100km SUP trip – Paddling Peterborough to High Falls

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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

IMG_6565Expect 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.

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Lock 27 in Young’s Point is one of the nicer stops for paddlers.  Rather than the usual 3-4ft break wall to climb up/down, there is a set of steps to the water

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.

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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).

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Things get rockier as you get further east towards Upper Stoney.

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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.

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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.

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Where Eels Creek spills into Stoney Lake

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.

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And there’s High Falls.  A set of rapids really, but a nice focal point for your camping trip.

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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.

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There’s my (rented) ride, with all of my camping gear aboard

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.

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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!

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… 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.

SUP Camping: Day 6/6

Day 6 of my SUP camping trip began in Lakefield Ontario at Lock 26.  I’d already gone for a swim, had breakfast, enjoyed a coffee and packed up, and it was only 8am.  The lock operators wouldn’t arrive for at least another hour and my plan for today was to purchase a lock pass for an easy trip back to my put in, just 18km downstream.  To pass the next hour I went for a stroll through town. Walking past a couple of restaurants serving breakfast I decided that next time, and there will definitely be a next time, I’m going to take advantage of my urban route and eat at least one meal in Lakefield and one in Youngs Point on my trip, allowing me to pack even less food and experience a bit more of each town that I pass.

Paddling the Trent-Severn Waterway, Lakefield to Peterborough

Paddling the Trent-Severn Waterway, Lakefield to Peterborough

Parks Canada charges by the foot for lock passes.  My 12ft SUP day pass came to just $19.20.  It was $10.80 for a two-way ticket through Burleigh Falls a few days earlier so this day pass was a heck of a deal given that I’d be skipping 7 portages for that price!

It was 938am as I was lowered down through Lock 26, I was not alone.  There was a couple from Hastings in a boat heading downstream as well.  The next 4 locks were quite close together and I knew they’d make this couple wait for me each time, so I felt the need to hustle to the next lock.  When I arrived at Lock 25 panting it was just 9:58.  I had a nice break while the lock closed behind me and lowered us to the next level.  I would hurry again to the next lock, and the next…   A couple of these locks are so close together that 2 operators will run both of them.  They let us through one lock, hopped in a pick-up, drove to the next lock and let us through that one as well.  They would go back and forth all day as boat traffic dictated.

A brief but torrential rain finally cooled me off as I sat waiting in Lock 23.  Lock 22 was just 800m away.  Once through Lock 22 there was an 8km stretch before Lock 21, so that was the last I was to see of the Hastings couple as they powered away.  8km would take me nearly 2hrs to cover, so I could relax into a steady and comfortable pace at last.

Just after you’ve passed Trent University, the Otonabee River is divided into two branches, one forming a canal.  The canal takes you away from Peterborough’s downtown, through a beautifully undeveloped area, and finally to Little Lake where the two systems are joined again, but not until you’ve passed through the Peterborough Lift Lock and Lock 20.

The beautifully undeveloped shores of the Trent Canal

The beautifully undeveloped shores of the Trent Canal

I arrived alone at the Lift Lock.  It was a very quiet day on the waterway and it would be a few minutes before the Lock Master would realize that I’d even arrived.  He knew I was coming as the upstream Lock Master had radioed for him to expect me, but I arrived much earlier than he’d expected.  The cloud cover and rain thwarted most of my sightseeing efforts and I simply paddled steadily downstream.  It was only 1:55pm and I was on the homestretch. He noted that I would have the honour of being the 1st SUP paddler to go through the Peterborough Lift Lock!  Being lowered down 6 or so stories as you stand in the middle of the caisson (big bathtub) on your SUP makes for quite a grandiose entrance to the area below.  On this cloudy and rainy day there were only a handful of tourists around the base of the lift lock to ignore this historic occasion.

I cruised back into Millenium Park by around 230 and my trip came to an anti-climactic end as I portaged the 300 or so meters back to Wildrock Outfitters to drop off my SUP and paddle.

In his 1944 essay ‘Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe‘ Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister, wrote:

What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.”

I doubt Trudeau would have included SUP paddlers in his vision of paddling and fulfillment but I have rarely, in my adult life, felt more at peace than I did during this 100+km journey.  The next time I need to be “rapidly and inescapably purified”, I will set off SUP camping again, by then perhaps, SUP campers will be a regular sight on our waters.

Happy Paddling!

SUP Camping Trip: Day 5

Day 5 of my SUP camping trip would be my longest day of paddling yet.  I would eventually cover over 30km, with the last 20km into a strong headwind, but there was no reason to hurry, at least not at first.

30km SUP route for day 5, taking me from Lovesick Lake to Lakefield

30km SUP route for day 5, taking me from Lovesick Lake to Lakefield.  – Click to zoom in

I was on my way by 830am and began by exploring the northern area of Lovesick Lake, before returning to the main channel and passing through the Burleigh Falls Lock (#28).

Another incredibly vocal Osprey drew my eyes up to the sky.

