The Haliburton Highlands or Haliburton County is a popular cottage area in Central Ontario, Canada. It is approximately 2.5 hours from Toronto or 214.6 km (133.3 miles) and about 3 hours 18 minutes or 283.4 km (176.1 miles) from Ottawa. This region is one of the higher points on the Canadian Shield, otherwise known as the Laurentian Plateau, which is a very large area of exposed Precambrian and metamorphic rock. The Haliburton Highlands is a heavily forested area with over 600 lakes and numerous rivers. This region is very scenic and because of this it is home to a vibrant and thriving arts community. This also makes it a prime location for a destination wedding and honeymoon.
A destination wedding in Haliburton, Ontario offers a variety of options, from resorts and hotels, to lakeshore cottages, to farms, even at a forest, the possibilities are endless. The main benefit of a wedding in this region is the numerous activities that wedding guests and the wedding party, including the bride and groom, can enjoy before and after the wedding. More specifically, it is fantastic as a Bachelor/Bachelorette and honeymoon destination due to the wide variety of year-round adventure travel and arts and culture activities available.
In spring/summer/fall adventure activities include hiking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding, fishing, mountain biking, ATVing, geocaching, and golfing. In winter there is snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and dog sledding.
For those that want to experience arts and culture there are museums, artists’ studios, public and private galleries, and the renowned Haliburton School of the Arts. Many of these places offer tours, public demonstrations, and classes in painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, pottery, glassblowing, photo arts, artist blacksmithing, digital image design, jewellery making, fibre arts, visual and creative arts, expressive arts, sustainable building and construction, and sustainable renovation, among others.
The performing arts are also popular with strong drama and music programs, including opera. As a result, there are many festivals, theatre offerings, concerts, and events held throughout the summer in the Haliburton Highlands. These may seem like some fairly common activities, but what makes this region special is the type of unique experiences offered. The activities described below are just some of the adventure, wellness, eco-tourism, and arts and culture options available to enrich your getaway:
Take a Walk in the Clouds Canopy Tour
This 4 hour multi-activity guided adventure began with a short drive in a van through Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve Ltd, a privately owned forest committed to conservation and responsible resources management with 32,375 hectares (80,000 acres) of land which includes lakes, rivers, and extensive wetlands. The excursion continued with canoeing across the breathtaking Pelaw Lake for about 20 minutes in a 7 metre (24 foot) voyageur canoe, then a short hike uphill through the forest, and finally the unique opportunity to walk above the treetops along a canopy boardwalk (planks of wood suspended from the trees about 10 – 20 metres above the forest floor, or 33 – 66 feet, by steel cables) whilst you are harnessed to cables. At over 0.5 km long (0.3 miles), it is said to be the world’s longest continuous canopy walk.
Once we set off along the canopy boardwalk I was a bit nervous and apprehensive at first since I am afraid of heights, but after going across a couple of times I got used to it and was able to thoroughly enjoy the scenery and unique perspective above the treetops the elevations allowed us. Safety was not a concern for us as safety procedures were followed and safety harnesses used, thus also helping to reassure me.
Along the boardwalk we saw holes in the trunk of a tree a woodpecker had made, a bird’s nest made out of small baby trees, and from above, treetops and a pond. Towards the end of the canopy boardwalk was a suspended platform (which can hold about a dozen people) where we gathered for a snack and got to enjoy the fabulous view of the pond and forest.
Throughout the adventure our guide gave us a lot of information about the area, how Haliburton Forest came to be, its various operations, and about eco-tourism, including how Haliburton forest manages sustainability, resource management, and responsible stewardship. Additionally, we learned about Haliburton Forest’s ecosystem, including the types of trees, birds, and vegetation found there, all of which greatly enhanced our experience. During the hikes we saw several different types of mushrooms growing in the forest, many of which I had never seen before, so that was pretty interesting. We also saw the husks of beech nuts and learned about American Beech Trees and how beech bark disease is a problem for the species.
On the 0.5 km long (0.3 mile) hike back to the canoe we went along Pelaw River, which had a small waterfall and was quite peaceful. Both the walks and canoe rides were also very calming due to the serene atmosphere. It was wonderful to be surrounded by nature.
Furthermore, on the drive back to the meeting point where the adventure began, we got to visit the boathouse to see the world’s first freshwater touring submarine. Unfortunately, submarine tours are no longer offered. Nowadays Haliburton Forest uses it to do marine research and studies. Moreover, we were shown the tracks that are used to move the submarine into the water. This was a very unexpected but memorable way to end the canopy tour. Before coming to Haliburton Forest I had heard a lot about the “Walk in the Clouds” and it did not disappoint! It was an exhilarating and exciting experience!
