If you haven’t heard about Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve be prepared to be amazed!
This beautiful Ontario camping destination is often overlooked – but it’s one we return to year after year. It stretches an impressive 100,000 acres with 100 lakes, 400 km of hiking trails, cabins, non-electric car camping sites, and paddle-in backcountry campsites. Most of the campsites offer either a water view or water access.
For those who enjoy swimming or paddling, the many lakes provide the perfect opportunity to spend some time on the water (or in the water). Clear Lake is aptly named for its amazingly clear water that can be best described as being like looking in glass when the weather is calm.
As is our fall tradition, we spent 10 days camping on Clear Lake in Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve, and we could have happily stayed much longer if our schedule had permitted!
In this video review, we introduce you to the beauty of this underrated outdoor travel destination, including views of our campsite, two hiking trails (The Forestry Walk & Normac Trail), a look at the main camp area with its many amenities, and more. At the end, we sit down to discuss our thoughts about the area and share our final rating.
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Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve – September 2023
John: What’s their favourite brand of breakfast cereal? Quacker Oats!
Main Camp (2:13)
Britt: Alright, so we’re here. You can see behind me, it’s the check-in cabin. This portion is kinda like a central area here.
So, you have, beyond the check-in cabin, you’ll see there’s an entry down here. We have bathrooms and showers, common areas, and over here is the restaurant.
Now, to get to our campsite, we do have to head in further. You go past a locked gate area, and then there’s another 20-minute drive. So, let’s go…
Making Breakfast (4:52)
John: Now, Daddy saw a TikTok, and I do this to you all the time at home. But every time I’m in the kitchen, you’re in the kitchen. My little helper, eh?
Britt: He’s hoping you spill. That’s what he’s hoping.
John: Oh! Just a bunch of water came off the KUMA there.
Britt: Rainy night last night.
John: I think I soiled myself.
Ok, so for our big first breakfast that we’re making, we’re making quiche. This is not done.
So, what I did was basically take 3 eggs… Buy the pie shell from the store, 3 eggs, add a little bit of milk, and then your favourite blend of frozen veggies. Add some cheese on the top and stick it in your Coleman oven here for, I have no idea.
It’s our first time doing this with it, so…
Britt: Until it’s done.
John: Until it’s done. At 400, let’s say at 400. We’ll put it in there at that temp and then, and then basically, watch it.
And then we’ll let you know at the end on how much time it took to do the quiche.
Ok, so it’s been about a half hour, at 400, let’s see how it looks. You might wanna use two gloves for this. And I think we are done.
Don’t mind that little mess, that’s just me forking around with it.
Forestry Walk (6:36)
Britt: We’re gonna take the Forestry trail, which is one of the shorter trails here, but it’s perfect for a senior pup who still enjoys getting out and enjoying the outdoors. So, let’s check it out.
Along the path, you’re gonna see all the little tubes and setups here for maple syrup.
Running along the side and even over the top. Back here, we just walked under one of them. It’s kinda cool to see if that’s something that you’re not as familiar with or you didn’t grow up around.
The trail itself is a nice, shaded walk. As you can see, it’s well-groomed. It’s not challenging in any way. And it’s well-labelled with these little markers here, letting you know that you’re on the right path.
Ya, we’re going! Let’s go catch up! Somebody doesn’t like being left behind!
There’s your pack, dude.
They also have information here along the trail that talks about the logging efforts, the shelterwood system, and how they go about harvesting the wood here on the property.
Another interesting thing to note, as you can see from the top up here, is that this trail is actually open as a snowshoe trail during the winter. So, even if you come and it’s not, you know, this nice fall weather that we’re enjoying right now, you can still get out and enjoy the trails.
John: Who’s that, Goose?
Britt: You coming to Mama? Mama’s boy!
Be cautious about some of the little boardwalk areas because it looks like they haven’t been kept up all that well. And that one was just giving way under our feet as we went.
A little soggy here, but this boardwalk looks like it’s well-maintained. So, it’s kind of, you know, some are great, some are a little rough.
But a good thing to note and just to watch out for, especially if you have an older pup like we do with Dav here.
So, along the trail, we came across this. It looks like it might be an older sugar shack. It’s got the lines leading into it and a whole lot of wood there.
Just kind of an interesting little find along the trail.
So, just another look now that we’re up here. It says “Northern Trading Company” on this side. It’s just kinda a cool little discovery along the trail here.
