Duration: Day Trip
Portages: Optional – over the historic Canoe Ladder at Wolf Island
Shuttle Info: Not required from Burleigh Falls; Required from Lock 31
Equipment: Bring your own boats or rent from nearby Adventure Outfitters & transport on your vehicle or pay for drop-off/pick-up
Wolf Island Provincial Park is another unsupervised provincial park on the list of hidden gems along the Trent-Severn Waterway. The park covers 220 hectares between Burleigh Falls and Buckhorn Ontario. It encompasses the fractured land and waterscape at the meeting place of Lower Buckhorn Lake and the northern shore of Lovesick Lake, providing one of the Kawarthas’ classic cases where Paleozoic limestone shelf abuts the Precambrian granite of the shield. From childhood I’ve had an enduring fascination with the north and I love when I get a chance to point my bow in that direction and explore our country’s boreal and barrenland region. That said, it has been an eye-opening experience to dip my paddle in the lakes and rivers of this unique region farther south.
This region is known as “The Land Between” and extends approximately 250 km from Georgian Bay in the west to Kingston in the east, at an average north-to-south corridor width of 35 km. Accordingly, much of Kawarthas Northumberland and the Trent-Severn Waterway are in this remarkable transition zone, or ecotone, between these two overlapping geological and ecological zones: the limestone foundation of the St. Lawrence Lowlands to the south and the pre-Cambrian granite and Boreal forest of the Canadian Shield to the north. This co-mingling of northern and southern bio-regions forms a mosaic of habitats including lakes, streams and wetlands, woodlands and prairies, as well as both granite and limestone rock barrens. As a result, The Land Between corridor hosts a great diversity of plant and animal life and presents endless options for exploring natural history. Any discussion of Wolf Island would be incomplete without mentioning the Land Between, since the park lies directly between Burleigh and Buckhorn, where there is an abrupt transition between lowland and shield ecosystems. I can’t begin to recall how many times I’ve shared the story of this transition zone with participants and friends while passing the highway 36 line connecting these two communities.
So how do you paddle in this paradigm shift of the Land Between? It is accessible from either side. If you’re putting in from the east, make sure to leave some time either before or after your trip to the park to take in the majesty of Burleigh Falls, and perhaps test your mettle with a swim through of the cataract at the lower set. Parking is available off Old Burleigh Road.
There is a public boat launch from the Trent-Severn Waterway paid parking lot just south of Burleigh’s Lock 28. Shortly after launching, you find yourself among a cluster of islands big and small. Following the waterway markers for just under three kilometers takes you along the most direct boating route to Lock 30, but I always recommend exploring the less traveled paths through the islands just north of the power boat traffic. I’m always been charmed by paddling through groups of islands, because wending and winding through them ensures that you rarely paddle the same route twice. Linking the channels between Cut, Ruba, Taylor and Richards’ Islands not only hones your inside and outside turns, but it’s also a great way to test your dead-reckoning abilities from map to field. It’s not hard to imagine the route was once a river flowing from Burleigh Falls to Buckhorn before the advent of the Trent-Severn Waterway created Lovesick Lake.
Lovesick Lake: a name like that calls out curiosity, and local lore contains no shortage of explanations for the forlorn epithet. Samuel Strickland recounts a tragic affair between an Anishnaabe man and an Irish settler; the stars were crossed against them and prejudice and circumstance kept them apart. Devastated, the young man cast himself away on one of the lake’s many islands, determined to give up the ghost. His near lifeless body was discovered by a fishing party and he was rescued, but his point had already been made: Lovesick Lake is a beautiful place to pay tribute to a love that will never die.
From Buckhorn the paddle is a bit farther. You may launch your trip at the lower reach of Lock 31, but I’ve only ever completed this stretch of the route while paddling through from Selwyn or Curve Lake, so I’ve never had to park and launch from here. The lock station is centrally located, and our group usually makes a pitstop to pick up supplies from shops in town, or to visit the historic paddle craft and canoe accessories at Buckhorn Canoe Company before making the 7.5 km paddle out to Wolf Island Provincial Park.
Wolf Island and Grey Duck Island make up the larger part of this natural-environment class provincial park. Even the mainland portion of the park is unsupervised and accessible only by water, so there are no common park facilities like outhouses or maintained firepits, and signage is minimal. Nevertheless, there are certainly established campsites peppered throughout the park, so it’s worth taking some time to tour the shores and take your pick for picnic or tent sites. We’ve explored this area on day and overnight trips in spring, summer and fall, and have never been disappointed. Given the geography of the area, you’re more likely to find some great swimming rocks rather than sandy beaches. Be mindful of the poison ivy and please respect the Trent-Severn Waterway regulations that prohibit swimming close to the locks.
Instead of gearing up for the portage at Lock 30, you and your team should prepare to feast your eyes and rest your backs while making use of a one-of-a-kind portage aid: the 15m heritage canoe ladder. This ingenious design enables you to take your canoe over the rollers and continue east into Lower Buckhorn Lake or you can pitstop at a campsite just north of the locks on Wolf Island. For those who would rather not stray too far from urban amenities you can make use of the bathrooms at Lock 30 too as there is a footpath connecting the locks to Wolf Island.
On the particular day that we got the photos and video you see here, we came up via Peterborough. En route, we picked up some deliciously healthy lunches from the Silver Bean Cafe and some sweet baked goods from the Electric City Bread Company. If you haven’t eaten at either of these places, you’ve got to try them! The Market at Burleigh Falls also has a great selection of local meats and cheeses along with fresh produce and bread baked daily in-house. You can reward yourself after your paddle with a scoop from The Market’s ice cream stand. Alternatively, if you’re staying for the weekend, you could stop by The Grill at Burleigh Falls Inn for a sit-down meal and some live music. And just down Old Burleigh Falls road (on the west side of Highway 28) you’ll find some great views of the Burleigh Falls proper! For the more adventurous swimmers, strap on your PFD and take a jump (feet first) into the falls and float down the rapids – a local tradition. If you’re in need of a canoe or kayak for the excursion, be sure to stop in at Adventure Outfitters on your way up so Emily and company can get you geared up.
For help planning your trip & for more paddling routes, click here to connect with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Tourism. Unless otherwise noted, all photos and video by Justen Soule.