Posts Tagged ‘Marble Rock trail’


We haven’t done much hiking this summer. It seemed that it had just rained, was raining, or was about to rain all summer long. But last Friday was a perfect day, too nice to waste on mundane chores, and we headed out to the Marble Rock trail, north of Gananoque, Ontario. This region is part of the Frontenac Arch, an amazing section of the rugged Canadian Shield that dips down through southeastern Ontario and connects the far north bioregions with the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. The Arch marks an entirely different landscape from the surrounding plains. You can learn more about the Frontenac Arch here.


We completed the South Loop, with a side trip to the North Loop Lookout, a total of 4.7 miles (7.5 km). The east side of the South Loop is the most demanding terrain. If you aren’t climbing up a slope, you’re clambering down another, and the rocky ground can be treacherous. But the scenery is gorgeous.


The forest is primarily deciduous, with trees just beginning to take on the hues of autumn. You didn’t have to look up to know that oak trees were well represented in the diversity. The path was littered with acorns for much of its length, a bounty for wildlife.


Oak trees (Quercus spp) can be divided into two groups, red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have leaves with pointy-tipped lobes, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Both were represented in the forest.

Red Oak (Pointed tips)

White Oak (rounded tips)

Acorns weren’t the only nuts to be seen. The shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) were also offering up a good crop.

Hickory nuts

Check out the shaggy bark on this example.


Junipers are most often encountered as low-growing shrubs on rocky ground, but there was a sprinkling of pretty, upright juniper trees (Eastern juniper or Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana) decorated with their bluish seeds.


Juniper berries

Around open, damp areas, the white berries of dogwood shrubs stood out on their red twigs.


Dogwood berries (Cornus sp)

Still climbing…


I liked the way this millipede, about 2 inches long, blended so well with the colour of an old log.

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmida sp)

And here’s a Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar hurrying through the leaves.

Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae)

This tree has been attacked by Phomopsis galls. The galls appear as a cluster of nodules tightly pressed together. When cut open they consist of woody tissue that is a bit disorganized in comparison to the normal wood. Galls of affected trees may develop for several years then die.

Phomopsis galls of hickory

This attractive vine is Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The leaves of this clump of sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta) are attractive even without the pretty flowers that will bloom next spring.


This colony of ground pine clubmoss (Lycopodium obscurum) looks like a stand of tiny, 6-inch tall pine trees. Clubmosses are ancient plants that were once 50-foot giants, but now carpet forest floors.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium dendroideum)

Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) seems to grow right out of the rock. Their rhizomes and roots trap leaves and other debris to build up a thin layer of soil.

rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum)

It’s not just ferns that can seem to grow from rock. We came across this very large windfall along the trail.


We were amazed to see that much of the ground that lay under its trunk was rock.


We walked through a little grove of Musclewood, or Blue-Beech trees (Carpinus caroliniana). Their smooth bark has longitudinal ridges that really do seem reminiscent of muscles, making them easy to identify.

Musclewood or Blue-Beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

Finally, we reached the North Loop Lookout and settled down on the rocky ledge to enjoy the view as we ate our well-earned lunch.


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Yesterday’s post followed the Marble Rock trail out to about the halfway point. I had climbed onto a ridge and then down and then back up onto a second ridge and down to wetland level. Now the trail started to climb again. The woods had a bit more of a maple/ hickory/ beech mix and less oak at this point. The trail zigzagged back and forth over a little stream. Fortunately, the stepping stones were secure. It would have been cold getting a soaker!

At one point, I came upon this bridge. It didn’t look too promising and I stepped onto it rather gingerly, but it proved to be sturdy.

A male Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was searching the trees for a meal. Hairy and Downy woodpeckers are very similar in appearance and can primarily be told apart by their size, with the Hairy being the larger of the two species. A few Black-capped Chickadees flitted about the branches as well.

After a pleasant meander through the woods, the surroundings grew more open as the trail climbed to the top of the third ridge. By now, the sun was beginning to dip and I was glad to be well on the way back to the car.

As I reached the peak, another beautiful panorama lay before me.