Osprey nests dot the area

Osprey nests dot the area

There was still much to explore on Stoney Lake.  Getting away from the main channel, I made my way through a narrow passage formed between some islands.  10min in, and the water full of lily pads, I was beginning to wonder if this was even a navigable channel.  It was like paddling over a wet carpet.  Making my way out at last, I rounded a corner into the open water and some cottagers came down to their dock to say ‘hello’.  If I recall correctly their last name was Finley.  They asked if I’d found the lost lagoon guestbook while I was in the channel.  I hadn’t.  Someone maintains a logbook of the “lost lagoon”, and it is wedged between the rocks to be signed by anyone who happens upon it.  Was it a geocache?  I had no idea.  They offered to take me to it and quickly hopped in their canoe to lead the way back through the thick lily pads.

The guestbook for the Lost Lagoon

A sliver of red is all you’ll see of the guestbook for the Lost Lagoon

I hope some of this cottage country hospitality makes its way to Toronto.  It’s not that people aren’t helpful in the big city, but these folks are really willing to go out of their way to help someone out!  I wrote of my SUP journey to the lost lagoon in the guestbook and was on my way after another chat with Greg Finley as he shared his stories of paddling in the area and the 1000kms he once completed for a voyageur re-enactment.  Amazing!

My next stop was St. Peter’s-on-the-Rock, an Anglican Church on Stoney Lake, only accessible by boat.  I wasn’t on my way to a service, I just felt compelled to check it out while I was in the area.  Interestingly it is to be found between the areas known as “Devil’s Elbow” and “Hell’s Gate”.  Hmmmmm….

St. Peter's on-the-rock Anglican church on Stoney Lake

St. Peter’s on-the-rock Anglican church on Stoney Lake

I liked my campsite on Stoney Lake from Day 3 so much that I made my way back there on Day 5 for my lunch break.  My journey home was officially underway and I had been saving a celebratory snack for this vary occasion.  I had portioned and separated all of the ingredients that I would need to make my favorite gluten-free cookies.  Making them in the field would be a first!  My only substitution was some OvaEasy powdered egg mix in place of a fresh egg.

Gluten-free cookies, baked while camping!

Gluten-free cookies, baked while camping!

They turned out great!

Fresh baked gluten-free cookies

Fresh baked gluten-free cookies

While I was indulging, the wind was picking up.  I got underway at last, and as I entered Clear Lake a strong head wind turned the waves into white caps.  Standing on a board in a strong headwind is brutal!  I knelt down for the next couple of kilometers until I was across to the west side of Clear Lake and past the worst of the waves.  It was 430 when I reached Youngs Point.  I went for a quick swim, gathered some water and relaxed for a few minutes when it hit me – I didn’t really want to camp at Youngs Point again.  It was 5pm as I set off again, the sun still high enough in the sky that I figured I could make the 10km to Lakefield, even with a strong headwind, before the sun would set.

A strange thing happens after a few days of repetitive activity.  A switch is flicked in one’s body and suddenly you feel indefatigable (or maybe it was cookie power at this point)!  I made it to Lakefield by 715, kneeling part of the way to battle the headwind, but arriving full of energy.

Arriving in Lakefield well ahead of the sunset

Arriving in Lakefield well ahead of the sunset

30km were covered today and it felt great.  A week ago I was wondering if this trip would be possible, or if my board would sink under the weight of me and my gear.  5 days in and not only am I starting to think about a ‘next time’, but  I’m starting to see the potential for a much longer journey.  Anyone care to join me?

Stay tuned for the last day of this adventure, Day 6 of my SUP camping trip, an easy 18km journey into Peterborough.

Happy Paddling.

SUP Camping Trip: Day 4

Day 4 of my SUP camping trip began a little later than usual.  I was only planning another 14km route so I enjoyed a slower than usual breakfast, a 2nd cup of coffee and sat by the water for a while before packing up and setting off from my island campsite around 11am.

Day 4 SUP route: Stoney Lake to Lower Buckhorn through Burleigh Falls and Lovesick Lake

Day 4 SUP route: Stoney Lake to Lower Buckhorn via Burleigh Falls and Lovesick Lake

I would eventually be heading west through Burleigh Falls, into Lovesick Lake and finally to Lower Buckhorn by the end of the day, but Stoney is such a beautiful lake that you’re going to want to take the scenic route.  I paddled along the east side of Juniper Island and made my way towards the north shore of Stoney, generally avoiding the main channel, and then traveled west.  Rounding Horseshoe Island I found a quiet and deserted section of the lake.  There is at least a kilometer of undeveloped shore and a number of cottage-free islands.  The sign I found on one of the islands suggest that it is camping friendly:

A camping friendly island towards the north west end of Stoney Lake

A camping friendly island towards the north west end of Stoney Lake

Burleigh Falls, just around the corner at this point, is another popular stop along Highway 28.  I stopped for a swim at the base of the rapids, before heading through Lock 28.

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Lock 28 in Burleigh Falls is a big one.  I was not feeling like a portage, so I paid $10.80 for a lock pass and sat in comfort on my board as the lock lazily lifted me up 7 or more meters to Lovesick Lake.  According to the lock operators I was the first one to ever pass this lock on a SUP.  They took my picture as I passed, hoping to put in on the Parks Canada website.

