Canoeing, backcountry camping and more... A large wilderness park 2 hours from Toronto
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, which is ocated about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Peterborough is a huge wilderness and recreation area situated along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. At 376 sq. kilometres (149 sq. miles) it is the largest park in Southern Ontario after Algonquin Provincial Park and is primarily composed of undeveloped and preserved wilderness. It encompasses many small lakes and wetlands, most of which are accessible mainly by canoe and slopes upwards to an eventual height of approximately 600 metres (1968 feet).
Founded in 2003 Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is located only 200 kilometres (120 miles) northeast of Toronto and is easily accessible from the major population centers of the province. It is fast becoming a very popular destination for those wishing to partake in many backcountry activities.
The Kawartha Highlands serve as the headwater region for the Mississauga River and Deer Bay Creek so it is inundated with many smaller tributaries and bodies of water. Some of the larger lakes include:
- Anstruther Lake
- Cox Lake
- Buzzard Lake
- Sucker Lake
- Bottle Lake
- Rathburn Lake
- Serpentine Lake
- Copper Lake
As it is classed as a natural environment park its main focus is the protection of its landscapes and natural surroundings thus facilities and activities are limited. That is not to say that there is nothing to do for the following are quite popular at the park:
- Ice Fishing
- Wildlife Viewing
Location of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
Getting to Kawartha Highlands:
No major or secondary highways pass through the park. Highway # 28 skirts the eastern boundaries of the park while Regional Road # 506 skirts along its western boundaries.
Take Highway 401 East. At the Municipality of Clarington take Highway 35/115 North. At the City of Peterborough take Highway # 28 North.
The long and slow but scenic route is to take Highway #7 West. At the City of Peterborough take Highway #28 North.
From Northern Ontario:
Coming down either Highway #69 South or Highway # 11 South take the exit to Highway #12 . Continue on Highway #13 South to Highway #7 East. At the City of Peterborough take Highway # 28 North.
By Public Transport:
Rail travel to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is not an option.
There is no direct bus service to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park but you can get very close. Three of the largest bus services have regular scheduled routes to the nearby City of Peterborough. Find more information at:
Once in Peterborough Greyhound Canada does provide service to the small community of Burleigh Falls at the southeast corner of the park. Once there you can complete the journey with a short hike.
Air travel to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is not really an option.
Please note that this is a wilderness park and access to the interior is very limited, most access points involve traveling to the interior via canoe or boat. Motorboats are permitted on lakes that have access to private land as there is some cottages scattered at various points throughout the park. Motorboats however are not permitted on all other lakes.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park activities:
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park has become a favored destination among canoeing enthusiasts and it is one of the most popular activities at the park. There are several canoe routes within the park ranging in difficulty from easy to moderate and most have some backcountry campsites along the way as they cannot be completed in one day.
Access to these routes are scattered throughout the park and many require some sort of portage prior to entry. The most utilized and convenient access points include:
- Long Lake Lodge
- Gold Lake Narrows
- Mississauga Dam Lake
- Cathcoma Narrows
- Wolf Lake
- Anstruther Marina
- Anstruther Public Launch
Some of the more popular routes include:
- Bottle Lake Canoe Route:
One of the shorter and easier routes it is readily recommended for novice paddlers. Entry is at the Beaver Lake Road Bridge on Cathcoma Lake and the route passes through Bottle Creek, Bottle Lake, Sucker Lake and back. The entire journey should take about 4-5 hours to complete and is very scenic.
- Bottle Lake Canoe Route:
- Long Lake Canoe Loop
This is a much longer journey and will take 2-3 days to complete. Access is at the end of Long Lake Road just off Highway # 28 near the Village of Woodview. The circle route passes through many small lakes including: Long Lake, Loucks Lake, Compass Lake, Stoplog Lake, Sherry Lake, Triangle Lake and Cox Lake. This route is for the more experienced paddler as it involves 9 portages, some whitewater and overnight backcountry camping.
- Long Lake Canoe Loop
- Serpentine Lake Canoe Route
This route will also take 2-3 days to complete. Access is at the Anstruther Public Launch at the end of Anstruther Lake Road just off Highway #28 near the Village of Apsley. The journey traverses a number of small lakes including: Anstruther Lake, Rathburn lake, North Rathburn Lake, Serpentine Lake and Copper Lake. For the more experience paddler as it involves 7 portages and some backcountry camping.
Please note that this is just a small sampling of the canoe routes available in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park as they are too numerous to fully list. Many include some whitewater with varying degrees of difficulty so caution and safety should always be of primary importance.
Canoes and kayaks are not available for renting within the park but rentals are available in many of the small neighboring communities.
