Imagine a quiet fall afternoon. Your car is gliding down a rolling hill. There’s a sparkling lake to your left. The maple trees to your right are bursting with colour.
Is that.. a butter tart factory in the distance?!
Yes, yes it is. This is the Kawarthas. Less than 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, yet it feels like a different world!
My boyfriend and I have made a point of coming here for at least a few nights each summer and fall because you really need to experience both seasons in this beautiful part of Ontario. Whether we’re lapping in luxury at a lakeside resort or hanging out with rescued pot-belly pigs, we always manage to explore a new part of the region. I’m compiling some of our favourite spots into one scenic road trip, the best things to do and small towns to visit in the Kawartha Lakes.
Get your weekender bag ready! Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and keep that phone battery charged.
The fresh air (and butter tarts) are waiting for you!
The BEST Things to do in Kawartha Lakes: Scenic Road Trip Itinerary
Day Trip to Peterborough
Would you like some city with that country?
Peterborough is the perfect place to begin your trip to Kawartha Lakes. It’s remote enough that bears can still wander into town (not kidding!). But still large enough to have all of the city amenities that you may be used to, so make a day trip out of it! There are a surprising amount of things to do in Peterborough.
Go ahead and check out some of the cool local shops like Tribal Voices (beautiful crystals, candles & home decor) and Wild Rock Outfitters (outdoor gear & sporting equipment perfect to use on your trip). Grab a bite to eat at Soupcon, the Brickhouse Craft Burger or the Electric City Bread Company. I highly recommend visiting the Silver Bean Cafe in the morning. Great coffee and a riverfront patio! From here, you can also walk or take a bike ride down to the Rail Bridge, which is now for pedestrians only and offers some more great views of the Otanabee River.
I’m actually writing this from a chic studio Airbnb apartment in downtown Peterborough. If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, what’s stopping you? It’s easy and sometimes more cost-effective than a hotel. Be sure to sign up using my link for $70 off your first stay! But if Airbnb isn’t your thing, check out the Best Western Otanabee Inn. I drove past this hotel and it has the most amazing location right beside the river and near the locks – more on that in a minute.
Side Trip to Doube’s Trestle Bridge
If you bring your bicycle to Peterborough, you’re in luck. My favourite trail in the Kawartha Lakes actually starts in Peterborough at Jackson Park, which is worth a stroll on its own to be honest. From here, you can bike onto the Trans Canada Trail and make your way to Doube’s Trestle Bridge. It’s a super secluded spot offering beautiful vistas of the landscape from atop an old rail bridge. Very easy riding and it’s usually not too busy. My boyfriend and I went hiking here last summer and I was honestly blown away. Don’t have a bike? No problem! Just drive out to Orange Corners Road and park beside the trail. It’s an easy walk from here!
Trent-Severn Waterway Scenic Drive
Now if you’re a fan of locks, waterways, bodies of water, fishing or all of the above -things are about to get really exciting! Peterborough has a number of locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway. Start at Lock 19 – Scotts Mills where you can feed the ducks and watch people paddleboarding and then make your way up to Lock 20 – Ashburnham, where you can try to catch some local carp or hang out on one of the shady benches.
But perhaps the most famous of them all is Lock 21 – Peterborough Lift Lock. This is the one the tourists flock to and for good reason, it’s an engineering marvel! Well worth the wait to see one of the boats get lifted way up into the sky. This is the perfect spot for a picnic too, as the grounds are quite nice and you can easily spend an hour walking around, or even up the lock if they’re open! On your way out, drive through the one-lane bridge on Hunter Street and be sure to honk for any oncoming traffic!
For a scenic drive out of Peterborough, turn right on Armour Road from the Peterborough Lift Lock and follow it until it becomes Nassau Mills Road. Stick to this road until it becomes Highway 32 all the way to Lakefield and you are in for one beautiful ride! There’s the river to your left, with a few more locks on the way and beautiful foliage to the right. My boyfriend has a motorcycle and swears he would ride this road every day if we lived in Peterborough.
