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This small community on Buckhorn Lake is a great base for exploring eastern Ontario’s Kawarthas region. A 30-minute drive north of Peterborough, the area’s commercial hub, Buckhorn is located along the Trent-Severn Waterway — a historic canal, built between the 1830s and the 1880s, which connects Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario. With more than 40 locks, the waterway is a well-used route for recreational boaters. In Buckhorn, one of Canada’s largest retail art galleries occupies a multilevel space overlooking the lake, and the country’s largest collection of Indigenous rock carvings is also in the region. Cool off on a warm summer day at the town’s Sandy Lake Beach, or head for other nearby lakes to paddle or swim. North of Buckhorn, escape into the wilderness at southern Ontario’s second-largest provincial park, Kawartha Highlands Signature Site, which has an extensive network of canoe routes, from day-trip paddles to multi-day wilderness adventures. Wherever you venture around the lakes, stop for a butter tart, Ontario’s signature pastry.
By car, Buckhorn is two hours from Toronto or 3.5 hours from Ottawa, which both have international airports: Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) and Ottawa International (YOW). The closest city in the vicinity of Buckhorn is Peterborough. There is bus service between Toronto’s Union Station and Peterborough, which takes about 2.5 hours, but beyond Peterborough, you need to have a car — or be comfortable with long-distance cycling — to explore the Buckhorn region. While the town of Buckhorn itself is small, there’s no public transit to or around the community.
Spring is maple syrup season around Buckhorn and across eastern Ontario, when you can see how the trees are tapped, join in maple festivals, and eat piles of pancakes topped with local syrup. March — when there’s normally still snow on the ground — is generally when the maple festivities take place. In summer and fall, it’s all about hiking, canoeing, cycling, swimming, and scouting for fresh produce at local farm markets. Leaf-peeping, pumpkin festivals, and the annual Kawartha Autumn Studio Tour are bonuses of a September or October visit. In winter, many of the region’s hiking routes become cross-country ski or snowshoe trails, and local outfitters can teach you to ice-fish. Expect snow and freezing temperatures from December through March.
Canada’s largest known collection of Indigenous petroglyphs is located in this provincial park, 35 minutes east of Buckhorn. In the visitor center at Petroglyphs Provincial Park, you can get an introduction to the site and its history, before following a short trail through the forest to “The Teaching Rocks,” where hundreds of carvings depict people, birds, snakes, and other images. The petroglyphs are a sacred site for local Indigenous communities, so follow the guidance of park interpreters to visit respectfully.
In this First Nations community, about 20 minutes south of Buckhorn via Highways 23 and 22, stop into the Curve Lake First Nation Cultural Centre to learn about the history and present-day culture of this Indigenous nation. Visitors are also welcome at the annual Curve Lake First Nation Powwow, normally held in late September, and at local celebrations for National Indigenous Peoples Day in June.
A signature sweet of this Ontario region is the butter tart, a personal-sized pie filled with an oozing mix of butter, sugar, and eggs. More than 50 bakeries, cafés, and other sweet shops throughout the Kawarthas have organized this Butter Tart Tour, a self-guided drive from tart to tart, with an online map to direct your sampling. Bring plenty of napkins.