At the end of the trail here, you come out at the back of the sled dog kennels. This is where, employees only, the sled dogs are kept. We’re obviously not going in there. But you just kinda walk through along the side here.
You’ll see all the gear. They’ve got the sleds up here, stored right now until winter season hits. And you can see all the pups back there.
Britt: Alright, so one thing that I forgot to share earlier, as I step out of our campsite here. The perk of Haliburton Forest that nobody really talks about, but I think is a huge one, and that’s that every campsite has it’s own personal outhouse.
So, most of them are on the site itself. For our site and for the site beside us here, we have to walk across the road to get to it.
It is a long drop. However, it is just yours. You clean it, and it’s yours for the duration of your trip. Nobody else is using it. And we’ve never had a problem with smell or cleanliness. We’ve always been good to go.
Normac Trail (12:15)
Britt: So, we’ve been taking this stretch of the Red Trail here for Lucifer’s daily walks, and we noticed that the Normac Trail also extends off of it. We do see the start of the Normac Trail when we’re coming back and forth on the Red Trail.
So, we figured, let’s give it a try! Come with us…
Looks like we have a little bit of a hill. Let’s go!
Good boy! Come on, Goose! That’s my good little man.
I will say it’s a good sign that a trail’s not hiked nearly often enough when you’re walking through cobwebs the entire time. Ooops…
A lot of the trail’s nice. Just be prepared and wear appropriate footwear for a few of the muddier or wet crossings.
You can’t see it too well in the video, but just past those trees is MacDonald Lake. All along this part of the trail. MacDonald Lake running along your one side. It’s really pretty.
Britt: Getting out and enjoying the view out here. We’re on Clear Lake, and the most amazing thing about this area is not just the view. And don’t get me wrong, the view is incredible, but it’s being able to see down into the bottom of the water no matter where you are.
Let’s just say, Clear Lake clearly comes by it’s name rightfully so. I’ve never been on a lake with water that clear.
As far as the colours this year, it looks like we’re not getting as much of a show. I know, I guess it was 3 years ago now, this entire section of trees here had all changed colour. It was absolutely stunning.
This year it’s not changing quite as early but you can see pops of fall colour coming out as the colours start to change and evolve. It’s a beautiful sight, regardless.
If you do come out, I highly, highly recommend bringing your kayak or your canoe and just taking some time to get out here on the water an see all of this.
One perk I will share is that the sun is just stunning out here. It’s so much warmer out on the water then it is back at the campsite. But, I guess I gotta go back.
Our Review (16:59)
Britt: Okay, so, as you can see, we are clearly not in Haliburton any longer. We did end up having a great time hanging out with my Mom and Bill, and because of that we kinda lost track of time…
John: Pretty much, ya.
Britt: In the sense of recording our final review. So, we’re back at the cabin and we’re going to break down everything we thought about Haliburton and why we think you should visit Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve in your next camping season.
The Drive (17:27)
John: Getting up there, it’s a beautiful drive. We’re coming from Bruce County… Right? We’re in Bruce County?
Britt: We’re in Grey County.
John: Grey County, okay. We’re in Grey County. So, it was like a 3 1/2-hour drive for us. That’s probably going to be roughly the same as for Toronto people.
It’s a beautiful drive up there. Just, it’s just south of Algonquin, right?
Britt: Ya, the edge of Haliburton Forest actually borders on Algonquin. So, if you’re looking for a place to go check out fall colours without dealing with all of the heavy traffic and popularity of Algonquin, this is a great alternative.
John: Ya, and there is over 100,000 acres to Haliburton Forest, which is just amazing.
Going back to the fall colours, as you can see in the videos, we were there about mid-September, so we weren’t getting those pops of colour, but I’m pretty sure it is booming right now.
In saying that, it was like a 3 1/2-hour drive for us. Pretty straightforward. But then, on your way into the park, it’s pretty much like gravel road all the way.
From the front entrance, it’s about a 20-minute drive to our site. But there are posted speed limits. Right up at the front there, I believe, is 10 km, and I think the highest is 30 km.
Britt: There are campsites that are closer to the main camp. There are campsites that are further away. So, you’ll have to look at what lake you’re going to be camping on and figure out where that is in relation to their base camp.
John: Ya, so Clear Lake was like 4 km from base camp.
Britt: Ya. And speaking of campsites, most of the campsites at Haliburton Forest are waterfront. They are either a water view, meaning you can see the water, but you can’t access it, or they’re like the one that we had on Clear Lake, which is a water access site, which means that we can swim or paddle right off our campsite – which is a great option.
