Kawartha Highlands Loop - 4 Days

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Map is courtesy of unlostify.com -- my route has been marked in blue.

On the civic-holiday long weekend of August 2018, I convinced my daughter, Erin, to come on a 4 day/3 night trip through Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. She was about to go into grade 7 and had been on a few backcountry trips with me before, but I was feeling that my window of opportunity of her continuing to be interested in these trips was fast closing. She was about to enter her teens, after all. So I planned a 3-nighter that goes through the small lakes on the western side of Kawartha Highlands. I had been through these lakes a couple of years earlier with my brother and we had had a fantastic time fishing and found my favourite campsite in the entire park on Turtle Lake. Having said that, I was a little concerned about bringing Erin on my planned route due to a 1200m portage on the second day. Knowing my daughter is a trooper, I thought I'd chance it, though I didn't want her to hate canoe tripping due to long portages. 

 

On the Friday of the long weekend, we put in at the Long Lake access point and were on the water before noon. It was a sunny day and we were enjoying the view of the cliffs on Long Lake. The wind was negligible -- a rarity on this long east-west stretching lake. The boat traffic was minimal, as it was still a weekday and the weekend cottagers weren't quite there ripping up and down the lake yet. This tends to be an issue on Long Lake as the park, which was only designated as such in the early 2000s, was created smack dab in the middle of North Kawartha cottage country. We were paddling west to the bay near the Buzzard Lake portage when a man came whipping past, using a kayak paddle, in one of the most interesting canoes I'd ever seen. It was very low to the water, was only about 12' long, it seemed, and was made of a white, see-through, vinyl-like material. Having to ask, I struck up a conversation with him right there on the water and found out that his name is Russ Parker and that he builds his own canoes and volunteers at the Canadian Canoe Museum where he runs workshops. (He also fixes guitars and last year he fixed my 20-year old Takamine acoustic). Russ is a very interesting fellow, a bit of a renaissance man. He does take orders to build these 22-pound canoes for people.

We made our way into Loucks where cottagers were working on their properties and over the short portage into Cox Creek. It was still early enough in the year for the creek to have enough water to travel freely and we only had to contend with the couple of beaver dams blocking the way. On the take out to the short portage into Cox, we avoided the poison ivy and made our way to site 523, a spacious, rocky point on the southwestern corner with views of the entire lake. We set up camp and had our usual fresh steaks over an open fire to christen our trip. 

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I had been to Cox a couple of times before and never really had any luck fishing this lake. Not to be deterred, however, I thought I would give it a try at dusk anyway. Erin wasn't in the mood for it, so I went out in the canoe on my own and fished the areas close to our site. Again, getting skunked, I headed back to camp just as the last rays of light were beginning to wane, trolling along the way. And wouldn't you know it, I got a strike not 20 feet in front of our site. This ended up being the largest smallmouth I'd ever caught in the Kawartha Highlands and was a good 4 lbs. As it was dark, and I find bass this large have a muddy taste (a pound and a half is much better eating), I let the large fellow go in the hopes that someone else can have a go at him. Erin looked on from the shore, regretting her decision to not come fishing after witnessing my giddy reaction in bringing that fellow in.

 

That evening a group of young party goers were whooping it up at the cabin on the eastern shore across the bay. As they weren't worried about the noise, I wasn't either, so I felt it was an opportune time to teach my daughter how to do a loon call. Within a half an hour, she had it down perfectly. In fact, it sounded a lot better than mine, which was more like a loon with a serious case of asthma if I'm being totally honest. Erin, loving her newfound skill, spent the rest of the trip calling loons. In fact, I do believe she might have called every loon in the province by the end of the trip. The only thing that would have made me more concerned was if they started calling back. We had a great night chatting and snacking by the fire in between bouts of speaking loonish. At one point, the drunkards across the lake tried to answer, but they were speaking more of a disabled moose dialect, so communication was difficult.   

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The next morning was sunny and hot. The lake was a mirror. Though we had the long portage to deal with, it was only a few hours to get to my favourite site on Turtle, so we took our time. As we were eating breakfast, a large black-coloured mammal came crashing through the bush behind our tent. I'm not going to lie. My immediate thought was that a psychotic bear, hopped-up on the blood of canoe trippers, was eagerly looking for a second breakfast; but alas, it was only someone's friendly, tongue-wagging Black Lab. After I recovered from cardiac arrest and let this fellow engage in some introductory crotch-sniffing, I watched this pooch run around the site the entire time we were breaking camp. As we carefully placed our last item in the canoe and pushed off, the dog did something entirely unexpected. It bounded into the lake and proceeded to swim across it! It went in the direction of the party people from the night before. We sat and watched for a while, making sure the hyperactive canine was going to be okay. Waiting until it was more than half-way across the bay, we moved on, assuming the Black Lab of Cox Lake did this on a regular basis. It sure seemed like it did.   

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The 1160m portage to Triangle Lake was just across a small little bay from our site and we were humping our gear up over rocky rises in no time. In addition to being one of the longer portages in the park, this one also twists and turns and ascends up a large granite rock and back down the other side of it. The last 100m or so has a steep descent down to the northwest end of Triangle. We double-tripped it and Erin was amazing on the portage, not complaining at all about the length of it. 

 

Triangle Lake and Cherry Lake are gorgeous. Almost identical in shape, they are connected by a narrow passage. We fished a bit here and caught a couple of smallies along the western shore. A few years earlier, my brother and I spent a buggy night on Cherry's site 540 in early July and fished where Cherry Creek empties out into the lake. We caught fish after fish. But on this trip, we were on Cherry when the sun was at its highest and it was a hot day. The awesome site on Turtle with its rocky island to swim off of was calling us and we moved on. 

