Petroglyphs Provincial Park

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: July 2021

Petroglyphs Provincial Park features the largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings, which are commonly known as petroglyphs, in Canada. This sacred site contains carvings that represent aspects of First Nations spirituality, including turtles, snakes, birds, humans and more. It is known as Kinoomaagewaabkong, which translates to “The Teaching Rocks”. Petroglyphs is a day-use park and features a Learning Place Visitor Centre along with three hiking trails that weave through the forests and marshes along the Canadian Shield.

We spent the night at the cabin and left first thing in the morning. From the cabin it’s about an hour and a half drive to get to Petroglyphs. When we arrived at the park, we drove towards the Learning Place where the Petroglyphs Site is located along with the trailhead for two of the longer trails in the park.

In the parking lot, there was a sign to indicate that every visitor is required to register their vehicle at the Learning Place, even if you have a park pass or day-use permit. Unfortunately the Petroglyphs Site was closed due to COVID, but the gift shop in the Learning Place was open. It’s a short trek, a few hundred metres, from the parking lot to the Learning Place. After we registered our vehicle and picked up a park patch, we walked back to the trailhead.

The trailhead marks the start of two trails: the Nanabush Trail (5.5km, rated easy, signed with red markers) and the Marsh Trail (7km, rated moderate, signed with blue markers). We decided to first hike along the Marsh Trail. For the first few hundred metres the two trails overlap and are marked by a combination of red and blue markers.

The trail splits off, but we continued to follow the blue markers for the Marsh Trail through the red pine forest. The path is relatively flat and quite scenic. The forest of dense pines provided pretty decent coverage from the sun. The trail loops through the forest and around a marsh, however, we couldn’t really see much of the marsh.

After about a kilometre or so, the trail overlaps with part of the West Day Use Trail, which leads to McGinnis Lake. We planned to stop here for lunch on the drive out of the park, so continued to follow the blue markers.

The trail then involves a few steep ups and downs before reaching a junction, which conveniently contains a map of the trail system. Here the trail overlaps with the Nanabush Trail again. This time we followed the red markers.

The trail winds around the shore of Minnow Lake and over rocky outcrops. The terrain on this portion of the trail is a bit uneven in places, but the views of the lake just get better and better.

Once we finished hiking around the lake, the trail overlaps with the Marsh Trail again and leads back to the trailhead. We followed the red and blue markers through the forest and over a boardwalk that crosses a wetland.

Once we wrapped up our hike, we drove to the west day-use area which is located near McGinnis Lake. McGinnis Lake is one of the few meromictic lakes in Ontario. In most lakes the warmer, oxygen-rich water at the top of the lake mixes, or turns over, with the cooler, oxygen-poor layers below. This turnover happens once in the spring and again in the fall. A meromictic lake is one in which the different thermal layers never mix.

McGinnis Lake is located in a steep-sided basin and is sheltered from the winds. The lake generally has three distinct layers, defined by changes in temperature and oxygen content. The bottom layer has no oxygen, which means that organics that settle to the bottom don’t decay. For this reason, this lake is used by researchers who collect samples of the sediment to learn of the ecological and climatic changes that have occurred in this area since the end of the last ice age.

In order to preserve the meromictic nature of the lake, swimming, boating and fishing are prohibited to prevent accidental mixing of the lake’s layers.

This seemed like as good a spot as any to have some lunch before we hit the road and drive back home. And that concludes the end of our road trip.


My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

84 thoughts on “Petroglyphs Provincial Park

  1. kagould17 says:

    This looks like a great area for hiking. Interesting trails, good viewpoints and bodies of water. Were you able to get to the petroglyphs? Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was a lovely area to spend the day and pack a picnic. It’s too bad that the petroglyphs site was still closed due to COVID when we visited though. Good thing it’s not too far from the cabin, so we can always return next summer (knock on wood we don’t have another lockdown).

  2. salsaworldtraveler says:

    I bet you were glad to leave the mosquitos behind at the cabin. Too bad the glyphs site was closed. Petroglyphs are found all over the world. It would have been nice to see the ones in this location. The lovely hike was worth the trip though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. I’m glad the mosquitoes weren’t so much of an issue during our day-trip to Petroglyphs Provincial Park. It is rather unfortunate that the petroglyphs site was closed, especially since it features the largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings in Canada. Thankfully it’s not too far from our cabin, so hopefully we can return next year. Either way, it was still a nice park to visit and it was well worth the detour on the drive back home.

