Explore the Wild: 6 Must-Experience Activities at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

ayeshayusuf Things to Do
20 Min Read

Established in 1989, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park has emerged as the second largest park in Ontario, the first being Algonquin Provincial Park.

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is also the largest park in southern Ontario. It is classified as a natural environment park, serving as an abode to numerous small lakes and many large lakes, rocky barrens, rivers, wetlands, and forests.

All these are synonymous with Northern Ontario. The park boundaries come under that of Peterborough County.

1. About the Park

The city’s residents take huge pride in introducing the provincial park. The foremost reason is that the park houses many lakes, as mentioned above.

Although the Kawartha Highlands signature site was established in 1989, and its boundaries were expanded from its original size to its current one in 2003, it fully became operational only in May 2011.

Before moving further with our article, let’s talk about some basic information that we all must be aware of before visiting the park


  • 106 Monchk Street, Bancroft, ON KOL 1C0, Canada.


  • 375.9 square kilometer.

Nearest City

  • Peterborough and Ontario

Governing Body

  • Ontario Parks

Park’s Office

  • Bancroft, Ontario

2. Alternative to Algonquin Provincial Park

Usually, when you plan your trip with your family, you look for places a little further away from civilization and serve as an escape from the rushed city life.

Algonquin Provincial Park and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park meet this requirement, but the former is usually tightly packed and out of tickets. Rush escapers found Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park a more serene and enticing natural beauty hub.

And if you are a fall lover who resides in Canada, you will not be disappointed after looking at the colorful leaflets. The scenario here is better than that of the Muskoka region.

The ride to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park from Toronto is two hours, the same as to Algonquin Provincial Park, so you need not worry about your time being wasted traveling.

This park offers nature’s beauty and a peaceful environment where you can easily get rid of your tension bagged from city life and relax. It also provided you with various fun activities to do. To know more about these fun activities, continue reading the article.

3. Things to Do

Although this park has access points with limited facilities, you must not forget to contact the park staff to make the best of your trip. Visitors must be prepared beforehand before participating in any of the activities and keep in mind the access points within the park’s forested areas.

The park’s natural beauty is near Algonquin Provincial Park, but activities such as canoeing and camping make the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park a better alternative.

3.1. Birding

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Photo by SK Yeong on Unsplash

Many times, we humans find pleasure in simple tasks such as birdwatching. You want to lay back, stare at these small creatures, and appreciate the hands that molded them into such small beings yet remain ever so active.

Ontario has some of the best birdwatching spots, including Kawartha.

The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a conservation reserve for many indigenous birds, which hold a significant place in the cultural values.

Several species are found in this park, including Whip-poor-will, Common Nighthawk, Scarlet Tanager, and Eastern Towhee. Many warblers, vireos, and sparrows are also found in the park.

3.2. Camping

As Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a semi-wilderness area, it emerges as a wonderful campsite for people who need a wild and raw touch in their camping pursuit.

If you wish to use these backcountry campsites, which also have cabins, you would be required to use a canoe, which will make your camping more adventurous and will give you a chance to reflect on the rudimentary and undisturbed beauty of the Park.

You can pre-book your campsites five months before your visit. And I would suggest that you book your campsites beforehand, looking at the intensity by which people are looking for escape weekends.

You are also allowed to go camping during winter, but there are certain regulations for winter camping; for instance, you are not to use a few designated summer campgrounds, and you cannot camp within 30 meters of the lakeshore line.

For trip planning advice and to procure general information, you must contact the park office to enjoy yourself to the fullest upon arrival instead of making arrangements at the last moment.

3.2.1 Facilities at Campsites

Each campsite is adorned with the following to make the outing even better for the visitors.

  • A picnic table to lay out your food items and picnic baskets also makes it easier if you plan to cook food there.
  • Campfire ring to prevent the fire from spreading in the forested areas and let the campers enjoy themselves at a safe distance.
  • box privy for usage by visitors to maintain hygiene

Most of the campsites also provide a minimum of three tent pads, which makes it easier for the visitors to set up tents and saves them the effort of wandering in search of a suitable flat area to pitch the tent. These campgrounds make camping easier and more fun.

