The Happy Camper: The Journey of Paddling Ontario’s Lake Country

The Happy Camper is back from his Ontario paddling journey. But did he enjoy it?

A few paddlers labelled me negatively on social media when I embarked on my 120-kilometre canoe trip across central Ontario. I get it. It was a soft journey compared to some of my past trips in the far north. There was only one portage, half the time I slept on a cozy bed at a lodge or a kid’s camp, and I frequently resupplied treats and booze at marinas along the way. It did have some difficulties, such as fighting a head wind on the massive Lake Couchinching, dealing with a severe heat wave the entire week, and waiting patiently among speed boats and yachts at four locks situated along the Trent-Severn Waterway. But I loved every minute of it.

The route began at Black River Wilderness Park along the Black River, just north of Orilla and Lake Simcoe. From there I paddled down the Black River, up the Green River, across Lake Couchiching, down Severn River (part of the Trent-Severn Waterway),  along Georgian Bay and then up the North River and Coldwater Creek, to end in the quaint hamlet of Coldwater.


The rapids on the Black River were an incredible adrenaline rush. The translucent colour of the Green River was transfixing. Lake Couchinching was an absolute blessing. The Severn River section of the Trent-Severn Waterway is the best in its full 386-kilometre stretch, with pine glad granite and deep blue water. Each lock I passed through was an historic masterpiece, with the best being the marine railway at Big Chute, feeling like a roller coaster ride. The fastness of Georgian Bay didn’t disappoint. And the labyrinth of marsh and sedge grass along the North River and Coldwater Creek was alive with countless bird species. Add to that a night in a yurt at the Black River Wilderness Park, another at the legendary YMCA Geneva Park on Lake Couchiching, another at the elaborate BayView Wildwood Resort on Sparrow Lake and a couple more camped along the locks.

I also met some incredible people along the way. There was Kory Snache (Snake) of Rama First Nations who educated me on how his peoples once used the waterway I was paddling along; restaurant owners at R-Cottage who fed me a free and delicious meal while I portaged through the town of Washago; great chats with the environmental groups Couchiching Conservancy and Severn Sound Environmental Association; inspiring words given to me by youth leaders at the YMCA camp, sharing time with a family who were celebrating their 40th year at the Bayview Wildwood Resort, watching the Parks Canada staff at each lock truly enjoying their job, and a scattering of cottage and yacht owners handing me a cold bottle of water on a blistering hot day.

It created an incredible journey; one that I’d do again in a heartbeat.

Check out my video series of the trip “Paddling Ontario’s Lake Country” on my KCHappyCamper You Tube channel.


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