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May 2023 Ontario Road Trip (Part 1 of 3)


Over the years, I have made plenty of trips to Ontario, crisscrossing the southern, central and eastern parts of the province. Living in Upstate New York, it's pretty easy to visit our neighbor to the north, or is that our neighbor to the west? Ottawa is one of my favorite cities to visit anywhere in the world, plus I've discovered the charm of Kingston, the waterfalls of Hamilton (which is on the same Niagara Escarpment that brings us Niagara Falls), the sheer beauty of the Bruce Peninsula, and more. But I hadn't explored much of Cottage Country. So I decided to change that, and what better time to go than over Memorial Day weekend, when the daylight is long and I have an extra day to explore.

These are the photos from the first day of the trip, which took me to Central New York, then up the Tug Hill Plateau and over to the Thousand Islands before crossing the border. Once in Canada, I stopped in Kingston and Peterborough to see parts of the Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Waterway respectively (what can I say, I'm also a fan of canal infrastructure). I saw the World's Largest Toonie in Campbellford, drove around Kawartha Lakes, chased waterfalls and even saw a statue to remember the late, great Gordon Lightfoot, a native of Orillia, Ontario. I ended my day in Muskoka, which is well known for being a recreational playground for Ontarians.

My day started with a drive down the New York State Thruway driving west from my home base in the Albany, New York area. I recall getting a late start, even if this photo was taken soon after 5am. This is along a scenic stretch of the road along the Mohawk River and Erie Canal between the exits for Fultonville and Canajoharie.

Approaching the exit for NY 169, but before that, there is the Iroquois Service Area. This rest area was recently reconstructed as part of a service area modernization project.

Exiting the Thruway in Herkimer, where I'll take a quick jog to NY 5S, which is a parallel road to the Thruway between Herkimer and Utica.

NY 5S at NY 51 in Ilion. The letter "I" has a serif because the mixed case font would throw everyone off on a loop.

Approaching Utica on NY 5S westbound. The route is a freeway between Ilion/Frankfort and Utica.

Going east for a bit. One of the ways I tend to go through Utica is to connect to I-790 by way of Genesee Street and NY 5. I think I was looking for breakfast.

I-790, which is paralleling the Thruway here.

Starting to work my way north on NY 12. I find it's part of the more direct ways between Albany and the Thousand Islands, so I'll sometimes follow NY 12 between Utica and Watertown.

NY 12 runs concurrently with NY 28 between the Barneveld area and Alder Creek. 

NY 365 used to be a much longer route, going across the Adirondacks. But it now just spans across Oneida County for the most part, even though it ends at NY 8 in Herkimer County.

NY 12 and NY 28 is mostly four lanes for the time they spend together.

At this point, NY 28 heads off on a trek across the Adirondacks, whilst NY 12 heads to Boonville, then to Lewis County.

NY 12 just past the historic Black River Canal lock near Port Leyden. There is a parking area in the median where you can explore the old canal lock.

I took a detour down Lewis County Route 76 and a few local streets once I got to Lyons Falls.

The reason for my detour: Lyons Falls itself.

I decided to take NY 12D and NY 26 from Lyons Falls to Lowville.

The first Lewis County clerk's office in Martinsburg. The county seat is now located a bit to the north in Lowville.

Rejoining NY 12 in Lowville, which I would follow to Watertown.

Lots of farms dot the quiet countryside between Lowville and Watertown.

Now driving through the hustle and bustle of downtown Watertown on a Caturday morning. We've picked up NY 3 on a street corner on the east side of town along the way.

On the other side of Watertown's Public Square, we have options. I have to get to I-81 somehow.

So I followed NY 3 for a bit.

The Olympic Trail and Black River Trail are New York State scenic byways. The Black River Trail goes from Watertown to Rome, while the Olympic Trail goes through the Adirondacks and over to Lake Placid, where the 1932 

I decided to take US 11 for a bit, then ventured off onto NY 37 for a bit. These are the two main thoroughfares across the North Country of New York State.

NY 342 was a main connector route between I-81 and US 11 north of Watertown before I-781 was built.

Speaking of which, we've since popped over to I-81 northbound. I-781 was opened in 2012 and connects directly with Fort Drum, which is home of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army.

I-81 going northbound somewhere near La Fargeville. I wound up putting the camera away for a bit at this point for some reason.

Now in Ontario. I was allowed in Canada again. This is on Ontario King's Highway 137 (Highway 137) northbound on Hill Island approaching the northern Thousand Islands Bridge at Ivy Lea.

If I am traveling to anywhere east of Toronto in Ontario, my preferred way to cross is at the Thousand Islands. I find it's not really busy traffic-wise in eastern Ontario. Plus I can use E-ZPass at the Thousand Islands Bridge crossing, which is the only one of the St. Lawrence River crossings where I can do so.

Probably the last sign I'll see in miles per hour for the next few days.

Hopping onto the Thousand Islands Parkway for a bit. I'm told it's the more romantic alternative to Highway 401 because it hugs the shores of the St. Lawrence River between Gananoque and Brockville.

Let's try this romance thing.

That yellow on green color scheme on the sign doesn't work well in my opinion. Plus it's my chance to change my mind and go back to the U.S.A. 

Instead I decided to take some local roads, first taking Leeds and Grenville County Route 3 to Lansdowne. Leeds and Grenville are united counties, merging way back in 1850 to form the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville. 

