Sherborne Lake Loop

Total Distance: 16 km

Duration: 2 days 

No. of Portages:

Total Port. Distance: 4.2 kilometers

Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice (distance and elevation changes on some portages)

Maps provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red  

October 2022 was unseasonably warm and sunny. I had to take advantage. So, on the third weekend of the month, I cheekily sneaked away for a one-night solo trip in the Haliburton Highlands. With the water cold again, I wanted to go after some trout, but only Splake was in season. After a quick little glance at FISH ONline, I saw that a couple of small lakes west of Sherborne Lake were stocked with Splake. That alone was enough to sell me on the trip. I booked my site on the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails booking site and I was on my way. On top of lakes stocked with splake, the short circle route far exceeded my expectations in terms of scenic beauty. This weekend trip turned out to be a real gem!

Day 1 - St. Nora Lake to Orley Lake (8 km) 

The week leading up to the trip was very busy for me and I just couldn't get away on the Friday evening after work; however, I was able to pack and prepare for it on Friday and get out of the house by 7:30 AM on Saturday.

I was pulling into the St. Nora Lake put-in by 9 AM.

I had the area to myself, it seemed. The day was warm, sunny, and calm for late October. 

Out on St. Nora Lake, there were barely any ripples on the water and I was lucky enough to still have quite a lot of fall colour on the forested shores. 

I paddled out to the north of Margaret Island to check out the landing area for the long portage that I would use to re-enter St. Nora Lake the following day. I would be taking the long portage from Plastic Lake if I could find it. I was a little concerned about it, though; despite being marked on Jeff's Maps, it wasn't marked on the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails site. I did find the take-out landing spot for it, so at least I knew it existed from that end. Good. I would stick to my original plan of looping back to St. Nora from Bruin Lake at the top of the loop. I just hoped it wouldn't be too much of a chore to find the other end of it on Plastic Lake. 

You might be wondering who St. Nora was. I was wondering myself. I couldn't recall hearing about a St. Nora from religious lore, but apparently, the name of the lake is an anglicized derivation of the indigenous name for the lake, Sonora. I'm not entirely sure of the accuracy of that fact, but it makes sense. Google tells me there was a St. Nora in Russia during the Soviet Union era, and the lake might be named after her, or maybe it's a combination of both facts. 

The water levels on St. Nora Lake seemed extremely low. The water coming into the lake from Sherborne Lake is dam controlled, and we hadn't had a lot of rain leading up to the trip. I was left to assume that the dam had been doing its job of damming very well. There was a lot of exposed sandy shoreline and driftwood at the edges of the lake. 

After paddling through the channel north of Margaret Island, I spotted a lovely campsite on a point on the northern shore. Too bad it's on a lake with a lot of motorboat traffic, but I suppose it would be good for people who want to have a camping experience without portaging. 

I moved around the point and spotted a cabin in the back bay where the portage into Sherborne Lake was supposed to be. At first glance, I just spotted a creek with very low water next to the cabin. There was a lot of sand on the banks of the creek. 

Although I couldn't spot the portage sign, I saw an easily discernible trail to the left of the creek and pulled my boat up on the sandy beach to access it. It had to be the portage. 

I attempted to carry my canoe and gear in one go on this portage but it soon got quite steep as it ascended the ridge next to the creek. I was prepared for an elevation change on the portage, just not all at once. I left the canoe at the side of the portage after the first 150 meters and continued the portage with just my bag and gear. 

I must say, it was probably one of the most scenic portages I have ever taken. Maybe it was the diversity of the terrain, or maybe it was the fall colours, but it was so gorgeous that it actually made me forget I was completing an 813-meter portage up a ten-story incline. The initial ascent went through a lovely, thick, mixed forest. It plateaued at a swampy pond about halfway along, where a boardwalk was installed to help portagers through the nasty wet stuff.  

After about 600 meters of walking, the trail came to an ATV road on which I turned right and re-entered the forest. 

The ATV road followed alongside the creek where a beautiful little waterfall carried the run-off coming out of the dam above it. 

Past that, the ATV trail climbed another small hill up to a wide, rocky put-in that looked over the pretty southern bay of Sherborne Lake, just to the left of the concrete dam. 

The best part of the portage was on the return trip for my canoe. I ventured into the bush after hearing falling water at the top of the steepest part of the trail and bushwhacked east for about 40 meters. I came upon an even more stunning waterfall with quite a substantial drop.

After retrieving my canoe and finishing the portage, I paddled out into Sherborne Lake and tried a few casts to get at some bass below a gorgeous rock face on the eastern shore of the southern bay. I didn't have any luck; I find bass fishing more difficult after September. They don't seem as aggressive and tend to move to shallower water and not bite as much.

I took my time working my way across Sherborne Lake. There was no one else on the lake and only one privately owned cottage that appeared to be vacant at the time. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the wind was down and the shoreline was amazing, displaying the last vestiges of autumn colours interspersed with rocky points and bouldery cliffs. It was a beautiful paddle. 

