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The Gould Lake CA (Sydenham) Trails Review
This is one secluded Conservation Area. It’s nearest neighbour is Frontenac Provincial Park and the 401 is over 20 kms away. In other words … the silence is unequalled. As the Wife and I walked it, we often commented on how it reminded us of some of our favourite trails. We spend alot of our time on limestone so it’s always a treat to walk on granite. We first visited this CA over a three day period in mid September 2020. We returned in mid September 2021 to re-visit, and finish up this review.
I’ll mention here that there was signage about a fee of $5.00 a head and a max of $15.00 per car at the entrance, but we couldn’t even find a place to drop off cash, much less hand any to anyone (not in September anyway). We asked a coupla fellow users and even a fellow in a County truck, how to pay the fee. All we got were blank stares and answers like “Hmm … I don’t know”. Perhaps the entrance kiosk is staffed in the Summer months ?
Gould Lake CA is easily looked-up on Google Maps. However, be warned that if you’re gonna approach from the Loughborough – Portland Boundry line from Harrowsmith, “Gully Rd” on Google is named “Freeman Rd” by the sign on the Loughborough – Portland Boundry line.
This link will open Google Maps at the parking lot : https://goo.gl/maps/91TiriPjKuyvpqa37
There are ten listed trails here, and they’re distances listed are only for the trails themselves, not including the often lengthy paths to get to them. Also, I’ll mention how well the trails are marked … once you’re on one. However, finding the trailheads to start can be a challenge. I’ll explain where they are as best I can for each review.
The Mine Loop (2.2 kms + 1.2 kms [return] of Rideau Trail to access the loop = 3.4 kms)
To find the trailhead, put the barn and beach to your back, the privies (outhouses) to your right, and walk toward the bush. You’ll see orange triangles which is the Rideau trail cutting through this CA. Follow the orange triangles to the right, over the bridge to the “Frog Junction” kiosk which will begin you on your walk of the Mine loop. We also walked past a number of old mica mines on the Rideau trail on our way to the loop.
This was the first trail we tried. I’d planned on covering at least two trails on our first assault … until we started to climb up and down some considerable hills. There are two particularly rough hills that would be downright dangerous if they were the slightest bit wet. So be warned, a slip and fall off either of these two hills would convert you into a skin bag of pulverized bone meal and well tenderized meat in about ten painful seconds. I’m referring to the East, or lake side of this loop where the lake is always visible through the trees. If the hills become a bit too much, you can take The Crossover Trail which will cut off some of the hills, and take you across to the West side of the loop early. Of course, if you take the Crossover trail, you can take it to the right when you get to the West side of the Mine Loop, and have a less hilly walk to the Point Spur Trail (which is recommended as it makes a lovely lunch break spot). I suppose if you wanna avoid all the nasty rock-climbing, you could just take the West side of the trail to the end of the point Spur, and return the same way. That way, you’ll avoid the rough part of the loop. You’ll miss the views of the lake, but you’ll see the best view of that, from the Point Spur anyway.
Jutting off to the North-east, from the Mine Loop is :
The Point Spur Trail (0.3 kms one-way)
For such a short little trail, we enjoyed it immensely. It’s just perfect for your trail lunch, with an unimpeded view of the lake, and cool off-shore breezes. Or, if the wind is a bit raw, you can set up lunch back from the point in a bright, sunny clearing obviously made by other walkers for just such a purpose. The only thing better than finding something I can only identify from pictures is … finding something I can’t identify at all. I’d never even heard of a Bog Cranberry, but we found one here (and another the next day, on another trail).
The West side of the Mine Loop trail (on our completion of the Mine Loop from the Point Spur) was quite pleasant, lush, and green … and alot less hilly/rocky. We went in mid September, and the fungal display was amazing. Surprisingly, there were very few members of the Order Rodentia on this trail. Hence, we found lots of shagbark hickory nuts lying around.
On our return to the parking lot, just after the bridge, there’s a trail on the East side that goes along the shoreline back to the barn. It isn’t on any trail maps but it’s a lovely walk so I wanted to mention it.
The Ridgewalk (about 4 kms, including the Rideau to get to it)
To access the Ridgewalk Trail, walk the Rideau approx. 2 kms past the Mine Loop at the Hill Junction kiosk. The kiosk will say Ottawa to the left. Of course, the Ridgewalk trail will show up before Ottawa will.
The Ridgewalk is formed of a side trail off to the West that runs parallel with the Rideau Trail. Our intention was to make a loop from the Ridgewalk and the Rideau (which would be an 8 km loop, including the section of Rideau to get to it). We started by taking the Rideau Trail (signed as “Main Trail” with orange arrows) along the lake, intending to hit the North end of the side trail, to return through the bush to make the loop.
However, we only got about 1/3 the distance to where the North end of the side trail begins the return loop, when we decided we were gonna have time and energy issues. As stated earlier, some of the hills were just piles of rocks held together with centuries of decomposing pine needles and leaves. So, we turned back, intending to evaluate the West side of the loop from the Southern junction.