Quick Visit to Lakefield
Lakefield is a lovely little town in Kawartha Lakes that has a charming downtown strip with boutique shops, historic churches and some great places to eat! Since it’s right on the river, it always has that waterfront charm. You can take a walk along the boardwalk just off of Water Street. Or at least stop here for a picnic.
Don’t forget to visit Lock 26! We found this one to be pretty quiet, a nice place to just sit down in the shade and enjoy the view. It’s also a great spot to go swimming! We saw lots of locals walking down the lock with towels in tow and jumping into the water below. Don’t hesitate to book a night at The Village Inn of Lakefield. Some of the rooms offer a nice view of the main street.
From here, you might want to head over to the Kawartha Buttertart Factory. As you would expect, they serve up some pretty amazing butter tarts! In tons of different flavours too. Don’t get me started on the pecan vs. raisin debate either, because the answer is always going to be pecan. But even if you don’t like butter tarts, they have plenty of other baked goods like apple fritters and cinnamon sticks – delicious!
Things to do in Douro, ON
After you fill your pockets with pastries, you can continue driving up Highway 4 in the direction of Warsaw. You will pass by some beautiful country homes and farmland, but also have a nice view of the rolling hills in the distance. There isn’t much to do in Warsaw itself, but there is a beautiful park on Rock Road called Back Dam Park, where you can hang out by the river and try to spot some turtles.
Continue up Rock Road to the Warsaw Caves Conservation Area ($) where you can easily spend an entire day exploring or even set up camp for the night. As the name suggests, the conservation area is home to a series of caves, that were formed during the last ice age. You can actually go into some of these caves to get an up-close view of the layer beneath. They also have plenty of hiking trails, a great beach and canoe rentals.
From here, head up Highway 6 to McCrackens Landing, a cute little harbour town on Stoney Lake. Although it’s mostly boaters that are docking overnight, you can grab an ice cream and hang out on the marina for a few minutes. Just a few minutes from here, my boyfriend and I visited a pig sanctuary that we found on Airbnb experiences. We spent an hour feeding, petting and learning about this herd.
Scenic Drive in North Kawarthas
Get back on Highway 6 and follow Stoney Lake. Keep your eyes peeled for some hidden local beaches too! There are a few quiet spots along this lake that offer free parking and sandy shores that are perfect for swimming. Check out this list for some more public beaches in the area.
You will soon find yourself at Petroglyphs Provincial Park ($), another natural wonder in the Kawarthas. This historic park is home to over 1000 aboriginal rock carvings, the largest and oldest collection in Canada! Although you can’t take any photos at the petroglyphs themselves, there are over 4,000 acres of wilderness for you to photograph instead. Be sure to check out McGinnis Lake, it’s known for its glimmering emerald green waters.
From here, Highway 6 turns into Northeys Bay Road. And it’s twisty! As you wind through the Kawartha forest, be mindful of any animals crossing the road! There’s a lot of deer. When you reach Woodview, turn left on Highway 28 and drive on towards Big Cedar and Burleigh Falls, which is definitely worth a stop!
Burleigh Falls is a small town in Kawartha Lakes where you can visit Lock 28 on the Trent-Severn Waterway, a long control dam and some small shops. There is a small waterfall, but as of July 2020 it’s been closed to the public due to unsafe conditions.
Where to Stay in Kawartha Lakes: Viamede Resort
If you’re in need of a place to stay in Kawartha Lakes, I highly recommend the Viamede Resort! The Viamede is a lakefront Ontario resort right on the shores of Stoney Lake.
My boyfriend and I spent two nights here last summer and loved every minute of it! The rooms are cozy, but the property itself is amazing. There’s a sandy beach, private forest trails, indoor/outdoor pool. tennis court, golf course and an on-site farm where you can go visit their animals.