I made note of a couple of very nice campsites on the lake for future reference as I paddled past them. I moved into the bay at the northeastern corner of the bay and pulled ashore at the island site near the portage into Orley Lake. I got a fire going in the firepit and made myself some noodle soup for lunch. I enjoyed it in the sun on the rocks near the water. 

The take-out to the portage to Orley Lake was wet due to the fact that it was next to the creek that the portage followed. 

The portage up to Orley was not the easiest despite its relatively short length. First off, it rises nearly 90 feet over its 360m length. Secondly, it didn't seem like it was used all that often. I had a bit of trouble finding the trail in a few spots because it crisscrossed the stream a couple of times as it ascended. This was largely due to the fallen leaves covering the path. There was also some deadfall that I needed to negotiate. 

At the top, near Orley lake, the trail was sandwiched between the creek and a huge boulder. 

The carry seemed worth it once I spotted the rocky front porch of my campsite on Orley Lake across from the put-in; it looked to be a good one. 

I got on the lake and had look around. I had booked the site on Orley, but it was still fairly early in the day and I debated with myself over whether or not I should press on or stay. The one concern I had was if there was a viable route between Orley Lake and Little Avery Lake. On Jeff's map, no portages were marked on the route but it did show a creek existing between the two small bodies of water. The Haliburton Highlands Water Trail map showed a 365-meter portage out of the west end of Orley that wasn't on Jeff's Map. I paddled over to take a look. 

The creek was definitely a no-go. It was barely a trickle of water. There was a portage sign on a rocky point that was signed as a 365-meter-long trail from Orley Lake to Ranger Pond. I was left to assume that Ranger Pond was on the way to Little Avery Lake, and if so, that would be good news. What made me second guess if it was the correct portage was its take-out location. It was a good 50 meters away from the creek. So, I paddled back over to the creek, got out next to it, and began walking. I picked up the portage and followed it to the end without my gear or canoe to scout it out. Indeed, it ended at a pond with a lot of deadfall in it. 

At that point, I heard a lot of gunfire go off. It seemed fairly nearby and from the direction in which I would be travelling. It was the end of October and smack dab in the middle of hunting season. Well, that decided it for me. I would head back and camp at the nice site on Orley and come back through Ranger Pond the following day. I certainly didn't want to be traipsing about in the woods with hunters nearby. 

I walked back to my canoe, got in, and started trolling the lake as I paddled back to the campsite. Almost immediately, I hooked onto a splake! It was on the smallish side, and since I got it immediately, I thought that the lake was teeming with them, so I let it go. Well, I think you can guess what happened. Despite my best efforts, I didn't get another nibble for the rest of the day. That's fishing for you. 

The site was a really nice one, though there wasn't an abundance of flat tent pads. I don't think it would be suitable for more than two tents. 

I set up camp, then collected and cut a bunch of firewood. I spent the rest of the day fishing (to no avail), relaxing, and paddling about on this gorgeous little lake that I had to myself. It was a great afternoon and evening. There was a cheap, plastic kayak beached on the western shore which was odd because it seemed to be randomly there for no apparent reason. 

Later in the evening, I made some steak, potatoes and salad and watched the sun slide behind the treeline to the west. 

The fire kept me warm (along with a couple of glasses of red wine) as night descended and the temperature dropped. 

Day 2 - Orley Lake to St. Nora Lake (8 km) 

I slept fairly well. The temperature dropped close to freezing but I was snug in my sleeping bag and tent. 

I got up, made coffee, and whipped up a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon in pita wraps. Then, just for fun, I had more coffee. Why not? I would need the boost, I had six portages ahead of me that day, one of them about a kilometer and a half long. 

It was a chilly morning and I was thankful when the sun finally peered over the treeline to the east. That gave me warm fuzzies all over. 

I got on the water shortly after 9 AM and paddled over to the creek. I single-tripped the portage over to Ranger Pond and had fun weaving in and out of the deadfall on the pond. 

Once that nonsense was behind me, I was hoping there would be a creek that I could follow into Avery Lake. There was, but it was unnavigable. It was a little trickle of a waterfall that dropped into a very marshy area. However, there was a signed portage! I wondered if it was newly formed because it is on neither Jeff's Map nor the HHWT map.  The view behind me of Ranger Pond from the take-out was incredible. 

The distance to the shores of Little Avery was only about half the length of the portage. The shores of Little Avery at that location were steep and the trail ran south, parallel to the lake, for about 50 meters until a somewhat level spot to put in could be had. 

Little Avery Lake was another stunningly beautiful small lake with only one campsite. There, canoe trippers can have a lake to themselves if they make the effort to portage there. The site, on a rocky point at the northern tip of the lake looked like a nice one. 

The best part of Little Avery Lake, though, were the huge cliffs on the southeastern shoreline. 

Across the lake from those magnificent cliffs was the 215m portage into Bruin Lake, another splake-stocked body of water. The take-out there was a little tricky. There were three or four large trees that had fallen into the lake and remained in the water in spots deep enough to make it quite a pain in the @$$ to get the canoe to shore. 

The portage made up for it, though. The trail went through a very pretty forest and emerged at a weedy shoreline with lovely views of Bruin Lake. 

