If you don’t have a boat, but love a good car trip, you can enjoy the best of Central Ontario by wheeling your way along the route of the Trent-Severn Waterway on land. You’ll still get a chance to enjoy the rural scenery, the quaint towns, and the waterside views that boaters see as they explore the lock system. It’s a wonderful way to disappear for a holiday that is relaxing and rejuvenating as you crank up some tunes and see the sights.
While you can enjoy six full days along this route, if you want to slow it down, book every time to savour every minute along your route.
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Day One – Trent Region
Murray Canal Bridge – This eight-kilometre canal connects the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario, with bridges leading to Brighton and Carrying Place. Stop in to learn about how it was dug out between 1882-1889 to provide an alternative shipping route to the treacherous waters surrounding Prince Edward County. Details
Trenton – Take in the sites and sounds of downtown Trenton before visiting Lock 1. Do not forget to visit the National Air Force Museum of Canada that boasts of over 75,000 square feet of display space attached to the massive 16-acre outdoor park.
Lock 1 at Trenton – Start your journey by stopping by this exit from Lake Ontario into the first lock of the 386-kilometre waterway ahead. Watch for the bridge painted with Gateway to the Trent-Severn Waterway. Take the Loyalist Parkway from Hwy. 401 and watch for the signs. The staff here welcome visitors who are keen to learn about how locks work, so consider this a primer as you stop and watch lock operations on your journey.
Lockmaster’s house at Lock 4 – Stop in at Batawa to take a peek back in time via the Lockmaster’s House. The stone-and-brick structure was built in the 1920s so the lockmaster would be available whenever someone arrived. He kept a lantern in the window to signal when he was ‘open’ for business. Parks Canada maintains this vintage home via exceptional detail, giving you a chance to experience canal as it was decades ago. Details
The Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge in Campbellford – Tap into your sense of adventure as you cross the Trent River 30 feet above the water via a 300-foot swing bridge. Even better, it takes you from Lock 11-12 to Ferris Provincial Park where you can hike. Afterward, drive a few blocks to downtown Campbellford for a selfie with a giant Toonie statue (its designer hails from here) and amazing donuts at Dooher’s Bakery, crowned the Sweetest Bakery in Canada. You’re also a short drive from a chocolate factory and Empire Cheese outlet store.
Day Two – Kawartha Region/Rice Lake
Rice Lake –The area around Rice Lake includes several small towns and two reservations, Hiawatha and Alderville, and they offering something for everyone.
Pause your voyage to enjoy a relaxing time at Elmhirst Resort on Rice Lake. Rent a boat to go out on the water or take in the spa services. The resort also offers an on-site escape maze, plus packages for flights over the area, fishing the lake or painting local scenes. All this is on top of fine dining and comfortable accommodation.
Day Three – Kawartha Region/Peterborough
Peterborough Lift Lock at Lock 21 – This engineering marvel is the highest lift lock in the world, looming almost 20 metres over the Trent Canal. You can watch it take boaters up and down or jump aboard via a Lift Lock Cruise. During the day, you can ride up the lift lock while having lunch for $52.50. Or you can catch a Canadian Canoe Museum’s Voyageur Tour, which includes a 90-minute paddle along the canal and ride up and down the Peterborough Lift Lock in a 25-foot Voyageur Canoe. The boat holds up to 20 people for $25 each per adult and $19 per youth.
Lakefield (Lock 26) – Just 10 minutes north of Peterborough, take a stroll about this picturesque town, Lakefield offers a beautiful boardwalk along the Otonabee River and a lovely beach. Its shops’ specialties range from Celtic clothing to local scenery paintings to tarts and original ice cream flavours. You can see the school where Prince Andrew took his high school studies or the house where Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence wrote her final masterpieces. Depending on when you arrive, you can enjoy the dragon and fairy festival, jazz fest or literary festival.
