Discovering Northumberland County

Sep 12th, 2016 | By | Category: Adventure, Featured, Travel

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With lakeside cabins, glorious parks, this Ontario county has lots to explore

By Katharine Fletcher

South of Peterborough, Northumberland County sprawls along the north shore of Lake Ontario. It’s home to birding hotspot Presqu’ile Provincial Park, to the towns of Brighton and Cobourg (overlooking Lake Ontario), and to forested parks such as the Ganaraska Forest. As well, the Trans-Canada Trail courses through it.

In short, Northumberland is a treasure awaiting discovery that’s only a three-and-a-bit hour drive south of Ottawa – so no excuse not to check it out for biking, hiking, birding, paddling, horseback riding… or simply chillin’.

What to discover? Take a look at our top picks.

Presqu’ile Provincial Park

There’s so much to do in this tranquil park on the north shore of Lake Ontario. With  more than 200 car camping sites, a 2.5 km sandy beach, 16 km of forested trails, a 1 km marsh boardwalk, two visitors’ centres, and an extremely photogenic lighthouse on the point, there’s tons to pique your interest.

Prefer to stay at a cabin that’s perhaps four metres from the beach? We loved the heritage Clarke-Denson Cottage, where guests step through its doorway into the 1930s. It has all fundamentals you require – that is, beds and indoor plumbing – but … and this is important … you must take all linens, bedding, and all kitchen utensils (pots and pans through to cutlery and glasses). If you forget something, no worries because (if it’s open), you can stock up extremely inexpensively at Brighton’s Clothing Depot (5 Craig Boulevard, Unit 2), just like we did, for items we’d forgotten.

The cottage sleeps six, and has an easily operated gas fireplace for cool nights, a barbecue and deck. Tip: we hauled our mattresses to the screened-in porch and were lulled asleep by waves rhythmically washing against the rocky beach. Heavenly!

We stayed two nights in mid-May during bird migration season, spying 56 species including an early Black-poll Warbler and American Bittern. And we can highly recommend returning either for fall or spring migrations, because the cabin is a four-minute stroll from the lighthouse and nearby bird-feeding stations. Do as we did: take your bikes to cycle flat, wending trails; take comfy boots to hike, birdwatch, and beachcomb; and take your camera for awesome shots of the lighthouse, birds and critters. We’ll return in a heartbeat and next time we’ll canoe the lake if it’s calm.

Information: www. ontarioparks.com/park/presquile

Island Spirits

Want to stay on an island on gorgeous, sprawling Rice Lake? Island Spirits offers an intriguing eco-getaway, where its 25 acres feature campgrounds, plus other lodgings such as a teepee, and eco-lodges (only the latter have solar-powered lights).

Captain T.J. Chernuck transports you from her home base in Roseneath to Grasshopper Island on her passenger
ferry, Spirit of the Loon. She decided to create this
delightful eco-retreat so people can appreciate holidaying more simply, and have kids experience such country delights as getting fresh eggs from Island Spirits’ chickens. Incidentally, we share island space with roaming alpacas and sheep plus penned chickens and pigs: the alpacas surprised me when we first saw them. I’d seen something big in the bushes … was it a bear? Nope. Just a friendly
alpaca!

Just remember: As at Presqu’ile’s cottage, you’ll need to pack in everything just as if you were camping, from bedding to food, cutlery to camp stove – and even a compost pail.

Why the pail? To feed the four-legged composters! Part of T.J.’s “back-to-the-land” experience is taking your kitchen organic trimmings (apple cores through to corn husks) to the piggies, who chow down on everything given to them in their roomy pen.

Island Spirits offers space to chill, watch gorgeous sunsets, stroll trails, swim, fish, read, kayak and more. As well, it represents an easy way to introduce yourself, friends and/or family to camping. Tip: Please just check the website’s list of what to bring extremely carefully.

Information: www. islandspiritsricelake.ca

Ganaraska Forest 

Want to slip into the cool green of an immense forest? Then hike, mountain bike, birdwatch, or horseback ride trails in the beautifully maintained 11,000-acre Ganaraska Forest, one of Southern Ontario’s largest woodlands. All access is permitted only with the purchase of a day pass or annual Forest Membership (available from the Forest Centre). Here are two organized forest activities we enjoyed.

Information: www.ganaraskaforestcentre.ca

Treetop trekking

Up for an aerial zip line adventure through the forest canopy? Treetop Trekking offers all sorts of aerial
explorations. There’s the popular Zip Line Aerial Game Trek, or try “Timberwolf” reputed to be the most challenging aerial park in Ontario. Another more unusual option is going on a Night Trek.

Information: www.treetoptrekking.com/en/ganaraska

Horseback riding Maple Crescent Farm

Summer the Palomino mare was my willing mount as I rode with Boris Khaimovich, Maple Crescent Farm’s owner-guide for two hours along broad, shady forested paths. He’s a conversationalist who knows lots about the fascinating history of Ganaraska, so don’t be shy to engage him in conversation. When making your reservation, be sure to indicate your level of riding: I’m experienced, and Summer was a terrific ride. However, if you’re a novice, you’ll be paired with a very gentle horse.

Information: www.maplecrescentfarm.com

Kayaking Lake Ontario at Brighton with Presqu’ile Bay Outfitters

Want to paddle-explore Lake Ontario’s marshes at Brighton, to possibly spy waterfowl such as swans, moorhens, great blue herons, or mammals like beavers and muskrats? We went kayaking in late afternoon, with owner-operator Sean Sheppard, who knows the little channels of the marshland intimately. As we paddled, our kayaks created an auditory sensation as we swished atop waterlily leaves floating on the surface and glided alongside towering stands of cattails. Thrilling, too, to see the swans gracefully gliding by us.

Information: www.presquilebayoutfitters.com

Farm-fresh foods

From farmers’ markets, to agriculturally-inspired festivals or events, it’s a great idea to check out this online guide to regional foods and farms of Northumberland County. Browse the online brochure not only for delicious-looking recipes, but for farmers’ markets located in Port Hope, Codrington, Cobourg, Hastings and Campbellford.

Information: www.northumberlandtourism.com/en/day-trips/farm-fresh.asp

Trans-Canada Trail

The TCT courses through Canada, connecting varied landscapes of the provinces. Here in Northumberland, it traverses peaceful farmland where you’ll enjoy bucolic scenes of cattle grazing, great blue herons statuesquely poised amid the marshlands, and bridges crossing slow-moving watercourses. Bike it, hike it: its’ 22-kilometre Northumberland sector extends from Hastings southeast to Hoard’s Station, west of Campbellford.

Information: www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails/view/trans-canada-trail

Alderville First Nation, Black Oak Savanna

For something extra special, discover the extremely endangered habitat of Canada’s easternmost tallgrass prairie and savannah grassland. This rare environment is being nurtured and kept going thanks to the Alderville First Nation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Visit and explore the medicinal plant garden planted in 2010, examine an old-field restoration project, and otherwise enjoy looking for birds and rare plants here.

Information: www.aldervillesavanna.ca

Katharine Fletcher enjoys exploring and is author of such books as Capital Rambles: Exploring the National Capital Region.

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