One of my fondest memories from my youth is camping with my family. I’m not sure I know anyone who did not experience this quintessential Canadian experience as a young lass. The cottagers out there may disagree with the appellation I’ve assigned in the previous line, and granted many of the experiences which enrich the camping trip translate over to the cozy cottage outing, but there is something unique about a wilderness-based vacation.
When we camped as a family we resembled a small cavalcade; anywhere from three to eight families, we would congregate in whatever Southern Ontario campsite could accommodate all our gear for up to two weeks. These times continue to occupy the prime spot in the library of my memories. Today as an adult (with a significantly smaller family of my own) I still look forward to our yearly camping trip, and after trying out a few different Ontario Provincial Parks I think we may have perfected the perfect camping trip at Silent Lake Provincial Park.
Let’s start with the drive to this magnificent park because if you know me, or have read any of my other posts you know that I am a huge proponent of making the journey just as important as the destination. This first must-stop is at Hy-Hope Farm in Ashburn Ontario.
Here you can pick up the fresh Ontario fruits and vegetables for your meals, the BEST multi-grain bread I’ve ever tasted (mmm…. campfire toast), and of course, a pie or some butter tarts for desserts. After this, avoid the congested hwy 401 and drive through the beautiful countryside of the Kawarthas as you make your way to Peterborough. At this point, you may be hungry. If this is the case then make your way to downtown Peterborough (George St.) to Hot Belly Mamas & The Olde Stone Brewing Company for some Cajun inspired food accented by Olde Stone beer made right on site. Before you leave this charming part of Peterborough make sure to grab some coffee and Portuguese treats for the road from Natas Cafe. A velvety smooth cappuccino is the right accompaniment as you make the final drive by the scenic Trent-Severn Waterway and into Haliburton to the final destination. This same route boasts a beautiful bike trail which is on my to-do list for next year.
Silent Lake Provincial Park is true to its name. This beautiful lake is surrounded by Crown land, and its beauty is uninterrupted by private cottages. The gorgeous lake is itself motor-free!! Only kayaks, canoes and swimmers float around in the crystal clear waters.
Silent Lake provides a couple of spots from which you can easily rent a canoe or kayak if you do not own your own. This is by far some of the most beautiful kayaking I have ever done. The waters are calm with many little coves to explore, and the surrounding landscape is breathtaking. With some luck you’ll encounter the majestic Blue Heron, or any number of Loons who will serenade you as you paddle. It takes about 2-3 hours to paddle around the entire lake if you take your time to enjoy the beauty around you.
If you crave a different paddling experience, you can make the short drive, about 2km outside of Bancroft on hwy 62 (Hastings St. N.) to Churchill Park where you can drop your canoe or kayak into the water and enjoy the York River. If you need to rent a canoe/kayak you can do so at Trips and Trails Adventure Outfitting just down the road (and right on the same river).
The campsites at Silent Lake are perfectly nestled in the woods; varying in size to accommodate any size of family/camping group, and situated far enough from the neighbours to create an idyllic illusion of seclusion. Expect to experience local wildlife. We saw a mother deer and her fawn twice, and were visited daily by friendly chipmunks who ate nuts right from the palm of our hands.
This is probably the right time to extol the virtues of camping conveniences. Certainly, you could pack it all into a knapsack and hike to a camping spot, but there is no need. There are so many camping “inventions” which really help make the whole experience stress free, especially for the inexperienced city-dweller (note my giant kitchen shelter). But the most basic of activities are what camping is all about. Sitting around a campsite enjoying the smell and sounds of the woods is so relaxing. Cooking over an open fire, playing cards or Scrabble until the light is gone, and then sitting around the aromatic fire talking until the wood burns away to ashes is unexpectedly fulfilling.
There is no shortage of activities to keep you busy during the day either: swimming, mountain bike trials, canoeing, kayaking or just relaxing with a book on one of the beautiful beaches, but one of my favourite things to do here is hike. Silent Lake has three hiking trails to address the varying skills of its camping inhabitants: the 1.5km Lakehead Loop, the 3km Bonnie’s Pond Trial, and my favourite, the 15km Lakeshore Hiking Trail. This more challenging trail takes 6 hours to complete (we did it in 4.5 hours), and takes you around the beautiful lake over a variety of terrains, and by some beautiful panoramic views.
Consider yourself very lucky if you end up with a rain free trip, but as most campers know – it’s best to have a back up plan in case the weather keeps you off the water. In this case Silent Lake is just a short drive from the charming town of Bancroft. Here in this small town you can enjoy a nice meal and pint on a patio, take in a variety of art or music festivals (should your timing be correct), or visit any one of the area museums. This year, thanks to a friendly neighbouring camper we tried something new: rockhounding.
Every year thousands of mineral enthusiasts flock to this area to mine the variety of minerals, gems and even gold. We went to Princess Sodalite Mine Rock Shop, where, behind the shop, you can “mine” for over a 100 different variety of minerals and gems. It’s free to go in and mine, and you can take your treasures home for only $1.50/lb – a great activity for those with children (although, the child-free will have just as much fun).
For those who want an more adventurous rockhounding experience (and who have their own tools), you can join the various mining tours which leave Bancroft early morning for neighbouring caves and old mines. This longer committment is sure to bring in some admirable treasures (I’m saving this excursion for my next trip). If you do find yourself addicted then you can return to Bancroft for the annual Rockhound Gemboree.
No trip out to Kawartha/Haliburton region is complete without a stop at Kawartha Dairy Company. Here you can stock up on the BEST chocolate milk made in Canada, as well as their famous ice cream. I recommend the “baby” size which is deceptively named (you get a fist full size of their homemade goodness for under $3). You can’t go wrong with their classic “Moose Tracks” because who doesn’t love tiny peanut butter cups in their ice cream? I vowed to try a new flavour with every visit, which should keep me busy until I die since they have over 50 flavours (take that Baskin Robbins). This visit I devoured Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Death by Chocolate (yes, I had ice cream twice during my camping trip – how can you not??); both flavours a party for my senses.
So there you have it – the perfect camping trip according to me, at Silent Lake Provincial Park. If you have yet to experience sitting around a campfire, and then cozying up to a loved one in a tent, then I implore you to give it a try. I promise you won’t regret it.