The Land Canadian Adventures - Redefining Camping Near Toronto!
If I’ve learned anything in the time I’ve spent in the Canadian wilderness it’s that if we lose our connection to nature, we lose everything.
There’s a peace and a calm that washes over me when the most important instrument on my person is no longer my iPhone, but rather my trusty paddle.
What people don’t realize is that the aforementioned calm I’m speaking about is very attainable. There are ample options for camping near Toronto, and many of those options likely won’t take that much longer to get to than your combined daily commute.
I vowed this summer that I wouldn’t waste away the all too short season chained to my desk, which is hard because there’s a voice in my head that constantly tells me there’s work to be done. Thankfully, that voice is awfully hard to hear from the stern of a canoe.
Whether intentionally or not, it seems I’ve made it my mission to provide some awareness that though Toronto is Canada’s largest city by a country mile, there are a plethora of camping opportunities near Toronto that are fantastic.
With all that in mind, I teamed up with Peterborough & the Kawarthas, and more specifically The Land Canadian Adventures, to prove that camping in the Kawarthas is something all Torontonians (and, well, humans) need to have on their radar.
Where is Peterborough & The Kawarthas (and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park)?
Just briefly, for reference, it’s worth noting that Peterborugh & The Kawarthas is roughly 2 hours Northeast of Toronto, which, by Ontario standards, isn’t a long drive at all.
While we spent the bulk of our time in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, it’s clear that the region at large has plenty to offer. There are no shortage of outdoor adventures, culture and history, and entertainment to dive into, and their website is set up pretty nicely to help you explore the Kawarthas.
The eight townships that comprise Peterborough have a population of about 140,000 people. Peterborough, the flaship city of the region, has an additional 81,000 people and is noted as being one of the most walkable cities in Canada, and for having an ideal balance of country and city living. In sum, Peterborough & The Kawarthas includes eight townships, as well as two First Nations communities.
Our foray into discovering the best of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park was facilitated by the folks over at The Land Canadian Adventure, so let’s pause to talk about what they’re all about.
Who and What is “The Land Canadian Adventures,” Anyhow?
The Land Canadian Adventures is the brainchild of Briagh Hoskins-Hasbury and Bretton Clark. In 2012, they were living together in Santiago, Chile when their friend Pablo organized a camping trip outside of the city, and it occured to them that they never would have found a place like that of their own volition.
Briagh recounts, “we were also very homesick for the lakes and rivers in Ontario and we got to thinking: so many young people traveling in Ontario would have a similarly hard time getting to these beautiful places that are really not that far- if they didn’t have transportation, gear, know-how etc.”
The Land Canadian Adventures was born!
Initially, the thought was that, as their friend did for them, they’d help those visiting Canada (as exchange students or otherwise) see what was here, particularly in the Peterborough and the Kawarthas region. They wanted to help folks realize that some of the best parks in Ontario were surrounding them, they just weren’t aware of it!
Now, they’ve branched out majorly and work with school groups, organize corporate retreats, and really everything in between. They’ll help whoever wants to connect with the land in whatever facet they can. They’re helping people, both from here and abroad harness and respect the power of the Canadian wilderness, and there’s a major education component to all that they’re doing for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Briagh summed it up perfectly when noting, “The primary goal has always been facilitating an experience of connection for people : with place, with other people and with themselves. We take people to places where trees, water and wildlife still dominate the landscape and we travel only as quickly and as far as our own bodies will take us - in canoe or by snowshoe- and we share our respect for and awe of the plants and animals we cross paths with. Faced with the challenge of getting across a portage together, building a fire or setting up a tarp and marveling at a shooting star or diving loon- people connect with one another. You certainly get to connect with yourself- push your limits, discover things about yourself.”
Completing The Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, One of the Top Canoe Routes in Ontario
In total, there were five of us from the Toronto Bloggers Collective (Kevin from Wandering Wagars, Kat from Kathryn Anywhere, Ryan from Out with Ryan, and Kim from Walkaboot Travel). We set out to cover “The Serpentine Loop” in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, and had a ball doing it.
Now, I’ve done a lot of canoe routes in Ontario, but the Serpentine Loop at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is in the running for my top Ontario canoe trip. The campsites are beautiful and well maintained, the trails are in good shape, the portages take some effort but aren’t overwhelming and the scenery is stunning.
A Brief Overview of The Serpentine Loop Route
We started at Anstruther Lake Rd, Access Point 5.
We completed a portage which took us from Anstruther Lake and onto North Rathbun Lake.
We then portaged from North Rathbun Lake to Copper Lake.
Finally, from Copper Lake, we made our way back onto Anstruther Lake, and thus completed The Serpentine Loop.
That’s a heavily simplified version of what we did, and doesn’t include portage distances, but it’ll give you an idea of the ground that we covered, or at least allow you to understand our route.
If paddling is your thing, check out these other paddling routes in The Kawarthas.
Hey, just a quick reminder that my Toronto E-book is now officially on sale! It’s over 100 pages of info you won’t find elsewhere.
The Land Canadian Adventures Effect
I’ve done plenty of camping trips, including a notable rainy trip through Algonquin that I created a little video about, but what made this trip with The Land Canadian Adventures a little different from my other experiences canoeing in Ontario were our trip leaders.
