Cruise the Trent Severn Waterway in Style

You don't need to own a boat to enjoy the water. Rent a houseboat to navigate this historic waterway.

Please note Happy Day Houseboats is no longer in business. Please visit H2O Getaways for houseboat rentals in the region. 

It’s been over eight years since I’ve taken a boat through a lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway. That might not seem like a big deal for most Ontario boaters. With over 250,000 lakes to choose from in our province, I can't possibly visit them all, but transiting Lock 32 in Bobcaygeon was a regular experience. I used to live on Pigeon Lake, so the Kawartha Lakes section of the Trent-Severn was home. 

Our boating adventures often took us further. Sometimes we'd visit Fenelon Falls on our way to Balsam Lake. Sometimes we'd head in the other direction, toward the city of Peterborough and the famous lift-lock. There's no shortage of great places to boat on the Trent.

Lots to explore on the 386km of waterways connecting Lake Ontario with Lake Huron

In my early boating years, I participated in a couple of houseboat trips on different sections of this popular waterway, or so I have been told. I was only four. My memories of those adventures are fuzzy, but I expect I had fun. 

One thing is for certain, I am long overdue for an encore. 

Leaving the locks at Bobcaygeon, headed East for Pigeon Lake - Courtesy of It's About Travelling

Happy Days Houseboats has set us up with their 56-foot luxury model. They describe it as the largest and most luxurious houseboat available for rent in the Kawarthas. That’s quite an accomplishment. The Kawartha Lakes are the hotspot for houseboat rentals in Ontario.

Our itinerary includes the shops and restaurants of downtown Bobcaygeon, the scenic Fenelon Falls, the famous lift-lock in Kirkfield and Canada's freshwater summit, the highest point of water in Canada from where you can circumnavigate the globe without touching land. 

The Kirkfield Lift-Lock

There's no better way to take in the natural beauty and small-town charm of the Kawartha Lakes region from the deck of a houseboat.

Last dip of the day courtesy of
Happy Day Houseboats

And now, here's how the trip went...

We Found the Best Way to Explore the Kawartha Lakes

Stepping aboard our houseboat ‘Happiness’ caused me to immediately re-evaluate my understanding of the word houseboat. In all honesty, I was expecting a camp boat. Four plywood walls, basic furnishings, and limited conveniences. Not so.

Happy Days calls these models "Luxury" for a reason. It was apparent as soon as we entered the cabin this was going to be a comfortable trip. This was the perfect boat for a family with kids.

We had six people on a boat that easily sleeps 12. It was spacious. Whirlpool appliances, including a dishwasher, a complete high-definition home entertainment system with surround sound and a ceiling fan. 

A ceiling fan on a boat. That’s a first.

After a thorough ground school class from Happy Days owner Jill Quast, which covered all the basic navigation and safety considerations for our vessel, we got a hands-on lesson in docking and manoeuvring from her partner Frank, as well as detailed instruction on operating the boat's mechanical and electrical systems.

Houseboats are designed and built for inexperienced boaters and the crew at Happy Days will make sure you have a firm handle on the boat before you depart for your journey.

Our first lock was in Bobcaygeon, "the hub of the Kawarthas." It’s one of the busiest locks on the system, but traffic was light this time of year. We were hoping to have time to visit Bigley's shoe store, a veritable institution in Bobcaygeon, but we departed late from the marina and had to make up time. We also missed out on lunch a the Lock 32 Pub, my favourite restaurant in town.

We motored into Sturgeon Lake with plans to overnight on the lower side of the lock in Fenelon Falls. We tied up three hours later and had the entirety of the area to ourselves. We picked a spot with the best view of the falls and fired up the barbecue on the foredeck.

We debated on dinner at The Perch restaurant. It has the best view in town of the falls, but barbequing on the boat's front deck at the base of the falls was too tempting to pass up.

Fenelon Falls has some extra flair this season, due to the incredibly high water levels on the Trent-Severn.  The dam is wide open and the water is thundering over the falls. It’s an impressive sight. 

We locked through at 10 am the next morning. The lock chamber at Fenelon Falls is my favourite on the system. The limestone block walls tower over the boat and it feels like you're boating into a cave. Coming out the other side we made our way into Cameron Lake and headed to Rosedale. 

Rosedale is a beautiful spot. Plenty of space at the lock for camping. After the huge lift at Fenelon, the lock at Roses ale almost seems unnecessary. It only rises a metre or so, but the transit is quick and a brief conversation with the lockmaster told us we had time to visit Coboconk and still make it back to Rosedale before the last lock.

Coboconk is at the northern tip of Balsam Lake. It’s got some basic amenities, but no fuel dock. Our houseboat had excellent range, but if you need to fuel, stop at Pride of Balsam or Rosedale Marina as soon as you pass through the lock into Balsam.

There’s a great photo opportunity on the pier at Coboconk. Balsam Lake is known as Canada’s Freshwater Summit. It’s the highest point of freshwater in Canada from which you can circumnavigate the globe without touching land. Naturally, we snapped a few photos.

Back on the boat, we cruised back to Rosedale with an hour to spare. We locked through and had a leisurely trip back to Fenelon Falls for the night.

The top side of Fenelon Falls doesn’t have the spectacular view of the falls you get on the lower side, but it does have something almost as good, 30 amp shore power. 

You’ll want to be docked as early as possible for a couple of reasons. These spots fill up fast in peak season, and if you want power, you need to speak to one of the attendants. There’s a small fee for power and they need to unlock the outlets. If you arrive after hours, you’ll be out of luck.

Of course, with our fully-loaded houseboat, shore power is a convenience and not a necessity. The onboard generator provides power anywhere to charge the batteries and the batteries can run the systems on the boat all night long.

I learned a couple of things on this trip. First, if you want a boating adventure with all the comforts of home, these luxury boats from Happy Days have got you covered. They’re also the perfect boat for an extended trip with children. You won't have this kind of space on a cruiser.

Second, I was reminded that the City of Kawartha Lakes is a stunning example of the natural beauty and small-town charm you’ll find up and down the 386 kilometres of the Trent-Severn Waterway. There’s simply no better way to relax and soak up the experience than from the deck of a houseboat.

About Steve Sansford

Steve has spent most of his life in and around boats. His father was a marine mechanic and Steve studied Marine Navigation in college. He currently holds several Transport Canada navigation and safety ratings. His work has been published in Powerboating Canada magazine and various other online outlets. Check out his Instagram feed for updates on his latest adventures.

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