  3. Rose says:

    It was a little unfortunate to read the Petroglyphs Site was closed. I was looking forward to photos. I like your photos of all the park information signs, and of course all the beautiful lakes and nature around the trails. It was interesting to read about McGinnis Lake. I don’t think I had heard of this phenomenon, meromictic lake, but I’m glad to hear it’s being preserved, and no swimming, boating, or fishing is allowed.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It is too bad that the petroglyphs site was still closed when we visited as it would have been neat to see all the various Indigenous rock carvings. Given that they set up a whole building around them, I would assume that they must be pretty impressive. I’m glad the park offers other activities and attractions though so at least it was still worth the visit. McGinnis Lake was easily one of the highlights of the park. I’m glad it’s being preserved too as it’s really quite unique and beautiful.

  4. coloradochelsea says:

    Oh no! I can’t believe they’d closed the petroglyph site. At least there were some other things to do so your visit wasn’t totally wasted. It looks like a pretty hike through the forest, and I loved learning about the lake. I have never heard of a meromictic lake before.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We knew beforehand that the Petroglyph Site was closed, but went anyway to check out the trails and other attractions in the park. McGinnis Lake is pretty spectacular and I guess that it explains why it looks the way that it does. I’ve never heard of a meromictic lake before either, so it was neat to learn something new.

  5. Ab says:

    What a beautiful day and visit you had at Petroglyphs Provincial Park! I was there over a decade ago and admittedly, I don’t remember exploring it to the same degree of thoroughness that you and K did. The trails and lookout points and that water look so calming and inviting!

    I seem to recall there was an indoor visitor area but I imagine it was closed during the pandemic.

    Another park crest checked off the list!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Even though the Petroglyphs Site was closed, we still had a nice time hiking the trails and checking out the overlook of McGinnis Lake. Good thing it’s not too far from the cabin so we can always return next summer (assuming we’re not in another lockdown that is). And yes, another park crossed off the list and badge added to the collection!

      • Ab says:

        It looked like a wonderful outing. It’s relatively close to Toronto so I’ll have to check it out one of these days!

  6. John says:

    I’m sorry that the petroglyph area was closed. I hope that people weren’t doing bad things there. The forest looks so peaceful, a great place for a long hike! The lake is fascinating. 😨😱

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Petroglyph Site was still closed due to COVID. We visited early in the summer right when Ontario was starting to come out of lockdown, so not all businesses and activities were fully open then. Even though the site was closed, we still had a lovely time exploring the trails. McGinnis Lake was easily one of the highlights.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was definitely well worth the visit even though the Petroglyphs Site was closed. It’s always fun to explore a new park. There were plenty of hiking trails and nice viewpoints to keep us busy.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I imagine the water is safe for swimming, but it might be colder in the lower layers. It’s good that the lake is being preserved for research purposes. It was neat to learn more about what a meromictic lake is and why it’s important. I don’t think I’ve seen one before.

  7. Island Traveler says:

    So beautiful and pristine. I’m working this weekend so I just to close my eyes and imagine walking through the trails you’d been and ending the adventure with a relaxing connection with the magical lake. Thanks. Happy Weekend.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      McGinnis Lake was one of the highlights of our visit. The colour of the water looks so beautiful. Sorry to hear that you had to work this weekend. It was a little chilly here, but the sun was shining and we managed to spend some time outdoors. Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was unfortunate that the Petroglyphs Site was closed. I imagine it must be pretty impressive considering it houses the largest collection of Indigenous rock carvings in Canada. Thankfully there were some great hiking trails and nice viewpoints to keep us busy. This just means we’ll have to return someday to get the full experience!

  8. Diana @ Handstands Around the World says:

    That’s a bummer that the petroglyph site was closed. Guess you’ll have to go back sometime! I saw a meromictic lake in Quebec a few years back; it’s such a neat phenomenon and not something I knew anything about prior to that visit. Neat that there’s another one in Ontario!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      At least we knew in advance that the site was closed. Thankfully it’s not too far from our cabin so we can hopefully visit another time. It was neat to see McGinnis Lake and learn more about meromictic lakes. There are a few of them in Ontario and it would be nice to see them all.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We visited early in the summer just when Ontario was starting to open back up again, so there were a few things that were still closed, including most park visitor centres. It is unfortunate that we weren’t able to check out the Petroglyphs Site as it sounds pretty incredible. Meromictic lakes are so neat. Apparently there are a few of them in Ontario.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Good to know that it lives up to its reputation. I heard photography is not permitted, but I guess that’s to further preserve the petroglyphs. I’ve visited Crawford Lake Conservation Area a couple of times as the Bruce Trail runs through there. There’s a boardwalk trail that circles the meromictic lake that’s quite lovely. I hope the archaeologists have collected all the samples that they need as I imagine it’s not as pristine as it once was considering how many visitors now come here.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s such a neat park with a variety of activities and attractions. We’re hoping to return next summer to check out the Petroglyphs Site since it was unfortunately still closed due to COVID when we visited.