 

The 280m portage into Turtle is flat and easy. We passed a pair of young couples staying at site 553. We ascended the large rock face at our site, set up camp and immediately swam to the rock island in front of our site. On the western end of the island is a nice jumping rock where we cannonballed to our hearts' content and enjoyed the coolness of the lake on a hot day. We spent the rest of the day snacking, reading in the hammock and loving the view over the lake from this fantastic site. 

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After dinner we saw all four of the people in the neighbouring site paddling to the western end of the lake.  There is a small cabin on the northern part of the bay and they got out at the cabin and began walking around the area. I found this strange as I knew this to be private property. Even stranger was the fact that all four of them were in one canoe together. After some time, they got back in the canoe and paddled along the western shore heading south.  Then they turned around and back into the northern bay and into the portage into Cherry. 

 

About half an hour later we heard an ATV from across the lake. We saw two people pull up to the storm shelter site at the south of the lake. Seeing us, they shouted out to us and asked to come over to the site. Thinking that someone was in trouble, Erin and I hopped in the canoe and quickly paddled over there. They were paramedics and explained to us that they received a call from our neighbours. Apparently one of the young men was chopping wood with an axe and happened to chop his foot rather than a log. They had called 911 and were told to bring the young man to the storm site which had an ATV trail behind it. They were planning to take him out on a stretcher attached to an ATV. The problem, I gathered, is that the group was either unable to locate the meeting location or simply didn't wait long enough. Instead they decided that they would take the injured fellow back to the Long Lake access point -- about a 4-hour paddle away, including some steep portages. They would have been in the dark for half of it. I wish they would have paddled over to us to ask us for assistance. I could have told them where the storm site was, having been in the area a few times. The paramedics radioed for help to look for the group at the Long Lake access point. Hopefully, the young man got the assistance he needed and fully recovered. There was nothing for us to do, so we got back to camp, started a fire and enjoyed the lovely evening after a very eventful day. 

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The next morning we had one more swim to the island, a jump off the rocks, ate breakfast and packed up. Once again, we were blessed with a hot, sunny day. Again, we took our time, because we had just a short paddle, a 600m portage and another short paddle to our next site on Stoplog Lake. On the take out, we passed a couple of fellows putting in on Turtle. They told us the portage was a bit buggy and they weren't wrong. Though it was only 600m, it was uphill most of the way. 

 

We made it to site 560 on Stoplog by mid afternoon. It is high on a rock with excellent views facing northwest across the lake.

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To the east of the site is a narrow channel connecting the two large bays of the lake. While looking for  firewood, a short walk behind the site, we discovered this creepy-looking clearing in the middle of the forest that is difficult to explain. The clearing is perfectly rectangular as if it once was the location of a structure, yet there are no ruins or any material around on the ground. The forest around it is fairly dense, yet absolutely nothing was growing on the clearing. The ground just contained fallen leaves. It was way too symmetrical to be natural. The place had bad juju in my opinion, so we left it and went back to our site.  

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The rest of the day was spent lounging, relaxing and swimming. The flies were out in droves. Oddly they were just common house flies, so they didn't bite like deer flies, but boy were there a lot of them. After dinner we paddled through the channel into the southern bay and caught a ton of smallmouth bass, but all under a pound. Stoplog is a very pretty lake and it was incredible just being out and taking in the sights. 

 

Erin, who is a bit of a pyromaniac on these trips, loves starting and maintaining campfires. The next morning she got one going and startled a visitor who was hiding under one of the firepit rocks. I explained to her how lucky she was, because the 5-lined skink is an endangered species and very rare to find. 

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After breaking camp, we paddled back to the north, past the portage to Turtle, and looked for the portage up into Compass. At the very north end of Stoplog there are some wonderfully large cliffs protecting the eastern shore. Our way was north through a weedy swamp and from the waters of the lake, no familiar-looking yellow portage sign could be seen. I did see a creek through it and decided to head into it. Eventually we got to the portage but not before lifting over a few beaver dams along the way. I snapped a shot of what we went through before heading up into the portage. 

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The portage up to Compass was steep. Though it is only 200m, my heart was racing by the time I reached the put in. There are two portages there, one following a waterfall down to Cherry Creek and the one we came out of. We paddled over to the other one for a photo and to investigate the pretty falls.

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Moving past the weedy south end of Compass Lake, we stopped at site 570 on the north bay of this lake to have a go on the rope swing someone has installed on this site. I always have a go on this if no one is using the site. At the take out on Compass, a couple of nice young rangers were coming through the other way. I have encountered a number of rangers in Kawartha Highlands and they have always been friendly and nice. We chatted for a bit and they asked about water levels and conditions of the campsites. One fellow was in training and said he was being moved to Algonquin the following year. 

 

The creek from Compass to Loucks was low and I abandoned trying to paddle down it after leaving a bit of white paint on rocks. We opted for the longer 500m portage. Once out on Loucks and into Long, I enjoyed having the wind at our backs pushing us to our car at the east end of Long Lake.

 

I have paddled Kawartha Highlands more than any other location in Ontario and always have a great trip. This time was no different. We left the park and had a well-deserved meal at Honey's Diner in Woodview on the way home. We talked about how lucky we were having such a fantastic backcountry location a little more than half-hour away from my driveway. Erin was tired, but happy, I think, after all we had had beautiful weather and got to experience the more remote lakes of the park. What a fantastic way to have enjoyed time with my daughter! 

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