Once the canopy tour ended, there was still plenty more to see and do. Haliburton Forest has a steam engine on display from the Kennisis Lake Sawmill, a small logging museum, a historic snowmobile display, a sugar shack for harvested maple syrup (which was not open due to the time of year), a restaurant, a small shop with local products, a gift shop, and a wood shop. It was neat to visit the wood shop as it sells anything wood related, with many of the items being made from wood from Haliburton Forest and have the type of tree used written on the bottom of the object. The large variety of products range from raw lumber and timber pieces to finished and custom designed items, including salad bowls, paddles, furniture, and more.
Other activities available at Haliburton Forest include hiking, mountain biking, star gazing at the astronomy observatory, fishing, camping, rock climbing, rappelling, concerts, special events, and more. In winter there is snowmobiling, dog sledding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping. Furthermore, cabins are available to rent.
If you are an animal lover or simply curious to learn more about animals, Haliburton Forest has horses, a donkey, pigs, a moose, a Wolf Centre with a pack of wolves, and over 200 huskies (which are used for dog sledding in the winter) which you can visit.
Check Out the Wolf Centre
The Wolf Centre has lots of exhibits and interpretive information about wolves in general and where they are located in Canada, as well as about the pack of wolves at the Centre. Additionally, you are allowed to observe a pack of Grey Wolves in their natural habitat in a 6 hectare (15 acre) enclosure, behind a one-way glass window (so that the wolves do not see the people observing them). This enclosure is one of the largest in the world, plus the indoor observatory is equipped with a microphone so you can hear any sound the wolves may make.
We visited on a Monday during the time of the wolves weekly feeding, so we got to see many of them since the observation area is located next to their feeding area. This was also lucky as we got to see first-hand how the pack operates as a hierarchy, but a bit gory to see the wolves eating. Moreover, at the time there was a contest for naming the three new wolf pups. For every litter born the wolf pups are given names starting with the same first letter and each litter a different letter is used. For this litter the names will start with the letter P.
Furthermore, the Wolf Centre has a small movie theatre that shows a film about wolves and a gift shop.
Visit the Huskies
We decided to visit the Siberian Huskies as well. We were allowed inside the kennel as it was their feeding time (4:30 pm). It was a bit intimidating at first as there were so many of them and they are quite large and were really excited when we entered, but after a few minutes as they got more acquainted with us they calmed down and were very friendly. We were told that huskies are very curious creatures by nature. We also saw that they were well trained. The huskies had many different colours of fur and eye colour, including some with blue eyes and even a few with one brown eye and one blue eye.
What’s more, we saw husky pups, which were extremely adorable as they were like big fluffs of fur!
Summary of Haliburton Forest
Haliburton Forest was an all-day adventure. The canopy tour was a fun and exciting experience, and the fact that there were many different elements to the excursion, that we got to do more than just walk the canopy boardwalk, kept it very engaging. This tour is very popular for Bachelor/Bachelorette parties as well as for Honeymooners seeking a unique bonding experience. Haliburton Forest itself is a one of a kind forest in North America.
Customize an Experience With Yours Outdoors
Yours Outdoors offers a wide range of unique and authentic outdoor adventures for individuals, couples, and small groups, which can also be customized to meet your needs, interests, and budget. The experience packages, or learning vacations, are fully guided and can last anywhere from a ½ day to a full day to multiple days. Although tours are offered year-round, many of the adventure tours are seasonal.
Barrie Martin, the owner and “experience broker” of the adventure company, customized the Stray Cats Tour for us as we were interested in exploring the rich and diverse natural and cultural heritage of Haliburton, acquiring more knowledge about how artwork in the area is made and trying our hand at it (specifically pottery), and learning how to stand-up paddle board, a growing sport in the Haliburton Highlands. This is what our itinerary looked like and what we recommend:
Stop By the Whitewater Canoe and Kayak Course Used for the Pan-Am Games
The full-day tour commenced at Head Lake, in the Village of Haliburton, where Barrie picked us up to guide us along our adventure. We briefly stopped at the Minden Wild Water Preserve to look at part of the course and the rapids on Gull River, which was the venue for the whitewater canoe and kayaking competitions at the 2015 Pan Am Games in August, as it was close to our first destination.
Create Raku Pottery
Afterwards, we went to Studio Rose where the owners, Sylvia and Wayne Rose, demonstrated the centuries old raku pottery outdoor firing process. It was fascinating to watch Wayne place a couple of pieces made out of special clay that had already been shaped and glazed into a small kiln situated next to a dirt pit. The temperature of the kiln was then raised and after a few minutes the pieces with molten glaze were removed from the red-hot kiln with special long handled raku tongs and placed carefully into the dirt pit (in which newspaper had previously been placed). Each piece was lightly covered in newspaper so that a small fire started above it.
