Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
Serpentine Lake Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
By David Richardson
My trip started at the Anstruther Lake access point about 10 kilometers from the town of Apsley. I like to approach most of my trips as leisurely undertakings so my goal was to explore the Serpentine Lake loop which can be paddled in 2 days but I had booked it as a 5 day adventure. I'd never been to this park before but had purchased a map a week earlier. The map seemed to be peppered with private property all around Anstruther Lake and upon arriving I could see a large marina and many cottages along the shore all of which had been there long before the park was created. The lake does seem like an ideal place for a cottage with a beautiful wooded setting, an abundance of fishing structure and landscapes more resembling Georgian Bay than the Kawarthas. The wind was in my favor and after heading a short distance from the put-in I was able to let myself drift towards my portage at the far north end of the lake.
The 162 metre portage to Rathbun Lake was a bit rocky but easily passable. According to the map the trail cut through private property but with the sound of running water in the distance I couldn't resist the urge to take the camera east to the creek and was rewarded with a view of a beautiful stepped waterfall. At the end of the portage was a cache of several aluminum boats and canoes one of which was a Sports Pal that had been bent and dented so badly that it was hard to imagine what had happed to it. I decided that if I found the rapids that had caused that sort of damage my carbon fibre prospector would ride on my shoulders around them.
After putting in at Rathbun a very helpful cottager appeared on shore shouting directions to one of the other portages out of the lake in case I was unfamiliar with the area. I thanked her for the information and as I paddled away I could hear her explaining to some friends the process of interior camping and where I might be heading. My first camp site was a short distance from the put-in and I arrived in time to have a good lunch. Being used to areas that are a little more rugged I was delighted to find a picnic table and steel fire ring on the camp site. After some explorations I spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying my surroundings. I even went for a short evening paddle before dark and turning in for the night. Aside from a bit of rain through the night my sleep on Rathbun was very peaceful. In the morning I had my coffee to the sounds of the local beavers hard at work. After my gear was packed up it was time to paddle across the lake to the next portage that would take me into North Rathbun Lake. The 164 metre portage was easy going and I was quickly on the next body of water.
The portage to Serpentine Lake was 1411 metres long with a steep downward grade at the end. I've done longer portages in the past but this was the first of this season and I knew I wasn't in the shape I should have been in. I struggled with my packs along the trail with less pain than I had imagined and when straight back to get the canoe and my remaining gear. Along the way I suddenly heard the unhappy snort and beating of hooves of a moose. I never did see the beast but it did succeed in making me feel a little unwelcomed, a feeling that disappeared once I retrieved the canoe. The mosquitoes and deer flies were happy to have me around with my hands full. Once the portage was completed I took a long break for food and water. Again I packed up the canoe for the short paddle to my camp site and again I found a picnic table and fire ring there. Just then I was completely surprised to hear a boat motor. Then 2 boat motors. I grabbed my map and started searching for cottages or at least access to the lake but found nothing more than the two portages I was utilizing marked. I decided my map may not be telling me the whole story and I would have to have a good look around on my journeys tomorrow. One of the aluminum boats traveled past me with a friendly wave from the occupants but the other pulled into the bay right beside my site. This boat contained the children of the people in the first boat. These two children obviously knew this was a good fishing spot judging by the catches they proceeded to haul out of the lake. Later some dark clouds started to roll in and, although the rain didn't come, the crowds were scared away and I was able to get cleaned by having a shore bath. My sleeping bag was much better for it. While looking over the map I noticed that tomorrows portage would lead me into a creek before getting to Copper Lake. Water levels had been extremely low all summer and I hoped this portage wouldn't become another long one. Eventually a light rain did move into the area so I curled up in my tent with a book and was thankful when the rain stopped before dinner. After dinner the weather had cleared completely and the lake was like glass so I had to take an evening paddle around my end of the lake before turning in for the night. I fell asleep to the sounds of beavers working, the calls of loons in my bay and howls far off in the distance.
In the morning I got up, made my breakfast and packed up my gear without delay. I wanted to get an early start because of my fears about water levels in the creek. The portage was good and it turned out that the creek was passable. Some sections were no wider then my canoe and there didn't seem to be any current at all but the main channel was still clear. At the end of the creek there was a large rock and beaver dam that created a lift over into Copper Lake.
Of all the lakes in this chain I'd say that Copper was my favorite. With an abundance of islands, bays, wetlands and granite hills and cliffs every turn on this lake provides beauty and interest. A canoeist could spend an entire exploring this lake and that's exactly what I did after setting up camp. While paddling around the mystery of the aluminum boats and fishing kids may have been solved when two airplanes took off from the far end of Serpentine Lake. The families must leave their boats on the lake and fly in whenever they have the chance. Now that's camping in style.
Walking along the shoreline near my site I came across a large beaver happily munching on a fern. He didn't seem to mind my company and let me get within 15 feet of him with no sign of moving. Me and my new friend sat and chatted for and while but the conversation was very one sided. I talked and he munched. Looking over my shoulder I saw a large snapping turtle that sat about 20 feet away obviously enthralled with my stories. I decided the animals of Copper Lake were very friendly but I hoped I didn't meet any of their larger neighbors.
