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Family Adventures in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve

After a scenic four-hour drive from Ottawa, we arrived at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve visitor’s centre. The first thing our son, David, wanted to do was get a photo with the huge stuffed bear found inside the main lobby. He was also excited when the information desk staff informed him there were snakes in the forest.


An overnight stay at Haliburton Forest, or buying a day pass, gives you access to over 400 km of hiking trails and numerous lakes perfect for a dip. I knew that I had to put David’s snake-hunting urges in check until we settled into our cabin. Our base camp had previously been a sawmill in the 1940s and there were a number of industrial sawmill pieces of equipment with historical plaques and a logging museum remembering the forestry heritage. My wife, Sandy and I relaxed for about five minutes before David said, “Okay, let’s go and look for snakes.” Considering it was 7:00 pm, we did not see any snakes but did find many interesting things including the Cookhouse Restaurant which serves as the focal point of social activities at base camp.

Haliburton Wildlife centre – Photo Stephen Johnson

The next day, we started with the treetop canopy tour. I read the brochure:

Scenic drive through the forest – Check, I can do that!

Paddle a canoe across a wilderness lake –  Not my everyday activity but hey, I’m Canadian so I’m up for it.

Walk through the treetops along the longest canopy boardwalk of its kind in the world –  Whoah! Slow down! As a person who is afraid of heights, this did not sound like my cup of tea.

After much discussion with the front desk staff and wanting to face my own fears, we decided to give it a go. We met our guides Ted and Paige and I was immediately put at ease. I explained my phobia to Ted and he was very cool saying he would support me as far as I wanted to go. Both guides had a great sense of humour which helped to break the ice but also conveyed that they took our security seriously.

We hopped in the van and Ted gave us a historical overview of Haliburton Forest. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit the forest was to learn more about their sustainable forestry practices. Ted explained some of the practices including selective logging and taking a long-term view rather than short-term profit. One thing I liked was that Ted admitted the company did not have all the answers to forestry management and were constantly adapting. He also mentioned there is constant research taking place in the forest with institutions like the University of Toronto.

The van pulled up to a lake that was straight out of a Group of Seven painting. We went on a short hike where David saw numerous American Woodland toads and a Leopard frog impressing Ted and Paige with his ability to see the camouflaged frogs.

Of course, the canopy tour was on the other side of the lake so we took canoes which had seats made from the wood at the sawmill. Ted assured us that the canoes were almost impossible to sink. I was not so concerned with being on the Titanic than we were getting closer to the canopy walk. I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember; on our honeymoon in Paris, I made it up to only the first level of the Eiffel Tower.

The canoes arrived on the shore and it was time to strap up for the canopy tour and  I went through the safety demonstration with confidence that the system is very stable. Conveniently, I was the last one to step out on the walkway that was suspended over the treetops. Ted was behind me giving me encouragement with Sandy and David ahead. I am proud to say I did complete the first leg of the experience. While I did not complete the entire course, I did take a not so baby step in managing my fear of heights. It was fun to watch David proceed around the course with cat-like speed. David and Sandy said they loved the view of the forest below.

Once back at base camp, Sandy and I were ready for a rest. David being David, he wanted to keep going and check out the Wolf Centre. The Wolf Centre is home to a pack of grey wolves that move around within the centre’s fifteen acres. There is a large glass observatory at the centre where it is possible to see the wolves. The facility also featured numerous exhibits and films about the grey wolf.

When we visited, we did not see any wolves as they were understandably seeking shade from the afternoon summer heat. David had heard there were a few garter snakes living near the wolf centre. We also did not see any garter snakes but he did find a snakeskin which he thought was pretty cool.

David finds a snakeskin – Photo Stephen Johnson

Unfortunately, we had to cut our time short at Haliburton because of an unexpected emergency in Ottawa. We would like to go back to check out the hiking trails, swimming in the lakes and other events like a tour of the sawmill.

If you go – We had a wonderful time at Haliburton Forest. It is unique to be able to combine sustainable eco-tourism alongside a resource-based business. It is the outdoors so be prepared for bugs of all sizes. We dressed appropriately and used bug spray so were fine.  For more information about Haliburton Forest, visit, www.haliburtonforest.com.

Accommodation and aerial walk for Haliburton was covered by the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. They did not review or approve the article. 

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Due to COVID-19, travelling is not what it used to be. It is advisable to adhere to physical distancing requirements, ensure frequent hand washing, and wear a mask indoors when maintaining distances is not possible. See www.travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories for more details.