Kayaking is also very popular within the park as there are many whitewater areas of varying degrees of difficulty. See the above canoe routes for more information.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park has no permanent campground facilities except for backcountry camping sites. At present there are 108 backcountry campsites located along the 6 major canoe routes. Most of these sites have pads for setting up a tent, picnic tables, fire pits and outdoor washroom facilities. Most campsites are only reachable by canoe (kayak).
Please note that you must register with the park office prior to occupying a park campsite. Permits are required, safety is a major concern and park officials monitor all overnight guests, as this is a backcountry wilderness experience.
As with most lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield fishing is an extremely popular activity, some of the lakes have been re-stocked. Some of the more sought after sport fish located in the many lakes and rivers include:
- Largemouth Bass
- Smallmouth Bass
- Lake Trout
- Brook Trout
- Northern Pike
Please note that a valid fishing license issued by the Province of Ontario is required.
Hunting is a long time activity in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park area and continues to be a favored destination amongst many participants. A valid hunting license is required and only occurs with hunting season which runs from September 1 to the Thursday before Victoria Day (One of Canada’s major holiday weekends as it traditionally signifies the start of summer)
Both Deer and Moose are the major targeted animals but there also is a limited black bear hunt. Smaller game such as rabbit is also very plentiful and actively hunted. Limited hunting camps are scattered throughout the park and winter camping is also permitted in some designated areas.
Motorboats are allowed on some of the larger lakes within the park that do have private cottages along the shores but it should be noted that this is for day use only as overnight mooring of motorboats is not permitted. Boat launches are available in some spots with Anstruther Boat Launch being the most utilized.
The varied landscapes and topography within the borders of the park allows for a large diversity of wildlife. Many different species can be found including mammals such as:
- Black Bear
- Eastern Wolves
- River Otter
176 species of bird have been sighted at or near the park including:
- Great Blue Heron
- Common Loon
- Common Nighthawk
- Ring Necked Ducks
This is a wilderness area and there are no designated hiking trails but there are a number of unofficial and well traversed walking and hiking trails.
A number of winter activities occur within the park and are becoming increasingly popular.
Winter camping is permitted with a permit however you are not allowed to set up camp at designated summer campsites or within 30 metres of a lakeshore, trail or portage.
This is probably the most popular winter activity in the park as many local clubs and residents utilize it for this activity. Additionally, snowmobiles are the only means of accessing seasonal properties for any of their owners. Some of the trails in or near the park include:
- Gerry McQuigge Memorial Trail just north of the park
- Turtle Lake Trail running for 24 kilometres (14.5 miles) from Buckhorn Lake to Cold Lake
- Apsley Trail running for 23 kilometres (14.4 miles) from Buckhorn Lake to the Village of Apsley
- Frank Hemming Trail running for 21 kilometres (12.5 miles) from north of the Village of Buckhorn to Highway #507 whre id continues as the Picard Trail
- The Rathburn Trail runnin g for 9 kilometres (5.4 miles) from Highway #507 just north of Cathcoma Lake just past Pencil Lake
Please note that there are no snowmobile rental facilities in the park and very limited rental businesses in the general area. Make sure to have prior arrangements for equipment prior to traveling to the park in the hope of participating in this activity.
Nordic Ski Trails
There are presently no maintained cross-country ski trails within the park but many people participate in the sport by breaking trail or following many of the snowmobile trails that criss-cross the area.
Another popular activity although as previously mentioned there are no maintained trails.
Many winter fishing opportunities exist but there are no organized ice fishing hut setups as in other areas of the province. Most people that participate in this activity combine it with one of the other winter activities listed above.
There really is no dog sledding activity to speak of at the park and definitely nothing is organized. Some local participants have utilized the snowmobile trails to participate in this activity but for provincial visitors this really isn’t an option. Additionally, dogsledding is a readily available and hugely popular activity in the nearby Algonquin Provincial Park region and for those that wish to try this thrilling sport the opportunity exists there.
The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park will probably not be on your itinerary when planning a trip to Ontario Canada as it is a wilderness park and is somewhat remote. It is however located relatively close to Toronto and the major population centers of the Province so does make for an easy day trip. It’s appeal will mainly fall to those searching for a definitive Canadian wilderness experience yet wish to remain within the environs of Southern Ontario and not have to travel to the far north to experience a similar adventure.
Most travelers will choose to visit the nearby Algonquin Provincial Park and with good reason as there is much more Algonquin has to offer in terms of facilities and activities. The downside it that it will also be much more crowded and those wishing for a true wilderness experience with no human contact will find it more difficult to achieve. It also tends to get booked up pretty quickly in the peak season.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park provides a nice alternative for those wishing to experience the Canadian wilderness adventure in a truly more remote environment. It also provides a nice add-on for those wishing to visit the very nearby Petroglyphs Provincial Park. In fact, a visit to all three can be a nice addition to your itinerary for 3 or 4 days. For more information about the park visit its official site at www.ontarioparks.com