Hiking the Limberlost Reserve
Nestled to the north of highway 60 between Algonquin Park and the town of Huntsville, the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve offers an impressive 10,000 acres of beautiful Muskoka landscape.
This private reserve is available for the public to explore free of charge.
The Reserve encompasses over 70 km of trails and 20 lakes within its boundaries. Accessible year round, activities include hiking, biking, paddling, camping, snowshoeing, cross country and backcountry skiing.
The check-in cabin in the main parking lot has a good supply of maps for the surrounding trails. The Master Trail Guide is also available on site which we highly recommend purchasing. Not only is the guide full of helpful information with maps for each trail but it also provides interesting details of the geology, ecology and the history of the Limberlost Reserve. The Guide is also available at no charge on the Limberlost website although the proceeds from the actual publication go directly to an organization called Trails Youth Initiatives that provide outdoor programs within the reserve for inner-city youth. (www.trails.ca)
Purchasing the guide or contributing a donation is a great opportunity to give something back in exchange for the enjoyment of this incredible place.
There are over a dozen main trails as well as several linking trails that allow you to extend your hike to whatever distance and degree of difficulty you prefer.
Several of the trails are close to the main parking lot or alternatively a short distance away where additional parking is close to each trailhead.
Here are a few notes about three of the more accessible trails that are sure to become some of your favourites within the reserve.
Turtle and Clear Lake Trail
Steps away from the main parking area the Turtle and Clear Lake trail offers an easy to moderate 8 km hike of mixed bush with pretty views of both lakes.
The trail is well marked following the shoreline for the most part, traveling through a mixed forest, low lying wetlands and areas of some incline.
Good footwear is recommended when hiking any of the trails in Limberlost as the terrain can be more rugged and water levels and trail conditions can vary depending on weather and time of year. Be prepared for mud and rock...it is Muskoka.
The trail offers several opportunities to enjoy a number of natural points of interest. There are two very large protruding rocks known as Niomi’s Rest that are located to the east of Turtle Lake just off the main trail. The Master Trail guide suggests that they may have come to be after the massive meteoric impact which occurred at the Brent Crater about 450 million years ago.
Wetlands and beaver dams provide birding opportunities where Great Blue Herons can often be spotted hunting for a meal along the shoreline. One of our favourite sections of trail follows Oliver Creek as water spills out from Turtle and Clear Lakes on route to the larger Nelson River. Spring melt is a great time of year to walk this trail and see the the flow of water descending over the Ethan Shale.
For those looking for a trail that is slightly shorter in length but no less beautiful, you have the option of following the trail on the east side of Clear Lake until you come to a little foot bridge, then circumnavigating Turtle Lake in either direction. This will bring you back to Clear Lake and the trail you began on leading back to the parking lot.
Buck Lake Trail
Buck Lake is one of the largest lakes within the Limberlost Reserve. The Buck Lake hiking trail is 8.5 km in length winding its way around the shoreline for most of that distance. There are several opportunities on route to extend your hike by venturing off on additional linking trails to explore other nearby lakes. Hiking close to water with rocky outcrops is always a highlight so this trail is a definite go to for us.
Parking for the trailhead is located just above a flat area that was cleared back in the early 1900’s for the purpose of storing logs that were cut then floated across Buck Lake. Today this landing provides a small beach with a canoe launch and picnic area as well as a great beginning to your hike.
To the north end of the lake an old beaver dam and wetland area provide bird watching opportunities. Keep your eyes open for nesting Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons during the spring and summer months.
Growing up with a nearby rookery, I have spent many hours observing Herons nesting in the tall, dead trees in the middle of a swamp. I recently learned that they also make ground nests in the long grasses along with Cranes, in wetlands such as this. It’s really important to stay on the trail and to be respectful and quiet in these fragile nesting areas.
As you continue along the eastern edge of the lake there are several areas of higher ground and rocky cliffs that produce spectacular ice formations during the late winter and early spring. This can be somewhat challenging at times when attempting to traverse this part of the trail but it is quite fun.
Sheltered at the mouth of a small bay not much farther along the trail lies a tiny island just off the shore. During the spring and summer months when you’re “stealthily” ( Hint Hint ) hiking through this area keep an eye out for osprey. For the past several years there have been a nesting pair inhabiting this island. You’ll often hear their cry before spotting them.
Located at the South East end of Buck Lake you’ll come to a boardwalk crossing Helve Creek which flows out of Buck Lake. During spring melt the creek is especially pretty with the higher volume of water spilling out on route to Poverty Lake.
The steepest portion of the trail is at the south end of the lake where the trail begins to ascend. Here you’ll come to a rebuild of Wil Quinn’s rest cabin perched at the apex, overlooking the lake and providing a place to pause and take in the surroundings.
Beautiful cliffs, boardwalks and creeks provide an interesting experience for the remainder of the trail before arriving back to where you began your hike.
Solitaire Lake Trail
Solitaire Lake Trail is widely known for being the largest lake within the Limberlost Reserve as well as for having some of the most spectacular views, especially during the fall colours. As a result it is one of the most popular trails during all four seasons.
The trail is rated an easy to moderate 13km with a well maintained footpath for a good portion of the route. Travelling through a wide variety of the Canadian Shield landscape the trail is generally level with only a few areas of any real incline. It can be a bit wet and muddy in some sections as there are a few stretches of run off that cross the trail. The route is well marked with several unique natural features that you may want to take the time to investigate. Again, sturdy footwear is a must.
You can approach the trail from either direction. We usually take the path along the lake by the row of private/rental cottages to put the most populated section of the trail behind us. The trail quickly becomes uninhabited for the rest of the way, passing through some beautiful forest with cliffs as you approach the boardwalk of Little Echo Rock. Across the lake, Echo Rock Lookout can be seen giving perspective to its impressive height.
A few years ago the reserve maintained a herd of goats that quite often roamed free. During this time I was guiding a nature interpretive hike with a group through Women & Wisdom, Muskoka. On the narrow boardwalk we came head to head with the billy leading another 8 or so of his posse along this narrow winding walkway. Not having a whole lot of knowledge about animal behaviour of this nature, our group eagerly retreated and let them pass. Not exactly what we were expecting to come upon while hiking in the bush in Muskoka.
As you continue around the south end of Solitaire Lake you will travel over land that was once part of the Langmead settlement, one of the earliest families to establish a farm on Solitaire Lake. We can only begin to imagine what settlers went through attempting to farm in this rugged bush.
From this point the trail leads you to one of the most scenic sections of the Solitaire Trail, a spectacular area known as The Windy Cave and The Hidden Cliffs. We have hiked this trail many times in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. This is certainly one of our favourite places to explore throughout the year.
Proceeding along the trail you will begin to climb a long winding section that veers away from the lake for a while. Where the land begins to plateau a massive piece of opaque quartz irrupts from the ground. One of several outcrops that can be found within the reserve, this particular one is thought to weigh in excess of 500 tonnes.
The Echo Rock Lookout just a short distance away provides hikers with an incredible view to the south and east over Solitaire Lake and the surrounding forest. The cliff towers over the lake at quite an impressive height, making the climb well worth the effort. The view is beautiful at any time but it is especially pretty when the sun is shining and the leaves are in full colour.
From this point the trail begins its decent to lower ground once again, then leads you through an area of some of the largest old growth Eastern Hemlock in the reserve.
Shortly thereafter the trail comes to an end at the South Limberlost Road. From there it is only a few minutes walk along the road to return to the main parking area.
See you out there!