The famed Trent-Severn waterway is the perfect northern getaway. You can spend idle, relaxing days anchored in solitude, while being never too far away from marinas and scenic, shore-side towns offering several services.
It’s possible to cruise the entire 386-kilometre system from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay in a week or so, but you’ll want to take as much time as you can to enjoy everything the waterway has to offer.
Trenton to Gamebridge
Access to the Trent system is via the Trent River that flows into Lake Ontario just off the Bay of Quinte at Trenton. Located half way between Kingston and Toronto, Trenton is a great place to stop or stay overnight with its marina services, transient slips, local restaurants, pubs and cafes. The shopping is also excellent. For shore-side comfort, hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts are just minutes away from the water.
Heading north along the waterway, the first lock is called the Greenhorn, for obvious reason. Friendly and capable staff are ready to help novice boaters. If it’s your first time, or you’re not sure of the procedure be sure to tell them. They are more than willing to give you all the help you need. There are 18 more locks from here to Rice Lake, so it’s best to get started on the right foot.
Lock two is under the Highway 401 bridge. Now the landscape transforms to wide-open, scenic farmland and forests. Cruising towards Stirling, you’ll go through two more locks where the original homes of the first lock masters still stand.
Approaching the community of Frankford, don’t be surprised to see wild turkeys along the banks. The town is considered the wild turkey capital of Ontario. The fishing is good, too for bass, muskellunge and walleye.
The excellent fishing continues through Percy Reach, situated just downstream from lock eight, if you feel like stretching your legs, you can walk the Centennial Hiking Trail, from lock eight to nine. It’s an easy trail - less than three kilometers and a “birder’s” delight. The trail goes through Murray Marsh, which is known for its excellent bird watching – so take your binoculars, and your reference guide.
The scenery along the Trent waterway is like a good book. Going around every bend is like turning a page to find something new and interesting.
The cruise to Campbellford is no exception…old stone walls and grazing cattle take you back in time 100 years but as you approach Campbellford and Old Mill Park, the facilities are right up to date. The transient slips are downtown and complete with shorepower, washrooms and laundromats. It’s also the ideal place to stock up on supplies or check out the area’s restaurants and shopping.
Back on the water, if you forgot to top up your water supply in Cambellford nearby is lock 13 with a fresh water pump. At locks 16 and 17 - the flight locks at Healey Falls - you’ll be lifted 55 feet. This is a great place for the family in the summer the waterfall’s cooling mist is only a 15-minute walk from the locks - an ideal place to cool off on hot summer days. Following Healy Falls is Lock 18 at Hastings. This is where you’ll be lifted nine feet. It’s also the last lock until you reach Peterborough.
From Hastings, the Trent River begins to widen and leads into Rice Lake. Boats with deeper draft should stay in the channel through this lake. It’s shallow and there are stone cribs remaining from an old railway bridge… but don’t make the mistake of just passing through. Look around.
Some say Rice Lake is the province’s most prolific lake. The fishing is superb and is home to many popular tournaments. Just upstream on the Indian River is the village of Keene, one of the closest spots to Lang’s Pioneer Village - a living museum with festivals and scheduled demonstrations of early European settlers.
The lake is also where you find Serpent Mounds Provincial Park, honouring the First Nations people who settled there more than 2,000 years ago. In fact, near a stand of ancient oaks on a hilltop are nine burial mounds that give the park its name. Eight mounds make up the traditional oval but the ninth is a snake-like zigzag stretching nearly 200 feet long and 30 feet wide.
Leading from Rice Lake is the Otonabee River, taking you to Peterborough. You’ll want to stop as it offers several transient slips and many amenities including antique stores, museums, theatres, cinemas and countless restaurants. Every Wednesday and Saturday, plan to stay overnight and enjoy the free live concerts downtown at Little Lake. You may also want to participate in the regular boat parade that rounds out with fireworks.
One of the highlights of the system is lock 21 and its 65-foot hydraulic lift lock, the largest lock of its type in the world and this year marks its 101st anniversary.
Heading from Little Lake to Nassau Mills, the Otonabee and the Trent Canal separate for a few miles as you continue to head north, lock by lock. At Nassau Mills is a manual lock, which explains the length of the approach walls of the lock-side park. The steep journey to Lakefield is a scenic one and leads into the Kawartha Lakes.
This is the area where Catharine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna Moodie lived and wrote about early pioneer life. Many Upper Canadian frame houses still stand there. This area is so scenic you could spend your entire vacation in its surroundings. The shoreline encompasses old log cabins, boathouses and gothic frame cottages. You can fish or drop anchor in an isolated cove. On land is just as exciting, thanks to several golf courses, museums, art galleries, and of course, shopping.
The last lift is at Lock 35 in Rosedale, which will take you into Balsam Lake and the highest elevation on the system. Coboconk is nearby if you need fuel, supplies, or a relaxing break from the helm.
Once you hit Kirkfield and its lift lock, you begin the downhill journey into Georgian Bay. The second largest lift lock in North America is Lock 36 as it takes you nearly 50 feet down from Balsam Lake back into the Trent Canal system.
The final five locks are in close succession (all within four miles) on the Talbot River, before you arrive on Lake Simcoe. Lock 37 is Bolsover and its the deepest manual lock on the Trent at 22 feet - the total drop from here to Lake Simcoe is 75 feet - just imagine the rush of the rapids down this slope before the dams went in.
Another manual lock is at Gamebridge. It was built 100 years ago in 1906 and the original construction still stands. Locking takes approximately 20 minutes, providing enough time to ask the lock hands about the weather on Simcoe, which is the largest lake until you reach to Georgian Bay.
For more information about boating in Ontario, click here.