Imagine sitting on a lakeside dock while your puppy sniffs along the end of the water, cautiously wading in only to jump out seconds later. Then repeats.
The quiet wake slaps against the rocks and there’s nothing but distant shoreline, trees and the occasional bird in sight.
That was my week during an unseasonably warm May week in an unprecedented time when everyone was looking for an escape from day-to-day isolation. Even better when it’s just you and the dog.
Here’s how to road trip with your dog to Buckhorn, Ontario, Canada.
Woodhaven Country Lodge and Resort
Woodhaven Country Lodge and Resort offers just that and more – each of the five cottage-style units on the property have fenced dog runs, so you can wake up, open the door, let the dog out, and not worry about losing him to the lure of the forest. Dogs aren’t mandatory at Woodhaven, but the resort is designed to be as pet-friendly as possible. If your dog sleeps on the bed at home, they can sleep on the bed at Woodhaven, that’s actually a resort rule.
Several years ago, I discovered this place with my previous dog and his buddy – check it out here – and we stayed in Jill’s Cottage, the one with the largest fenced yard. Several days of reading, walking through the woods and watching a curious puppy gain confidence along the dock was, ironically, a comfortable cure for cabin fever.
This year, I’m at Woodhaven with my frenzied eight-month-old Sprocker (half Springer/half Cocker), and she couldn’t be happier. We’re staying at the Woodhaven Suite, attached to the main building that’s also home to owners Michael and David and their two dogs and one cat. Woodhaven Suite is one of five accommodations available.
Our suite, with king bed, sitting area, TV, WiFi and full kitchen, has a smaller fenced run containing two Muskoka chairs, a barbeque and a grassy patch my dog insists on digging in. Just beyond our gate, the gardens, forest, trails, gravel road into the resort and lakeside dock are hers to explore. Off leash is possible, but watch for skunks and porcupines (the later a painful and costly encounter).
If it sounds too good to be true (for long), you’re right: after decades of running the cottage resort, it’s closing in September. No, not pandemic related, just time to retire. This is the last summer to enjoy a dog-friendly stay along Lake Sturgeon. On September 24, the property reverts to a private residence.
In the meantime, the laidback cottage vibe of Buckhorn and the surrounding Kawartha’s region is all about the great outdoors, and the great outdoors is all about the dog.
Welcome to Dog-friendly Buckhorn, Ontario:
Lock 31 Buckhorn Trent-Severn Waterway
Without a boat, Lock 31 in the hamlet of Buckhorn (about a 10-minute drive from Woodhaven and 1.5-hour drive from Toronto) is a scenic park along the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site. Dogs love a scenic park. Leave the car near the bronze Buck statue inviting visitors stop at the town on their way to a Kawartha cottage. Cross the mental blue bridge serving as a lock – I had to carry my pup across the grating – and the central park is a reasonably safe run, unless you’ve got a dock diver who’ll jump off the lock edge.
Own a boat? This is 3.5-metre lift is part of the Trent-Severn Waterway linking Lake Ontario to Lake Huron. Maximum one-night mooring at this lock station is usually busy. But the day I’m here running my pup, there’s little happening and no boats journeying through. A family is fishing along the edge of Buckhorn Lake, at the point with the best expansive view.
Next dog-friendly stop: Kawartha Country Wines
A family-owned winery along County Road 36, Kawartha Country Wines is all about the fruit wine – no grape vines weave among these orchards. Wines are made on site with apple, pear, peach, cranberry, black current, blackberry, strawberries and more – most fruits produce a vino sweeter than Niagara Region grape wine drinkers might be used to.
Kawartha Country Wines cider is also on the menu in ten varieties, but only a few remaining in stock: Elderberry, Peach, Golden Russet, Buckhorn, Kawartha, and Selwyn. In celebration of the area, I had to take home both Buckhorn and Kawartha. Tasting bar is available if you’re more cautious purchasing, especially considering the $30 sparkling Strawberry Rhubarb wine is eye catching.
Where there’s fruit, there’s jam, and the winery also makes its own, along with sauces and even honey from an apiary outside. Walk your dog among the 22 acres of orchard trees, but steer clear of the bee area (marked with an electric fence). Kawartha Country Wines is dog-friendly – even the gift store inside an authentic restored 1866 log cabin – and on a good day, the winemaker will guess your dog’s breed (apparently, he’s never wrong).
Final Stop: Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
One moment you’re driving along seeking out dog-friendly activities, and the next minute you’re making a quick turn from Peterborough County Road 36 into a provincial park parking lot to discover you’ve located the second largest provincial park in the province, without even trying.
What I thought was the entrance to a small conservation area turned out to be one of six access points to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, one of the largest in southern Ontario, next to its more infamous cousin Algonquin Park.
Kawartha Highlands is 37,600 hectares (92,900 acres) of in-tact natural wilderness home to moose and Eastern wolf (in remote areas) and the common five lined skink, the province’s only native lizard. This area is for the serious adventurer: back country camping and canoeing available only – no campsites or electrical hook ups.
Kawartha Highlands is for the rugged.
Sort of. The entrance from CR 36 offers easy access to wide trails perfect for dog walking. First, cross a photo-worthy wooden bridge then find the easily accessed trails popular with dog walkers.
Second, follow the clearly visible path. The solid rock ground covered in mosses with little brush makes leash walking possible – there’s no off-leash exercise areas in Kawartha Highlands but trails are easily navigated during short jaunts or more heavy-duty hiking if you’re adventurous enough to follow the entire 1.5km trail. (Take provisions and bug spray).
I opted to venture with my pup as far as the stone Inukshuk someone left to mark the most popular dog walking route, and take more photos than chances.
No moose encounters, but we did meet up with a skittish lab and later, a confident German Shepard.
Woodhaven Lodge and Resort (dog-friendly) open until September 24, 2021 (then closed forever), Woodhaven offers a dog-friendly cottage experience at 97 Fire Route 51, Lakehurst, Ontario 1-855-688-7004. UPDATE: Unfortunately, Woodhaven is now closed permanently.
Kawartha Country Wines specializing in fruit wines and ciders, is home to a new production and events building and the gift store is located in a restored 19th century log cabin at 2452 Peterborough Country Road 36, Buckhorn, Ontario 1-705-657-9916. Open 7-days a week, 10 am to 5 pm.
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, 375 square-kilometres, is the second largest in southern Ontario and dedicated to natural preservation rather than the development of campsites and comfort stations. The access point from CR 36 (one of six) makes for an easy daytime dog walk. There are three small boat launches at different points in the park. Open all year. Minimal parking fee.
Feeling retro? Check out our clever baseball shirts – “It was me, I let the dogs out” and “This is what an awesome dog dad looks like.” Again, check out our store.