Highlights of Haliburton: A Whirlwind Tour of This Cottage Country Gem
Sculptures, waterfalls and pristine wilderness contribute to the allure of Ontario's Haliburton Highlands.
Cottage life isn’t merely about beaches, boating or campfires, which are all wonderful pastimes. For diversion, I often take my guests on local excursions—all in close proximity by car from our cottage in the Haliburton Highlands region of northern Ontario.
The Haliburton Sculpture Forest
The most popular jaunt is the Haliburton Sculpture Forest: a unique outdoor collection of sculptures by Canadian and international artists in a park shared with the Haliburton School of Art and Design. Positioned along sun-dappled forest paths and next to Head Lake, the sculptures are made from a variety of mediums, including granite, bronze, steel, wood and cement. More than 30 figures and shapes depict such Canadian icons as a beaver, moose, blue heron, bear and canoe, along with such stylized creations as Curled Figures, which are mounted on a large, weathered boulder.
Some sculptures are interactive—a stone cairn with a spiraling, grassy walkway or the Sound Vessel: Forest—steel sound-rods that echo, chime-like, into the quiet woods when touched. I’m always delighted by the Redwing Frond, a tall spine with bright acrylic panels that curve dramatically against the sky. Also, one-of-a-kind benches invite hikers to quietly sit and contemplate the surrounding magic. Sometimes, deer can even be glimpsed, nonchalantly grazing nearby.
Admission is by donation, made possible by community and government support, and operated by a not-for-profit venture. The Sculpture Forest is committed to increasing appreciation of public art and we’re happy to oblige.
Hiking the Haliburton Highlands
To enjoy nature’s own handiwork, I never tire of taking friends or family to the James Cooper Lookout Trail. Less than two kilometres of hiking a moderately steep incline brings you to a spectacular lookout. The flat rock outcropping boasts a view of four lakes: Maple, Beech, Boshkung and Twelve Mile Lakes, especially dazzling with the fall colours. We love to linger at the top with a picnic lunch. A plaque there is dedicated to James Cooper, one of the original landowners.
A day trip in Highlands cottage country wouldn’t be complete without a drive to Buttermilk Falls, just off Highway 35, north of Carnarvon. Originally used in the early 1800s to carry logs down the river to local sawmills, the newer concrete chute drains water from Halls Lake to Boshkung Lake. The water then cascades down the sluiceway with amazing force, before frolicking downstream over the jagged bedrock.
Walking along the adjacent trail, you can safely get up-close-and-personal with the impressive, well-churned spray that someone once likened to buttermilk—hence the name. We especially like to sit by the waterfalls to absorb all the healthy negative ions generated by oxygen atoms.
Discover 10 of the most beautiful Canadian waterfalls.
Further along the trail, the river empties into Boshkung Lake where numerous Inuksuks stand like sentinels in the calm, shallow waters, dotted by rocks. My sons, Jason and Kevin, used to love scooting across the rocks trying to avoid “soakers” or searching for hidden crayfish.
Here are more hidden gems in Ontario that are worth exploring.
Stanhope Municipal Airport
To cap off a busy day exploring the Haliburton Highlands, we often stop by the local Stanhope Municipal Airport. Parked there is a chip truck with superb homemade fries and other yummy temptations. While eating on picnic tables, you can watch the action on the airfield. The Open-for-Business sign is actually a vintage bicycle with flowers in the basket, sitting roadside.
Finally, a short drive to the town of Minden leads to another foodie-favourite—the family-owned Kawartha Dairy outlet, easily recognizable by the giant cow on the roof. You’ll probably have to line up for its unrivalled ice cream cones, giving lots of time to choose from the many flavours available.
Best of all, my go-to landmarks in the Haliburton Highlands are generally accessible for adventures in every season!
Next, check out our countdown of the best hikes in Canada.