Kawartha Highlands

Kawartha Highlands - Serpentine Lake Loop

SNAPSHOT

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!

Kawartha Highlands - Long Lake

Our cold tent setup

Our cold tent setup

SNAPSHOT

Total Distance: 9km out and back (4.5 each way)

Hiking Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (When there was a path it was easy, crunchy snow made it challenging)

Overall Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Time: 1-4 days (can be as short or as long as you like)

The conversation started with Noah asking me if I wanted to ditch the tent and only bring tarps to sleep under…

This is what typically sparks the excitement when we are getting ready for our next adventure. We decided it was time to leave the tent behind, and just bring the tarps with us.

Now, it was time to determine where we were going to go. Since we were only going for one night, we wanted something closer to the city, but far enough that there would still be a decent amount of snow. Kawartha Highlands it is!

I had done a trip here in the fall just before the ice started setting in. I’m learning that this park is a great destination in the off-season as there are not nearly as many people as the summer. 

We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. Making a few stops for coffee and gas on the way, we arrived at the Long Lake launch at 10:00am. We packed our sleds and were on the lake just after 11:00am.

Our game plan was to make our way down Long Lake towards Loucks Lake. Once making it here we were going to find a path through the forests that would take us to a more remote location for the night.

The trek down Long Lake started well, but the crunchy thin layer of ice on the surface of the snow was not making it very easy on us. Each step we would sink in and have to pull our snowshoes back out. You do this for 20 minutes or so and your legs are starting to feel it.

Shortly into our hike, a snow mobile came flying past us, clearing a perfect trail of packed down snow to follow! Luckily he was headed in the same direction as us. This significantly picked up our speed and we were able to crush kilometers allowing us to make good time on our way down Long Lake.

Noah and I were both eager to get to our site to have a good amount of time to actually get a solid setup. You know…since we were planning on sleeping under a couple of tarps…

We made it pretty close to Loucks Lake but decided to make an early entry into the forest to get to a site a little sooner. We would have been directly on the other side of the lake from the 340m portage into Buzzard Lake.

We hiked through the forest for about 45 minutes looking for the perfect place to set up camp for the night. After evaluating a few spots we settled on a pad we found between two large rock formations that would significantly reduce the amount of wind we would experience. This area also had no shortage of dead hardwood that we could use to start a fire.

Noah collected wood and split it all while I prepared the area for us to set up our tarps. First stomping down all the snow, then adding more snow to flatten the area out. We were lucky to have a dead pine tree next to us that must have fallen not too long ago. We were able to take a few branches off of it to use as a base layer under our tarp, to keep us off the snow a bit more.

We then lay the tarps down on the ground to sleep on and added a tarp overtop as a roof in the event we saw some precipitation. The tarps were set just high enough for us to get in without our sleeping bags touching the top tarp.

A little snowfall on our cold tents

A little snowfall on our cold tents

For the majority of the afternoon we had a fire that was about 8ft from our tarps. Just before bed we moved this fire even closer so that we could add wood to the fire throughout the night. I myself woke up once and added most of the wood that I had. Noah slept solid through the entire night and did not contribute to keeping the fire going.

I must say that both Noah and I were very warm sleeping in our individual cold tents. We both recently purchased Teton sleeping bags that are rated to -32°C and we were not even slightly cold. The only issue with these bags is they do not pack up very small or light but in the winter, we really don’t notice the size and weight on a sled.

Frozen faces

Frozen faces

Shortly after waking up in the morning the snow started to come down making it a little more difficult to keep everything dry while we packed up. It kept snowing pretty much the entire duration back to the car. The hike back was really nice with all the snow falling and no sign of anyone else on the lake. At one point we had to stop and take a picture of each other because of how much snow and ice had built up on both of our faces.

We were back at the launch by about 2pm making it another successful trip under our belts! And we didn’t even need a tent!!

Sucker Lake - Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Bottle Lake Launch - Kawartha Highlands

Bottle Lake Launch - Kawartha Highlands

SNAPSHOT

Total Distance: 8km (Round Trip)

Portages: 2 (including one from the parking lot to launch)

Longest Portage: 178m

Total Portage Distance: 259m

Portage Difficulty: Easy

Paddling Difficulty: Easy

Overall Difficulty: Easy

Time: 1-2 days (could easy paddle to sucker for a day trip)

This year we said, if we can handle camping in November, why not push it into December. It was one last opportunity to explore the backcountry by canoe before pulling out the snowshoes. As the Kawartha Highlands is typically a popular park in the main season, we figured it was a good opportunity to visit in the off season.