We found the (marked with blue arrows) Ridgewalk to be much more comfortable than the Rideau. It even had an unexpected treat in the form of a lovely beaver pond. The trail actually led across the base of the dam that created it. If you look downhill from that pond, you’ll see two more ponds with dams holding them back. Busy little rodents eh ? We walked past the pond and continued for a short while, before deciding the pond was probably the crescendo for this trail, and we were running out of time.
The Wagon Trail (2.3 kms one-way)
From the parking lot, look to the North-East. You’ll see two trails heading off into the bush. The one on the right is the Wagon Trail. The one on the left is the Tom Dixon Trail which I’ll cover in my review below.
The Wagon Trail is wide and clear. It’s a little bit hilly, but nothing that requires both feet and hands, to climb (there are trails here that do … alot … of trails that do). I figured it was gonna be an uneventful stroll through a pleasant forest. The day before, we had wrestled with the Mine Loop so I was rather looking forward to something easy. Easier walking it was, but dull ? Not in the least. You’ll come upon a bridge with some kind of old boiler or something, being used as a conduit for a stream.
Just before the bridge, you’ll see a side trail heading off, alongside the stream. It was a side trail of the Tom Dixon but since the Wife saw cardinal flowers on it, we wandered down it for a bit. We scared-up a big old blue heron who perched in a tree to scowl at us for awhile.
Upon returning to the Wagon Trail, the next water we saw really blew us away. I was snapping landscape, lake, and inlet pictures while the Wife explored things nearby more closely. Suddenly she noticed a beaver dam of near ten feet high, explaining why there was a bay here at all.
Then she spotted something in the water just off shore. There were a few of them. They looked like stationary jellyfish without tentacles and ranged in size from a softball to a basketball. The Wife was sure she’d seen them on a wildlife show or something, but couldn’t recall exactly what they were. We hauled one ashore and got a few pictures to look them up with, when we got Home. Turns out they’re called Bryozoans and they’re not uncommon, though I’d never even heard of them, much less seen any before. This link will explain what they are, in simple terms :
A short walk after the inlet and, you’ll make it to Bedford Rd. Despite what any maps you find anywhere, show you … this is the ONLY trail that can be accessed from Bedford Rd. (#19). The East Trail and The Famous Trail CANNOT be accessed from Bedford Rd. Even if you could find them from Bedford (I walked the road to look for them, and failed to) there’s no place to leave your car on the roadside. So, the only way to get to the East, Famous, and Mica trails is from …
The Tom Dixon (Dickson? I’ve seen it spelled both ways on different maps) Trail
You’ll notice I didn’t mention a distance for this trail. That’s because there are some nice parts of this trail and … some God – awful parts. In other words, we tried twice, and gave up. So, we couldn’t get to the Mica, East, nor Famous trails either. Remember you can’t access anything but the Wagon Trail from Bedford Rd. So, if you want to see those three trails, you’re gonna have to take the Tom Dixon to get to them, and return by the same route. Thirty years ago, this might’ve been a different story … thirty years ago. The following .gif is from this trail accessible from the Northern tip of the Wagon Trail back around the point to the Southern access of the Wagon Trail.
This is the Dixon Trail from the beach to the parking lot.
Otherwise, the Tom Dixon Trail is mostly following the rocky, unstable shoreline of the lake. We tried it from a coupla different accesses, but gave up when upon cresting a hill, I found myself gazing down a near 55° decline of sheer rock, with some tree roots. “Screw this” I mumbled to the Wife, and we turned around to try NOT busting our ankles on the shoreline rocks on our return. Yes, a younger man might be fine with it but … I didn’t make it to 65 years by being stupid.
I’ll mention at this point that while researching this location before walking it, I saw alot of “Best Trails at Gould Lake CA” reviews. I guess that’s another way of saying, many of these trails are kinda rough for most folks (ourselves included).
The Final Take
Although the trails here are relatively short, they are as beautiful and fascinating as they are challenging to walk, with the exception of the Wagon Trail and the Point Spur (by that I mean they’re not challenging). The rest are quite hilly, and some are hilly beyond reasonable safety (at least for us two seniors). This was the first time I actually used a walking stick. I usually just use them for fun, but this time it definitely saved me from what would’ve been a nasty fall.
However, I will state that this CA is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a very long time. There’s ample free parking, outdoor washrooms (though I can’t vouch for their condition). I have no idea if the fees for use are for real or what. The grounds are obviously well kept like parkland, but we saw no way to pay for use. There are picnic tables, a beach (where we saw a coupla canoes), a dock, and a grassy mown area. This place appears to be active at some time of the year. Fortunately, that time of year isn’t one of our favourite times of year for hiking, in heat and bug country.
I’ve poked alot of fun at Gould Lake in this review, but please don’t be put off by it. This is a gorgeous, secluded, silent, and wild place for a terrific hike. The easy trails are mildly populated, while the more challenging ones are, pretty-much all to yourself. We spent 4 days here and saw only two other walkers on only two of those days. The roads into the CA from some directions can be a tad intimidating, but don’t let that dissuade you. Besides, if our low riding Honda can handle it, so can any other car.
Have a nice walk,