I put in and paddled onto the lake, and saw a person at the campsite on the north shore -- the only other person I would encounter on the entire route. 

I began trolling the lake and when I got a little closer to the northwestern end of the lake, the man greeted me. We chatted for a bit. I saw that he was shore fishing. He explained that he had hiked in from the logging road north of the lake. In mid-conversation, I got a fish on my line and began reeling it in. I got it to the boat and got my fishing net under a beautiful, nice-sized splake. The man, watching from the shore congratulated me on my catch, and no sooner had the man finished uttering his words when this splake performed an acrobatic move of Mary Lou Retton-like proportions; it somehow managed to shake my lure free and backflip into the air and out of my net in one fell swoop. I couldn't believe it! I mean, I have lost my fair share of fish at the boat before, but never when they were still on the hook and in my fishing net! I think I began laughing and weeping at the same time. My plans for a shore lunch were foiled. Of course, I spent the better half of the next half-hour trolling this tiny lake to no avail. Again, that's fishing for you. (Or maybe just me due to my lack of skill!)

I eventually found my way to the southern tip of Bruin Lake and completed a wet portage into the gorgeous, but swampy, Long Pond. The view from the take-out, looking back on Bruin, was a nice one. 

Likewise, the view at the put-in on Long Pond was a fantastic one, as well. 

I paddled into the pond and did a 90-degree turn to the north around a pretty bouldery point. 

The way through the pond got shallow in spots and I had to precariously step on boggy mush to pull the canoe through and not sink to my waist in the muck. That was short-lived, thankfully and I made it to the portage into Plastic Lake. I turned to get a parting photo of Long Pond in the morning sun. 

The portage to Plastic Lake was certainly not the longest of the trip, but was the most challenging. I started off single-tripping this one. It was fairly wet to begin with as it followed a creek down a slope to a low-lying swampy pond. 

It continued on to the southern back bay on Raven Lake to the north, but I had to head off on a side trail to Plastic Lake. There was no sign for that, however, and it was difficult to see where that trail began under all the newly-fallen autumn foliage. I picked the spot that seemed most logical and started to head into the forest. I did this without the canoe, though, because that spot was straight up quite a steep vertical incline. To cap it off, the put-in was tricky; the entire landing area was blocked by a bunch of huge logs. 

Plastic Lake was a pretty, kidney-shaped lake with a densely-treed shoreline. It was considerably larger than the tiny lakes I had paddled through that morning. I enjoyed the calm paddle in the morning sun across the lake without seeing another person. 

I spotted the campsite on the southwestern shore and looked for the portage that was supposed to be east of the site. I paddled the shoreline twice and saw nothing but dense forest. I knew there was a logging road that would take me toward St. Nora Lake in the forest back there somewhere, but I didn't fancy having to bushwhack my canoe and gear to get to it. 

I decided to paddle into the narrow inlet at the southern end of the lake to see what I could spot. I paddled until the inlet narrowed into a swampy marsh and deadfall prevented me from going further. On the right shore, I noticed a muddy landing that looked like human traffic had worn out the vegetation there, but the forest there was thick with no observable trail leading into it. I got out of the canoe there and started walking the shore between the swamp and the forest, heading south. I was about to give up and head back to the canoe and attempt the bushwhack when I noticed a little yellow sign with an arrow tacked to a dead standing tree. 

I continued to the southern end of the swamp where I came to a little bridge that crossed the creek there. On the other side of the bridge was a discernible trail into the woods. I had found the portage, nowhere near where it was on Jeff's Maps. Perhaps, it was a separate one or a newly-formed one. 

That portage emerged at a well-maintained logging road used as a snowmobile trail in the winter. I turned left on the road and followed it around the bend and up a considerable climb for about 700 meters until I came to a junction and a large sign containing a map tacked to a tree. There, I had to turn left down a smaller road to get to St. Nora Lake. My canoe is on the road to St. Nora in the photo below. I knew this because the road was signed. How's that for portage directions?! 

It was about 800 meters to St. Nora Lake from the junction. I came to a locked gate prohibiting access to vehicles to Sherborne Lake. There, I had to turn right off the main road on yet a smaller road to get to St. Nora.

I emerged on St. Nora Lake at the put-in spot that I scouted out the day before. It was a short paddle back to my car from there. On the way, I noticed a fire tower on the ridge to the right of the lake. I hadn't spotted it the day prior because it had been behind me to my left. 

By 1:30 PM, I was loading my canoe and gear into my car, and driving south on Highway 35 shortly afterward. 

On the drive, I was quietly thanking my lucky stars; I had been able to experience a sunny, gorgeous overnight loop trip in the third week of October with little to no wind. Moreover, I seemed to have the entire region to myself. I did not see another canoeist. The only other human interaction was the friendly shore fisherman on Bruin Lake that watched me botch my splake landing job and some hunters doing their thing in the distance. 

In fact, it was one of the most pleasant and scenic weekend trips that I have had the pleasure of taking. Once again, I was reminded of the benefits of canoeing in the shoulder seasons.