It all started when my sister-in-law turned 50. She and her husband had a lot of experience paddling down the Humber River and out into Lake Ontario, but had never gone on a back-country trip. Just picture my sister-in-law at the helm shouting “shopping cart, shopping cart” so my brother-in-law could do some fancy maneuvering to avoid a crash. Then out they would go into Lake Ontario with the “big boats”. Not exactly what you think when someone says “canoe adventure”.
Our birthday gift was a guided “canoe trip” for she and her husband. We wrapped up a dry sack and tucked a “trip certificate” in a birthday card. The next summer the four of us packed up and headed into Crab Lake – the perfect starter trip. They were hooked! They didn’t give up the Humber, but Crab Lake became a yearly adventure.
Time is more flexible now the kids are grown and over half the group has retired so our weekend adventures have expanded into thirteen day back-country trips. However, we all do our best to make it to Crab Lake at least once every summer. It is just hours from Toronto, Ontario to a campsite on Crab Lake, which makes it a perfect weekend getaway.
We first learned about Crab Lake from my parents who took a day-trip in from their campsite on Wolf Lake 30 years ago. Things have changed since then. It went from a relatively unknown bit of crown land, to a very popular spot. At one point it was overused with people setting up camp anywhere they could find a flat spot. One weekend we were surprised to hear a fishing boat coming up the lake, they actually had a gas barbecue in the bow. Soon after setting up camp across the lake from us we heard music and a chainsaw. Fortunately Crab Lake is now part of Karwartha Highlands Provincial Park with controlled site bookings. It’s no longer free to camp, but it is a much better canoe and camping experience and definitely better for the land.
To access Crab Lake turn onto Anstruther Lake Road, near Apsley, Ontario. Watch for the signs directing you to the Wolf Lake Access. Near the boat launch you will see a sign with a large map.
Keep your head up there is a patch of poison ivy behind the map. Did you know dogs are great at picking up the oils of poison ivy then putting them on everything they touch in your canoe?
This put-in is a busy spot with both campers and cottagers launching their boats so once you unload your gear head to the parking-lot. The washroom at the far end of the parking area is a welcome addition! It was added after this area became part of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.
The paddle down Wolf Lake to the first and only portage will take you about an hour of steady paddling. At one point the lake narrows to a small channel. We never paddle through that channel without thinking about the brand new watch lost to the depths on a trip many years ago. Although I think I have been caught in more storms on Wolf than on any other lake, it is likely just the fact that I have paddled the length of Wolf Lake at least 50 times.
The portage into Crab is short and flat but the Wolf Lake end can be a bit buggy, especially in the spring. The put-in at Crab can be a bit of a challenge if the water levels are low.
Site 311 has become affectionately known as “the family site”. It is perfect for a large group with several tent sites, great swimming at the point and a “private” swimming area a short walk to the north. It has a great view of “Blueberry Hill” and a lot of firewood if you walk up the rock hill behind the site. The site is a bit tired now but it is still our favorite. Although you can’t see the sunset, you can watch it reflecting off Blueberry Hill.
Even if it’s not berry picking season it is worth the hike up Blueberry Hill. Just past a very small island – between site 313 and 314 – you will find a flat rock where you can land and take-out. Make sure to move your canoes back from the water because it’s a popular spot. Find one of the trails and just follow it to the top. There are a few trails to choose from, but none of them are too challenging.
It doesn’t take long to reach the top where you can enjoy a fantastic view. BTW keep your eye on kids and dogs at the top – there is a steep drop to the west. If you are on site 311 you will have a great view of your site.
It can get pretty hot at the top so you will appreciate having your water bottle.
You can’t get lost, (famous last words), you just need to walk downhill and eventually you will reach Crab Lake and your canoes.
Our other favorite site on Crab Lake is site 314 aka the jumping rock site. It is a fun site, great for kids, but not great if you’re looking for a romantic getaway. The best thing about the site is the short swim or paddle across the bay to the jumping rock. The worst thing about the site is the popularity of the jumping rock; the site can get pretty loud when a group of 15 scouts arrive for the afternoon.
The site has a great view, great swimming and is absolutely perfect for stargazing. Behind the tent sites you will also find “sunset rock”. A very nice way to end the day.
Years ago someone left a journal at the site. We sat around the fire reading about the experiences of other campers and then added our own story before we left. It was an early version of a blog.
If you are out exploring, check out the beaver dam in the little channel near site 316. It is like a lake above a lake.
Rating: Easy Peasy
Perfect for: Beginners, Kids, Seniors and Solo Paddlers