Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, Part 1

the nunikani lake loop, september 27th-28th, 2014


big hawk lake, frost centre

Finding a weekend backcountry trip is usually pretty easy for us. Most of our trip ideas have come from Kevin Callan’s book Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario, and this route was no different. After briefly thumbing the pages for the millionth time, we decided to check out the “Nunikani Lake Loop” in Haliburton Highlands’ Frost Centre. Booking a reservation online was very similar to using the Ontario Parks website, except instead of picking up a permit at an access point, we could just print off the booking and go.

september suntanning

september suntanning

Fabulous weather! We showed up to the access point at Big Hawk Lake Marina in shorts and t-shirts. Bought a more detailed map at the marina (we looked in Toronto, but it had sold out everywhere) and pushed off the gravel beach into Big Hawk Lake.

Very friendly cottagers on the shore. Every single one said hello to us as we paddled by, asked if we were camping, and when we answered that yes, we were, this statement was met with varying degrees of, “Cool!” “Awesome!” and “Beautiful weekend for it!”. This almost came as a shock to us, because as I was researching the route I had learned that before the area was managed under Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, the locals had been very upset with the crown land campers that went through. I had even read about canoeists returning to their sites to find their tents slashed! It seems as if creating a reservation system has really helped to improve relations between cottagers and campers. Everyone we met was so nice.

no confusion here

no confusion here




It wasn’t long until we reached the only portage of the day, which was a clearly marked, wide and easy trail. I (almost) enjoy portaging in the fall. The leaves have started to turn, there are no mosquitos, it’s less humid. Fall portaging, to me, is almost like a lovely little hike with a giant pack.




on the other side of the portage, two seconds later

setting a course

setting a course

In no time whatsoever we were heading out into Clear Lake to find our designated campsite for the night. It was a very pretty lake, and we found our campsite easily. Unfortunately, when we booked it we didn’t realize how close it would be to a cottage across the bay, and we certainly didn’t expect to hear a leaf-blower blasting away for five continuous hours, but that’s exactly what happened. It was probably the noisiest afternoon we’ve ever spent in the bush. It didn’t stop me from going for a little swim and having a good nap in the sun, though. I fell asleep flat on my face for a couple hours. Andrew was so bored that he just took creepy photos of me while I was sleeping.

sleeping beauty, creepy shadow-perv

sleeping beauty, creepy shadow-perv




When I eventually woke up, we made a dinner of smoked sausages cooked over the fire, dehydrated ratatouille, and grilled bread, with hot chocolate and Creamy Beige for dessert. Thankfully the landscaping work was finished for the night after we ate our supper, and we went to bed in peace and quiet.


red pine lake portage

red pine lake portage

Packed quickly in the morning. We were tired of the power tools and wanted to continue exploring the loop. We paddled up Clear Lake and took another easy portage into Red Pine Lake. Saw some more friendly cottagers along the way, and then arrived at the portage from Red Pine into Nunikani, which avoids a small dam. It was a sunny day again so we decided to risk running the rapids below the dam, which was super-fun.


gleefully ignoring the sign on the dam


nunikani lake


no leaf blowers allowed!

We should have booked a site right on Nunikani. The lake has no cottages, and motorboats (and presumably leaf-blowers) are prohibited. We spent a few hours exploring the campsites, and carried over another easy portage beside a second dam on our way back to Big Hawk Lake.


looking north from the dam between big hawk and nunikani

Paused for a bit of fishing below the dam. Andrew caught a trophy-size fish! It won the trophy for being the smallest fish ever. I think the lure he caught it on was larger than the fish itself.


impressive, babe!


fall colours

It was such a beautiful weekend, so we took our time getting back to the car. We agreed that Haliburton Highlands was an excellent place for an easy weekend in the backcountry, and also that next time we would just head straight for Nunikani Lake instead of Leaf Blower Alley. Even with that noisy campsite, it was still a great little trip. Aren’t they always?


’til next time, haliburton

4 thoughts on “Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, Part 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.