The May long weekend is often the time of many firsts. The first paddling adventure of the season. The first backcountry trip. The first call of the loon. The first mosquito bite, or a dozen. The first sunburn.
It is also the weekend of many uncertainties. What surprises will the spring weather bring? Will it rain? Most probably. Will it snow? Possibly. Will it be nice and sunny? Hopefully. There is no knowing when you book a site four-five months in advance. One thing I know for sure is that it will be awesome. After a long winter break, nothing excites me more than dipping my paddle into the cool clear water.
Canoeing on Cox Lake in Kawartha Highlands
This year, the weekend took us to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. A canoe trip to Kawartha Highlands was the first post on this blog four years ago so it was time for a return visit.
We booked the only campsite on Sparkler Lake. Two short portages from Loucks Lake into Cox Lake followed by a longer 428 meter one from Cox into Sparkler – the route was fairly straightforward, or so it seemed. Beavers have been hard at work since our last visit and a short creek between Cox and Loucks now featured two dams with another one on the way. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem: you get out, you pull the canoe over, you keep going. This time, however, we were saddled with a brand new canoe and our task, as canoe owners repeatedly emphasized, was to return it back to Long Lake Lodge as close to that state as possible. Since they charged us for a rope because we took it out of the safety kit the last time we rented from them, we took the warning quite seriously. So as we watched other groups trying to ram through the dams, we had no choice but to portage around them. In the end, our method took about the same time as the “one-two-three-scooch”. Still loading and unloading the canoe four times within a 500 metre stretch was a bit annoying. But our diligence paid off. The guy at Long Lake Lodge noted we took very good care of his canoe.
Portaging around a beaver dam
Another dam up ahead
Some people ram through the dam while we take a more roundabout route
But back to the beginning. The start of the trip wasn’t very promising. It was raining all morning on the way to the park and continued to drizzle as we loaded our canoe and set out on a long paddle through Long Lake. The rain, however, kept mosquitoes and motor boats, which can be quite a nuisance on a narrow strip of water like Long Lake, at bay. As they say, silver linings.
And we are off: Long Lake access point parking lot in the background
After the obstacle course of the beaver creek, it was a short paddle across Cox and a fairly easy portage into Sparkler, which we covered in one go. By the time we arrived to the campsite, it stopped raining and fog started enveloping the lake. It looked peaceful and ethereal.
Portage into Cox Lake now finished – we are almost home
Moody Sparkler Lake greets us
Our cozy campsite
Mystic evening on Sparkler Lake
We set up camp, made pasta with shrimp, peppers and Alfredo sauce, and enjoyed our fancy dinner around the campfire watching the grey gauze of fog swirl around.
Fancy pasta with shrimp, peppers and Alfredo sauce around the campfire
We retired to our tent early and fell asleep to the deafening chorus of spring peepers.
The next morning I was up before the rest of my family and set out to explore the campsite. When you book it online, it’s hard to tell how good or bad the site will be. This one wasn’t particularly big but there were only three of us so that wasn’t a problem. It had a nice fire pit overlooking the lake with two benches. Plus, like all sites in Kawartha Highlands, it had a table. There wasn’t much space for tents. We had to squeeze ours between roots but it all worked out in the end. We had to access the campsite through a tiny bay where the water bubbled and emitted strong sulphur smells the moment we stepped into it. In a true teenage fashion, our son nicknamed it a “fart bog.” There were other options for a put-in but they were a bit awkward and we didn’t want to risk flipping our canoe, or worse – scratching it against the rocks. So the fart bog it was.
Campsite 500 is the only campsite on Sparkler Lake
Our campsite waiting for us
Beautiful views from our campsite all around
Front-row seating for some of the best nature shows
Campsite all to myself before the others wake up
Our best option for a put-in: a little bay of sulphur smells and bubbles, which our son nicknamed a “fart bog”
The tour of the site didn’t take long so I made myself comfortable by the fire enjoying the much needed silence. The weather was perfect. It was sunny and warm, and a light breeze helped keep the site bug-free. Once my husband and son were up, we made breakfast and took time enjoying our coffee. You never rush coffee, especially during camping.
Coffee around the campfire is my definition of happiness
After that, it was time for an adventure of the day. We wanted to do a loop through Cox, Loucks, Compass and Triangle lakes, and then back into Cox and Sparkler. The route promised a few portages, including a 1300 metre one, not to mention a triumphant return to the beaver dams. But it’s all part of the fun. In addition to the two dams from the day before, we came across another one on Crane Creek. This one was even bigger and more impressive. In spite of all our annoyance and numerous “damn you beavers” jokes, we couldn’t help but admire their engineering skills. We later came across one of the culprits quietly crossing the lake in front of us. He slapped his tail and disappeared underwater before I could reach for my camera.
Another engineering marvel
Our day trip featured a few portages
One of the portages was close to 1,300 metres long
Compass lake was my favourite of the three, with rocky outcrops framing the blue of the water.
Picturesque Compass Lake
Rocky outcrops frame Compass Lake
Pretty sights along the way
Taking a break
Unfortunately, the lakes weren’t too big so portages would come faster than expected. Luckily those portages weren’t too hard. Even the 1,300 metre one felt fairly easy. I know I wasn’t the one carrying the canoe but my husband said the same thing. You can ask him.
Mosquitoes and black flies were more active than the day before so we ate lunch in our canoe in the middle of Triangle lake to avoid pesky bloodsuckers. Still compared to previous years they were practically non-existent. We left with less than a dozen bites between the three of us.
The evening was beautifully peaceful. Instead of going for flashy theatrics, the sun quietly slipped behind the trees.
Back at the campsite
Campfire, delicious dinner
… and lots of time to spend together
The air was filled with nothing but incessant chattering of spring peepers, a repetitive screech of the saw-whet owl and an occasional call of the loon.
The last day felt more like summer than spring. The camping gods seemed to be enjoying teasing us with a perfect weather as we reluctantly packed and paddled back to the parking lot.
Filling up on oatmeal before we begin our journey back
Babushka batalion (another of our son’s nicknames)
All set to go
And we are back
Two weeks later, bug bites and our uneven, mostly of the right side, sunburns have faded away but the memories and desire for more are going strong.
7 thoughts on “Canoeing in Kawartha Highlands: the trip of season’s firsts”
What a beautiful spot but the mention of bug bites would make me think twice about going there as I react badly to insect bites.
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Mosquitoes don’t bother me as much but black flies do. Luckily both were quite tame this time. And yes, the park is beautiful.
I’ve never been to Kawartha, but the photos look awesome! Thanks for sharing.
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It is not as well known as Algonquin or Killarney. For the longest time it was a non-operating park. They only opened it for reservations 5-6 years ago I think. Absolutely worth a visit.
My old stomping grounds! I remember when Sparkler Lake was an MNR secret for catching giant largemouth bass. No portage but a bush whack to get back there. Last time we paddled on that lake we saw otter slides on the left shore. Did you notice any?
I’m glad they’re opening that park up. It’s such a nice place to paddle.
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Great to hear from you! Yes, it is a great park. Just wish they had fewer cottages and motor boats. The scenery is gorgeous though and Sparkler Lake was very quiet and peaceful. We didn’t notice any otter slides but maybe we weren’t paying close attention.
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