At that point, a metal cover/lid was quickly placed over each piece and buried with dirt to remove oxygen from the clay and glaze and prevent oxidation during the cooling process. After a few minutes when the fires had gone out and the pieces had cooled, the metal covers/lid were unearthed, lifted, and the pieces removed from the dirt pit and cleaned in order to reveal the results, which are unpredictable. Since variables such as choice of glaze, oxides, timing, and combustible material can only be partially controlled, this makes the exposing of the final product and the overall process of raku even more exciting.
Decorate Horse Hair Raku
Following that, we witnessed horse hair raku where unglazed pottery is heated to a specific temperature in the kiln and removed still extremely hot. Strands of horse hair are immediately placed on the ware so the horse hair burns and creates smoke patterns and carbon trails designs on the exterior of the pottery piece, which remains even after it has cooled. If the temperature of the pottery is too low it will not effectively combust the material placed on it. Likewise, if it is too high the carbon markings will burn off and not leave a surface effect.
Additionally, we watched Wayne use a feather to get decorative effects of dark, feather shaped silhouettes on a small vase.
Furthermore, we explored the Studio Rose workshop, store, and yard, where in addition to raku, they had saggar fired pieces, stoneware, and a number of sculptures, including ones made out of metal, stone, and wood for the home and garden.
Sample Edible Botanicals
The next destination was Bark Ecologic Gardens and Botanicals, an award winning permaculture practice (a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems) that specializes in locally grown genetically indigenous trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as organic seasonal produce, herbs, and clean air tropicals. The business is owned by Peter Buwalda and his wife Rebecca.
We checked out the native plant nursery in their yard, which they also design and install for clients, and the greenhouse they were in the process of building in order to grow plants year-round. Afterwards, we went inside their house to learn more about native plants, herbs, and teas. They have more than 100 locally grown botanicals for sale in dried or fresh form, which are used for its many health benefits.
Rebecca demonstrated how to make sumac-ade, which is made out of sumac (reddish fruits that form dense clusters on shrubs and small trees) and is native to the area. Sumac can be used as a spice in cuisine to add a lemony flavour, or you can make a beverage out of it similar to lemonade. The drink was made by breaking up the dried dense red clusters (drupes) and putting them in cold water, rubbing the clusters in order to extract the flavour, straining the liquid through cheese cloth twice, and finally pouring it into glasses for us to sample. This was the first time we had tried Sumac-ade and we found it refreshing and tasty.
We also tried a dandy chicory roast tea, made from dandelion, and a balsam fir tea. The dandelion tea was mildly bitter, whereas the taste of the balsam fir tea was very unique. It was a combination of piney and almost minty, as well as wintry. Both of the teas are supposed to have numerous positive effects on your health.
Moreover, we got to admire Patrick’s numerous nature paintings hanging on the walls of their house, many of which were made with plant based paints. Several of the paintings have been showcased in various exhibitions.
Explore the Hawk Lake Log Chute
We then went to learn more about logging, as it was a huge industry in Ontario’s history. During the late 1800’s thousands of log chutes existed in the province and dozens in Haliburton County. They were built and used by logging companies to transfer wooden logs over rough river landscapes to sawmills. They were able to do this as log chutes were always attached to dams (also built by the logging companies) in order to hold back water until the spring, when the water was released to drive thousands of logs downstream very quickly.
Today, the Hawk Lake Log Chute is the only remaining log chute in Ontario and has been declared a historic site. It was first constructed in 1861 and used regularly until the 1930’s. In 1947-1948 this log chute was rebuilt and in the mid 1970’s and early 2000’s it underwent extensive restoration.
It was pretty neat to see the log chute and stroll the loop trail along it, which allowed us a variety of views. The area is very scenic with lots of trees and plants. We even saw a giant rock left behind by glaciers 2 million years ago. Furthermore, there are interpretive displays and a picnic area.
Hike the Crests of Kennisis Trail
At Hawk Lake we decided to also take the Crests of Kennisis Trail to a high ridge to get a scenic view of the Kennisis valley. The trail begins just after crossing over Hawk Lake Dam and quickly ascends. It is a moderate to challenging hike as it is mostly uphill and pretty steep at times. The trail winds itself upwards through the forest passing some streams and a pond along the way. Fittingly, at one point we witnessed a hawk flying just above the treetops. The trail is supposed to end at the Circuit of 5 Viewpoints trailhead, but we only took it to the first viewpoint before heading back.