3.2.2 General Requirements

When the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park officially came into function in May 2011, getting a camping permit for backcountry camping at Kawartha Highlands was mandatory.

You can take print-outs of your camping permits at home within 14 days of your arrival at the Kawartha Highlands, or you can also get the permits in person by contacting the park office.

Once you reach the access point, you can also get the permits for using your vehicle(s) inside the park.

Also, get the map as soon as possible so that you don’t lose track of the Kawartha Highlands and within safe parameters.

3.3 Canoeing

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Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

As we spoke earlier, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park allows you to go canoeing in the lakes inside the park, and along with that, these canoe routes are marked with portages and campsites; we will look at all the necessary information that you must know before your visit.

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is located by the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. It is a hub for various lakes that also serve for canoeing, fishing, and swimming, for which I have searched for the most suitable canoe routes.

3.3.1 Requirements

First and foremost, if you plan to go canoeing, get the canoe route map, also sold by the outfitters around the park. And even if you have come with a stiff mind about not going canoeing, still get the map just in case you change your mind afterward, which you probably would look at the tempting site of canoeing.

Be respectful regarding the privacy of the people residing in the cottages, recreation campsites, and private property, as portage will be done through the lands of these areas. Don’t trespass, please.

Private property, cottages, and recreation campsites all lie along the banks of canoe routes. Be thoughtful of their privacy, as no one likes an intruding eye!

There are, in total, six canoe routes for both beginners and advanced, of which the below-mentioned five are the best.

3.3.2 Crab Lake

Crab Lake is also known by its other name, Star Lake, a name given by the local inhabitants of Ontario owing to the spread of the lake’s bays in five different directions.

Every channel of this lake has two or fewer chief campsites, each with a granite seat to leisurely perch on and an intimate and cozy canopy of pine, maple, or birch to set on a tent below it.

Blueberry Mountain (Sharpe’s Rock) is another wonderful spot for hiking along the southwest inlet of the lake.

The reason behind this unique name of the mountain is that by mid-summer, it is covered in ripe fruit, making it another access point for visitors.

Coming back to why this lake is amazing for canoeing. Most of us are not huge fans of portage and search for the shortest way for it.

To reach Crab Lake, one must use the Wolf Lake access point. The portage distance between the two lakes is only 140 meters. You can easily find your way through it because the Ontario Provincial Parks have set up signboards on the side of the roads to guide you to the boat launches.

Parking facilities are also there at the boat launches, and most even have outhouses at the parking lots.

Wolf Lake boat launch is shallow, making it easier for the canoers to load up the canoe. You do not need any navigation; just paddle your way to the opposite end of the lake, and there, you will notice a portage sign leading to Crab Lake.

3.3.3 Serpentine Loop

According to the residents, an overnighter at the Serpentine Loop in the northern tail of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a leisure tour. Let’s see why they say so!

The Serpentine Loop route has spurt waterfalls, mesmerizing campsites, and spectacular fishing points.

The route to Serpentine Loop starts from Anstruther Lake and then further takes us towards Rathbun Lake, North Rathbun Lake, Serpentine Lake, and Copper Lake and loops us back to Rathbun and, at last, to Anstruther Lake.

It usually takes 48-72 hours to finish canoeing and portaging around these five lakes, which wears the visitors out but leaves them with the best memories.

The journey for the serpentine loop begins with the visitors parking their vehicles at the parking lot of Anstruther Lake and unloading the canoes, then comes the postage to Rathbun Lake, then quickly comes the next portage from Rathbun Lake to North Rathbun Lake, the infamous wilderness of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park makes an entry here.

Most of the visitors stop at the campsites of the North Rathbun Lake and prefer camping.

The next portage is a 1500-meter hike from the North Rathbun Lake to the Serpentine Loop. This portage route is quite a handful, so don’t forget to have your protein bar before the portaging.

From the serpentine loop, most rapids move towards the next portage route to Copper Lake. Copper Lake campsites serve as another rapidly used camping site.

