Ontario: Exploring the Kawarthas
This hidden gem offers super trail riding
Story by Craig Nicholson, The Intrepid Snowmobiler, Mar 23, 2009
Thanks to its northerly positioning and topography, Ontario has a multitude of exceptional snowmobiling destinations and regions. Over the years, some have acquired great reputations, while other very worthy locales seem to fly just below the radar screen. For instance, Muskoka or Haliburton seem to be more top of mind with visiting riders than the Kawarthas. Yet the Kawartha Lakes remain very popular with those in the know…a hidden gem that offers super trail riding!
One of Ontario’s premier summer cottaging areas, the Kawarthas is located between the City of Peterborough to the south and the town of Bancroft to the north. Comprising the easterly part of OFSC District 2, clubs here operate over 1,500 kilometers of trails, primarily located north of the main chain of Kawartha Lakes. The terrain ranges from rugged Canadian Shield to forested backcountry, and from picturesque lakelands to scenic hill and dale. And because wherever you ride in the Kawarthas is cottage country, services and amenities are never far away.
Over the years, I’ve snowmobiled the Kawarthas many times. Part of what makes it a great sledding destination is the variety of trails. The clubs have laid their trails on many forest access roads, unopened road allowances, utility corridors and abandoned rail lines. These underlying surfaces make for a more uniform base so that when snow falls, groomers can deliver more consistently smooth and durable trails. Best of all, despite the region’s plethora of lakes, trails in the Kawarthas are primarily land-based, making for a season that is less ice dependent…and for safer riding too!
Another factor that contributes to the Kawarthas’ riding experience is the commitment of its primary clubs to operating and maintaining outstanding trails. For riders, this means that travelling from one club to another there is no apparent change in trail quality, width or consistency…and that makes for a more enjoyable, confident ride. This commitment to trails is also evident early in the season, when several of these clubs typically have at least some of their trails groomed and ready to ride before anyone else does.
Located about two hours northeast of the Greater Toronto Area, the Kawarthas is easily accessible by 4-lane highway for either day rides or long weekend getaways. Just find Peterborough on an Ontario road map, and then drive north on either Highway 28 or 35 or take #62 from Belleville. The Kawarthas is also very convenient to the Buffalo border crossings. Popular staging areas include the Buckhorn & District clubhouse (1.5 km east of Buckhorn on Highway 36), two parking lots on Highway 507 (north of Flynn’s General Store), the Fenelon Falls Beach parking lot (just west of Highway 121), the Sandman Inn (Hwy 28 Apsley), Trudy’s General Store (Highway 62) and the Paudash Trailblazers (off Highway 28 near Dyno Estates) or Old Hastings Snow Riders clubhouses (Highway 62 at L’Amable).
I have several favorite day rides through the Kawarthas. One starts at the Buckhorn clubhouse and loops northeast to Apsley and Wilberforce, then southwest towards Bobcaygeon and back to Buckhorn. Another launches from Apsley and heads north to Harcourt before looping through Wilberforce and Tory Hill and back to Apsley. The third sets out from Trudy’s General Store and beelines north through Bancroft, then west to Cardiff and circles back through Coe Hill. Each of these loops can include other local trails to be shorter or longer depending on your time, riding companions and the conditions.
You can also combine these loops and others into a long weekend getaway of great Kawarthas snowmobiling. Good choices for staging motels include the Sandman Inn, Apsley; Viamede Resort, Stony Lake; Royal Resort, Fenelon Falls; or the Best Western, Bancroft. From these, you can spend several days exploring not only the OFSC District 2 trails in the Kawarthas, but also connecting trails from districts 3, 6 and 8. If you stay in Bancroft, you also have the opportunity to loop farther east into the adjacent and very popular Mazinaw region of District 2.
Throughout District 2, trail signage is uniformly good, especially at intersections. Services and amenities are available and easily accessible. The district map (title: Central Eastern Area Snowmobile Region) is well laid out and very legible, with navigation assisted by the inclusion of road and lake names. All trails are numbered on the map, with corresponding number signs on the trail. In short, getting around the Kawarthas is easy, so first time visitors will find their way around without worries about getting lost.
An integral but behind-the-scenes factor in the success of Kawarthas snowmobiling is the organization of OFSC District 2 itself. Bringing the region’s clubs together as a cohesive unit has resulted in consistent, uniform and reliable trails across the district that snowmobilers can count on for a great ride, time after time. Add in dependable snowfall and effective grooming, and you’ve got the winning recipe that makes the Kawarthas one of Ontario’s best snowmobiling destinations!
Craig Nicholson is the author of “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling — Your Ultimate Ride Guide”. His syndicated column “The Intrepid Snowmobiler” appears in newspapers throughout North America. He also hosts “The Intrepid Snowmobiler on Radio” and appears regularly on Snowmobiler Television. For more info, visit IntrepidSnowmobiler.com.