There are a few on North Shore that do not have a water view, but most of them do offer that.
None of their sites have electricity. So, if you do require electricity to go camping, you either have to find a way to accommodate that yourself or this just isn’t the best place for you.
That being said, there are a lot of people who come there with solar setups and situations like that in order to be able to accommodate that and still enjoy their camping. So, it is completely possible with a little bit of pre-planning.
In addition to traditional campsites, they do have a backcountry, or, I think two backcountry paddle-in sites now.
Britt: We haven’t had a chance to check them out yet. It is high on our list.
We just have to get Lucifer to the point that he will stay in the canoe with us and not try and eat the paddle as I’m paddling. That is proving to be the struggle with him for any longer-term paddling. But that is on our list of things to do in the future!
They also offer cabins, and the company Cabinscape has set up some cabins, some of their tiny cabins there.
Those actually do have solar setup already in place. They have an inside bathroom. They’re kinda a step above the rustic cabin. So, that’s also an option if you want a little bit more of the amenities while still getting out and enjoying Haliburton Forest.
John: Ya, propane heated as well.
John: Which brings us to beaches. As far as I know, there’s no beaches at Haliburton Forest. But, like Britt said, majority of the campsites do have water access to them. So, you can take full-blown advantage of those, of that situation.
Britt: Some of the campsites, like I shared one over on our TikTok channel, and if you’re not following us on TikTok, you should – because we do what we call “Campsite Finds” where we specifically show, like, one campsite. What it offers. What it looks like. At each of the places that we’re going to.
One of the ones at MacDonald Lake we shared actually had its own private beach right on the campsite. So, it’s definitely worth looking into if swimming is a big thing for you and your family – there are options.
You just have to be strategic with which campsite you pick or use the boat launch areas in order to let the kids go in and take a swim.
Hiking Trails (21:54)
Britt: In addition to swimming, though, there is a ton of hiking. I’m talking 400 km worth of trails. So, if you’re like us and hiking is your main thing that you like to do when you’re out camping – this is the perfect place to go!
Now, most of those hiking trails are within Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve itself, so you have to have at least a day pass or be camping there to access them, but there are 3 complimentary trails.
They’re a little bit easier. They’re kind of a casual, more like a walk-type trail. That’s John’s Trail, Dale’s Trail, and the Forestry Walk. And you would have seen the Forestry Walk earlier in this video because we were so excited that it would be Dav-dog friendly.
As we’ve talked about in some of our other videos, she’s 15 now, her mobility is a little bit compromised compared to what it used to.
But the Forestry Walk was perfect for her. She was able to get out and enjoy it. It was only like a half hour, not even, and it gave her a chance to, you know, still hike with the pack which is something we try really hard to accommodate for her.
But within the forest themselves is the rest of the trails.
Now, on their website they list 26 different trails with their own individual maps. So, if you want to try and preplan you can go look at those.
We only hiked one this trip. Once again, you’ve seen that already, and that’s the Normac Trail.
Now, it is listed as their most technical trail when you read the descriptions of the trails on their website, but it is so worth it. It was such a beautiful trail.
And the thing that I found most interesting about hiking there versus a lot of the Provincial Parks we go to and stuff is that I was able to do that entire Normac Trail and not see a single hiker because it’s just not as overrun as a lot of the Provincial Parks.
So, we had the space to ourselves, which was absolutely incredible. Lucifer and I enjoyed a totally relaxing hike without having to worry about the triggers with him being a reactive dog. He was able to just enjoy his hike the entire time, and that was 110% worth it to me.
John: On to paddling. At Haliburton Forest, there are over 100 lakes. Which is just crazy to even think of. And the great thing is that I do believe that there are rentals. There are rentals, you just have to go up to the front office for that.
Not only that, there is a boat launch.
Britt: Well, there’s boat launches to most of the main lakes. So, like, there’d be at least one boat launch to MacDonald Lake, there’s a boat launch to Clear Lake, etc.
John: Ya, and we had one right by our site. And I mean, it was great. You got to see some interesting characters going in and out. But I could just imagine how it would be in the summertime, for sure.
Britt: The great thing about paddling on Clear Lake is that it comes by its name honestly. We were out kayaking on the water, and the water, when it is still, like when the weather’s good, is just like glass, and you can see so far down.
It is absolutely incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a body of water where the water was that clear.
