the side on the other side of a hill. There was a swamp and a clearing where we decided to set up camp. We again decided not to eat dinner and just have a protein bar. After a few unsuccessful attempts to hang our food on dead trees, we found one that was good enough… I mean would a bear really come??
Day 3: 16.1km 04B-04G
We had another early start today and got out of our tent at 6am. I again didn’t sleep well, but better than night 1. We heard coyotes (or wolves??) in the distance and lots of animal steps throughout the night that kept us both on high alert. Luckily, our terrible bear hang managed to keep our food safe. It rained again that night, but we kept out shoes closer to the tent so they stayed mostly dry.
We knew it was going to be another hot day but were excited to be on trails for most of it heading into Frontenac park. Starting out the day we continued up the road to the main entrance, and then to the beautiful Gould Lake.
There was a dock and picnic tables, so we had a long breakfast break there (our first hot breakfast on trail!). I made coffee and ramen, and Aidan had tea and ramen. It was so good. We filtered and drank lots of water, and even met a couple dogs that came by. It was a beautiful morning.
Around 9:30 we headed back onto the trail towards Frontenac. We passed our first Mica Mines and had lots of super fun (exhausting) hills and climbs throughout the day. By 11am it was already 30 and 37 with the humidity, luckily we had so much water on trail this day. We took a break every hour to drink water and eat a snack, hiker hunger was finally hitting me.
There were many nice lookouts in this section and a couple even had benches! Coming up a hill to find a bench at the top is really the best feeling. Leaving Gould Conservation area, we had a bit of road walking to get us to Frontenac Park but we knew we would be passing Frontenac Outfitters where we could hopefully get some gatorade.
The road walking was again brutal in the heat but at least we knew we had water. I kept dreaming that the outfitters would have ice cream or a chip truck or something delicious to give myself motivation to keep pushing on the road. When we finally made it there, they let us fill up our water with their water cooler, and had gatorade for sale. I asked if they happened to also double as an ice cream shop, and unfortunately they did not.
We loitered on their lawn while we drank our Gatorades and then finally headed into Frontenac. The walk up Big Salmon Rd felt like it lasted forever, but it felt so good to finally make it there! They had a vending machine at the park office where, you guessed it, we got more Gatorade. After another long break at the park office we headed to our campsite at Doe Lake.
The trail in Frontenac was very well marked and relatively flat to Gould conservation. There were a few climbs but I knew we were so close to the site so it felt doable. I wanted to make it to camp by 5pm and when I saw it was 4:45, I decided to try and run the last 1.5kms. I jogged and then when it hit 5 I still had a bit to go but made it to camp by 5:12pm.
The sites on Doe Lake are very close together and we had the middle site. There was a nice family on one side and an older couple on the other. As I waited for Aidan to make it to camp (he did not want to run), a young boy from the family called me over to look at the resident snapping turtle in the water.
When Aidan made it to camp we set up the tent, got a clothes line for all of our damp stuff and had a feast. We cooked the dehydrated lentil curry that we made and lots of snacks. We opted to not have a fire since we were too tired to collect wood, but we were able to go for a swim. The water was so refreshing after 3 days of sweat and dirt accumulating on our skin. It felt like a mini shower!
We ended up heading to sleep without the tent fly on and hoped it wouldn’t rain since there was so little ventilation with it on, and we luckily stayed dry all night.
Have you hiked the Rideau Trail or planning to? Let me know in the comments!
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