They also offer free equipment to guests, like canoes, paddleboards, bicycles and snowshoes. All of the things to do in Kawartha Lakes can be done at the Viamede.
Even if you’re not staying the night, consider stopping by for lunch at the Boathouse or a fancy dinner at Mount Julian.
Quick Visit to Buckhorn & Curve Lake
Buckhorn is a beautiful small town in Kawartha Lakes and in my opinion, it has the BEST logo!
As the town name would suggest, it has a big buck in it! You can head on over to the Buckhorn Tourist Centre on Lakehurst Road to pose with the buck outside and pop in if you are looking for any Kawartha Lakes sweaters or merchandise. I wish I bought a Buckhorn sweater when I visited this summer, but at least it gives me a reason to go back!
Buckhorn is another town on the Trent-Severn Waterway and it has one of the busiest locks. It’s obviously the perfect place for boating or fishing. For a fun day trip, you can rent a canoe at Adventure Outfitters in Lakefield and paddle on over to Buckhorn to grab a bite to eat!
On top of all this, Buckhorn is also quite the cultural hub! It’s home to one of Canada’s biggest private art galleries called Gallery on the Lake, a couple of antique shops and tons of festivals.
You can take a quick side trip to Curve Lake, a First Nation territory. You can visit the Mshkiigag Wetlands, spend a quiet moment at the Pow Wow grounds at the end of Whetung St E or pop by Osh Ga Moog Variety & Gifts for some local souvenirs. To learn more about the people of Curve Lake, visit their website here.
Where to Camp in Kawartha Lakes: Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
From Buckhorn, continue up Highway 36 until you reach to Kawartha Highlands Signature Site, which is attached to the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. The parking from this access is pay and display, but the park does have some pretty fun activities!
You can head into the park for a day hike (there’s a nice bridge close to the parking lot) or experience nature’s own lazy river by bring your own tube and floating down the river! This is truly a local experience. Pop your tube in, float down the river for about 30 minutes and jump out on the left-hand side just before the rapids. If you’re feeling brave, you can try going over them! Follow the trails back to the beginning and go again if you like.
If you want to spend the night, book a Kawartha Highlands site! They are backcountry only, so you need to know your stuff! Most can only be accessed by canoe, but that’s what makes the experience so special.
For something a bit more accessible, check out Balsam Lake Provincial Park instead.
Things to do in Bobcaygeon
Follow Highway 36 to Kawartha Country Wines, of course. Even if you’re not a wine drinker, they have some wonderful ciders, sauces and jams.
Keep on the same road until you reach Bobcaygeon, also known as the “Hub of the Kawarthas”. It sits on the Trent Severn Waterway, and my favourite lock, number 34! You can sit on one of the picnic benches and boat watch for an afternoon.
The lock is within an easy walking distance of downtown Bobcaygeon, which is home to a number of cool shops, like Kawartha Lifestyle (they have some awesome Bobcaygeon merch), London Trading Post (full of British classic clothing) and Ring & Grove (for handmade men’s wedding bands). North of downtown, you can also find the Kawartha Settlers’ Village ($) which is an outdoor museum that is home to a collection of historic homes and artifacts. You can experience life as a Kawartha Pioneer!
If you get the chance (and are looking for a place to stay in Bobcaygeon) I highly recommend booking a night or two at Gordon’s Bobcaygeon. It’s a very unique waterfront cottage/bunkie situation, with a number of different units to choose from. They are beautifully designed and in the perfect location.
Feeling peckish? There are a lot of places to eat in Bobcaygeon. Start with Kawartha Coffee Company (they serve up great Mexican eats), Just for the Halibut and the Grilled Cheese Hideaway. Wherever you decide to eat, you MUST save room for ice cream. The most famous ice cream of them all; Kawartha Dairy.
