High Falls is my favorite place to camp. Why go all the way to Algonquin when beautiful places like this exist all over southern Ontario. Over the last 20 or so years I’ve camped there on Crown Land countless times in nearly every month of the year (having somehow missed November and May).
Your 55km water route from Peterborough to High Falls is going to end up looking a little something like this, depending on how much exploring you’d like to do along the way:
If you read any of Kevin Callan’s canoe route books you may have come across his entry for High Falls. A popular route is to put in at Haultain at #28 and paddle downstream to the falls, and then onto Northey’s Bay road. Or to do an up and back from Northey’s Bay Rd. These routes are popular because they are are relatively quick. If you don’t feel like staying the night you can get up there from Northey’s Bay Rd in less than an hour, stay for lunch and be home in time to make dinner. Who would want to make this a 100+km trip?
To make things more interesting I decided a Stand-up Paddle Board would be best. Kelly over at Peterborough SUP seems to be the only one around offering proper touring (displacement hull) SUPs for rent and from his store on George St you can carry your SUP to the water to begin your journey from Millenium Park.
Starting with Lock 20, just a few minutes into your trip, there are 8 locks along the way, which, if you’re on a SUP, means 8 portages, that is until Parks Canada’s Health and Safety Committee reverses their decision to ban us from the locks. Canoeist/Kayakers can purchase a lock pass. The biggest portage is past the Peterborough Liftlock. It does offer a commanding view of the surrounding area, but getting your stuff up there will slow you down.
The number of nights you decide to camp along the way is obviously completely up to you but there are quite a number of considerations to your stops in this urban/rural/wilderness kind of trip. If, for example, you only want to do 10km one day and that lands you right in the middle of a string of cottages, you have no place to stay, so you do have to plan accordingly. Lock side camping is available through Parks Canada for the incredible bargain of just $4.90/night!
Expect to pay quite a bit more if you want to stay in comfort on your 1st night at Lock 24 (Douro) where they offer 3 small cabins that they call “oTENTik“. Be sure to book well in advance for one of those!
From Lock 24 you’re 14km into your trip and just 4km to Lakefield’s Lock 26, where you can buy the rest of your groceries, as Foodland is a short walk from Lock 26 and open 24hrs.
My plan was to make it to Young’s Point for my 1st night. I made it to Lakefield by 430pm and went for dinner at a local restaurant before provisioning up at Foodland. Young’s Point is, for me, another 2hrs upstream. I figured I could make it there before sunset, but I’d never get there before they closed. From Lock 26 I paid in advance for a camping permit for Young’s Point and the lock operator even had a washroom key for me that someone had dropped off on their journey south, having forgotten to hand it in at #27 when they left.
I arrived in Young’s Point late on a Monday night, approx 28km already behind me and the sun well hidden behind the trees along the western shore of Lake Katchewanooka.
Arriving exhausted, but having eaten 2hrs prior, I simply set up for the night, went for a swim after sunset and was asleep at a reasonable hour. I would recommend swimming with water shoes. These waters are now infested with Zebra mussels and they are razor sharp! Never thought much of them until I sliced my foot here two years ago on another trip. There were just 2 boats moored for the night and no campers. It felt like I had the place to myself. I camped close to the dam so that white noise would cover any sounds from Highway 28, just a few hundred meters to the south. If you stayed at Lock 24 on night #1 then this could easily be the 2nd stop of your trip.
While you’re at Young’s Point, be sure to check out Lockside Trading, the local General Store for any other provisions you may still require, Young’s Point diner for a nice breakfast (formerly Granny’s Restaurant) and take a stroll through the Conservation Area on the other side of the dam.
When you set off again you’ll be heading north into Clear Lake, where you have about 9km to cover before you enter Stoney (often spelled Stony) Lake and the land begins to transition to the Canadian Shield.
Stoney is dotted with islands, most of which will have cottages on them, but some of the smaller ones may offer you a place to rest/lunch along the way. I had an incredibly strong tailwind on this leg of my journey. The waves rising to 1.5ft or more in the middle of the lake. I eventually took refuge on the leeward side of a small island, maybe 20ft across. I noticed a strong smell of onions from it as I passed. I climbed ashore to stretch my legs and sure enough, much of it was covered in a kind of wild chive (and quite a few Closed Gentian, the purple/blue flowers below).
Things get rockier as you get further east towards Upper Stoney.
It will add a few extra kms to your trip, but if you have time, swing by Doe Island. It is a small island rising about 3 stories out of the water, offering a great place to stretch your legs, go for a swim, get a bit of shade and a get great view of the surrounding area.
Okay, time to get to High Falls. Eels Creek spills into Upper Stoney rather undramatically. Even the dog in the background seems uninterested (photo on the right), but there it is, that’s what you’re looking for. A local cottager pointed the way for me when I didn’t feel like pulling out my charts to find the correct channel from Stoney.
You’re on the home stretch, just 1 more hour and a few portages to go. For reference, that bridge in the photo below is Northey’s Bay road. Both sides of the portage on this side of the bridge are private land, so no camping until you cross the road into Crown Land, even then there are a few restrictions posted.
And there’s High Falls. A set of rapids really, but a nice focal point for your camping trip.
I chose a spot to camp downstream from the Falls on a small kettle lake with easy water access, and a nice patch of sweetfern.
I spent only 1 night at High Falls. The threat of thunderstorms pushed me to get at least a little closer to home. So, for day 3 I paddled about 20km, taking the long way to an island site on Stoney Lake to camp, passing St Peter’s on the Rock on my way.
I’d camped on this island before but my island site now had a dock! It was a bit rotten, but still floated (mostly). Not sure how it got there, but it did make unloading gear a bit easier, offered a nice spot for my morning coffee and even had a solar powered light at the end of it that still worked!
… and from there, on day 4, I paddled all the way back into Peterborough. It was 35km and while I had planned to break it up with another night of camping, I was just cruising along, making good time and the closer I got the less sense it made to spend another night on the water.
I’d love to hear from you if you give it a go.