Kawartha Highlands provincial Park - Weekend on Rathbun & North Rathbun Lakes.

This was our first time paddling in the interior of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.  The park is fairly new in provincial park standards and, since 2011, it now requires specific site reservations for interior camping.

Our trip was just a short leisurely introduction to the park as we only had a 3 day weekend available.  We booked the first night on North Rathbun and the second on Rathbun Lake.  The whole trip only consisted of 14km of paddling and four portages (Two done twice).  

We launched at the Anstruther Lake access on Friday morning. Anstruther Lake is a big lake with the shorelines littered with cottages and the body of water full of fast motorboats. Due to its size, the wind and waves can be an issue due. But getting through this lake is a necessary price to pay to get to the more secluded lakes as Anstruther does not have interior campsites. Once you get through the lake and find the 162 metre portage to Rathbun Lake, the park gets considerably quieter. However, to our surprise (we should have studied the map closer), Rathbun also has cottages and, therefore, motorboats. Thankfully, not as many; not as large.

Heading To the Portage on Rathbun Lake


Rathbun Lake is quite a few metres above Anstruther Lake, making the portage a steep uphill climb.  Anstruther Falls to the right of the portage was very picturesque.  Rathbun Lake itself is very scenic with its rocky outcrops and shallow bays.

We paddled on to North Rathbun which included another uphill portage of similar length (164 metres). Now we were in an area that was much quieter and peaceful. We booked the first campsite on the lake and enjoyed the rest of the day and evening in solitude.  Our site faced northwest and was not in view of any other site. Only a few canoes paddled by during afternoon on their way to the end of the lake or further on to Serpentine.

End of the Portage at North Rathbun


After setting up camp and gathering some firewood, we settled in for a relaxing evening. It was heavily overcast all day and evening, so our hopes to shoot tonight’s night skies or catch the tail end of the meteor shower was doubtful. Thunder and lightning was creeping in on us from the west, getting louder with each occurance. It was soon over us and passed without too much aggression. The remainder of the night was very peaceful with only the crickets “cricketeering” and the katydids chirping.

The next morning, the rain started before sunrise and continued in the the early daylight hours. We were quite comfortable in our tent, waiting for it to cease as we were in no rush to break camp this morning. The site specific reserving changes the way we camp as our next site could be occupied well into the day. When the rain subsided, we were quickly out, making coffee and enjoying the solitude. We didn’t see a sole while on our site that day. We did have a visit from a Broad-winged Hawk that landed on the large Pine tree on our site.  We heard a pair of Sandhill Cranes and soon sighted them as they flew just over the treetops right above us. Loons were around as well as Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-eyed Vireos, nuthatches, jays and crows.

Campsite on North Rathbun


Our next site was back on Rathbun Lake so we returned to the portage and heading back that way. Our site was at the north end of the lake facing south. There was a cottage on an island right in front of the site, but thankfully, it was placed on the other side, so we could hear them but we rarely seen them.

The campsite was classic. It was large and placed beautifully high, overlooking the lake, on a bit of a protruding outcrop.  It had areas in full sun and plenty of shade from the Oak and Pine trees scattered about. It had a huge shoreline offering perfect swimming areas and a wonderful view with the big southern sky above us. Before setting up camp, we took advantage of the warm sun and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the cool waters. The dragonflies and butterflies were everywhere. Through the day, we saw lots more loons, toads, frogs, turtles and two separate sightings of the Five-Line Skink. The second skink was younger as it had a very beautiful distinct blue tail.

Cloudy Skies over Rathbun Lake


We set up camp and gathered firewood for the night. The scattered clouds broke up the hot sun giving us a very comfortable day and we were quite optimistic for the possibility of a great night sky.

It was early evening as we were getting the fire going when we heard an unfamiliar distant sound coming from behind our site.  It was very still and quiet and it sounded like we could actually hear the small waterfall that was around the bend. However, the sound was getting louder and we soon concluded that it could not be the waterfall after all. Within less than half a minute the noise was much louder and suddenly  upon us; it was a storm coming in with a vengeance along with high winds pouring rain. We had to scramble and get the camera equipment in their protected pelican boxes and all our camping gear under the tarp before it was too late. We sat under the tarp and watched the rain put out our fire.  Our hard work of gathering and preparing the firewood for a nice night under the stars looked like it was all in vain. Needless to say, we were very disappointed with this surprise attack

When the storm passed, we were glad to see some surviving ambers in our fire pit. Fanning it with our food barrel lid, we managed to revive the fire and place the wet wood around the flames to dry. As each piece looked dry enough, it was feed to the fire.

The cottagers on the other side of the lake were out of sight, but definitely not beyond hearing. The music was loud and the voices carried over the still waters. Then came the fireworks. We could not actually see them but we could see the light bouncing off the clouds, looking like sheet lightning. And they were loud. Not the usual interior camping experience.

The clouds moved very slowly and we waited patiently for the stars to start to reveal themselves. It was quite late, but we did manage to try to get a few night sky pictures before retiring to bed. All night long, the trees dripped heavily as if it was still raining.

Night Skies After the Storm


The morning was calm with the mist rising from the bays. If it weren’t for the early morning motorboats, it would have been a lovely awakening. We packed up early and proceeded back to the access point. But we first had to do one more portage and still paddle through the busy Anstruther Lake. 

Early Morning View from our tent


We were very impressed with our maiden visit to the Kawarthas interior. While we were there, we spent some time looking at the map of the entire park, exploring some of the other opportunities that may be available. There are plenty of paddling options and we will be soon planning our next adventure in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.