Kawartha Highlands - Serpentine Lake Loop


Time: 2-3 days

Total Distance: 22km

Portages: 7 

Longest Portage: 1400m

Total Portage Distance: 2765 m

Portage Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (1 long portage but fairly easy to complete)

Paddling Difficulty: Easy

Overall Difficulty: Easy

We decided to do a 1 night trip to celebrate the ice out and get our paddles wet for the first time this year. Kawartha Highlands was one of the only parks we called that could actually say that the ice was out. It was also just past Trout opening and we were hoping to maybe have some luck on the few lakes in the Kawartha Highlands that are actually stocked with them. 

Day 1: Anstruther Lake Access - Serpentine Lake

We left early on the morning of Saturday April 22nd, with Noah doing the majority of the packing the night before. We were on the road shortly after 6am and arrived at the parking lot at the Anstruther Lake access point around 9am. Having only one other car in the parking lot, we were hopeful that we might not see anyone on our loop.

Taking our time packing the canoe we were on the water before 10am. We started our paddle up Anstruther Lake slowly regaining our feeling for being in a canoe loaded with gear. There are many cottages on Anstruther Lake and I would imagine that during the prime months of the summer it would be a busy lake to paddle on.

Cascading waterfalls flowing from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake

Cascading waterfalls flowing from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake

Arriving at the top of Ansruther Lake we could hear moving water near the portage. There was a long cascading waterfall that slowly flowed out of Rathbun Lake and into Anstruther. With the water levels being a little higher this year, this was a really cool spot to explore. The portage itself is fairly straight forward. A short 201m portage that is uphill as you make your way to the higher water in Rathbun Lake. 

Canoes left at Rathbun Lake from cottagers on Anstruther Lake

Canoes left at Rathbun Lake from cottagers on Anstruther Lake

We set our rods up knowing that Rathbun was one of the lakes that had actually been stocked with Trout. I was loaded up with a little cleo and Noah was trying his luck with a diving Rapala. You are actually not allowed to fish on Ansruther Lake which was very obvious by the number of canoes and boats that were left at the other side of the portage on the Rathbun Lake side.

We tried some areas that were a little more shallow and close to shore first and then moved to trying to troll while we paddled. Unfortunately no luck by the time we reached the end of Rathbun Lake. Here was another short 164m portage into North Rathbun Lake that is not overly difficult. 

North Rathbun Lake

North Rathbun Lake

North Rathbun Lake is a really nice looking lake. You could tell you were getting a little more remote at this point. We continued our paddle up North Rathbun until reaching the long portage of the trip. We didn't waste time getting started on this portage. We just wanted to get this one out of the way. Carrying "The Mistake" (our heavy Coleman canoe), had proven to be quite the challenge with its weight, as well as the metal bar in the place of the yoke...Also I don't think we were quite warmed up to the idea of portaging this early in the season. The portage itself is not very challenging, but its distance makes it fun with a metal bar across your neck.

Arriving at Serpentine Lake was when we realized why people love this loop. Not that we didn't enjoy the rest of the loop so far, but this was an absolutely beautiful lake. We had not seen a single person yet on our trip which was amazing considering how populated this area gets during the summer. 

We set up camp on site #220 on Serpentine Lake. Our afternoon started off as it typically does. Noah and I like to quickly tackle the task of preparing enough wood for the duration of our stay. Surprising to some, we actually really enjoy processing wood. Especially if we can get our hands on some dry hardwood.

No bugs means one more night spent in the open concept tent

No bugs means one more night spent in the open concept tent

Once we had a sizeable pile of wood, it was time to setup our tent. Seeing as there was not a cloud in the sky and we had yet to come across a bug, we decided to do one more night with our open concept tarp. Before long, the bugs will be out and you will be thankful to have a place to escape in peace from the hum. 


We had a solid coal base in the fire to cook our steaks that we had brought with us for dinner. As this was a shorter trip we had also brought a few beers for us to enjoy around the fire that night. Noah recently got a new Canon camera that he was keen to try out some night shots around the fire. Our night was spent sipping beer and taking night shots before passing out under the tarp.

Day 2: Serpentine Lake - Launch (Anstruther Lake)

Noah was the first one out of the tent at 6am, eager to try and get some photos of the sunrise with the new camera. It was the perfect morning. The site we were on faced East and we had a perfect view to watch the sunrise over the tree line.

Sunrise on Serpentine Lake site #220

Sunrise on Serpentine Lake site #220

We had plans to be up and out in good time but it's hard to leave when you have a glass calm lake in front of you with weather that allows you to be in a t-shirt. Taking our time making breakfast and having some coffee, we were not off the site until about 10am.

We paddled the remainder of Serpentine Lake until we arrived at our next portage. Another short 220m portage that ended in a creek that led into Copper Lake. 

End of portage from Serpentine Lake to the creek leading to Copper Lake

End of portage from Serpentine Lake to the creek leading to Copper Lake

We paddled our way through the creek and into Copper Lake. We were already feeling the winds picking up a little and were worried for what we had ahead of us on Anstruther Lake. We arrived at the next portage that goes from Copper Lake and into what we believe to be still part of Copper Lake (it was unnamed on the map that we had).

This portage requires a little bit of attention. There is a cottage right where the rapids start for this portage. There seemed to be an ATV trail that starts by going along the portage, but then the portage actually branches off to the left. Something that Noah missed while having the canoe over his head, and I didn't notice as I followed closely behind him. It wasn't long before we stopped to take a break only to realize that we were not going in the right direction. Most of the portages so far had been marked very well. When I had not seen a sign in a while, I questioned the route we had taken.

Retracing our steps we came across the portage sign that we had walked right past on the first run. A perfect example on how to turn a 370m portage into a 750m portage by going in the wrong direction. I think this is why people recommend not taking the heavy stuff on your first trip...This portage is a little more tricky with the long stretch of downhill at the very end.

Paddling a little further we arrived at the 214m portage into Rathbun Lake. This portage has a beautiful waterfall that flows into Rathbun Lake. If we were not on a schedule to get back I think we could have spent the entire day there. 

We continued our paddle until we arrived at the portage with all the boats again. This was the final portage back into Anstruther Lake. We loaded the canoe for the final stretch of paddling we had back to the launch. The wind was fairly strong right off the bat, but little did we know we had not yet seen the peek of its strength.

Slowly approaching the turn where we would head west before the final stretch south to the launch, we could see white caps on some of the waves. We took a few moments to rest in the calm waters that were on the leeward side of the land before setting off for our final stretch. 

Noah was sitting in the front and would turn around every so often after we would go up one wave and come crashing down into the next. Somehow we always seem to find humour in these situations while ensuring to stay focused on the task at hand. Before long we were back at the launch with another successful trip under our belt. 

The Kawartha Highlands is a beautiful place to visit. We have particularly enjoyed visiting these areas in the off seasons when it is significantly less busy than the prime season. We managed to make our way around this loop while only seeing other people on Anstruther Lake, which is the one with the most cottages. We highly recommend checking this area out!