Call of the Wild

By Darren Lum – Adventurer. Biker. Freelancer. Former Dogsled guide, and long-time “newspaper guy.”

Clear Lake lives up to its namesake and offers a bounty of natural wonders for the intrepid paddler.

With just a weekend needed, a canoe trip to Clear Lake is a journey to solitude and peace.

Listen carefully and you’ll hear the paddle strokes of the past converge with the present on the placid waters of this lake, accessible by portage.

Where to start…

There are three managed campsites part of the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails (HHWT) on the lake, which requires less than a couple of hours of paddling from the launch at the Kennisis Lake Dam, including portage. The short trip yields a fulfilling opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful places in the Haliburton Highlands. Time seemingly stands still there. The wildlife is abundant and active. Sounds echo. Ripples in the water carry from shore to shore. Hang your hand over the side of the canoe, pull it forward and embrace the resistance of your forward progress. Soak your feet in the cool water and feel the stress wash away. Stare in the sky, scan the horizon. Close your eyes and listen to the wind. You’re alive.

Long before settlers came to what is now Williams Treaty land, the Frost Centre Area that includes Clear Lake and hundreds of other lakes was known to be the hunting grounds for the Mohawk and the Algonquin. The Frost Centre area is 50 kilometres squared and includes some 200 backcountry campsites and offers overnight and multiple night adventures by virtue of its many lakes, waterways and connecting portages, ranging a little under 100 metres upwards of about a 1,000 metres.

It is one of two backcountry areas within the HHWT and is under the management by the municipality, Algonquin Highlands. The other is the Poker Lakes area where there are a few dozen campsites. Typically, it is busier of the two areas due to easier access to campsites, requiring fewer or (in many cases) no portaging, and how it is closer to Bracebridge with the launches located off of Highway 118, so booking in advance is recommended. Parking is limited. Every campsite with the HHWT has a fire pit and a thunder box. Orange signs with occupant and tent limits are located at each site.


Enchantment of the natural world…

Be prepared to be self-reliant and observe the camping etiquette of leaving no trace, so whatever you bring in you’re expected to take out with you. Campsite cost is determined by the number of occupants, their ages and the duration. Refunds will not be given for pesky bugs or inclement weather.

Located in the Haliburton Highlands, this lake is isolated from much of anything, except for other paddlers, a few motorboats and a handful of lake residences. It’s the ideal getaway from the grind of a long work week.

With so few others around, there is little to break the enchantment of the natural world, coming in the form of evening loon serenades, night owl exchanges, warblers’ calls, the red crossbills who swoop and swish their way from pine tree to cedar and back again. Lose yourself by the water lapping on the rocky shore, revel in the cotton candy skies, and the brilliance of the setting sun, reflecting the finality of the day.

The Naming of Clear Lake…

It’s easy to see how Clear Lake lives up to its namesake, and by most accounts from HHWT staff, it offers unmatched clarity. Swimming is an opportunity to literally immerse yourself in the wonder of it all, and offers a welcomed respite from the heat after a summer paddle. Start your trip at the Kennisis Lake Dam where you can park in a lot that accommodates dozens of vehicles, including space for trailers. Set off from the dock, taking in the views as you head down the river with what at times feels like a treed archway to Red Pine Lake. In Red Pine Lake, look carefully (close to the middle, far from shore) you’ll see seagulls standing on the water, which is really a shallow. Pass by a balancing boulder, which resembles an installation art piece – a private art showcase, if you will. Navigation to Clear Lake is made easier by referencing The Adventure Map of the Frost Centre by Chrismar. The waterproof map shows all the area’s campsites, portages, topography, features, roadways and even fish species that can be found in a given lake. Purchase the map at the Trails Office, located beside the Frost Centre on Highway 35, or at the Algonquin Outfitters Haliburton location. It’s a worthwhile investment for planning and to using while venturing in to the network of routes.

Take note, there are two portages to get to Clear Lake. The second portage further away (not beside a residence) is the staff recommended of the two routes to take. (Going in late-summer the first portage I took, which was muddy in sections, demanded focus on minding the trail that included rocks and vegetation.)

Book ahead of time. There are three sites on the lake: 36, 35 and 53. Site 36 is the largest of the three, permitting three tents and 10 occupants. It has a lower and higher area with its fire pit and privy situated on the lower area while the elevated vantage point enables a view of the distant horizon across Clear Lake. Next to it is 35, which is essentially it’s own island and has it’s own stone step entranceway (almost like it was cut into perfectly shaped steps out of the water). All the sites have enough space, acting as buffer between each other that you’d be hard pressed to know anyone was near. This lake stands out for its beauty, but is representative of all the lakes in the HHWT area. Most people know about Algonquin Park, but if you’ve never been to the Highlands come and see for yourself why we’re the best kept secret in Central Ontario.

How to get here…

From Toronto, the Highlands is close to 2.5 hours away. Take Hwy 400 North to Hwy 11 towards Gravenhurst, then head east on Highway 118 towards Carnarvon, continue to Kennisis Lake Road and head north on it until you can’t go anymore, launching at the Kennisis Lake Dam where there is space for dozens of vehicles.

Need a canoe rental?…

Go to the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails office located at on Hwy 35 besides the Frost Centre. There are two canoe sizes to choose from: Swift Algonquin 16′ and the Prospector 17′. Fees start at $41.12 for the 16′ canoe and a few dollars more you can rent the 17′, not including tax. Each canoe includes a safety kit (bailer, throw/tow line, and whistle), two paddles and two personal flotation devices. Both canoes have two seats, so, if there is a third passenger, he/she will have to sit on the bottom of the canoe. Car kits, which enable transport of the canoes, are available to rent. Pickup and drop-off your canoe any time between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., seven days a week during late-spring and summer at the Trails’ office. Visit the or call the HHWT office (705-766-9033) for more information on camp site bookings and canoe rentals.

Be sure to check out the many other paddling destinations located in the Haliburton Highlands.