Canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands – Canoe Trip in Canada

Fall breeze. autumn leaves and pure Canadian wilderness. This is exactly what you’ll discover when you go canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands this season. This provincial park is the ideal place to re-connect with mother nature in any season, but especially in fall and late-summer; the most beautiful time to explore Canada, in my opinion.

Not only was this my first canoe trip in the Kawartha Highlands but also my first overnight canoe trip ever!

I learned so much from my 2 nights and 3 days canoeing, portaging (which I thought at first was a fancy word similar to apres-ski) and camping my way around the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, specifically the Serpentine Lake Loop.

Canoeing in the Kawarthas

Canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands

My good friend Chris Mitchell invited me and a group of our travel blogger friends on a camping trip where we all experienced canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands together, and oh boy, this oasis didn’t disappoint.

We have a saying in the LGBT+ community: There are friends. And there’s family. Then, there are friends who become family. This trip is where my travel blogger friends, Chris, Kimberly, Kathryn, and Kevin became family.

bloggers canoeing in Kawartha Highlands

Do you know those nostalgic end-of-summer movies where a group of friends get together and it turns into one of those memories that will last a lifetime; this trip to the Kawartha’s became one of those movie moments for me.

Our two guides, Andrew and Noah, and the team at The Land made us feel super welcomed and helped us create moments we’ll never forget. There’s something about disconnecting from the world and helping each other as a team in the wilderness that truly brought us together. It was like a quirky episode of Survivor. Also, we’re all fun people and know how to have a good time!

If you’re interested in your first canoe trip, I highly recommend canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands with other experienced canoers or with guides from The Land – Canadian Adventure company! We had two guides (thank goodness for Andrew and Noah being by my side teaching me everything I need to know about canoeing and surviving in the wilderness!)

Related Article:
12 Kawartha Photos That Will Inspire You

Sunset in the Kawarthas

The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Just 2 hours from Toronto and north of Peterborough, Ontario is home to The Kawarthas Highlands Provincial Park. The Kawarthas was always a place I’ve heard great things about; a beautiful and tranquil place amongst gorgeous nature. An adventure, yet relaxing place to grab a loved one, a group of friends or your family to experience true Canadian wilderness.

The Kawartha Highlands is a Provincial Park here in Ontario and is one of the newest since 2011. It might be the new kid on the block but it’s actually the second-largest provincial park in Southern Ontario with 375 square-kilometers of nature to explore!

serpentine loop kawartha highlands provincial park
Photo: Noah Korne of The Land – Canadian Adventures

Kawartha Highlands Serpentine Loop

My group of friends met at the headquarters of The Land – Canadian Adventures who provided us two guides (Hey Noah and Andrew!) and all the canoe and camping equipment we’d need to survive in the Kawartha Highlands. Special thanks to the owners of The Land, Briagh and Bretton, they’re like the most amazing humans ever!

Once we arrived at the starting point, we discussed our 3-day canoe and camping trip around the Serpentine Loop! The Kawartha Highlands Serpentine Loop is a route that starts from Anstruther Lake and takes us to Rathbun Lake, North Rathbun Lake, Serpentine Lake, Copper Lake and loops us back to Rathbun and Anstruther Lake.

Although it sounds quick to explore these 5 beautiful lakes, it actually takes 48-72 hours of canoeing, portaging to the next lake, setting up camp for the night, packing up and repeating until we finish the loop.

Anstruther Lake to Rathbun Lake

We began our adventure in the Kawartha Highlands by parking our cars, unloading our canoes, and embarking our journey onto Anstruther Lake! We had a little drizzle of rain, which is why it was important to dress in layers and bring along a rain jacket.

We canoed for about an hour against strong winds and then my guide Andrew told me we’ll be portaging soon. This meant we were close to Rathbun Lake and clearly celebrating our victory with a portage.

Storytime: First Time Portaging

When you say portage out loud, it sounds fancy. Like a fancy french word that might mean “celebrate” or “party” in English.

I didn’t know what portage actually meant, and when I originally heard it, I thought it was a fancy word similar to “apres”. After you ski, you apres, and I thought after canoeing, you portage. So when our guides said “get ready for your first portage”, I was looking forward to celebrating our accomplishment with some wine.

You should have seen the look on my face when I found out what portage actually meant and faced the reality that I wasn’t about to sip on a glass of wine… at least not yet!

Portaging isn’t as fun as it sounds. Portaging is more of an physical exercise than actually canoeing and involves carrying everything you own as you hike between lakes.

