Situated in the heart of the Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough is a wonderland of water.
This small city in Central Ontario is the perfect jumping-off point to explore “bright waters and happy lands”—the literal meaning of the Kawarthas, a string of nearby glacier-carved lakes. But you’ll find plenty to do in town, too. Both the Otonabee River and the canals of the Trent-Severn Waterway (which links Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario) wind right through Peterborough. The former is lined with good beaches, while the latter runs through the world’s tallest lift lock. Downtown’s Del Crary Park, on the waters of Little Lake, rocks with a summer music festival.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park The second-largest provincial park in Ontario, Kawartha Highlands offers a wilderness experience, just an hour north of Peterborough. Backcountry campsites are available, accessed only by canoe. Hike through the Canadian shield or paddle along six recommended routes (maps are available in the park office), and spot osprey, great blue herons, and loons, whose distinctive and beautiful call will lull you to sleep at night. Beavermead Park A city park with 95 sites, Beavermead offers camping right in the heart of town. Head to the beach to swim, build sandcastles or play some beach volleyball, or grab a canoe or kayak and paddle under the Centennial Fountain in Little Lake, which shoots 75 metres into the air. And you can explore on two wheels, too, along the Rotary Greenway Trail, which runs right through the park, stretching seven kilometers past the beaches at Rogers Cove, all the way along the river to Trent University. Emily Provincial Park Less than 20 minutes northwest of Peterborough, the calm waters of the Pigeon River here are favourite for families. Swimming is shallow, and warm, and it’s a perfect place to learn canoeing—you can rent one at the park store. And fishing, too—the river is filled with walleye, bass, and big muskies. Silent Lake Provincial Park This park really is quiet—the namesake lake doesn’t allow any boat with a motor. It’s all very peaceful and self-contained—the campgrounds connect to two sandy beaches, two mountain bike loops (one 11 kilometres in length, the other 17), plus a series of hiking trails, including one that circumnavigates the lake.
Summers in this corner of Southern Ontario are hot, well-suited to all sorts of aquatic adventures, and you’ll find the best swimming in these deep, cold lakes in July and August. In fall, the foliage changes to red, orange and gold, and if you’re okay with chilly nights, the camping can stretch through September and October, which are mostly mosquito-free. Winters are cold but rewarding for those who love skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating, perhaps on the frozen canal.
- With big-city Toronto just 90 minutes down the road, parks can get busy and campgrounds book up quickly in summer—the wise book well in advance. - Pick up the region’s freshest produce at one of two farmer’s markets: one downtown that runs on Wednesdays, the other near the Memorial Centre arena on Saturdays. - While there’s a comprehensive public transit system in the city, you’ll need a car to travel beyond city limits.