By Rick Whitteker – Nature writer & outdoor guide
The James Cooper Lookout is a 1.5-kilometer loop that leads to a vantage point overlooking Maple, Beech, Boshkung and Twelve Mile Lakes. Whereas you can drive to higher lookouts, the effort it takes to hike up through a beautiful mature forest makes the view feel just a little more rewarding.
When Jim Cooper decided to donate this piece of land in the 1970s, he did so under the condition that the lookout be publicly accessible. Like most acts of generosity, this gracious donation led to other altruistic actions. In the case of Cooper’s donation, it led to a cascade of trails being built off this modest loop. Driven by the efforts of trail building volunteers with the support of the MNR, the Trails and Tours Network and private landowners who generously allow these public trails to pass through their property, there are now twenty kilometers of backcountry trails in this region of Haliburton County.
Presently linking up to this loop is the Algonquin Highlands Ridge Trail which connects to the Circuit of Five Viewpoints, the Alven Ferguson Trail and the Crest of Kennisis Trail. The trail network ends at the Log Chute Trail highlighted by a rebuilt wooden log chute, the only one of its kind in Ontario, located where Big Hawk Lake drains into the Kennisis River.
With parking on North Shore Road and the trailhead a short walk down the road, the trail ascends quickly skirting the perimeter of an impressive rock face. Keeping the journey in mind and not just the destination, there are features to this steep section that are worth exploring while taking a breather.
Drilling for the sweet sap…
A common sight in the forests of Haliburton County are the drilled holes made by the Yellow-bellied sapsucker. A mid-size woodpecker with a stout, straight bill, getting its name from the habit of boring holes into the cambium layer just under the bark. The sapsucker has a specialized brushed tongue which allows it to lap up the sweet sap weeping from these holes, called sapwells. The sapwells often show up in neat rows as the sapsucker shifts sideways gripping the tree trunk with four toes on each foot, using its tail for leverage while drilling.
The sapwells attract insects that the sapsucker also enjoys dining on. A bit of a foodie, sapsuckers are known to dunk the insects they capture at their wells into the weeping sap like we compliment our meat and vegetables with tasty dips!
Further up the trail, as the trail gains elevation, there are some tree blowdowns. Thin, sandy soils make trees vulnerable to wind damage with a good example of this near the lookout plateau. A toppled, mature White Pine has left behind a gaping hole and a large root ball exposing the tree’s roots which were clinging to bedrock over a thin veneer of soil. Stunted Red Oak trees dominate at the forest around the lookout adding a blanket of yellow during the fall colour season.
Arriving at the top…
At the top, an open vista greets all visitors. The view from here takes in Beech Lake directly south, Maple just to the west and Boshkung and Twelve Mile Lakes to the east. A long, solid bench is a welcome rest spot, and a mounted plague outlines the history of the trail. Seldom busy, I arrived to have the vista to myself, soaking up the sun and scenery in solitude.
There are two options to return to your vehicle. The quickest would be to hike back down the steep section to North Shore Road. The second option would be to take the longer, more gradual trail to Mifflin Road, a gravel road which takes you back to North Shore and the parking area. If you choose to complete the loop, you will descend the same amount of elevation but over a longer distance making for a gentler end to your lookout trek.
Capping off your hike…
After your hike, a cold beverage may be the ticket. Two local craft breweries are nearby including Boshkung Brewery in Minden and Haliburton Highlands Brewery near West Guilford. For a tasty meal, consider dining in or taking out at the newly renovated Mill Pond family restaurant or visit ever-popular Pepper Mill Steak & Pasta House.
The James Cooper Lookout is good exercise for the heart and a scenic vista for the eyes. During the glory of fall colours in Haliburton County, this vantage point will be less busy than other easily accessed lookouts. A fantastic set of trails have sprung off this loop, creating longer hike destinations if time and ability allow. It is important to recognize that that the beauty of this loop trail goes beyond the lookout, it also rests in the generosity and the foresight of James Cooper and his donation; a beautiful gesture for the benefit of all.
Be sure to check out the many other hiking destinations located in the Haliburton Highlands.