Since we were exploring the many lakes of the Kawarthas Highlands, for you to get from one lake to another, to continue canoeing, you must portage. Basically, when you reach land, you have to carry your canoe, your food, along with your camping equipment, and hike the provided trails until you reach the next lake. See if this was like apres, we’d be drinking every time I mention portage!😂

Related Article: First Time Camping in a Yurt

When we reached the land between Anstruther Lake and Rathbun Lake, it was time for my first portage. Thankfully we brought strong men on this trip to carry the canoes while my gal pals and I carried the camping equipment (which was also just as heavy I might add, just less awkward to carry than a canoe on your back).

Instead of going to the gym for a full workout, you should just portage! I gained muscles I never knew existed on my body!

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and it was quicker than expected because the trail was very short. After 15 mins, we all relaxed by Rathbun Lake and enjoyed our first apres-portage (which is what I’m calling it now). We sat down, made delicious wraps for lunch and drank as many fluids as we could from our intense workout.

Rathbun Lake to North Rathbun Lake

We packed up our food and headed back into our canoes onto Rathbun Lake! This lake was much easier to canoe and there were far fewer people out and about canoeing as well.

It was pretty quick to reach our next portage from Rathbun Lake to North Rathbun Lake, which is where the true wilderness began! We began our next portage, again no wine, but were at North Rathbun Lake quicker than our last one. Clearly, we were becoming masters by this point.

kawarthas canoeing

North Rathbun Lake

We continued to paddle our way through North Rathbun Lake and the sun came out shining. Instead of rushing to our campsite, we began to slow paddle and truly take in the beauty of this lake and nature all around us.

We got to our next portage and decided to set up camp! It’s always great to set up camp right next to where you have to portage in the morning so when you wake up and pack everything, you can just begin your hike. #JustTheTip

Now, where’s the apres-portage wine?

Camping in the Kawartha Highlands

This day become my first night camping in the Kawartha Highlands, as well as my first overnight camping trip completely off-the-grid without electricity, showers or phone service. #Shook

Despite a small fear of being “off-the-grid” there was so much enjoyment with this camping trip, which truly benefited my well-being. There are so many reasons people choose to go camping in the Kawarthas, and I urge you to think of all the benefits of reconnecting with nature!

kawarthas fall

We began to set up camp at site #212 and apparently you can book your campsite online so no one else can claim it, which is something you have to do before your trip because, at this point, none of us had cell phone service. We were finally off the grid with no service. Such a relief!

We set up our tents and figured out the two guys would sleep in a tent and the two girls would sleep in a tent, leaving me to figure out if I wanted to sleep with the guys or girls. I asked who snores the most and with all hands pointing at the guys, the girls welcomed me to their tent with open arms and hot gossip. Kim, Kat and I had the best conversations during our 2-night sleepovers!

delicious camping food

For dinner, Noah and Andrew cooked us up a feast of Butter Chicken, and in my case, a Vegan Butter Chicken, which was to die for! Who knew camping food could get this gourmet? I was shocked and delighted at how delicious our gourmet camping meals were throughout the trip. The boys also found fresh wintergreen tea leaves next to our campsite and we boiled them to make tea! The boys also brought out a big box of wine and my eyes lit up like a boy on Christmas Day! We relaxed with glasses of wine, a campfire and the most beautiful view of the lake.

This campsite was probably one of the best camping spots in the Kawartha Highlands because of the views on the lake. We had the most magical sunset on the lake with views of the milky way!

North Rathbun Lake To Serpentine Lake

We woke up to a chilly morning and a misty sunrise on the Lake. It was a chilly morning and most of us were wrapped up in layers cuddling by the fire for warmth.

Pooping in the Woods

While breakfast and coffee were being made, I had to go for my daily morning poop and realized I would literally have to poop in the woods without walls or privacy.

There are no private washrooms when you’re in the wilderness, but what’s great about the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is that they have wooden box toilets that are a path away from your campsite so you can enjoy some privacy in nature. And although, I was nervous to poop in the woods. Sitting down with a book and embracing a natural moment was blissful. Yes, I had the most peaceful #2 I’ve ever had in my life.

I had to document this moment because I knew no one would believe me if I told them what the toilets looked like in the wilderness or how funny it is to poop in the woods. Thankfully, Kat and I took hilarious pooping photos.

Do you know when parents document when their kids first poop on the toilet, I felt like this was that moment except it was my first time pooping in the woods. It’s a photo that will make me laugh for years to come!

hiking in serpentine loop

ANYWHO, I’m glad I did go to the bathroom because our next portage was a 1,500-meter hike from North Rathbun Lake to Serpentine Lake. This was the most intense workout I’ve ever done and we had to do 2 trips there and back with our stuff. Obviously the more food we ate, the less weight we had to carry, but we still had all the canoes and equipment. The hiking path wasn’t challenging, but it’s long, and carry equipment and canoes made it a workout we’ll never forget!