Across the valley, an open cliff face provided a good look at the underlying strata of rock. The Frontenac Arch was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere in November of 2002. It covers some 2700 square kilometers in the south eastern portion of Ontario. This area has a unique blend of biodiversity because the moderating effect of the Great Lakes allows some plant and animal species to survive here that are typically found farther south, while at the same time some more-northerly species are drawn south by the rugged granite landscape of the Canadian Shield.

On the south edge of the clearing, the old foundation of an earlier building remained. I was a bit surprised to come across it as it didn’t seem like agricultural land. Later, I read that during World War I, quartz that was used for early radios was produced in the area, so perhaps the foundation was from a building associated with that industry.

The trail led east from the foundation and sloped gently down until it reached a large pond, the water that could be seen from the very first lookout at the beginning of the hike.

To avoid wet areas, the trail jogged to the right and entered a plantation of pine trees.

The floor of the pine forest was cushioned with a thick mat of pine needles. As the trail returned to the mixed deciduous forest, I noticed this spot where a small creature, probably a chipmunk had a tunnel. Outside the hole was a pile of the neatly-cracked shells of hickory nuts.

I knew I was nearly back at the parking lot when I noticed a sure sign of civilization: a garbage dump.

Pheeew. As the sign at the entrance to the trail promised, it was a strenuous hike. I was happy to get back to my car and sit down, especially as the light was quickly slipping away as the afternoon faded into evening. It was a beautiful spot, however. I really enjoyed the rough terrain offered by the granite outcroppings of the Frontenac Arch. While the woodlands are no doubt lovely in the spring, hiking in the fall had the advantage of opening up the great views, which are probably partly obscured when the trees are dressed in their summer leaves. Another time, I would be sure to take a thermos of coffee for a halfway-point break!

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Last Saturday was a pretty day, sunny and bright, and if not exactly warm, unusually mild for the end of November. We can’t expect too many more such days this year, and I decided to take the opportunity to go for a hike at Marble Rock, about an hour west of here, near Gananoque. My interest in this trail was piqued by descriptions that emphasize the scenic lookouts. The terrain is very different there than what is found throughout most of southern Ontario as it lies in the Frontenac Arch, an ancient granite ridge that links the Canadian Shield of northern Ontario with the Adirondack Mountains in the south.

I got a later-than-planned start on my hike as I ran some errands on the way out to the trailhead, arriving about mid-afternoon. Of course, a hike that promises lookouts is bound to involve climbing. The trail map at the entrance to the trail warns that the hike is moderate to challenging with rocky slopes and steep hills. The trail follows two loops. As I was starting out rather late in the day, I just planned on doing the south loop.

The deciduous trees have lost their leaves, but the ground cover showed that the forest was dominated by oak trees, with beech trees and a few maples mixed in. Shagbark hickory trees could be spotted by their rough, flaky bark, while a smattering of white birch trees were also conspicuous among the evergreens.

The trail begins climbing right from the parking lot. Soon you are walking through large boulders and moss-covered rock walls. There is no green quite like the vivid emerald of moss, highlighted by the afternoon sun. Especially at this time of year, when much of the forest is drably-coloured, the moss stands out.

Lichens also were well-represented on rock surfaces.

Although the woods were quiet, there was evidence of bird life. Nests were visible amongst the bare branches, and here and there, trees displayed signs of woodpecker work.

The first promised lookout was quickly reached. The view looks southwest.

The trail continues north along a ridge until you can look north over a large pond and wetland.

Then, it’s downhill, to the water’s edge.

The trail follows the eastern edge of the pond, scrambling over the rocky shore, and re-enters the woods.

As I trampled through the leaves, a few insects flew up, including a very late dragonfly, who settled on a rock.

It’s a male meadowhawk, likely a Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), often the last species on the wing in cool northern climates.

Then it’s back to climbing, up through the forest to the next ridge. Along the way, little heaps of acorn shells mark where a forest dweller has enjoyed a nutty meal.

The second ridge runs east and west and offers a view over a second wetland.

Gradually, the hike leads down to the edge of this wetland, a large, expanse of cattails and brush and grasses, with a branching stream of water flowing through it.

Three trees set out in the open area contain the nests of a heron colony. Perhaps because there are only a few large trees, each one supports multiple nests, a sort of heron apartment complex. At this point, the trail begins its long curve west and then south, the halfway point of the hike. To be continued…

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