By this time, the visitors become tired of most rapids, and to avoid them, they choose portage to Rathbun Lake; amidst this portage from Copper Lake to Rathbun Lake lies the Copper waterfall, which will seduce you to swim.

So, I am warning you not to forget to pack your swimming costumes before coming to the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

The last portage route to complete this looped canoeing is from Rathbun Lake to Anstruther Lake. The journey back to Anstruther Lake generally takes two whole days.

3.3.4 Mississauga River

This river is located at the bottom half of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and is unexpectedly wild.

Although there are many cottages on the bank of this river, none could help to reduce the effect caused by the wilderness.

One of the rivers that run through the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Due to its location being at the furthest corner of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, this lake bags minimum recognition from the paddlers.

Paddling on this lake could be tiresome as it is a white water paddling lake, and it would probably take a whole paddling day or, worse, an overnight to complete a round safely.

The area is so remote that it emerges as a challenge. I would like to name this lake Most Rapids Lake due to the vast stretch paddling area.

3.3.5 Cox Lake

It is commonly known as a clone of the Algonquin Provincial Park. Each campsite along this lake is a view to behold, with amazing swimming locations.

Cox Lake is more isolated than the other lakes in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park due to the wilderness and raw beauty. You can even have a canoe trip here.

To reach the access launch point for the portage to Cox Lake, firstly you need to paddle down your canoe from Long Lake to Loucks Lake, this paddling distance is a little longer than the others and just pray that the winds are down when you visit or else be in for hard work.

On one side of Loucks Lake, you will find beautiful cottages, and on the other, the Crown Land. Two postage routes are at the far south end of Loucks Lake; one will lead you into the creeks, which will take you to Cox Lake, and the other will lead you to Compass Lake.

The portage is 130 meters long, and don’t forget to look at the picturesque landscape once you enter the creek between the two lakes.

Cox Lake is one fine canoeing spot, minus the rocks that emerge now and there on the shoreline.

3.3.6 Bottle Lake

Bottle Lake, along with Sucker Lake, is among one the Lakes protected by the Ontario Parks before the establishment of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Before the expansion, the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park was an enclosed area around the wilderness of Bottle Lake and Sucker Lake, primarily accessible only by canoeing and portage.

The northwest end of Bottle Lake serves as a mini beach point.

For the conservation of both these lakes, we must thank the pothole on the western shoreline of Bottle Lake, which is deemed a glacial gauge by the government. The access point of Gold Lake can be used to reach Bottle Lake.

3.4. Fishing

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By Lum3n at pexels

It is observed that the more people there are, the fewer the fish. But thankfully, this is not the case with Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. One reason for this miracle could be that canoeists generally don’t prefer fishing.

As Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a large park with lakes ranging from smallmouth to largemouth bass, there are plenty of fishing spots.

The best could be the paddling loop access, which begins from Anstruther Lake and goes up to four other lakes. Together, these five lakes promise a full bass action.

Let’s not forget to mention an extension to this fishing journey from a couple of small fishing ponds near Copper Lake.

3.5. Hunting

40 Canadian Hunts in 13 Minutes! (BEST OF HUNTING Compilation)

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a favored destination for hunting activities. Hunting has proven to be a deep-rooted major pursuit for the visitors of this Kawartha Highlands.

You will need a sound hunting pass from the provincial park authority to practice hunting in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Another thing to remember is the hunting season, which commences on the first of September and ends on the Thursday before Victoria Day (a major holiday in Canada that marks the coming of Summer).

Deer, moose, and rabbits are some actively hunted species. Hunting Campsites can be found all over the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

3.6. Hiking

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Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

There are numerous hiking trails at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Although there are no assigned hiking trails, you will learn more about these hiking access points as you move further into the park.

4. Afterword

Once you visit the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, you will want to visit again. Even for your first or upcoming visit, you should check on certain things, such as the weather.

Ontario Parks management has banned the usage of cans and glass bottles inside the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

As you are not the only one visiting the park, be a wonderful camper by following the rules laid down by the park management.

Also, remember not to use stereo devices or amplifiers to maintain the park’s wilderness; a radio-free camping schedule is followed in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Last Updated on by Narayani Bhardwaj

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