You may have seen a tub of Kawartha Dairy at your local supermarket or Costco, but did you know that it started in Bobcaygeon? You can still visit the original store for fresh ice cream! There are tons of amazing flavours to choose from, but my favourite is Salty Caramel Truffle. No, wait… Moose Tracks. Or is it Pumpkin Pie?
The Best Small Town in Kawartha Lakes: Fenelon Falls
Take a scenic country drive down Highway 8 past the Horseless Carriage Museum until you reach the Jewel of the Kawarthas, Fenelon Falls. This is my favourite small town in Kawartha Lakes by far. There’s a little bit of everything here.
There’s a big free parking lot just behind the Little Pie Shack on Francis Street East. Park the car and set out on foot to explore Fenelon Falls! You can start by visiting their cute downtown strip with shops like the Kawartha Store, Grr8 Finds Market and the ever-photogenic Stokes Jeweler on the corner of Water & Colborne.
From there, you can head over the bridge to check out the actual falls and then visit Lock 34 on the Trent-Severn Waterway and watch the boats go by. There are plenty of places to enjoy the view.
Follow the river up to the Fenelon Falls Tourist Info and the Maryboro Lodge: The Fenelon Museum (I think it might still be closed due to COVID). And then head into Garnet Graham Beach Park, where you can pose with the Fenelon Falls sign, jump in the water for a swim or go for a bike ride on the waterfront trail!
If you fancy spending the night, check out Airbnb! We found this beautiful Riverfront Log Cabin in Fenelon Falls, where you can jump in the from your own private dock! If you aren’t signed up for Airbnb yet, sign up using my link for up to $70 off your first stay.
Consider taking a short detour to the little historic Sturgeon Point Union Church, known for its unique shape.
Scenic Drive to Kinmount
Leave Fenelon Falls via Highway 121, which follows Burnt River and passes some beautiful countryside and eventually, woods as you get closer to Kinmount. This is a beautiful historic town, right on the edge of Kawartha Lakes.
Park at the Kinmount Railway Station/Tourist Information Centre (they made a cool historic walking tour). The village blacksmith still works out of the building! Outside, you’ll find an operating model railroad, an old sawmill and an interesting Icelandic monument. The Kinmount Cascade is just a short walk away. Inside, there are some old artifacts and photos from the area. Free bathrooms too!
You can walk on the Victoria Rail Trail for a few minutes to meet back up with the road. Check out some of the historic homes on County Road 45 & Dickinson St. On Main Street, you’ll find a small downtown strip with an old school laundromat. Keep your eyes peeled for the mural on the side of the Post Office. And if you’re feeling hungry, one of the best places to eat in Kinmount is the Kinmount Fish and Chips on this same block.
Consider visiting some of the small waterfalls in the area to add to this scenic drive! North of town on Boldts Lane, you’ll find Three Brothers Falls. A beautiful and quiet spot, that is said to be haunted by a Native Indian princess. A bit further west is Moore Falls, which is more of a dam but offers some scenic vistas of Moore Lake. And south of there lies Elliott Falls, a great place for a short walk or picnic.
Although it’s an entirely different trip and region, Kinmount is also the gateway to Haliburton and a bunch of great towns up there! Maybe add a night or two onto your trip to explore this region.
Quick Visit to Coboconk
Drive down Highway 35 from Elliott Falls and pass through Norland. You can visit the Mud Turtle Dam Park (you can see the falls and walk over the dam) or stop for a bite at the Riverside Inn (they have amazing reviews).
From the same highway, you’ll reach Coboconk. This is a small town on the Gull River that is home to a pretty interesting attraction, the Fresh Water Summit. This is Canada’s highest body of freshwater from where you can sail anywhere in the world, without ever having to travel on land!
There’s a small boardwalk with some informative signs and photo ops on S. Water Street, beside Riverbank Pizza, which happens to serve up some pretty good slices too! But if you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, head over to the local favourite Pattie House. Great BBQ eats and classic Canadian dishes, like Hilbilly Poutine obviously.
