Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Buzzard Lake, Kawartha Highlands Signature Site

Location: 70 km north of Peterborough
Website:  My CCR or Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps 
Camping Facilities: Backcountry Exclusively
Grade: B+
Stargazing: Excellent 
Long Lake Access Point
Summary: A decent backcountry experience, as long as the cottagers are away.
Thoughts: I have been avoiding visiting Kawartha Highlands ever since it has become an operating park, not because I don't want to support the park system, but because of the seemingly cumbersome phone-in reservation process that they had in place in its first year as of operation.  This has fortunately been fixed, and you can even reserve your site online - a first for a backcountry park in Ontario.   The reservation system is impressive, with detailed information about each site in the park, along with photos.

Site 427 on Buzzard (note the marsh)
Regarding the camping, the main issue I have with the park is that it's plunked down on top of previously developed cottage areas.  While these developments are not quite on the scale of the Muskokas, cottages are found on nearly every lake.  To be fair, I haven't had any unpleasant experiences in the park due to cottagers (no rowdiness, no loud generators kicking in at midniht so that they can watch CNN on their plasma TVs), but the potential exists.  And given that most of us rarely get a chance to enjoy a backcountry experience, the last thing we want is for it to be soiled by motorboats or noisy yahoos.

Star gazing is great from this rock
The paddle from Long Lake is not too bad, roughly 45-60 mins, depending on wind.  There were plenty of motorboats, none of which slowed down as they passed us (impeding our progress as we had to reorient our canoe to contend with their wakes).  Once you arrive at the portage into Buzzard (a nice, sandy shoreline access, with two docks to receive you), you have a 300 m trek to cover, which is nice and wide.  A few ups and downs, but generally easy.  The put-in into Buzzard didn't have many nice options for loading up the boat, so you're likely going to have to get your feet wet here.

Tent pads are a bit scattered
Buzzard was an enjoyable lake, perhaps partially due to my stay occuring on weeknights.  The cottages on the lake appeared to be unoccupied on those days, so I can't comment if the owners are the boisterous type or not.  A friend tells me that from her experience, you do get a few motorboats over the course of the day, and even some chainsaws, but she found it generally tolerable. But I would suggest a mid-week trip, if you can do it.

The lake is reasonably big, but somewhat lacking in high quality sites.  We stayed at 427 after being informed by park staff that it was one of the nicest on the lake.  While it had some good features (nice rock on the northern part of the site to catch some breezes or stargaze, in addition to being pretty large), it had awkwardly laid-out tent pads.  We kind of just scattered to any part of the site where we could find a flat spot.  An unfortunate point about this site is that it is sandwiched between two marshy areas, so the bullfrogs can keep you up all night and the bugs can be bad at times.  We also had some whippoorwills visit us each night.  While they are pretty cool birds, with a haunting call, they created quite a ruckus (one morning they stopped in around 5am and called out relentlessly for about 5 mins...hard to get back to sleep after that). (For a video of whippoorwills going bananas, see below).  For those who are curious, there was cell phone network access on this lake, though don't take that as an invitation to watch youtube videos all night by the campfire (seriously, don't do that).

428 didn't seem to have as much space as 427, though its location might be slightly better and I'd recommend it over all others.  Sites 425 and 426 seemed nice (especially 425, which had a picnic table on a 15 ft high rock overlooking the water), though were adjacent to a cottage on a nearby island - again, the cottagers were away, so I can't comment on what their impact would be.  Sites 420 - 424 all are within view of one cottage or another, so exercise caution.  A fellow camper mentioned that 420 has some nice islands close by to the site that make for a nice destination for an afternoon swim.  A note about the fishing, there seems to be plenty of bass here; one of my trip mates caught about 9 smallmouth bass over 3 hrs of fishing (during one particularly productive hour, he caught 5, one of which was large enough for lunch).

Panorama off the star-gazing rock
We made a day trip down to Vixen (just the northern half), which was a narrow lake with a few nice island sites on the north end.  It didn't seem like there were any cottages here, but the topography is quite flat and the lake is small, so it's somewhat lacking in scenery.  However, you really got the feeling that you were in the middle of nowhere here.

All in all, Buzzard is a reasonably nice spot; it's not a far drive from Toronto, there's very little light pollution, the fishing isn't bad and there's some semblance of remoteness, even though you aren't actually remote at all.  A worthwhile trip, though I'm interested to hear what people have to say about the cottagers.  

Canoe Rentals: For those looking to rent a canoe to use during their visit at the part, two outfitters are within close proximity of the park: Wild Rock in Peterborough and Adventure Outfitters in Lakefield.  If it's on your way, Adventure Outfitters seems to be the way to go, their rentals are significantly cheaper than Wild Rock. 


  1. Awesome! Stuff! Can't wait to go check it out!

    1. Thanks Daniel! I'd be interested in hearing how Buzzard is when the cottagers are present.

    2. they have 50 rental canoes, camping gear and convenience store all right at the Long Lake Lodge where you launched your canoe to start this trip

    3. they have 50 rental canoes, camping gear and convenience store all right at the Long Lake Lodge where you launched your canoe to start this trip

    4. Good to know, thanks Phil