Exploring the Trent Severn by Water

by Dallas Shannon Trent Severn Sign

When my parents recently moved to a cottage on Stoney Lake, just north of Peterborough, they purchased two PWCs' as their main form of lake transportation. As a motorcycle lover, I thought that traveling and exploring on a PWC would be fun so planed a trip. Our goal? A multi-day, unsupported trip on the Trent-Severn Waterway using PWC's as transportation.

The Trent–Severn Waterway is a canal route traversing Southern Ontario cottage country. It was formerly used for industrial and transportation purposes, and is maintained for recreational boating and tourism. The Waterway connects two of the Great LakesOntario and Huron—with an eastern terminus at Trenton and a western terminus at Port Severn. Its major natural waterways include the Trent River, Otonabee River, the Kawartha lakes , Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching and the Severn River.

The total length of the waterway is 386 kilometres, beginning at Trenton, Ontario. There are 45 locks, including 36 conventional locks, two sets of flight locks, hydraulic lift locks at Peterborough and Kirkfield, and a marine railway at marine railway at Big Chute which transports boats between the upper and lower sections of the Severn. The system also includes 39 swing bridges and 160 dams.

PWC on Lift What screams “adventure” more than a gassed up PWC, early on a summer morning?

Our plan was simple – push west as far as we could go in one day, then find a place to stay within walking distance of the locks. The next day we would turn around and come back. Planning the trip, some of our unanswered questions were:

How to estimate the travel times?
Fuel ranges and accessible fuel stops?
Lock passes, how much were they and where to purchase them?
Where to sleep and where to eat?

Using my well-honed method of trip planning, I decided that it would be more fun to head west and discover the answers rather than use too much research to remove all chance of adventure. My father also subscribes to this method (it must be genetic) so we make for compatible travel companions. My wife, who was riding two-up on my machine, prefers a bit more certainty, so my father and I employed a well-rehearsed shtick – posing as experts.

We decided that backpacks were a simple way to pack our personal gear and the waterproof compartments available on the PWCs would protect our electronic gadgets. If we ended up in the drink, nothing in the backpacks would be ruined.

PWC Packed
With backpacks on and hearing protection in, we were ready to hit the waterways.

Our journey would start on Stoney Lake and we would head west, with the intention of crossing Lake Simcoe and sleeping in Orillia. This was a three-hour drive by car, so we assumed that with high-powered PWCs, we could make that distance in one day.

Stoney Lake to Orillia
Our plan was to head west from Stoney Lake to Orilla, on the northern tip of Lake Simcoe.

We packed our PWC's, did one last safety check and at 8:30am we headed west across the glassy waters of the inner islands. Dodging and weaving through small island channels, we were looking to pick up the main channel markers in bigger water. Within 30 minutes we were on the channel, heading towards first set of locks, located in Burleigh Falls.

After a great shakedown ride, we arrived at Burleigh, tied up and talked with the Parks Canada staff. They were friendly and when we explained our travel plans, they sold us a two day lock pass for each machine. Our soft plans to make Orillia by the end of the day raised eyebrows and they told us we may run out of time, as the locks close everyday at 5pm.

Lock Pass
The Parks Canada staff sold us a 2 day lock pass and provided a lot of information that helped us throughout the day.

After purchasing our lock passes, we returned to our PWCs and waited to enter the lock. In the meantime, a group of small boats had joined the queue. When the locks opened, a variety of watercraft emerged and idled past. With a nod from the Parks Canada staff, we entered the locks and tied up along the wall. The doors ominously closed behind us with a deep metal clank. An eerie moment of silence, then water began to flow into the lock and the water started to rise. Being inside the locks was a surreal experience, and one couldn’t help think of the history, engineering and monumental effort it must have taken to build this lock system.

Waiting at Locks
The shear size of the lock system magnified the historical importance of the lock system. They are a Canadian National Heritage site.

When the gates opened we exited into Lovesick Lake and continued our journey. Each lake we passed through was subtly different than the next and it was a breathtaking journey. We passed stunning waterfront real estate and enjoyed high-speed sections on glassy lakes. The scenery and riding conditions were constantly changing and it made for an interesting ride.

Buckhorn Sculpture
This sculpture was located in the town of Buckhorn, where we had lunch at one of the many dockside restaurants.

Using the PWCs as transportation had many advantages. They are incredibly maneuverable and they are incredibly fast. Upon exiting a lock, we would quickly pass the boat traffic and we would have open water ahead. The cruising speeds of the PWC were much higher than a conventional watercraft so we could make good time on open water. As the water conditions changed, our riding experience changed. From glassy narrow channels to the big open water of Sturgeon Lake. Regardless of where we were, being on the PWCs was a tremendous amount of fun.

As the day progressed, we realized that we would run out of time and fuel at the Fenlon Falls lock. We docked the PWC, grabbed our gear and walked to a local motel to book a room at the Fenlon Falls Inn.

Fennelon Inn Within walking distance of the Fenlon Falls locks, this was clean, economical option.

Beverages at the Cow and Sow Enjoying a well earned beverages at the Cow and Sow restaurant in downtown Fenlon Falls.

Once checked in, we walked downtown and had a delicious meal at the Cow and the Sow restaurant.

Our PWCs travelled from Stoney Lake to Fenlon Falls on one tank of fuel. There was no fuel services at the Fenlon Falls lock, so we borrowed some fuel cans from the local gas station and walked fuel back to our PWCs and filled up.

Gas Station
We packed our fuel from the local station to the locks, which was less than a five-minute walk.

Locks Sunset Fenlon Falls locks as the sun goes down.

The next morning we walked over to the grocery store and had a fresh breakfast of yogurt, bananas and granola, packed some snacks for the trip and walked back to our PWCs to catch the first lock opening of the day.

Waiting at Locks Getting set to catch the first lock opening of the morning at Fenlon Falls.

Traveling back to Stoney Lake, took the entire day and was just as enjoyable as the trip west. We were very impressed with the attitude and culture of the watercraft community. Boaters were very helpful, very friendly and it seems that everyone was enjoying himself or herself just as much as we were.

Adventure traveling the Trent Severn Waterway on PWCs was an exciting and entertaining way to travel. Services were abundant and we never felt anxious or out of place. Our only regret was that we didn’t travel further, but plans are already being laid for next year. exploring ontario by watercraft is addictive and fun!

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