When morning came there was a beautiful pink sunrise with mist floating up off of the lake. The water was dead calm and the scene was beautiful . I didn't waste any time getting through the morning ritual so I could get on the water. Paddling to the other end of the lake towards the portage I noticed two camps with buildings and aluminum boats cached. Hunting camps that were established before the provincial park was. The first portage was 370 metres, had some steep sections but was fairly easy. The trail did cross some snowmobile trails at a couple of spots so I had to keep my eyes open for the portage markers. The trail led to a creek that meandered through a long expanse of wetland. Although the other end of the wetland could be seem it took some time to get there zig-zagging back and forth with the main channel. There were even a few spots where I had to stand to figure out which way to go. Once through the wetlands I arrived at the last portage of the day and second last of the trip. Along this portage is probably the best feature of the whole canoe loop. A beautiful cascading waterfall beside the trail is a perfect spot to stop, enjoy the view and perhaps climb down and cool off in the showering water. After completing the portage I paddled a short distance to the same site I had stayed at 3 nights ago on Rathbun Lake. My muscles where reminding me how out of shape I was so I spent the rest of the day relaxing by the water's edge.
I woke up in the early morning to the sound of heavy winds and driving rain, not a good sign for my day of departure. As soon as it got light out I started packing all of my gear that was within the tent and got my bad weather clothes on. The rain was starting to let up so I decided that I would get everything ready to go as soon as I could and wait out the wind for a while. The bay I was camped in acted like a funnel for the wind and there were fairly big waves crashing into shore but Rathbun wasn't my biggest concern, Anstruther was a much bigger lake. The wind started to die down a little and I didn't want to waste any time. I wanted to get across Rathbun with the first chance I had even if I had to wait again on the shore of Anstruther for awhile. I tacked back and forth until I got to the portage and thankfully the wind seemed to be letting up more. Once onto Anstruther Lake there was actually a bit of shelter at the north end of the lake and I made haste to get as far as I could before the weather turned bad again. The main body of the lake proved to be a fair bit rougher. I was forced to paddle straight into the wind and turn only when I was straight out from the take out. My timing couldn't have been better. By the time I reached the shore I was surfing in on waves I normally wouldn't consider paddling on. My arms were aching from my narrow escape but there was a smile on my face regardless. Mother Nature never fails to show you who's boss in the wilderness.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park has been called a semi-wilderness experience because of the abundance of cottages and recreational camps that exist within its boundaries. These buildings existed before the park was established and continue to operate today. The park also has a large number of lakes with no civilization on them and the landscape is extraordinary on all the lakes. This is a park I plan to visit again and again.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
By Ontario Parks
The scenic Kawartha Highlands, encompassing 37,587 hectares, is the largest park in Ontario south of Algonquin Provincial Park. Situated along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, this relatively undeveloped area features a rugged rolling landscape of small lakes, wetlands, forests and rocky barrens. The protection of the ecological integrity of the area is of paramount importance. Long-term protection of both natural and cultural heritage values is required for the preservation of this unique area. Traditional activities and diverse low-intensity recreational opportunities will continue to be available.
These pages contain current information about all activities related to Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Park. Information is provided by the Management Advisory Board of the Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Park, in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources - Ontario Parks.
EFFECTIVE MAY 2, 2011 PERMITS ARE REQUIRED TO OCCUPY ANY CAMPSITE IN THE KAWARTHA HIGHLANDS PROVINCIAL PARK. All persons occupying a campsite must be registered. Failure to do so may result in fines and eviction.
Starting May 1, 2012 reservations for Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park will be available through our centralized reservation service (www.ontarioparks.com or 1-888-668-7275)
Contact the park office prior to making a reservation for trip planning advice and to purchase a park map (613-332-3940 ext#261)
Kawartha Highlands has 108 backcountry campsites spread over 6 recommended loops. Most sites have three tent pads, a designated fire ring, picnic table and a privy toilet. Campsites are only reachable by canoe; there are no car-campsites in the park. Call the Park Office to purchase a park map, for trip planning assistance.
There is no park store, but there are grocery and hardware stores in the communities of Buckhorn (west side of park) and Apsley (east side).
Boat Launches Yes
Rentals No, but canoes and kayaks can be rented nearby.
Fish for small and large mouth bass, lake trout, brook trout and northern pike.
There are 6 recommended canoe routes through the park, ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty. Call the Park Office to purchase a park map, for trip planning assistance.
The wide variety of habitat types in the park allows for a high diversity of wildlife species. Watch for Common Loon, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Beaver and Otter on park lakes. The park’s rock barrens attract a number of bird species including Whip-poor-will, Common Nighthawk, Scarlet Tanager and Eastern Towhee. Many species of warblers, vireos and sparrows are found in the park as well. Moose and Black Bear are often seen by careful observers and Eastern Wolves and Coyotes can be heard howling at night. White-tailed Deer, Red Fox, Marten, Fisher and numerous other mammals are likely to be seen.
Motorboats are permitted on lakes that have, or access, private or tenured land. Motorboats are not permitted on all other lakes including Sucker Lake. To prevent the use of motorboats for camping, overnight mooring of motorboats is prohibited in the park.
Winter camping is allowed and you must obtain a permit by calling 1-888-668-7275 or online at https://reservations.ontarioparks.com. Please note that although you have made a reservation for a designated campsite, you are required to camp at least 30 metres away from any designated campsite, shoreline, trail or portage between December 1st and March 31st. We recommend that you camp in low sheltered areas where there is a good supply of standing dead firewood for warmth and cooking.
Hunting in this park is subject to the Ontario Hunting Regulations. Certain restrictions apply. For more information, contact the park or your local area or district office of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
For more information:
Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Park
Ministry of Natural Resources
106 Monck Street, Box 500
Bancroft, ON, K0L 1C0
Phone: (613) 332-3940 ext. 261