Happy Camper’s Best Routes for Canoeing and Kayaking in the Haliburton Highlands

Yours Outdoors has had the pleasure of working with The Happy Camper, Kevin Callan on several occasions. He was featured presenter at our Speakers Series and has led several hikes and backpacking trips for the Hike Haliburton Festival. We sponsored a recent kayaking trip he did with Camper Christina. Here are some thoughts from Kevin on paddling in the Haliburton Highlands:

"The wild splendour of the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, an accessible wilderness only a couple hours north of Toronto, has become a magnet for paddlers searching out solitude. The rolling landscape made up of fantastic ruggedness, Precambrian terrain carpeted by stout pine, granite cliffs echoing the raven’s cracking call, and deep lakes blanketed by morning mist, all have an addicted quality to it. This is an accessible wilderness, a place filled with countless paddling adventures. Here are just a few of my favourite routes:

St Nora to Sherborne Lake

This route begins directly at the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails cabin on St Nora Lake, on the east side of Highway 35. There’s parking, a public launch, and canoe rentals. The neighbouring buildings were once owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources - titled the Leslie M. Frost National Resource Centre, and was a training school in the mid-1900s for forest rangers. Your route takes you northeast across St Nora Lake, past St Margaret Island. St. Nora was originally named “Sonora,” a Native word for echoes. Give out a shout and you’ll hear your echo bounce off the surrounding cliff walls. The portage from St. Nora to Sherborne is just over 800 meters. Its long but a relatively easy carry; and Sherborne is definitely worth it. The lake is engulfed by pronounced ridges of granite gneiss and magnificent white pine. A sprinkling of islands provide perfect places to pitch a tent and gather around the evening campfire. Day trips can be had into Silver Buck, Orley, Little Avery and Plastic Lakes. 

Herb and Gun Lakes

Herb Lake access is located on the more northernly top portion of the Halliburton Highlands Water Trails. Take the #8 rd. off Highway 35, east of Dorset. You can either paddle along the lake and camp on one of the beautiful sites perched on top the countless knobs of granite, or take two short and easy portages (172 meters and 62 meters) around Brandy Falls and into Gun Lake. I think the extra distance is worth it. Gun Lake is more isolated, has better bass fishing, and comes with some incredible island campsites. 

Nunikani Loop

I’ve paddled this route countless of times. It really has it all. Turquoise lakes, a cascading river, easy portages and the chance to catch a bass or trout. The access point is Big Hawk Lake marina and public launch. After Halls Lake, turn right off Highway 35 and onto Road 13 and then left on Big Hawk Road. I prefer the first day to be the longest, so I paddle the loop counterclockwise. To reach the first portage (225 meters into Clear Lake) you travel the length of Big Hawk lake, keeping to the left inlet. Clear Lake is exactly that - clear. It’s waters give off a turquoise glow at the surface and you can view straight to the bottom. Red Pine Lake is next, connected to Clear by a 200 meter (and alternative 226 meter portage can be used if the first one is too wet and muddy). Both are located on the north end of Clear. Red Pine is another big lake, and it makes for an excellent stop over. I usually continue on to Nunikani, however. It gets less use and feels more isolated. Take out to the right of the dam and either cross over and use the 440 meter portage around the Kennisis River or do a short 30 meter on your right and paddle through a moderate rapid. Lake trout are in Nunikani. So are bass. It’s best to troll for lake trout off the northwest point. For bass, try the north bay that’s cluttered with stumps and reeds. Brook trout are stocked in the neighbouring Wallace Pond - which makes for a perfect day outing. To exit Nunikani Lake and get back to the Big Hawk Lake marina, simply portage to the right of where the Kennisis River exits the lake (an amazing cascade that tumbles over mounds of granite and moss). The route map shows a portage of 600 meters but you really only have to do 195 meters (downhill) and then a short lift over on a small swift at the end. From there you just keep to the right shoreline. At the mouth of the western inlet, keep following the shoreline to your right until you get to where the lake narrows: then paddle south, down the familiar inlet toward the marina and public launch. By then you will have completed one of the best loops in the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails. 


Kevin Callan 

The Happy Camper




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