The Kennisis Valley Lookout was incredible with fully forested views of rolling hills as far as the eye could see. The trees were just starting to turn shades of yellow, orange, and red when we visited in late September, which was later in the season than usual.
We went for a quick lunch at a restaurant on a lake in Dorset, as we couldn’t wait to continue our adventure.
Enjoy the View From Dorset Tower
Next, another historical landmark was on the agenda, Dorset Tower, which is located on a hill north of Dorset. The current Dorset Tower was built in 1967 and is 30 metres high (98 feet). The original tower, which was a fire tower, was constructed in 1922 and was a bit shorter at 25 metres high (82 feet). It was used by forest rangers to look out for fires until 1962 when aircraft replaced them. Previously, there was an intricate system of fire towers throughout the county which communicated with one another in order to spot and find the exact location of forest fires.
Today, Dorset Tower is used for its spectacular view. There is a metal staircase that leads up to an observation deck, offering 360 degree views of the area. From there, you are able to see the Lake of Bays (which the observation deck is about 142 metres or 465 feet above), the countryside full of trees (mostly green with some yellow, orange and red), some roads, and the Community of Dorset. The tower is especially popular in the fall due to the beautiful effect the changes of colour creates. If you wish, you can continue up the stairs from the observation deck to the top of the tower for an even better view. The outside viewing area on the top is much smaller and more limited than the one below as it is only on one side, but there is also an enclosed viewing area with 360 degree views. It is much windier though higher up, which can make it a bit daunting if you are afraid of heights.
In addition to this attraction, there is an information kiosk/gift shop, picnic site, restrooms, and hiking trail which leads to the base of Tower Hill where the Dorset Heritage Museum is located.
Make Wheel Thrown Pottery
We then made our way to Earth and Fire Pottery, owned by Debbie and Grahame Wales, whom have been making pottery for almost 40 years. They were both very welcoming and Grahame (who is also known as the Hairy Potter) demonstrated wheel thrown pottery to us whilst teaching us about the process.
After, we were given a lump of clay and instructed through the process of centering it on the wheel and manipulating the clay with our hands to make our own pieces, which ended up being a cup and bowl respectively. The Wales then explained and showed us the rest of the equipment required in the pottery process, including the large outdoor reduction kiln they use to fire the pieces with. They prefer to fire with propane but due to the reduction atmosphere they use, each firing yields slightly different results, hence increasing the anticipation of the end result, much like with raku pottery.
The gallery at Earth and Fire pottery displays both functional and one-of-a-kind pieces made with porcelain or stoneware clay. Their adult daughter Jenn makes wearable art, including jewellery, pins, and buttons. Both Debbie and Grahame have received awards and distinction for their work.
Before we left, the Wales allowed us to pick the colour of glaze we wanted and promised to finish our pieces for us as they needed to dry (which takes several days alone), be fired, wiped and waxed, glazed, and then proceed to the final firing. We arranged to pick up the pieces from Barrie at a later date. When we did, we were very happy with the end results and were proud of ourselves for our first try as we had never done anything like it before. Making pottery was a great experience and the enthusiasm of Debbie and Grahame made it even more enjoyable!
Try Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
Our final adventure for the day was a lesson in stand up paddle boarding, which is supposed to be the fastest growing sport in the world. Stand up paddle boarding, also called stand up paddle surfing, is a combination of surfing and canoeing where you stand on a board (thicker and longer than a surfboard), maintain an upright stance, and use a long paddle to propel yourself through the water.
When we arrived at Pine Lake in West Guilford we met Holly Bishop of SUPnorth Paddle Board Adventures. She gave us a quick introduction on how to use the paddles and then we headed out on the water. When we first got on the boards we paddled on our knees to get further from shore and then learned how to stand up and balance on the boards. We practiced paddling forward and backward and turning to the right and left.
After that we went down the Redstone River which flows from Pine Lake to Green Lake. We had to be careful to maneuver around the rocks and old sunken logs in the water and to not get too close to shore as the small fin underneath the board could hit the bottom and therefore cause us to fall off the board. This could also happen if we got too close to each other and our boards touched.
I am not a strong canoeist so paddling was a bit difficult for me, plus the slightly different motion of paddling whilst maintaining your balance took some getting used to, but I managed and neither of us fell off our paddle boards. Going downstream was nice as the small current helped us out. Coming back upstream, on the other hand, was much more difficult, especially when the river narrowed as we went under a bridge (making the current even stronger).
Stand up paddle boarding was a fun experience and much easier than I thought it would be, as I expected us to fall off the boards at least a few times. It was a great way to explore the waterways and also gives you a unique perspective of what lies beneath the water’s surface.