Once we got to Serpentine Lake, we all realized how incredibly beautiful it was and why this whole loop is called Serpentine Loop. With the sun shining, gentle fall breeze and surrounded by beautiful nature, we all did photoshoots capturing this secret gem in the Kawartha Highlands.

Serpentine Lake To Copper Lake

With no one around, we had Serpentine Lake to ourselves and, at this point, I felt like I was a European explorer discovering one of the most beautiful places in Canada. This was a lake you’d want to sit down and paint.

Words can’t describe how mesmerized we were on Serpentine Lake. We began to fully embrace these moments of where we were and truly take everything in. We paddled towards the next portage that would take us to Copper Lake. This one was super easy and before you know it we were in Copper Lake covered with tail plants coming from the water and a path that would take us to our next campsite.

After we set up camp, Kim and I began taking cute photos and the rest of our friends went out in the canoes and swim in the Lake. We saw lots of wildlife, including a beaver, which was really cool to see up close.

For dinner we had sushi, or in my case, vegan sushi! It was so much fun making sushi while camping! We sat by the campfire with our box of wine and sang along while our guide Noah rocked out on his guitar. We made parodies of songs and laughed all night long.

Copper Lake To Rathbun Lake

We woke up earlier than the previous day because we wanted to make sure we had enough time to visit a beautiful waterfall. We didn’t camp where we would portage, so we packed everything up after my morning breakfast of scrambled tofu, veggies, english muffins, and coffee.

We canoed our way through Copper Lake with calm water and absolute silence as the wildlife began to wake up and start there day. It’s a beautiful life out here for animals in the Kawartha Highlands.

We reached our first portage of the day from Copper Lake to Rathbun Lake. The sun started shining and at this point, we were all sweaty from portaging and canoeing for the past 2 days. We were all looking forward to a birdbath at the Copper Lake Falls.

As we hiked from Copper Lake To Rathbun Lake, we passed by Copper Lake Falls which is a beautiful waterfall; a Kawartha Highlands oasis. All of us changed into our swimming suits and walked a steep climb down to the waterfalls and enjoyed the refreshing waterfall.

Kawartha Waterfalls

Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake

After a beautiful morning at the Copper Lake Falls, we carried on our way from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake. At this point, we completed the Serpentine Loop since we did a full circle back to Rathbun Lake in 2 full days.

After paddling our last moments before entering cell phone service and civilization, we came to our first portage spot that we came through 2 days prior to embarking on our special adventure in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

I reflected on this first and last portage. I laughed at how hard it first seemed, but really, it wasn’t that hard compared to completing that other 1,500m portage.

As we finished our final portage and had our last strokes on Anstruther Lake, you can tell we were all reflecting on our journey in the Kawartha Highlands and how accomplished we felt experiencing 2 nights in the Canadian wilderness and experiencing the beautiful Serpentine Loop.

We reached the parking lot and packed our canoes and equipment one last time and said one final goodbye to our guides, Andrew and Noah. We packed our cars and drove to a nearby resort called Viamede Resort.

After roughing it in the wild, we were all grateful we had a 1-night stay at this local resort in the Kawarthas! I was able to take a long hot shower, sleep in a comfy bed with a fireplace and even had a jacuzzi for us all to relax our muscles and enjoy some wine one last time.

first canoe trip

Experience Your First Canoe Trip

If you’re interested in your first overnight canoe trip, I highly recommend canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands with guides from The Land – Canadian Adventure company!

A canoe and camping trip in the beautiful Kawarthas is ideal for any traveler who is an adventurer, in physical shape, and as a desire to camp under the stars and roast marshmallows by the fire. 

The ultimate Canadian wilderness experience can be found in the Kawartha Highlands. If you want to disconnect, press reset, and connect with nature in one of the most peaceful places, this is the place to visit. It’s truly the best destination for a digital detox.

If there are any readers who want to experience the great Canadian outdoors with a canoe/camping trip similar to mine but unsure because they don’t have the experience to do so… This article is for you. If I could experience nature for a few days, you can too!

Anyone can experience the beautiful Kawartha Highlands even if you’re not experienced, which is why I highly recommend reaching out to The Land, who have guides that can teach you and a group of friends how to experience and survive in the great outdoors.

The Kawartha Highlands is truly one of the most beautiful, picturesque provincial parks to explore and reconnect with nature. Start planning your trip today with Visit Peterborough and the Kawarthas and book your next canoe trip with The Land. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or need advice planning your next trip!

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Out With Ryan
Out With Ryan

Ryan Thomas Woods is the voice behind Out With Ryan. He’s an LGBTQ+ Activist & Travel writer for this website and many other publications. He was recently voted 2018’s Travel Influencer of Year in Canada and dedicated the award to all LGBTQ+ travelers making the world a better & safer space for our community, as he strives to do on his website & social platforms.

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