So, it was really cool getting out there and just kinda looking down and seeing what all was on the bottom of the water. But, it made for a really nice, relaxing paddle.
Other On-Site Activities (25:13)
Britt: And, of course, there’s other activities.
So, we didn’t feature all of the things that you could do, partially because some of them aren’t pet-friendly, and obviously, the point of this channel is to talk about the pet-friendly elements.
But we have had a chance to do some other things over the years that we’ve gone. This is our, it was our fourth year? Ya, it was our fourth year there.
So, we’ve done some of these activities in the past and when we do that, we tend to leave the dogs with my Mom and Bill to watch them and take our turn, and then we watch their dogs while they take their turn on said activity.
There is a Wolf Centre there which is really cool to check out, and I think if you are going for your first time, it’s definitely something you should consider booking into your schedule if possible, if you can get somebody to watch your dog, obviously.
There, you get to go in and there is an information centre where you learn all about the wildlife in the area.
You literally get to see bones and learn how to recognize them, and how to recognize different types of scat, and eggs, and all this really interesting information.
John: And the history of the logging and whatnot an the original company that was there.
Britt: There is some information about the logging. It’s largely focused though on the nature in that area.
And then there is a viewing area within this building, and it has one-sided glass so that you can see the wolves out in their natural environment, but they don’t know you’re there. And there’s mics set up so you can hear them. You can see them.
And you can really experience what it’s like to be near them with a) being in danger, because obviously you’re inside and they’re not, and b) without disturbing them.
It gives them that ability to just be themselves, which is absolutely incredible.
They don’t post feeding times, mainly because they don’t want to get overrun and have it be a big thing, but if you do happen to be there for a feeding time, that is another perk that you’d get to enjoy.
In addition to the Wolf Centre, there is also a canopy tour and especially during the fall, I highly recommend that. It’s this big boardwalk canopy up in the trees…
Oh, Lucifer’s hyper. I think the boys are going to play behind us.
John: Yes, they are.
Britt: But there is a big boardwalk canopy up in the trees, and you get to walk through all the treetops and have the colours literally right around you.
So, that is another incredible option. Unfortunately, not a dog-friendly option. But if you do have someone there that can watch the dog so that you can go out and enjoy it, it’s another great way to enjoy fall there.
If you’re heading out a little later in the season, Haliburton Forest is open for the winter.
However, they do not plow their roads – they actually convert most of their roads into snowmobile trails. So, you do have to snowmobile, or ATV, or hike into whatever site or cabin you’re staying at.
But, if you do go in, it is a great place – it’s one of the most known places in that area for people who love snowmobiling because they have so many trails throughout it.
And there are some trails that are open for hiking and snowshoeing, as well.
John: Ya, and I do believe that there are leased sites at Haliburton Falls or at Haliburton Forest, sorry. But there are leased sites there, so there are a lot of people who go there in the winter time, and they do their ice fishing, and they 4-wheel it in and snowmobile it out. It’s pretty interesting.
John: Which brings us to…
Britt: I think they’re having fun behind us. I don’t know if you guys can see as they’re running back and forth here, but the boys are having a great time.
John: Ya, I don’t have ADD, but apparently, I have ADD when the dogs are around.
So, firewood. It’s supplied by a logging company that’s just outside of Haliburton Forest there, Nesbitt. Ya, Nesbitt’s the name. I know for a few years, we were able to get…
Britt: Directly from Nesbitt.
John: Directly from Nesbitt. We used to get like a cord of wood.
Britt: We got a face cord.
John: Face cord. A face cord of wood and that would last us the whole week. But I think the Mom and Dad have retired, so the son’s taking over. He still supplies the park the wood. But, sorry…
He does supply the park wood. It’s $10 a bag. He does do bush cords.
Britt: Ya, if you want to get an individual delivery from him, it has to be a minimum of a bush cord. So, for a short stay, it’s not exactly feasible.
John: Not exactly. But for a seasonal, sure. It’s $10 a bag, which I found it to be a little bit more pricier than… Well, I mean, probably on par with Provincial Parks.
Britt: Ya, it’s on par with a lot of the parks. I mean, some parks are down to $9, some are up to $12, so…
John: Ya, so it’s right in the middle there. And it actually burns really good.
Britt: It was much better quality wood than most of the park wood you get.
John: Ya, for sure. The cool thing is that if you go to the store to get your firewood after hours, you can just go there and just grab it.
