The Trent River:
Campbellford to Ferris Provincial Park and the Ranney Gorge
Distance: 4km (one-way) or 8km (return-trip)
Duration: Day Trip
Shuttle Info: You can do this as a round-trip on the water. But if you prefer to shuttle, by land it is 4.6km (11 minutes by car) from Campbellford Paddle to Ferris Provincial Park.
Running a small business with my wife and two kids is an adventure on its own, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the magnitude of the heroic tasks we’re called to perform as hard-working family members – kids included! That said, in the midst of our daily lives of hard work, we always find time to bond and dream and plan our next special day trip!
Now, some folks prefer their day adventures to be well-planned, with routes and stops mapped out, while others would rather ride the waves of chance. Inevitably, if you’re honest, there’s always a touch of planning and a dash of chaos to any family outing. The key to micro-adventuring with kids is to set yourselves up so you can surf the chaos when it happens. And sometimes, picking the right place is all the help you need to enjoy both the plan and the un-planned parts of your trip. The Trent Hills section of the Trent-Severn Waterway is one of those places. Everything you could wish for is right on or near the waterway.
For one of our family day trips last year, we wanted to enjoy some variety. Here was our wishlist:
- A canoe trip with some easy paddling
- Plenty of opportunities to connect with nature, view birds and other wildlife
- Amazing scenery
- Unique Trent-Severn experiences
- A taste of arts for us all, and ideally a playground break for the kids to get their sillies out
- And of course some delicious food
This may seem like an unreasonable wishlist for a day trip, but the Trent-Severn has lots of spots where you can do all these things.
Your Starting Point: Campbellford Paddle
For this trip, we met up with our friends Mark & Heather at Campbellford Paddle, just north of Campbellford. Mark and Heather are friendly and knowledgeable folk, who run lessons and guided tours along their stretch of the river. There’s paddlecraft to rent and to buy, including a staggering variety of Stand Up Paddleboards / SUP. (Mark & Heather are certified SUP instructors, if you are interested in some lessons!) They were kind enough to let us park alongside their shop, and they helped us figure out the shuttle route through town to Ferris Provincial Park. (For this trip, instead of paddling to our destination & paddling back to Campbellford Paddle, we decided to do a one-way trip with a shuttle. You can do either – just depends how much paddling you want to do & whether you’re prepared to shuttle boats with your car or not.)
Paddling Through Downtown Campbellford
We were joined by some old friends from the neighbourhood who love to get out and paddle. But they admit that they don’t do it as often as they could or should. In fact, as much as they’d been organizing canoe and kayak trips in other regions of Ontario for decades, this was their first time ever paddling right in their own hometown, and they were surprised at how the town transforms when experienced from the water. It kinda feels like a perfect combination of small-town Ontario and European canal town.
Our hosts pointed out notable landmarks along the river, including the remnants of an old bridge that now serves as jumping platforms for the city’s kids, and the Great Toonie Monument that commemorates Campbellford as the birthplace of the design for our two-dollar coin. Passing by a riverside park, we took in an impromptu musical performance by an unsuspecting guitarist practicing his chords and choruses at a particularly peaceful location by the river.
I’ve paddled through many locks on the Trent-Severn, but this was my first ever trip through the double-locks in Campbellford. We followed the trademark Trent-Severn Waterway green-square signage and proceeded to the upper reach of the lock. Bystanders leaned over the railings, curious to know if we were going “all the way down.” Unsure of what they meant, I took a quick peek over the edge of the gate. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the limestone cliffs of Ranney Gorge appeared almost fifty feet below after two successive lockages!
Locks 11 and 12 are known as flight locks in which two conventional locks are joined to handle the abrupt 48 feet lift. Here’s how the system works: as downbound boats are lowered, the water that drains out lifts the upbound boats in their lock. This system results in slightly higher levels of turbulence than I‘ve noticed in other locks on the Trent-Severn, but the descent is still fairly calm. Using our lines properly we had a fun time dropping down through this epic double-lock.
