Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is the largest provincial park south of Algonquin.
If you enjoy canoe trekking or back country camping you may have already visited to take in the rolling landscape of hills and lakes that bridges the land between farmland to the south and the Canadian shield to the North.
But what if you’re not a fan of such strenuous adventures? What if you just want a short hike that lets you experience the wilderness without the travails of hardcore camping? What if you had no idea that just steps away from the highway was one of Ontario’s largest accessible wilderness areas?
There’s a great little side-trip in the southernmost part of the park that we do with our dogs and visitors several times a year.
Located 2.5 km north-west of the lights in Buckhorn (toward Bobcaygeon and just shy of Kawartha Country Wines) is an inconspicuous blue sign for the entrance to the Mississauga River Take Out. It’s a popular end point for people on canoe camping trips, but it’s also a very nice hike over a picturesque wooden bridge and running alongside the river. The path takes you through woods and over pink granite, and the surrounding flora includes lichens, moss, and hardy pine trees accented by interesting rock outcroppings; effectively transporting you to another ecosystem.
It always feels like we’re somewhere far away from home when we get going on the trail.
In spring you hear the water rushing over the rocks and smell the fresh green foliage; as the summer heats up, you can smell the pine needles and juniper bushes and watch the dance of the damselflies. In the winter, you can smell the snow and the cold.
In summer, we pack a picnic (and bug repellent) and walk right to the end of the trail where it meets a series of pools and riffles that you can sit next to in the shade. The water slows enough at the edges of the river for wading to cool off. It’s the sort of setting that encourages quiet contemplation or the reading of a good book. Like most forests in the area, make sure you didn’t sit down to daydream in a patch of poison ivy.
The autumn foliage is breath-taking as the leaves change colours.
As the leaves fall, there are plenty of spots along the river that catch the sun’s rays and make one wish there might be trout lurking in the deeper quieter pools.
One of the things we love about the trail is that it’s enjoyable year-round. When winter comes, the trail is a perfect spot for snowshoeing (do keep an ear out for snowmobilers who also love the trail). We bundle up, put on our toques and mitts, put a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate in our packs with some sandwiches, and make the quick drive from our house. It’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Because of the moving water, there’s always an excellent opportunity for post-card quality winter photos.
A round-trip hike on the marked loop takes about 30 minutes in the summer, depending upon your speed and how many times you stop to take in the scenery, and probably a few more in the winter.
There’s an excellent parking lot with room for about a dozen cars, and a well-maintained, solar-lit outhouse. There is no camping, and no designated picnic sites in this part of the park. Bring water, a hat, and your camera. There is no fee to use the park.
For both of us, and our dogs, it’s just a few minutes and a million miles from home.