We started our drive around 8pm on Friday night. The drive is only 2.5 hours from Toronto to the Bottle Lake access where we would be parking our car. By the time we had stopped for gas and dinner we didn't arrive at the launch until midnight. We had booked a campsite on Bottle Lake (#101) that was less than a 500m paddle from the launch, that we had hoped to make it to by paddling in the dark. Unexpectedly, the winds were still very strong and there were decent waves along the frigid water that we would have to cross to get to our site. We opted to camp at the launch as we could leave the majority of our stuff in the car and set off early the next morning. We had packed a few beers to have at the launch, which we enjoyed before hitting the sack.

Night 1: Bottle Lake (#101); Night 2 Sucker Lake (#127)

Night 1: Bottle Lake (#101); Night 2 Sucker Lake (#127)

The morning seemed to come quickly. It had only gotten down to about -2°c that night but the winds remained constant. We didn't put a tarp over the tent so we had a nice cold breeze coming through our tent first thing in the morning. We packed up quickly and made some coffee before setting off, bringing the remainder of our gear down from the parking lot. It was about 10am when we were all packed and ready to set off.

The winds were still fairly strong as we made our way up Bottle Lake. The canoe was sitting pretty low with 3 of us and all our gear. We would have the odd wave kiss the gunnels of our canoe. It only took about 20 minutes to get from the launch to the portage that would take us into Sucker Lake. The portage itself is only 81m and it is slightly uphill. It was amazing how much the wind had died down on the elevated Sucker Lake which made for a very nice paddle to our Island Site #127. The site was only a 15 minute paddle from the launch which got us there just after 12pm. 

Island Site #127 on Sucker Lake

Island Site #127 on Sucker Lake

Upon arriving at our site, it was time to get a fire started. The overcast skies and slight breeze were a little chilly and we needed to stay warm. As is the case with most popular camping locations, the island was completely picked clean of wood and we were only able to find a few dead pieces for Matt to get the fire started. Andrew and I jumped in the canoe and paddled to the closest shore to see what we could find. Only a few feet back from the edge of the water in the forest was an insane amount of fallen trees which made us feel like our job was going to be easy. Grabbing the first piece of wood in sight it quickly crumbled in Andrew's hand. All of this wood was either infested, rotten, or soaked and it actually made if very difficult for us to find good dry dead wood. We spent a solid hour combing the land until we were able to get a good haul to bring back with us

The wood haul...

The wood haul...

The remainder of the afternoon was spent drinking Whisky Chai Tea, a new favourite of ours when we want to keep warm, and making our meals for the day. One of the biggest things we noticed about camping this late in the season was that it gets dark at 5pm. I know this may sound obvious but this takes a little more strategizing when cooking your dinner and planning your evening. We usually like to have all our cooking done in the light of the day in order to ensure that we properly clean up before it gets dark. If you have your dinner at 4pm to accommodate for this, you now have the next 4 or 5 hours before you go to bed, spent in the dark. Its good to think about this before hand so that you are prepared for the longer evening spent in the dark. As the portaging was fairly straight forward on this trip, we decided to pack a luxury item which was our mini guitar (Guitalele). We enjoyed some drinks and singing songs around the campfire and we were all in bed by about 9pm that night.

Saturday night was a little bit colder reaching a low temperature of -8°c. The winds were considerably lower and we ensured to put a tarp over our tent. We found this tarp to be very effective for keeping cold breeze out and our body heat in. We actually put it between the tent and the fly so that the tent fly would hold the tarp down. 

Tarp under the fly to keep the cold out and our body heat in

Tarp under the fly to keep the cold out and our body heat in

Sunday was a whole new day for weather. We had the sun and clear skies that would have been ideal the day before when we weren't packing up to leave. I was rocking my santa hat feeling that it was appropriate as we approach the holiday season. 

Santa hats are better than toques...

Santa hats are better than toques...

I went for a short walk with my morning coffee, through the forest behind our site. I happened to come across some still water that had actually frozen a thin layer of ice on the surface. I had no choice but to take of picture to prove the temperatures we were experiencing

Anyone like ice coffee?

Anyone like ice coffee?

We packed up the rest of our site having coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. There was no wind on the lake on Sunday so the paddle across was very enjoyable. As we paddled near a shoreline, we noticed that ice had actually began to set along the shoreline where obviously there was less moving water. We had to paddle over to take a look as we had never paddled through ice before. When we had finally arrived back at the launch there was about 20ft of ice out from the shoreline where we had to pull the canoe up. This required us to break through the ice in order to get to shore which made for an epic way to end our trip. 

Overall the 2 lakes that we got to see where absolutely beautiful. It is my understanding that this area of the park if very popular among beginner canoeists as the entire trip itself is only 4km with 2 very short portages. For those who prefer a more remote setting I would highly recommend aiming to visit in the off season.