Stoney Lake Cruise – North of Peterborough, tour the lake where an increasing number of Canadian celebrities are settling in for the summer. Catch a ride on the Spirit of the Kawarthas out of Woodview and see the fabulous homes and scenery. One of the highlights in the Glass House built right into the rock. Lunch cruises cost $60 per person with a Friday barbecue package for $80 and prime rib on Saturday nights for $90.
Day Four – Bobcaygeon to Kirkfield
Bobcaygeon –This town was captured in a Tragically Hip song for a reason. It has countless charms, from the waterfront parks to the pier where you can talk with boaters from all over the world to one of the finest shoe stores in the province. Bigley’s Shoes and Clothing has a complex of buildings for footwear, beachwear and accessories. Tour the Kawartha Settlers’ Village, stay overnight so you can catch a show at the Lakeview Arts Barn and the stunning Gallery on the Lake in nearby Buckhorn.
Lindsay (Lock 33) – Get out and stretch your legs by touring this town’s picturesque and vibrant downtown. Trek a little further to the Olde Gaol Museum for a history lesson and reward yourself with a cone from the Kawartha Dairy’s drive-through shop. (It also has a walk-up window.)
Fenelon Falls (Lock 34) – After you admire the famous step fallsalong the main street, stick around to explore the limestone walkways and unique shops. The Kawartha Store provides original Canadian gifts and you’ll want to try one of the village’s legendary butter tarts.
Kirkfield Lift Lock (Lock 36) – This 15-metre rise or drop is also a thrilling ride along the waterway. Stop for lunch at the diner or the picnic area, then walk up to the top of the lock to watch the boats load and unload.
Day Five – Simcoe Region
Beaverton waterfront – Alsops Beach and the pier in Beaverton offer a lovely respite as you walk out and admire Ontario’s fourth largest inland lake. A stroll along the main street will delight you with unique shops and the option of 10 different restaurants, serving excellent fish and chips.
Mara Provincial Park – The beach alone is worth the visit even if you drop by on a day that isn’t great for swimming. The view of Lake Simcoe stirs the soul as you stop and breathe in the fresh air. You can fish from shore or just let the kids loose on the playground. The park’s interior roads are also safe for walking or cycling if you want to stretch your legs.
Orillia – Skip across the bridge to discover the arts and shopping in this quaint downtown. You’ll find 150 shops and more than 30 places to dine and unwind along Mississaga Street. Pick up a few mementos and sweets from bakeries that specialize in handcrafted treats. You can head out on the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to explore the waterfront up close.
Stay in Orillia or drive to Casino Rama.
Day Six – Severn Region
Casino Rama – Even if you are not a gambler, it’s worth stopping in to see this luxury hotel, spa and entertainment venue. Its upcoming lineup (2021) includes comedian Russell Peters and singers Ringo Starr, Martina McBride, Melissa Etheridge and other mega-stars. It features 10 different restaurants on-site as well. After being on the road for days, this is a delectable treat for all your senses. Details
From Casino Rama, follow Lake Simcoe via Rama, Washago to reach Big Chute Marine Railway at Lock 44.
The Big Chute Marine Railway at Lock 44 –This impressive lift removes boats from the water and carries them in individual cradles across about 60 feet from the Severn River into Georgian Bay. It’s the only marine railway of its kind in North America and it is fascinating to watch. Pick up a takeout lunch from the nearby Riverhouse Restaurant and enjoy the show.
White’s Falls – Less than 10 minutes off Hwy. 400, north of Port Severn, you will find a gem of a waterfall and a place to cool off. Follow White’s Falls Road (Muskoka District Road 34) to find the spectacular site of the rocky falls, with an area to tip your toes in the water below. Bring a life jacket and swim shoes since the current is extraordinarily strong.
Port Severn – End your journey at Port Severn (Lock 45), the final lock, the smallest lock on the Waterway.
Of course, you can always linger for longer if you fall in love with the area. Come back and visit again, wandering more off the beaten path to truly discover all the wonderful sights and flavours of the area.