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Back to the land: Kawarthas is for Nature Lovers

man standing infront of a sign in forest

3 people standing by trail sign in woods

“Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before dawn.”

I wonder if George Washington Carver, the botanist who’s credited with that quote, would mind if I tweaked his words a little.  While I did indeed stand in awe of a majestic woods one day last summer on a visit to Peterborough & the Kawarthas – it didn’t actually happen until much later in the afternoon.  “Before dawn” that particular day found me fast asleep in a comfy bed at The Westwind Inn, a little gem of a resort in the little town of Buckhorn, about 30 kilometres outside Peterborough.

tree infront of a wood hotel

But in the afternoon I was in hikers’ heaven: I was part of a small group checking out the 10 kilometres of Stony Lake Trails that the Kawartha Land Trust opened to the public in 2016, just adjacent to the popular (and recently refurbished) Viamede Resort in Woodview, where my pre-hike lunch took the form of a Chicken Ciabatta sandwich in the Boathouse Restaurant (great menu – check it out!).

large white building on lake

I always make time for outdoorsy or nature experiences when I’m road-tripping, and Peterborough & the Kawarthas has plenty to offer nature-lovers. The Stony Lake Trails  – and the beautiful woodlands surrounding them  – are located on what’s known as the Ingleton-Wells Property, which is just one of about a dozen protected properties managed by and cared for by the Kawartha Land Trust, a not-for-profit group dedicated to conserving the natural environment and enhancing quality of life in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.  “Preserving these protected properties is our mandate – but we also want people to enjoy them in a responsible way. Helping visitors get in touch with nature is part of what drives us ,” said Evan Thomas, who not only was our volunteer hiking guide for the afternoon but he’s also the Kawartha Land Trust Volunteer Land Stewart for the Ingleton-Wells Property, which is home to open fields, swamps, an upland forest, an aged orchard and other areas that provide habitats for various wildlife.

trail sign in forest

Thomas’ contagious passion for the outdoors resonated with me: “If you hike through the Stony Lake Trail you will immediately notice the fresh forest air as you experience diverse landscapes ranging from granite ridges and towering white pines of the Canadian Shield, to limestone outcrops of the Great-Lakes St. Lawrence lowlands, to abandoned farm fields with stone fence rows, and quiet wetlands.”

man hiking on trail

a marsh

Mid-way through our hike we stopped as Thomas rolled over a fallen log on the side of the trail. The sight of six scurrying salamanders suddenly transported back to my 8-year-old boyish self. Then we traipsed over a beaver dam, spotted a couple hares, and paused to listen to a chorus of deep-throated frogs.

The Stony Lake Trail is ideal for a summer or fall outing – but I’ll be back with my snowshoes  when the snow flies to follow the tracks of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, snowshoe hare, mice and porcupine.  My kind of getaway.

someone skiing in forest

people hiking in forest

The Stony Lake Trail on the Ingleton-Wells Property is just one of numerous outings for nature-lovers in Peterborough & the Kawarthas. You’ll want to check out the other Protected Properties managed by the Kawartha Land Trust. One of these is Boyd Island (or Big Island), also known by its indigenous name Chiminis Island. Boyd Island is the largest undeveloped island in the Kawarthas. It’s 1,085 acres of paradise situated on Pigeon Lake.

trail sign in forest

guy standing by trail sign in forest

We reached the island by renting canoes in Buckhorn and setting in for a leisurely 25-minute paddle across Pigeon Lake to one of the quietest “sanctuaries” I’ve stepped onto in a long time. Boyd IsIand, long ago a sprawling family farm, is now building-free. It’s all about exploring wetlands, diverse forests, and observing plant and wildlife species. Thousands of years ago it was a meeting place for First Nations peoples and it still has significant cultural value to Curve Lake First Nations.

grassy field in forest

Hiking, fishing, swimming and cross-country skiing are allowed. But don’t even think about overnight camping, hunting, bringing a vehicle onto the island – or alcohol for that matter. And no fires. One of the KLT’s mandates is to ensure there’s no harm to wildlife or vegetation on the island. That sits very well with me.

a canoe at a site on lake

A friend of mine from Toronto had earlier told me that he and his first wife (a relative of the original Boyd family) considered building a house on Boyd Island about 25 years ago – but plans for development were nixed.  Standing quietly in a stand of maple trees on Boyd Island that day, and hearing nothing but birds, the wind off the lake, the industrious tapping of a busy woodpecker in the distance, I gave up a silent prayer of thanks that those long-ago development plans were nixed!

The result: unrivalled peace.  Make sure you download the hiking trail map before you go and turn your iPhone to mute.  Spend a while listening to Mother Nature’s playlist. Trust me, it will be good for your soul.

someone hiking in forest

If you plan to go:

  • Kawartha Land Trust maintains numerous properties for nature lovers. Staff and volunteers have produced excellent maps for those wishing to hike.
  • If you’re planning to hike the Stony Lake Trails, a good option for food and lodging (if you stay over) is Viamede Resort, which has direct access to the trail.
  • If you’re keen on including Boyd (Chiminis) Island into your road trip, an ideal option is to stay at Westwind Inn in Buckhorn, which is a 12-minute drive to Pigeon Lake.
  • Staff and volunteers of the Kawartha Lands Trust host occasional guided activities (mostly in the spring and summer but sometimes during winter) on their various properties throughout the year. Click here to view their events calendar for details