Likewise, SUPnorth offers many different classes and tours including SUPyoga, floating fitness, paddle fishing, kids camps, and mermaid swims.
Summary of Yours Outdoors Personalized Experience
We thoroughly enjoyed our personalized tour with Yours Outdoors. It was a very fun, adventure packed day where we got to learn a great deal about many aspects of the Haliburton Highlands. Barrie was extremely knowledgeable and organized, which took away any guesswork in planning, and made the day worry-free for us!
Go on a Maple Winery Tour and Do Wine Tasting
Are you a maple syrup fan? Then this winery is for you! Moon Shadows Estate Winery is not only Haliburton’s first winery, but Ontario’s first maple winery, and currently the only known winery in the world that uses maple syrup as its base ingredient and not in just a few specialty wines. Moon Shadows harvests their own maple syrup used in the production of their wines, and is how they first started out before adding the wine business.
The owners, Eric and Carol Thompson, gave us a tour of their wine production facilities which was not only extremely informative, but very thorough as they explained each step and piece of equipment used in the maple wine process. It was fascinating despite the fact that I have been on many different wine tours, due to the high level of detail covered and that they explained the differences that is required for maple and fruit wines compared to regular grape wines.
Most of the wines at Moon Shadows are fruit wines, and although there is maple syrup added to all of them, in only a few the maple flavour is apparent. With over 20 different kinds to choose from, there is a wide selection of unique fruit wines, from dry to sweet, including dessert wines, and combinations of different flavours blended together, so there is something for pretty much everyone. Eric and Carol told us that many people are surprised by the fruit wines as the flavours are often different than what they anticipate, and often like different wines than they thought they would, so they recommend trying a few before deciding. Moon Shadows also produces a variety of grape wines, which are quite good as well.
The tasting bar was very welcoming and it was especially nice that there were crackers to cleanse your palette between tastings. I could easily see why this wine tour is popular for Bachelorette parties, as well as Honeymooners. Winery tours can be arranged upon request. Wine tastings are offered without any appointment.
In addition to wines, there are a lot of maple products, wine gadgets, decanters, glasses, wine racks, accessories, and paraphernalia, wine signs with funny sayings, and paintings made by local artists for sale.
Moon Shadows Estate winery is a unique wine experience with owners that make you feel truly welcome, so much so that you won’t want to leave!
Relax at a Yoga Retreat
For those seeking tranquility, looking to reconnect with themselves and the environment, or simply want to get their Zen back, this may be for you. Holness Yoga & Guest Suites offers yoga classes for relaxation, energy (flow, balance, strength), and mindfulness (becoming more self-aware), as well as a yoga/pilates class. Private classes are available for individuals, couples, or small groups, and is especially great for a Bachelorette excursion and Honeymooners. Group classes are also offered.
I met with Gail Holness at her studio for a private relaxing yoga class. She teaches the yoga classes and owns the guest suites with her husband Mike Holness. The yoga studio is part of their home but didn’t seem like it when you stepped inside as it transformed you to a totally unexpected, but wonderful place. The room had large windows which overlooked the river and trees. The floor was painted with large flowers in bright colours and the walls were of a calming blue with touches of wood. The finishing touches included glowing lights on the ceiling, a multi-coloured painting, and a stack of multi-coloured cushions. Altogether the place seemed warm and earthy.
Gail provided yoga mats for us and walked us through a number of poses which proved to be relaxing as promised. This was not my first try at yoga, and although I no longer do it on a regular basis, initially I was worried it might be too easy or a bit boring. This was not the case at all, the class was challenging, but also calming, and I was pleased with it. Those who were new to yoga also enjoyed the class.
If you are looking for more than just a class, Holness Yoga also offers yoga getaways, which are a daily fusion of yoga, food, and outdoor experiences. Moreover, they hold seasonal events and workshops.
The Haliburton Highlands is the ideal location for destination weddings and honeymoons for those seeking unique experiences. Not only is it a beautiful area offering many different year-round outdoor adventures, eco-tourism activities, arts and culture attractions, and wellness retreats, but it offers unforgettable experiences!
Check Out My Experiences in the Haliburton Highlands!
Map of the Haliburton Highlands
What is your favourite wedding and honeymoon destination? Why? If you don’t yet have one, where is your ideal destination?
These were complimentary tours courtesy of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve Ltd, Yours Outdoors, Moon Shadows Estate Winery, and Ontario’s Highlands. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
(Photos 2, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, and 32 courtesy of Randy Smith. Photos 36 and 37 courtesy of Barrie Martin).