Kawartha Highlands is a mostly wild park on the Southern Edge of the Canadian Shield. It has some impressive rock cliffs and deep lakes with opportunities for trout fishing. Some of the Park has the occasional cottage or house, but the rugged terrain will quickly distract you as you paddle the lakes and traverse the, sometimes challenging, portages.
This short route was a beautiful paddle in the fall. With one slightly challenging portage and some beaver dams to navigate over, this could be challenging to a beginner, but not impossible. Taking three days to complete this loop gives you plenty of time to travel from camp to camp and navigate these hurdles at a slower pace.
Trip Completed: Late September 2020
Starting Point: Long Lake
Ending Point: Long Lake
Total Distance: 20 km
Duration: 3 days
This route is located in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, just north of Peterborough. The access point on Long Lake can be reached from Long Lake Rd, just off of Highway 28.
Traditional Territory: This route in the Kawartha Highlands is located on the traditional territory of the Mississauga, Anishinabewaki and Haudenosaunee (source).
Maps & Resources
Campsite Permits: Campsites need to be booked ahead of time. You can access the parks reservation system here. Unlike Algonquin, where you book a site on a specific lake, in Kawartha Highlands you must book the specific campsite you want.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: We did not use an outfitter for this trip, however there are a few outfitters in the area if you need to rent gear:
- Land Canadian Adventures in Apsley
- Adventure Outfitters in Lakefield
- Kawartha Adventure Outfitters in Burleigh Falls.
Shuttle: A shuttle is not needed as this route is a loop, and starts and ends in from the boat launch.
Day 1: Long Lake to Loucks Lake (6 km)
We launched at the Long Lake boat ramp; there is a public beach beside the boat ramp.
Long Lake was beautiful, lined by high cliffs with beautiful rock faces. Given the lake’s nature, wind in the right direction will have a large fetch to build some decent waves.
There is a short creek connecting Long Lake to Loucks Lake. Even without high water levels, we could paddle the creek easily.
We camped at a site on Loucks Lake that was beautiful. It’s a reasonably open site, with easily enough room for 3-4 tents, possibly more. The campsite’s main downfall is that the north shore has cottages/homes and some smaller boat traffic. The site has a thunderbox present.
Day 2: Loucks Lake to Buzzard Lake (8 km)
It’s a short paddle from the campsite to the first portage. This portage changes depending on the water level and has multiple parts. When you’re approaching the portage, you will notice a metal retainer (mini dam) in the water. During high water, it should be submerged, and you should be able to paddle the first part of the portage. We had lower water levels, so we had to portage the entire distance.
Portage from Loucks Lake to Compass Lake (165 m or 665 m): The first part of the portage is 95 m long. The second part depends on water levels; in high water, you can paddle across a small body of water to the third part of the portage, however in low water you need to portage 500 m. The third part of the portage is a quick 70 m.
However, we didn’t realize this and ended up off the portage trail entirely. With the rock features of Kawartha, it can be easy to get off the portage due to the lack of trees and no clear indication of a trail on the rock. We did end up on Compass Lake but had to navigate a marsh in the canoe.
We paddled south on Compass Lake to the next portage. This lake has no cottages or homes on it, though it does have two campsites.
Portage from Compass Lake to Stoplog Lake (200 m): The portage was much easier to navigate. Nothing stands out from this portage but you will be launching your canoe at the end in a marsh formed by beaver dams. You will have to navigate over 3 or 4 beaver dams depending on the water level.
You will be travelling down the dams if you’re going into Stoplog Lake from Compass Lake, but you will have to climb up the beaver dams if you’re travelling in the opposite direction. Look for a portage sign on a stick. The stick will be in front of the beaver dam when travelling from Stoplog into Compass.
Portage from Stoplog Lake into Mountain Lake (684 m): This portage is a challenge – it’s another portage where you will be walking over some bare rock that does not indicate a trail. Look for cairns to mark your way when the trees thin out. This portage has some significant elevation gain with some large steps involved, and it can be challenging.
Mountain is a tiny lake with a log jam at the north end of the lake. There aren’t any cottages and just one campsite.
Portage from Mountain Lake to Buzzard Lake (684 m): Nothing stands out about the portage from Mountain lake into Buzzard Lake; other than that, it was easier than the last portage.
We camped on a site in Buzzard Lake, which was large and could easily fit four tents. The site has a bit of a lookout on the point. There was a thunderbox present.
Day 3: Buzzard Lake to Long Lake (6 km)
From our campsite, we paddled north on Buzzard Lake.
Buzzard Lake is a large lake with multiple islands and some unmarked hazards (as you’ll see in the trip video). It seems like a lake that could develop some sketchy water if the wind were to pick up. There are a few cottages / homes that exist on the lake.
Portage from Buzzard Lake to Long Lake (420 m): The portage from Buzzard Lake into Long Lake can be found in between two cottages on the north end of the lake. This portage is wide and seems to be frequented by an ATV or other motorized vehicle. Very easy portage. You could easily use a wheeled cart on this portage. However, Because it’s frequented by a motorized vehicle, it can get sloppy and muddy.
From the portage, we retraced our route back, paddling northeast to the take out.
Apart from the tough portage and the beaver dams, this was an easy, relaxing route. Our most significant travel day had its hurdles, but we still made good time and were able to enjoy some time at camp. If I were to make the loop again, I would take the loop in the same direction. To do the trip in reverse would prove a challenge as you’d have to go up the beaver dams, and there isn’t much room to stand and lift things over.
My name is Ben, and I’m a content creator from the region of Kingston, Ontario. I create content for my YouTube channel, Conjuring Rock, and for Frontenac Outfitters. I originally got into canoe camping to reach new fishing destinations, but the love of tripping has quickly taken over to the point that fishing is no longer the primary driver. I love sharing the fun I have outdoors via video and pictures.
Website: (coming soon)
YouTube: Conjuring Rock