Ontario’s Trent Severn Waterway From Trenton to Severn Falls…
This Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour is a 400-kilometre, self guided, jet ski adventure from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. I guesstimated this Ontario journey at five days, barring bad weather. Included was a sightseeing cushion that might be consumed by the other variables beyond my control — such as the 44 various manmade devices for transporting boats through the Waterway’s 183-metre range of elevation (see How To Go Through Locks). Or the time required to cruise the numerous ‘Speed Limit’ zones en route. Or simply getting lost. I had visions of sleeping with the proverbial farmer’s daughter whenever I couldn’t make my intended destination. Hummm … maybe a delay or two might prove interesting at that!
Trent Severn Waterway History…
At first sight, the Trent-Severn Waterway might be misconceived of as one giant canal, meticulously planned and built as a cohesive corridor. In fact, it was constructed piecemeal in Canada over 87 years, from 1833 to 1920. With only 106 kilometres or so of man-made channel, the remainder follows natural existing watercourses, albeit considerably altered by dredging and flooding to achieve navigability. No portages for we modern day voyageurs on our Sea Doo tours on Sea Doo, Jet Ski or Waverunner personal watercraft!
The connections to Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario were not completed until the end of construction, so for most of its early existence, the Trent-Severn was fragmented and landlocked, serving only regional transportation needs. When these last linkages were finally opened, the Waterway’s promise as a major commercial thoroughfare had already been lost to railways and Great Lakes cargo freighters. With the demise of logging and steamboats early this century, the Waterway slipped into decline until the recreational boating boom gave it new life in the late Fifties. As a tourism destination, the Trent-Severn Waterway is now recognized as “one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world”.
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Day 1 – Trenton to Campbellford…
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Our first overnight stop was slated for Campbellford, a mere 50 kilometres away. But Lock 1 was only three kilometres up river, with six more in the next 10 kilometres, then eight more before Campbellford. Although the time required for locking through is unpredictable, we lucked out.
The Kawartha Voyager is the largest cruise boat on the system. It plies the Rideau Canal, Lake Ontario, and Trent-Severn, carrying about 40 passengers who sleep and eat on board. The ship has priority passage through the locks. Often, there is little room for other boats, but that’s one advantage of personal watercraft — we squeezed in with that behemoth, thereby assuring our own rapid transit.
At Lock 1 in Trenton, we observed one of the Waterway’s least appreciated structures. In all, 125 dams are associated with the Trent-Severn. Although locks are the most obvious feature to boaters, dams provide the water control system to maintain a constant, manageable flow throughout the season, using the Waterway’s natural flow supplemented by a series of reservoir lakes to the north. The dams back up the water to a navigable depth, creating long stretches of calm water where rapids might otherwise exist. At 14 locations, they also generate hydroelectric power for local consumption.
All morning, we hung onto to the Voyager’s stern railing in each lock, chatting up the passengers and crew, while being treated to soft drinks and snacks. At one point, a uniformed crew member asked for a ride to the next lock. As I happily obliged, those on board cried: “Hey, you can’t leave us — you’re the captain!” Sure enough, whenever I glanced up at the wheelhouse later, my smiling passenger was at the helm. Was it on autopilot when he jumped ship? After our first eight hours and fuelling up at a riverside station in town, we arrived at the Campbellford River Inn, where a sturdy and protected dock offered the only secure overnight parking for PWC’s in the area.
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Day 2 – Campbellford to Young’s Point…
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Healy Falls (near kilometer 64) is just past Campbellford and that’s where we strayed too close to shore and, our watercraft started to lose momentum, growing progressively more sluggish. Suddenly, my warning light came on and the engine died. It was almost as if we were stuck in mud or something — like maybe weeds from the huge bed that I’d inadvertently steered into!
Sure enough, our intakes were crammed. One of us would have to climb overboard and clear the intakes. We weren’t out of it either – it took an hour and a half to get gas and back to the main channel. Meanwhile, we also managed to tow in two anglers who had been adrift for several hours after their motor quit. These unexpected delays put us behind schedule — a concern with nine more locks before our final destination at Young’s Point.