But it’s on the honour system, so you gotta go back the next morning and pay for the wood that you bought. Otherwise, they’re just gonna lock it up and start charging more, right.
Britt: We want to stress that. You MUST follow through on the honour system. The only way that the honour system at places like this is because people are actually true to it and follow through.
So we stress, once again, if you are using their honour system, you do follow up the next day and make that payment.
John: The park store itself… The dogs are so funny. The park store itself, you can go in there and get your souvenirs and whatnot. That’s in the main store.
You can get your gas there.
Britt: They have a gas pump.
John: They have a gas pump. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere – not the gas pump itself, but Haliburton Forest is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s pretty far from any gas stations. Fairly priced.
You can also get your propane and…
Britt: Ya, they have a propane fill station, so if you’ve got the big propane containers, you can get them filled there. Which is really smart considering how many leased sites they do have there that would be relying on that propane.
It does cover all the basics that you absolutely need. There’s also a washroom and showers up front in the main camp.
There aren’t a lot of showers, like there isn’t a big comfort station like you’d see at a provincial park. But there’s also a lot less people there.
I obviously haven’t been in the men’s side, but the women’s side, we had one bathroom and two showers in that little washroom comfort station area.
John: Sounds about right, for the men’s side.
Britt: That was more than enough for the amount of people that are there.
The only time I’ve ever had to wait in a line in that bathroom area was if they were running some sort of an event like a race, where everybody’s relying on that one bathroom. But I’ve never had to wait in a line for the showers.
So, even though there’s not as many of them, it’s comparable when you consider how many people are using them compared to how many showers are available.
John: Also, another thing to take note, the restaurant there – if you want to pick up general supplies, that’s where you would go is into the restaurant. Like you get your matches, your lighters, stuff like that.
Britt: And, of course, being a restaurant it’s also an opportunity if you wanted to just pick up food and have a quick bite one night. We have done that in the past.
John: They do have local craft beer.
Britt: And the food was really good when we did do it in the past. We didn’t do it this year because they were closed to cater an event this year when we were going to do it. But, we have done it in the past and the food there was really good.
It is another recommendation. If you want just like a relaxing evening where you don’t have to cook, you can just pick it up right on-site at the restaurant there.
John: Highly recommend the brisket mac and cheese wrap.
Final Rating (33:34)
Britt: That being said, with all of that factored in, we come down to our final rating.
John: Ya, I mean… I know a lot of people with campers aren’t gonna flock to Haliburton Forest because it’s just not made for that. There are campers there, like the camper trailers are there, it’s just…
Britt: Well, it depends. If you are comfortable going somewhere where you don’t have the hookups that you need and that kind of thing, like if you’re okay with no electrical.
The other thing to mention that we didn’t mention before is that there is no dump, so if you need to dump your trailer, you need to drive to a nearby park or location to dump. There is none on-site.
But if you’re okay with working around that for a camp adventure. It’s a little bit more rustic, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.
And for those of us who tent camp, it is perfect!
Britt: Obviously, there is no beach, which is a little bit of a knock compared to some of the other places that we review. We really like going places where there is a dog beach available.
But it isn’t a make-it-or-break-it. Our dogs… I mean, Dav, you’ve already seen, I believe there was a clip of it, Dav swimming in the water right off our campsite. So, clearly, that’s not a make-it-or-break-it situation for us.
We’ve said this a couple times about different locations, and I’ll say it again, I don’t like giving a perfect 5. But there are some campsites that are very close.
I know I ranked Lake Superior as a 4 1/2, and I’m going to give Haliburton a 4 1/2, too.
John: Ya, just like Lake Superior, 4 1/2 with a couple wags on top of that.
Britt: 4 1/2 paws with a couple tail wags!
John: Just to give it that little edge.
Britt: So, there you have it, that is everything we think about Haliburton.
I also want to direct your attention to an article that I wrote for Road Trip Ontario that is about Haliburton as a greater whole. So, it shares some of the other things that are in the area, not just in the forest itself – restaurants to visit, hotels if you prefer to have a hotel stay, as well as activities in the area.
I’ll link it in the description so that you can check that out as well (LINK: Explore Haliburton Ontario: A Nature Lover’s Dream)
If you haven’t already, we encourage you please like, subscribe, comment, share your thoughts about Haliburton Forest.
And stay tuned because our next review is going to be Silent Lake.
So, we’ll be back with some more fun camping adventures here in Ontario.
John: Stay toasty!