Pizza Delivery to Paddlers
We’d been planning on a nice sit-down meal later in the afternoon and had already settled on Capers as the perfect place to wrap up our day, but our hosts agreed that it would be a shame to come to Campbellford without sampling a pizza pie from Apollo’s Pizzeria. They placed an order as we were approaching the upper reach of lock 11, and the pizzas arrived as we were paddling out the other end! Pizza lock-side was a tasty treat that powered the final leg of our canoe trip.
Once you’ve descended through the mighty double locks, you’re captivated by the downstream view as the Trent flows directly in front of your boat. It’s hard to believe that this scene (which looks like it could be straight out of the wilds of Algonquin Park) is only a short trip from downtown Campbellford. However, before you are tempted to paddle downstream, you must turn to the left to explore the pool at the base of Ranney Falls. Over thousands of years since the last ice-age, this waterfall has hewn the magnificent Ranney Gorge out of the limestone bedrock. Many folks are still surprised to learn about the stunning Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge. It’s a bit of a hidden gem, recognized as “Ontario’s most scenic suspension bridge.” From the water beneath this bridge, paddlers can explore the cliffs of Ranney Gorge and centuries’ worth of erosion. It’s a beautiful and unique place to explore.
Ferris Provincial Park
Paddling photographers to this area are rewarded not only with a great opportunity for a waterfall selfie, but also with the activity of local birds of prey that patrol the mixed deciduous and coniferous forest of Ferris Provincial Park.
While we were pulling out at the convenient exit point known locally as “the Sheep Wash,” we experienced a moment straight out of a nature documentary when a Cooper’s hawk caught a songbird in mid-air and disappeared into the woodlands of Ferris Provincial Park to find a perch for its lunch. I’m pretty sure one of us belted out “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.
Concert at the Clock Tower
Our morning’s worth of on-water activity gave us lots to chat about on the shuttle back through town. As we parked in town, we were still laughing about how fun it was to call in and ask to have a pizza delivered “to the two canoes at the base of the locks, please!” With smiles on our faces, we got out of the car and went inside the Clock Tower Cultural Centre at the heart of Campbellford. This historic clock-tower building downtown hosts a regular schedule of events with performers from the amazing Westben Centre for Connection and Creativity Through Music. Westben’s main performance venue is a beautiful purpose-built barn just a short drive outside of town where they host amazing programs. We met the ushers for our afternoon treat, a piano performance, the perfect musical accompaniment to our morning’s adventures.
Get Your Sillies Out
After the recital we still had about an hour to spare until dinner time. We headed down to beautiful playground (located here) and enjoyed watching the kids giggle in the swings and climb through the obstacles with the forest behind us and the waterway and town in front of us. It was the perfect change of pace for us all between the concert and dinner. The kids had a chance to get their sillies out before dinner, and we got some welcome “adult time” to chat, sharing our thoughts on the amazing piano performance.
Dinner at Capers
Dinner on the shaded patio at Capers Restaurant was delicious. The food there is always amazing – really top-notch. And getting to treat yourself to a meal like that after a fun and full day of adventures always makes the meal that much more satisfying.
Overall, it was a perspective-altering day for us: our hosts experienced their town from a fresh vantage point, which they admit was long overdue, and our young family was able to incorporate musical and culinary experiences alongside our typical canoe trip adventures of wildlife viewing and waterfalls. Now that I think of it, I’d say it bears repeating. I wonder what’s playing at Westben this summer…
More Ideas Nearby
Just north of Campbellford, I’ve paddled on the Crowe River many times. From the gnarly rapids around the Gut Conservation Area, to the chutes and limestone ladders between Marmora and Crowe Bridge, and the beautiful lakes and wetlands it connects.
Healey Falls is approximately 12km north of Ranney Gorge and it’s a fun place for exploring by foot and getting wet, but it’s not suited to paddling.
See you on the water! – Bretton
Click here to learn more about the Trent-Severn Waterway, National Historic Site of Canada.
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Photos and Videos by Justen Soule.