Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park - Sucker Lake

Location: 60km N of Peterborough
Website: Ontario Parks or My CCR
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry Exclusively
Grade: B+
Summary: Probably one of the best lakes in Kawartha Highlands, with no motorboat access and well spaced sites.
Kawartha Highlands Ontario Provincial Park Sucker Lake
From site 120 on Sucker Lake
Thoughts: I had the idea to go to this spot based on a Kevin Callan recommendation, in his excellent book "A Paddler's Guide to Ontario Cottage Country".  You can access Sucker from Catchacoma, then through Bottle, with some very short portages.  The short portages, proximity to Toronto and smooth paddles were some of the reasons I decided to make this trip my first solo camping trip.  Also, being my first time into Kawartha Highlands, I was curious as to the quality of the backcountry here.

Kawartha Highlands Ontario Provincial Park Bottle Creek
Bottle Creek
There are no sites available on Catchacoma (though plenty of cottages and motor boats), so you'll want to get past this one as quickly as possible.  When I did the paddle, it happened to be a very windy day and Catchacoma is a relatively large lake compared with others in the park.  It was a real battle getting through to Bottle Creek. Once you do find your way to Bottle Creek, though, its a solo paddler's dream;  just a very smooth and sheltered paddle, with a high probability for wildlife sightings (though I didn't see any). I wouldn't recommend Bottle Lake because there's a summer camp located in the NW corner, across from many of the sites.  I can only imagine it detracts from the sense of wildness and seclusion (if that's what you're interested in).

Kawartha Highlands Ontario Provincial Park Portage Sucker Lake
Portage into Sucker Lake
Kawartha Highlands Ontario Provincial Park Bottle Lake
Bottle Lake
Sucker Lake, is much quieter.  In fact, it's the only lake in all of Kawartha Highlands were no motorboat usage is permitted (the only one! Yet many others seem completely inaccessible by motorboats...suspicious...).  The sites have privy boxes and park staff even put up picnic tables on each site.  All in all, its a nice lake.  I stayed at the site on the western point (120), which had a gulls nest a few meters out from the island.  They must have perceived me as some sort of threat, because they were cawing out without mercy.  Given that I was the only one on the lake (it was mid-week, in June), they tarnished what would have otherwise been a very peaceful experience in what felt like a remote location.  UPDATE: I've visited the site again in August, and this time the lake was fully booked; this greatly diminished the quality of the camping experience.  I was located at site 126, which is VERY close to 125 and 127 - in fact, the sites all face each other.  Yet the island site (127) is nearly continually booked.  I don't get it.  It makes it somewhat difficult to recommend this lake during peak season if you're seeking any sense of remoteness.

Kawartha Highlands Ontario Provincial Park Sucker Lake
Gull nest directly across from site 120 on
Sucker Lake - they never ceased calling
The other odd thing is that much of this lake seems to have cell phone reception.  You may be wondering how I know this and I assure you it was purely by accident, I had no intentions of making phone calls in the backcountry.  It just so happened that I left my phone on and noticed it buzzing after receiving a text message.  In fact, much of the park has cell phone reception, according to the park map.  So this could tarnish your wilderness experience a bit, especially if some yahoo on a neighboring campsite thinks its a great idea to call up his buddies to tell them all about the amazing wilderness experience he's having.  Conversely, if you're nervous about going on your first backcountry excursion, the ability to access a cellphone network in case of emergency might set your mind at ease.  Asides from that, I still strongly feel that cellphones have no place in the backcountry.

In summary, I think this was just about the perfect place to try solo camping on my first attempt.  It's accessible, the paddling isn't too hard, the portages are downright easy and you can get a sense of remoteness here.  Just stay away from the gulls nest.  


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Kristy,

      As far as I know, there is only one canoe rental operator within the park, at Long Lake (http://www.longlakelodge.ca/canoes.htm). This isn't terribly helpful if you're planning on putting in on the other side of the park. There are a few other outfitters that are well outside the park, but are on your way if you're coming from the Eastbound 401 (i.e. from the GTA).

      Adventure Outfitters (http://www.adventureoutfitters.ca/) - good for accessing anywhere in the park, if you're driving in from the south; I've rented from them before and they're wonderful folks
      Kawartha Outfitters (http://www.kawarthaoutfitters.ca) - good for accessing south and west of park
      Anstruther Lake Marina (http://www.anstrutherlakemarina.com/) - good for accessing the east of the park
      Wild Rock (http://www.wildrock.net/) - good if you're traveling through Peterborough to get to your put-in

  2. Hi there,
    Just wondering how bad the summer camp is on bottle lake? We want to be away from society and are planning the trip for June 19ish. Should we go for sucker lake instead? And which camp sites would you recommend for either lake?

    1. Hi tmurr1221,
      I imagine that it will be hard to find a site on bottle where you wouldn't notice (hear or see) the camp to give you an "away from society" feeling. You might do better on Sucker, but even there, the sites are pretty close together. But I think you'll still find it pretty peaceful, all told. If you don't mind going a bit further, I think Joeperry Lake in Bon Echo or Grundy Lake have some good spots where you might find it even more quiet (especially Bon Echo). Better yet, have a look at some spots in Algonquin's interior (e.g., McCraney Lake)