I mentioned that 5 participants were on the trip, but we also had two fellas leading the way with a heck of a lot of poise, who were regularly dropping knowledge on us throughout the journey.
Noah Korne was one of our wilderness guides, and he’s also a biologist and photographer, which is not a bad mix of skills to bring into the bush with you. Andrew Sernasie was our other wilderness guide for our foray into Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, and he’s an enormous believer in educating ourselves through nature, and one heck of a bushcraft instructor and builder.
The two of them together were an ideal pair for someone like myself who has spent a fair bit of time in the Canadian wilderness, but still wants to learn more. They had all the answers for me, and even forced me to ask a few more questions that I hadn’t considered.
And remember, all of this is occurring on campgrounds near Toronto, not in some far off destination that you’ve got to take a pontoon plane to get to. I’ll say it again - quality camping near Toronto is very, very doable, my friends.
What Did We Learn While Camping in the Kawarthas on The Serpentine Loop?
As you will have gathered from my interview with Briagh, one of the Co-Founders of The Land Canadian Adventures, education and learning is at the forefront of what this organization is trying to do.
They hire guides like Noah and Andrew to use places like Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park as a classroom. I wanted to just briefly note what we learned just to give you a sense of what you might learn as well if you chose to go on your own trip with them.
Innovative techniques for building fires without a lighter
General bushcraft skills
Sourcing wild plants to make tea, as well as lessons on other edibles when you’re camping near Toronto in the Peterborough and The Kawarthas region
Learning different canoe paddle strokes and techniques
Practicing canoe rescues in case of tipping and learning techniques for draining flipped canoes and aiding those who may need help in the water
Floating food barrels in canoes at night to prevent bears from coming to the campground
Reminding us of the power of gathering around a campfire (especially with Noah playing guitar and all of us singing along to songs)
Some passages read around the campfire by both Andrew and Noah that truly force you to consider whether the path you’re spending enough time in nature, and just generally living life on your own terms.
While I’d say that I’m competent in portaging canoes, paddling etc., there’s no question I learned a lot from both Andrew and Noah, and they were remarkably kind and open with the sharing of their knowledge. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
Paddling to the Historic High Falls via Eels Creek
Once we finished our trip through the Serpentine Loop, there was one more area that Briagh and Bretton (the Co-Founders of The Land Canadian Adventures, you might remember) wanted to show us. So, we put in our canoes on Eels Creek (an alluring name if there ever was one), and headed to High Falls.
It had rained recently, so Eels Creek was flowing pretty nicely, and that meant that there were a few rapids, but nothing worthy of any worry. We had two people in each canoe anyhow, which is enough to battle a mild current.
Our Shore Lunch by the Falls
In the Canadian wilderness, it’s easy to mistakenly think that it’s a space void of stories, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Canoeing in Ontario isn’t just about connecting to nature, it’s also about understanding who was there before you, and what respecting and connecting to nature actually looks like when we think about the past suitors of the land, and namely the First Nations Peoples.
We had some homemade bread with wood sorrel pesto, and then we learned the importance of our main dish, known as The Three Sisters. The three sisters are, in simplified terms, corn, squash, and beans. The combination was absolutely scrumptious, and easily provided the sustenance we needed for our canoe ride.
I also was humbled to be eating a traditional dish which reflected what had been eaten in that region for a long, long time. We also learned that these three agricultural crops were known as “The Three Sisters” because these three crops benefit each other, and are part of a strategy of “companion planting.”
After lunch, we went up and swam in the High Falls, and bounced around in the water like willing rubber ducks. There’s a rope set up as well so you can hold on and have a little fun in the water.
On the way back, Bretton shared tales of Samuel de Champlain’s time in that very region, including how he passed through the area in the early 1600’s with the Huron peoples on a military campaign and was travelling south. He then, if I can recall correctly, returned to the area we now know of as Peterbough & the Kawarthas to regain his strength and composure after that military defeat.
If you’ve got the time, and the hunger to explore, read about more Ontario travel opportunities.
Would I Recommend The Land Canadian Adventures to Explore Peterborough and The Kawarthas?
It will shock precisely no one that I’m going to say yes here.
Wherever we are in this world, we are surrounded by stories. So many of us walk through life and never even take the time to listen to the stories around us. The Land Canadian Adventures is a company on a path to ensure that everybody is listening to those stories that we find in the Canadian wilderness, but also taking a moment to embrace the silence, and listen to your own inner-voice.
I have a deep and profound respect for people who are living their lives by devoting themselves to their true calling, and I firmly believe that Briagh, Bretton, and their whole team are doing just that. I’ve got all the time in the world for people who are chasing dreams, and building something that can send positive ripples across the region, province, nation and more.
Getting out into nature provides the canvas for us to pause, reflect, and situate ourselves in a narrative larger than ourselves - an incredibly humbling, rewarding, and, dare I say, necessary endeavour in today’s world.
I want to humbly thank Peterborough & The Kawarthas for hosting me as media. All opinions are completely my own. Below, I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve visited Peterborough and the Kawarthas before and your thoughts! I respond to each and every comment.