Hiking tips

Paddling the Trent-Severn Waterway: Travel tips and species sightings along the Otonabee and Trent Rivers

During her trip along the Trent-Severn Waterway, Jenn McCallum saw several species at risk, including map turtles along the Trent River. (Photo: Jenn McCallum)

GreenUP encourages people to connect with nature and appreciate the health and history of local watersheds. This guest author’s story is the second in a series about a group of 16 friends (plus two dogs) from Peterborough who decided to paddle the Trent-Severn Waterway from the Odenaabe (Otonabee) River at the end south of Nogojiwanong (Peterborough) to the Bay of Quinte. One of the inspirations behind the trip was to connect with the watershed, its history and the traditional Atlantic salmon migration along this route.

Paul Baines, who started the adventure and lives along the Otonabee River, wrote the first in this series of articles the week of May 11. The final article in this series will be published the week of June 29.

In the past, I have worked in water quality monitoring and as an environmental educator with adults and children, inspiring and encouraging behaviors that improve and restore our waterways. For example, planting native species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers along our shorelines provides habitat for aquatic and bird species and reduces erosion.

With this professional history, I am always eager to learn more about the Otonabee and Trent River watersheds.

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I am also passionate about canoeing and the flora and fauna of Ontario so this canoeing adventure was a perfect fit. I was able to participate in nine of the 10 sections of the trip, my dog ​​Blitz joined eight of the sections and my husband John joined seven.

For others keen on paddling the Otonabee or Trent rivers, I’ll share some travel tips and observations on the natural features and species of these waterways.

For starters, one of the awe-inspiring features of this area is Ranney Gorge along the River Trent, part of Ferris Provincial Park in Campbellford. With its large suspension bridge, hiking trails and campsite, the park offers beautiful views of the river, where you can spot many species of birds and occasionally a turtle.

The Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge along the Trent River is recognized as Ontario's most scenic suspension bridge, and paddlers can also enjoy views of the cliffs from below the bridge.  (Photo: Jenn McCallum)
The Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge along the Trent River is recognized as Ontario’s most scenic suspension bridge, and paddlers can also enjoy views of the cliffs from below the bridge. (Photo: Jenn McCallum)

We camped in the park for two nights and enjoyed its amenities, as well as visits to Dooher’s Bakery and patio dining at 52 North Pub and Grill. Along this stretch of the river, Campbellford Community Park is the best place to swim.

For boats of all shapes and sizes, cruising the Trent-Severn Waterway is a popular adventure, and there are options for camping on Parks Canada land. At Locks 9 and 10, Parks Canada offers Ôasis modules, sleeping places for two to four people that look like metal water drops on raised feet.

Parks Canada staff kindly let us peek inside one of these capsules, and they seem to offer comfortable sleep under the starry canopy surrounded by the forest.

An Ôasis capsule available for reservation at the Parks Canada campsite at Locks 9 and 10 along the Trent-Severn Waterway.  (Photo: Jenn McCallum)
An Ôasis capsule available for reservation at the Parks Canada campsite at Locks 9 and 10 along the Trent-Severn Waterway. (Photo: Jenn McCallum)

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Boats navigating through lockstations must pay a small fee depending on the length of the boat. Canoeists and kayakers can pay to navigate through the locks or can portage around them at no charge, but sometimes the portage can be tricky, with steep banks and difficult set-ups. Some of the locks have portage docks to facilitate these exits and set-ups.

For any wildlife observer, these waterways are home to many species of flora and fauna, some of which are considered at risk in Ontario. There are three levels of species at risk designations: endangered (meaning the species is in imminent danger of extinction), threatened (where the species could become endangered if action is not not taken to protect it) and of concern (when a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats could lead to the decline of its population).

During our trip, we saw map turtles along the Trent River, a species of provincial concern, and a bald eagle on Rice Lake, also of special concern. Throughout the adventure we observed many fish-eating species including osprey, great blue herons, a green heron and occasionally northern water snakes peacefully sunbathing or fishing for prey.

Jenn McCallum spotted this endangered bald eagle along the shores of Rice Lake.  (Photo: Jenn McCallum)
Jenn McCallum spotted this endangered bald eagle along the shores of Rice Lake. (Photo: Jenn McCallum)

Some of the plant species we saw included Buttonbush, Highbush Cranberry, Jewel Grass, and Joe-Pye Grass, among many others. These plants and animals are important for the biodiversity and health of our waterways and are a pleasure to observe!

One of our paddlers, Ian Attridge, said: “The surrounding hills, points and islands provided scenic and historic backdrops to our trip. In the rear wet bays we saw abundant fish, beautiful marsh milkweed and small rigs of muskrats and beavers. Diving ospreys and kingfishers and zoomed dragonflies kept us entertained the whole way!

Unfortunately, we also spotted the invasive yellow flag iris growing prolifically along the banks of the Indian River where it can form dense mats and outcompete native riparian plants (such as buttonhole and jewel grass) .

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I recorded this yellow iris sighting on iNaturalist.org, a species viewing platform, and labeled “Invasive Species in Ontario”. If you have seen invasive species, you can also log them into iNaturalist or call the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711.

Overall I was pleased to see that many shorelines were naturally vegetated with native species, stabilizing the soil, reducing erosion and providing wildlife habitat.

For any cottage or shoreline owner looking to help our waterways, you can plant native aquatic plants from GreenUP’s Ecological Park Nursery and I recommend checking out the Invasive Plant Council’s Grow Me Instead guide. Ontario.

Jenn McCallum with her dog Blitz on Rice Lake on June 6, 2021, on a paddle trip a group of 16 friends from Peterborough took the Trent-Severn Waterway from the Otonabee River in South Peterborough to the Bay of Quinte.  (Photo: Taylor Wilkes)
Jenn McCallum with her dog Blitz on Rice Lake on June 6, 2021, on a paddle trip a group of 16 friends from Peterborough took the Trent-Severn Waterway from the Otonabee River in South Peterborough to the Bay of Quinte. (Photo: Taylor Wilkes)

Overall, we were lucky to complete this trip in good weather and in good health, and would definitely recommend exploring our local waterways to anyone interested in connecting with human and wildlife communities.

In a few weeks, we’ll share our final story in this series and you’ll learn more about how these connections can shape and motivate us.

We hope you’ll be inspired to find and maintain those connections throughout the summer and beyond.

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A map of the 10 day trips that Paul Baines and his friends took to explore the route from Peterborough to the Bay of Quinte.  (Graphic: Paul Baines / Open Street Maps)
A map of the 10 day trips 16 friends took to explore the route from Peterborough to the Bay of Quinte. (Graphic: Paul Baines / Open Street Maps)