Lock 28 - Burleigh Falls, definitely worth the lock pass fee to avoid the portage

Lock 28 – Burleigh Falls, definitely worth the lock pass fee to avoid the portage

I made my way to Lock #30 at the western end of Lovesick Lake, the smallest lock in the system, rising just over a meter, and I wasn’t planning on going any further but the portaging efforts of my first day were now well behind me and I was feeling like I really should go a little further each day.  I left my gear at the lock and set off into a powerful headwind to explore Lower Buckhorn Lake.

Lower Buckhorn Lake

Lower Buckhorn Lake

Lower Buckhorn is definitely worth exploring!  It is a beautiful lake, dotted with islands and, at least the eastern end, isn’t as developed as most lakes in the area.  The non-operational Wolf Island Provincial Park separates Lovesick and Lower Buckhorn to the north and camp sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis.  I had planned to camp in the Park but the allure of running water and a picnic table won me over on that day and I set up camp next to the lock.

Also of interest here by the lock is a canoe/kayak ramp built by the local cottagers association to make for the easiest portage ever!

An ingenious canoe and kayak roller/ramp between Lovesick Lake and Lower Buckhorn

An ingenious canoe and kayak roller/ramp between Lovesick Lake and Lower Buckhorn

…and with the tale of any camping trip you might want to ask “So how were the mosquitoes?”.  Well, I’m glad I asked.  They weren’t bad except somehow this happened to the back of my left arm:

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Had I slept with my arm against or outside of the mosquito netting?  I have no idea!  The rest of me was fine…

Tomorrow would be by far my longest day yet.  I would travel at least 30km on day 5 of my SUP camping trip, most of it into a headwind…

Happy paddling!

Canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park (KHPP) is a relatively new provincial park, home to 108 back-country camp sites and spread out over nearly 38000 hectares!  All sites are accessible by canoe.  It’s only about 90min from Toronto so we decided it was time to check it out. We planned an easy route for our first visit, packed up our rental car and hit the road, okay first we stopped at Starbucks, but then we hit the road!

The rocky shores of Long Lake in the Kawarthas

We entered the park via the Long Lake access point.  From there, our canoe route took us along Long Lake for about 4km, past a dozen or more cottages and, after about an hour or so of spectacular views of the Canadian shield, to the Buzzard Lake portage.  This portage is 340m and with no real hills, is a relatively easy one, as portages go.  I love hiking.  I love canoeing.  Call me crazy but I don’t love hiking with an 80lbs rental canoe on my head with the yoke mounted several inches from where it ought to be.  Long story short, rent wisely!  And that means renting from a reputable outfitter.  We chose the convenient option and had a miserable portage.  So do NOT rent from Long Lake Lodge unless you’re just doing a portage-free trip…  If you’re going to rent, pick up your canoe on your way to the park with a quick stop in Peterborough at Wild Rock Outfitters or in Lakefield at Adventure Outfitters.  We have rented from Wild Rock before and may try them again.  Adventure Outfitters in Lakefield appears to be the cheapest option but I’ve never used their services.  Of course there’s always Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto.  MEC has great weekend rental deals, but I’d forgotten that they rent equipment until just a moment ago.  If you know of another spot to rent in the area, or care to comment on an outfitter, please post it in the comments section.

We could see our site, #420, from the end of the portage so we only had a few minutes before it was time to unpack again. Our site had a picnic table, 4 tent pads, a fire ring with a grill and, about 50ft into the woods, a privy box.  This is 4-star back-country camping!  With day time highs expected near 28C and overnight temperatures dropping to 14C we picked a site facing east to take advantage of the rising sun.  This also positioned us to be shaded from the hot afternoon sun so it worked out really well.

If you’re going to spend some time swimming, you might as well have a destination.  From our site there was a small island to swim to that was only about 100ft away so we made regular visits to it during our stay.

The sunrise on Buzzard Lake from site 420

We would start each morning with a coffee by the campfire before heading out in the canoe for a tour before breakfast.  There was much to explore.  I have a short video on youtube highlighting the morning view:

crooked action shot 🙂

Take your camera, take your time and you’re bound to see some wildlife.  We saw a number of beavers, lots of loons and, among other things, this turtle about to go for a swim after we got too close.

One morning we did get down to Vixen Lake.  The portage is just 207m.  It had started to rain so we just walked the trail to check out the view of Vixen before paddling back to camp, where we discovered that it only takes about 40min to get from one end of Buzzard to the other if you’re hungry, getting wet and going in a straight line 🙂

Booking a site in the KHPP is easy now that they’ve added a new online reservation option.  You can see where each site is on the map and if it will be available during your intended stay:  https://reservations.ontarioparks.com/KawarthaHighlands?Map

The map will look a little something like this:

You can click on a site, get a full description and browse a few photos to help you decide.  So, plan your route carefully, choose your site wisely, rent wisely and you too will be a Happy Camper!  🙂