So far, we’d had smooth, sheltered sailing. I knew that Rice Lake, a long, narrow and shallow wind funnel, might be a different story, and I was right. It was also the first large body of water where shorelines and channel markers were distant. Anticipating a little fun, I throttled into the three foot waves and played ride ‘em cowboy for the next 20 kilometres.
After the wavy chop of Rice Lake, the Otonabee River was a picturesque 50-kilometre ride — wide sweeping curves and slow, calm water. Other highlights included riding under the fountain on Little Lake in downtown Peterborough, and the Peterborough Lift Lock, North America’s tallest, with its panoramic view. After a 111-kilometre run from Campbellford, we made it into Lakefield by mid-afternoon and arrived at our accommodation at Katchawanooka Resort, near Young’s Point soon after.
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Day 3 – Young’s Point to Bobcaygeon…
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We leisurely explored the Kawartha Lakes before overnighting at Eganridge Inn & Spa, just past Bobcaygeon. These sparkling waters are the tourism and recreational heart of the Trent-Severn. In fact, the system’s first lock was built at Bobcaygeon in 1833, and by 1887, boats could travel from Lakefield to Balsam Lake.
The summer population of the Kawarthas uses the locks frequently for both day trips and overnight tours, making its six locks, especially Bobcaygeon and Rosedale, the busiest on the system. Balsam Lake is the Trent-Severn’s height of land, and the Kirkfield Lift Lock provides the linkage between its two major watersheds: the Trent which flows east into the Kawarthas and Lake Ontario, and the Severn, flowing west into Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. It’s crucial to remember that the ubiquitous marker buoys reverse here: from Trenton to Kirkfield red is on the right, but from Kirkfield to Port Severn, red switches to the left.
On Clear Lake, we gassed up at Kawartha Park Marina (near kilometer 173), then made our first side trip. Stony Lake may be the most spectacular of the ten Kawartha Lakes, noted for its rocky outcroppings, numerous islands and idyllic cottage settings. But the many submerged (or not so submerged) rocks and shoals necessitate navigating caution, especially in late summer when water levels are lower.
As a Kawartha cottager myself, I was especially intrigued to cruise through towns like Peterborough, Lakefield, Buckhorn, Bobcaygeon, and Fenelon Falls — all places I’d visited by car, never by water. Out of curiosity, we steered into Chemong Lake for a visit, then eyeballed the shoreline of Lower Buckhorn’s Deer Bay before running the length of Pigeon Lake and into Bobcaygeon to top up our fuel (kilometer 222). With almost 100 klicks under our belts for the day, we docked at Eganridge about 5:30, and were whisked to our luxury room in a golf cart.
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Day 4 – Bobcaygeon to Orillia…
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Uncertain as to our timing for passing through the eight remaining locks into Lake Simcoe, and indeed, about conditions on Simcoe itself, we embarked at 8:15 AM on day four. Our destination: the Best Western Couchiching Inn at the Narrows before the Port of Orillia, 87 kiloemetres away. En route, we explored Sturgeon, Cameron and Balsam Lakes, gassing up at Fenelon Falls Marina (kilometer 247), and by noon were well into the last 32-kilometre stretch before Lake Simcoe. Mitchell and Canal Lakes tended to be marshy. The Talbot River had its fair share of weeds too. And from the Bolsover lock, the canal runs straight as an arrow to Simcoe, but there was no light at the end of the tunnel for us.
We’d overheard oncoming boaters reporting waves on Simcoe. As we gazed toward that lake, neither of us could imagine what lay beyond the breakwaters. Turns out that Lake Simcoe was a furious cauldron of wind-whipped waves and huge swells. Riding like a bonsai buckaroo, I headed south to get gas at the Beaverton Yacht Club just in case.