On North Water Street, you can find another cool attraction: Canada’s Smallest Jail! It’s a tiny stone jail that could barely hold two prisoners. There’s no entry fee, but both times we have visited, it was locked.
If you’re looking for swimming in Kawartha Lakes, just south of Coboconk, near the corner of Balsam Lake Drive and Blanchards Rd, you can find a nice shallow, sandy public beach. There are some grassy spots that are great for a picnic too!
Best Airbnb in Kawartha Lakes
Looking for a place to stay in Kawartha Lakes?
My all-time favourite Airbnb apartment is in the Coboconk-Norland area. It’s a quiet & private walk-out basement apartment called A Peace of Eden. It’s spacious, has it’s own cooking facilities and sits on a beautiful property. You can go for plenty of hikes right from the backyard, but consider bringing their dog, Diego. We went for a short hike one evening and found ourselves face-to-face with a black bear climbing a tree!
If that place is booked already, there are a ton of beautiful cabins and cottages to rent in Kawartha Lakes on Airbnb.
If you aren’t a member of Airbnb yet, sign up for free using my referral link to get $70 off your first stay.
Side Trip to Kirkfield
From Coboconk, or the swimming spot on Balsam Lake Drive, head down Portage Rd all the way to Kirkfield. This village is home to two interesting sites; Lock 36 and the Carden Alvar Plains.
Both are just north of town. On Kirkfield Rd, you’ll reach Lock 36 first. This is the second-highest hydraulic lift lock in the entire world. It’s a pretty quiet spot too. Perfect for a late afternoon picnic, or to admire the fall colours if it’s that time of year.
A few minutes from there, you will see the Carden Alvar Important Bird Area, also called the Carden Plains. This is one of the top five birding locations in Ontario due to its unique geological formation and rare plants. If you’re likely, you can spot one of the 200+ bird species that frequent the area.
Near the edge of Kawartha Lakes, you can easily head to Lake Simcoe from here, which is home to a number of sights and small towns like Beaverton. Or stick on the side roads to enjoy the country scenery all the way down to Lindsay, our last stop! Feel free to stop at any of the local fresh farm vendors on the side of the road.
Things to Do in Lindsay, ON
The biggest city in Kawartha Lakes, Lindsay is the perfect place to end your trip to the region.
Downtown Lindsay is home to one of the widest downtown streets in Ontario! Apparently it was designed to be wide enough to fit a four-horse hitch carriage. On this photogenic downtown strip, you’ll find a number of cool businesses. Support a local business by popping into Olde Mill Candle Co or the Kent Bookstore.
A few blocks from here is the Olde Gaol Museum, a beautiful old jailhouse that now houses some interesting artifacts.
Head down to the Old Mill Park beside Lock 33 on the Trent-Severn Waterway. You can walk on the boardwalk, admiring the old stone ruins of the mill and watching the turtles swim in the river. It’s the prettiest part of Lindsay for sure!
There is almost an endless supply of good places to eat in Lindsay, but I definitely recommend visiting Ziggy’s Fish and Chips (for classic British fish and chips) or the Olympia (for delicious Mediterranean cuisine). Stop by Boiling Over’s Coffee Vault for breakfast or just to enjoy an amazing cup of coffee. Grab one of the seats outside if you can!
If you’re not quite ready to end your trip to Kawartha Lakes, consider booking a night at the Days Inn & Suites in Lindsay. It was recently renovated, backs onto the Trans-Canada Trail (perfect for cyclists) and gets amazing reviews.
The Peterborough & Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario is truly something special. There is an endless supply of places to visit, eat and stay. Obviously, I couldn’t cover all of these places in one post, so for further reading check out some of these resources:
Please share any of your scenic drives/hidden gems in the comments below! And if you’re in need of more Ontario travel inspiration, check out my recent post on the best small towns in Ontario.