I first paddled across southeastern Ontario’s Crotch Lake a few decades ago while canoe tripping down Canada’s Mississippi River from Bon Echo Provincial Park to the Ottawa River. It was the best part of the journey. Most of the shoreline was crown land and there were countless places to make camp.
Not much has changed. There are still plenty of crown land campsites, and now there is the Crotch Lake Conservation Reserve created during the 1999 Living Legacy program. The entire lake is managed by the local municipality—North Frontenac Township—and you need a permit to pitch your tent on one of the 72 maintained campsites. And that’s a good thing. This lake can get busy with paddlers and motorboat campers, and it needs some type of organization to control the possible chaos.
There are two access points. One is on the north end of the lake, off Road 509 near the village of Ompah. Turn south onto South Bush Road and follow it all the way to the lake access point. The south end access is off Ardoch Road, called ‘Crotch Lake Access Road.’ Both put-ins have lots of parking, but the road in is narrow and twisting. Take your time driving it.
Crotch Lake is shaped like the “crotch” of a tree, hence the name. It’s also said that the original township north of the lake was titled “Belly Button Centre.” Either way, it’s not the best name given to such a glorious lake. The shoreline is covered with a mixture of pine, maple and oak. There are countless weedy bays and granite ridges. The campsites are spread out amongst the rugged rocky points and a scattering of islands. Some are better than others, but none are poor places to pitch a tent and soak in the scenery.
North Frontenac is now recognized as a dark sky destination. So, if it's stars you want to see, Crotch Lake will deliver.
Walleye, pike and bass lurk the waters. The fishing is generally awesome. And the sheer size of the lake (5,300 acres, 14 kilometres in length and more than 90 kilometres of undeveloped wilderness shoreline) minimizes the business of the anglers trying their luck in their fancy motorboats. Keep in the mind that the size of the lake can also become hazardous very quickly. The south end and the northern tip, where you access the lake, is shaped like a big bowl and you’ll find yourself tempted to just paddle straight across the expanse of it all. Don’t. Keep to the shoreline.
You’ll need to book a campsite online before heading out to Crotch Lake. And make sure you have your permit on hand. I was pleasantly surprised to have a visit from the main manager of the North Frontenac Parklands. He motored up to my site in his 14-foot-aluminum, checking on the conditions of the site before I arrived and to see how my trip was so far. I rarely see the same service at some of the backcountry provincial parks I paddle.
Give Crotch Lake a try and check out my latest video on my trip there on my KCHappyCamper YouTube channel.