It may have been wiser to wait ashore until it calmed. But we stayed within sight of shore and pounded our way northwest against five foot waves that swept into us almost broadside. Surging crests rocketed us ahead, and our stomachs dropped out in bottomless troughs. Amid the huge swells, I couldn’t spot the markers from the mouth of the Trent-Severn to Orillia. Nor were there any boats to follow. We were on our own, with nothing to guide us but my sense of direction.
The inherent stability and handling characteristics of our touring Sea-Doo watercraft, not to mention great suspension, saw us through safely. We were relieved to dock at the Blue Beacon Marina (kilometer 318) around 4:30 PM to top up, and to relax at the Best Western that night. If Simcoe had been less challenging, we would have spent an hour or two exploring Cook’s Bay near Keswick, and Barrie’s Kempenfelt Bay.
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Day 5 – Orillia to Honey Harbour…
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With only four transfers remaining for day five, we departed Orillia on the 84-kilomtere final leg of our journey, to meet our wives with my Triton trailer at Honey Harbour’s now defunct Delawana Inn. From Lake Couchiching, our route headed into the southern region of Muskoka with its cottaging lakes and granite shorelines.
The Big Chute Marine Railway is unique to North America. We gassed up again at Big Chute Marina (kilometre 374) and floated aboard. The railway carries boats over a 17.7- metre elevation on a giant rolling carriage. After four days on water, watching it drain out beneath our feet as the marine railway raised and moved forward was a weird sensation, especially surrounded as we were by large cruisers momentarily dry-docked in their giant sling cradles. On the far side, the Waterway opened into one of the most gorgeous sections of the system, Gloucester Pool. Dotted by islands and interspersed with bays and inlets, the Pool made for enjoyable exploration with sojourns into Little Go Home Bay and Black Lake. Then it was on to Little Lake and the last lock at Port Severn.
From Port Severn, we could have passed several hours visiting Waubaushene, Victoria Harbour, and Midland, but wanting to arrive at Delawana by mid-afternoon, we hightailed it the 20 klicks across the remarkably calm bay to the Honey Harbour Boat Club Marina for gas (kilometre 405).
That night at Delawana, Barry and I regaled the women with our adventures, basking in the glow of a mission accomplished. We agreed that touring the Trent-Severn by Sea-Doo watercraft was a memorable adventure for novice and afficionado alike – just the right mix to make each day unique and exciting. Best of all, if you don’t have to do it all at once – another great option is doing it section by section on different rides over the summer. Whatever way you choose, your Trent-Severn Waterway adventure will make some of your best Sea-Dooing memories!
Trent Severn Waterway Sea Doo Tour Info – #ontariowaterways
- Trip Distance – 405 km
- Highway Access to Trenton: 401 exit 615
- Water body(s): Trent River, Kawartha Lakes, Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching, Severn River, Severn Sound, inner channel of Georgian Bay
- Launch(s): Centennial Park, Trenton
- Lodgings: Comfort Inn, Trenton; River Inn, Campbellford; Katchawanooka Resort, Young’s Point; Eganridge Inn & Spa, Bobcaygeon; Best Western Couchiching Inn, Orillia; Delawana Inn, Honey Harbour.
- Lunch: To save time, we ordered take out lunches at breakfast and ate while locking through.
- Fuel: Frasier Park Marina, Trenton; Campbellford; Lakefield Marina; Kawartha Park Marina; Fenelon Falls Marina; Beaverton Yacht Club; Blue Beacon Marina; Big Chute Marina; Honey Harbour Boat Club Marina.
- Locks: 44
- Side Trip(s): Chemong Lake, Whites Falls at north end of Gloucester Pool
- Sea-Doo Dealer(s): Bay Marine, Trenton; Gateway Powersports, Peterborough; HB Cycle, Lindsay; St. Onge Recreation, Barrie; Leatherdale Marine, Orillia; Factory Recreation, Midland; The Cove, Mactier.
- More Info: Trent Severn Waterway
Riders should reconfirm the routes and services mentioned in this article as they may have changed since publication. Any map is for reference only and any marked lines or locations are not intended as an exact or accurate depiction of positions.