  9. alisendopf says:

    Hello! Wow! You’ve been busy! So nice to see all your amazing hikes and adventures in Ontario. Sorry to see the site was closed, but it’s still a glorious part of the world. I’m glad the drawings are protected though. I was away in Jasper for a week, and then spent almost three weeks in Austria and Italy. Feels SO strange to be travelling again. I’ll catch up on more of your posts soon. Al

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. It was unfortunate that the Petroglyphs Site was still closed when we visited, but thankfully it’s not too far from the cabin, so we can always try again next summer. The trails and view of McGinnis Lake made it well worth the visit.

      Sounds like you’ve been busy as well with all your travels! Three weeks in Austria and Italy sounds amaaaazing. We’re hoping to start travelling abroad next year. Take care. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was such a beautiful day to end our road trip. It was neat learning about meromictic lakes and why they are so rare. There are actually a few of them in Ontario. According to Wikipedia there are no meromictic lakes in Saskatchewan.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        That is definitely true. We have gorgeous scenery here as well but the best is up in the northern part of the province and is very much wilderness. At this point, I think it would be better for Dan and I to stick to less challenging hikes. Not to say yours are easy, but you have ones that look doable, with facilities, and hotels close by.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It’s funny because I would say that the most scenic areas in Ontario are in the north as well. That being said, we do have some beautiful areas in Southern Ontario too, especially around Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes. Agreed, many of the hikes here are doable and well-signed. And it’s nice to have facilities and amenities nearby.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        We visited Northern Ontario for the first time last summer and loved it so much that we returned in September for a full two weeks. It really is quite beautiful and you get that wonderful feeling that you’re just completely surrounded by wilderness.

      • annemariedemyen says:

        I don’t know how far you went, but we went to Burleigh Falls. It seemed fairly wildenessy. (There was a mother bear and cub in a little forestry area beside Dan’s sister’s cottage). But her cottage was modern. It even had wifi I think.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        That’s quite the trek. We did a figure eight loop around Northern Ontario. We drove up through Timmins, down through Thunder Bay, over to Fort Frances and Kenora, back to Thunder Bay and along the northern shore of Lake Superior to get back home. I’ve never been to Burleigh Falls, but I’ll have to add this to my list. A modern cottage with wifi sounds like luxury!

      • annemariedemyen says:

        It was in the coolest spot, tucked between two lakes and just one small wilderness spot away from a lock. Dan spent a good bit of time there, watching the boats go through the lock, chatting with the lock keeper, and laughing at me for tiptoeing around with bear spray and an airborne. 😂

      • annemariedemyen says:

        It was Dan’s sister that gave it to me because I had to walk past the bear woods. 🤦 The woman that worked at the lock thought it was hilarious. She had already met Dan so when he came looking for me she had to come over so they could both mock me. 😂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was rather unfortunate that the Petroglyph Site was closed, but at least we were able to explore the trails and go for a picnic. The park is located near Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, so it’s not too far of a trek to get to from where we live (or our cabin).

  10. Christie says:

    Too bad the site was closed, but then you can visit other time, your cabin is so close! You walk was interesting, to find out about the meromictic lake. We did a walk to this park several years ago, but we missed the lake! Christie

  11. Meg says:

    That is a beautiful park! Since it’s near your cabin you could go back and see the petroglyphs in the future. The lake is fascinating too!

  12. wetanddustyroads says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your road trip of camping and visiting parks! Once again, I’m just in awe of those beautiful high trees on the trail! And you have some lovely shots of the lake. Hopefully you can go back again when the Petroglyphs Site re-open – I would love to see that!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I love hiking through the forest and just looking up to see how tall the trees are. Even though the Petroglyphs Site was closed, we still enjoyed the trails and overlook of the lake. It was such a lovely day and a great way to end our road trip. Thankfully it’s not too far from our cabin so we can hopefully return next summer to see the petroglyphs.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s amazing that the park has gone through a lot of effort to construct a whole building around the petroglyphs, especially since it has the largest concentration of them in Canada. Thankfully it’s not too far from our cabin so we can hopefully return next summer. Even though the site was closed, we were still able to hike along the trails and enjoy the scenery.

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