Crab Lake

Total Distance: 10 km

Duration: 1 - 3 days

No. of Portages: 2 (both ways)

Total Port. Distance: approx. 280 m

Level of Difficulty: A perfect first-time backcountry trip 

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have made additional markings to show route information.  

I had the pleasure of camping on Crab Lake twice in 2020. After all, it's only a 45-minute drive from my house to the access point on Wolf Lake in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. I went in for a cheeky, little one-nighter on site 316 in mid-July with my wife, Dahee, and again for the annual autumn weekend trip with the Canoe Daddies in early October on site 309. Why twice, you may ask? Well, besides the proximity to my home, it's a gorgeous lake, plain and simple.

What makes Crab Lake interesting is its shape. People in the Apsley area refer to it as Star Lake because its bays jut out in different directions like a star, or a crab. This shape lends itself perfectly to canoe camping because of all the rocky points. Take your pick of the campsites, they're all pretty nice! This fact, its location in south-central Ontario, and its easy access from the parking lot means that it gets booked out throughout most of the paddling season, unfortunately.

Day 1  - Wolf Lake to Crab Lake

In the middle of July, my wife and I were pulling into the Wolf Lake parking lot just before noon. We were excited to get our trip underway and pleased that there was very little wind. Our happiness diminished somewhat when we saw the sign that a fire ban was in place. I had checked online the day before and there wasn't any ban in effect, so it must have been put into place that morning. Darn! But hey, they exist for a reason and it truly had been a very hot summer up to that point. We had had several days near or above the 30 degrees Celsius point at the end of June. Never mind! We were still looking forward to lazing around in the hammock, swimming and fishing. 

In no time we were reaching the western edges of Wolf Lake and admiring the row of nice cottages with amazing decks that had views over the lake. We were soon carrying over the short portage into Crab and putting in. There are only two cottages on Crab and they are directly adjacent to the portage. There was a family there playing and swimming on a raft in front of their cottage. We waved as we paddled past and made our way across to the southeastern bay of the lake, where we had booked site 316, the last site available for this night. Every site was indeed occupied and canoes were darting to and fro on the lake.

Arriving at our site, we were pleased with what we found. It was on a large rocky point and was a good 10 feet off the water. There was plenty of shade provided by the trees to protect us from the relentless sun and there were a couple of spacious and flat tent pads.

We set up our gear and made some wraps for lunch. The heat was settling in and so were the deer and horse flies. They were really bad. All the hot weather brought them out in droves. So, we decided to get back into the canoe and explore the lake a bit.

We paddled back out of the bay and around the point to investigate the western end of the lake. I had read online that there was a good jumping rock on the eastern edge of the bay next to site 314 and indeed there were people there crashing into the lake when it came into view. We decided that this would be our reward after hiking up Blueberry Mountain though, so we continued past it to the take-out for the trail at the most southern point of the lake. There, a sign had been tacked to a tree to let visitors know where the trail begins.

It only took us about ten minutes to reach the top of Blueberry Mountain. We found the name a bit of a misnomer, because there weren't any blueberries, nor was it a mountain. It was hardly a taxing climb, and though it doesn't reach the lofty heights of other hikes in Haliburton, Algonquin or Temagami, it is one of the higher points in the Kawartha Highlands and affords a great view over the surrounding landscape.

Dahee and I hung about on the rocky top for a bit and we enjoyed the breeze and the views before heading back the way we had come. On the October trip, however, the boys and I continued on and found a trail heading further south into the park. We arrived at a small lake but decided to leave it at that. I'm sure that there are trails heading off the beaten path further into the interior of the park there, but it was hunting season in October and we had heard shots being fired earlier in the morning. It is not a wise thing to be tramping about the woods when you know hunters are active in the area. Someday, I would like to come back and explore the large area of wilderness between Crab and Long Lakes.

We arrived back at our canoe and we made our way to the jumping rock where we cooled off with some Olympic-worthy entries into the lake. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a rope swing there, as well! The Canoe Daddies did that again in October, but the lake was a bit "fresher" at that time of year!

Arriving back at the site, we just relaxed for the rest of the day. The wind came up a bit, so we just enjoyed fishing from shore, reading and hanging about the campsite. The double-sized hammock was a bonus because it allowed us to pull the edges of the material around us while we were in it as protection from the hordes of deer and horse flies. (Dahee is shy about having her photo in my trip reports, so I "amended" it a bit.)

We had a nice evening watching the beautiful sky over the lake and retired to the tent early due to a heavy mosquito presence and lack of a campfire.

Day 2 - Crab Lake to Wolf Lake

I woke up earlier than Dahee and paddled about the bay to fish for about an hour or so. I caught a few baby-sized smallmouth bass, but on the whole, didn't have a lot of luck.

There was a foursome of young adults staying at site 317 across the bay. One of the young men waved to me while I was fishing the weeds near their site. They were there when we arrived the day before, so I assumed that they had been on the site for at least a couple of nights. I had noticed that they had a bonfire going the previous night, so after he waved, I paddled over and politely asked him if he was aware of the fire ban that was put into place the day before. He looked surprised by the news.

Knowing that one can receive a fine of up to $25,000 for lighting a fire during a ban in a provincial park, I felt obligated to let him know about it. The rangers are very active in the Kawartha Highlands, and besides, the fire restrictions are there for a reason. A bit of wind, a spark and dry foliage during a heatwave can result in disaster.

In 2018, large, out-of-control forest fires took out vast areas of forest in two of Ontario's premier paddling destinations, the French River and Temagami. The French River fire, known as Parry Sound 33, took out the entire area between the Key and Pickerel Rivers. It burned for 3 and half months. In northeastern Ontario, in and around Temagami, 70 forest fires were happening simultaneously in July of 2018. One near Makobe Lake was 120 square kilometres large! People in the town of Temagami had to be evacuated at one point. Fellow paddlers...please, respect the fire bans!

Dahee and I enjoyed a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs (over the camp stove!) and broke camp around noon. After another swim at our sight, we made our way back across Crab Lake and were soon getting help from a tailwind heading east on Wolf Lake. We stopped at the larger islands in the middle of Wolf for one last dip in the cool refreshing waters of the lake on this hot day before arriving back at the car. It was a fantastic little getaway for a night on a beautiful lake just north of our home. There are worse ways to ride out a heatwave!