Reaching Leeds and Grenville County Route 2, which was part of ON 2 before the highway was downloaded to the county during the late 1990s. In recent years, it has served as a bypass and emergency detour route for Highway 401. As for MacEwen, it is a gas brand commonly found in Ontario, along with Manitoba and Quebec.

I actually found the stretch of old Highway 2 between Lansdowne and Gananoque to be rather bland. Maybe I should've stuck around for the prime rib. If there is trivia after dinner, one answer for local history is that the only remaining section of Highway 2 that is still maintained by the province is a kilometer long section in Gananoque.

Ontario King's Highway 401 west at Leeds and Grenville County Route 32 in Gananoque. Like Highway 2, Highway 32 was also downloaded to the county in the late 1990s. A number of years ago in the Ontario road enthusiast community, there was a group called the Historical Highway Society of Ontario, and members would select a number to represent. Since people living outside the province could also join in the fun, I picked old Highway 32. I've been on Leeds and Grenville County Route 32 a few times over the years, since it's a good shortcut up to Highway 15, and it was a highway I traveled on my way to Ottawa during the first time I visited in 1994. HHSO 32.

I may live near Kingston, New York, but my favorite Kingston of them all may be Kingston, Ontario. There's plenty to see and do, including visiting an old penitentiary that is now open for tours. Kingston has a lot of history and was considered as a candidate to become the Canadian capital before Ottawa was chosen. I've visited Kingston a number of times, maybe most memorably during the 2020 Tim Horton's Brier - the Canadian men's curling championship - that was held in Kingston that year. I happened to visit right before the world started shutting down for the pandemic in what felt like the last normal weekend for a long, long time.

Taking a detour off Highway 401 to go onto Highway 15. Yes, it's both a King's Highway and a local Kingston highway, with the designation changing at this exit. The King's Highway 15 goes north from Kingston to Smiths Falls and then to Carleton Place.

I did not stay on Highway 15 for long, turning onto Kingston Route 21 for a quick diversion.

Getting ready to cross the Cataraqui River, then the Rideau Canal near that blockhouse.

I have a bit of interest in canals and their history, and the Rideau Canal is no exception. While I am used to seeing canals having been constructed to serve an economic purpose (such as the Erie Canal), the Rideau Canal was built with a military purpose in mind. Nearly 200 years after the Rideau Canal opened, it now serves a largely recreational purpose.

The Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills is a flight of locks. Locks 46 through 49 are built within close proximity of each other.

Kingston Mills gets its name from grist mills that were built in the area around the Cataraqui River. The Grand Trunk Railway and later the Canadian National Railway built a railroad through this area, and you can see the bridge built over one of the canal locks.

But I need to make some time so I can veer off the beaten path later, so back to Highway 401 I go.

 For our American friends who are not up on their Canadian history, Sir John A. Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada. He spent a good portion of his life in Kingston.

Another downloaded highway, Kingston Route 38 goes up to Sharbot Lake and Highway 7. But most of all, I think this sign is giving me some California vibes.

Taking this exit will take you to Bon Echo Provincial Park, which features over 260 Indigenous pictographs on the 100 meter high Mazinaw Rock.

It must be canola growing season, as indicated by the field of bright yellow.

Entering the Bay of Quinte region, named for the arm of Lake Ontario that stretches inland.

This exit goes to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Highway 49 goes to the Quinte Skyway Bridge and continues as a county route on the Prince Edward Peninsula.

Approaching Belleville, Ontario, which as a picturesque downtown south of Highway 401 complete with a few concrete arches. Belleville was first settled by United Empire Loyalists in 1789, and the town was later named Belleville in 1816 in honor of Lady Arabella, the wife of Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Gore.

I believe Highway 37 is one of the shorter of Ontario's King's Highways in terms of distance.

Highway 62, on the other hand, is much, much longer.

While officially known as the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, Highway 401 is alternatively known as the Highway of Heroes, honoring Canadian veterans. Highway of Heroes earned its name as Highway 401 is the route that a funeral convoy travels while transporting fallen soldiers on a 170 kilometer stretch from CFB Trenton to the coroner's office in Toronto. There is also a song called Highway of Heroes performed by The Trews that is about this stretch of road. There is also a Highway of Heroes Tree Tribute Memorial, where a tree is planted along the stretch of Highway 401 between Trenton and Toronto for each Canadian who has died in service of their country.

South of this exit and south of Trenton, you can find the Loyalist Parkway on what was Highway 33, now Hastings County Route 33 in these parts. The Loyalist Parkway was named after the United Empire Loyalists settled in Upper Canada (later named as Ontario) following the American Revolution. North of the exit, Hastings County Route 33 follows part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, which connects the Bay of Quinte with the Georgian Bay.

Only 166 clicks to Toronto! But I'll be exiting Highway 401 well before then.

Here's my exit, as I start my march north and west for the rest of the day. And yes, Northumberland County Route 30 was Highway 30 until it was downloaded during the late 1990s.

Campbellford is my next destination, although I have been to Brighton before.

Havelock is where Route 30 meets Highway 7.

Approaching Campbellford, we have the Seymour Conversation Area. As best as I can tell, it's a buffer between the highway and the Trent River and not the making of some crude joke.

This swing bridge is for Trent Drive as it crosses over the Trent-Severn Waterway. The canal bypasses nearby Ranney Falls, which you can see by way of a suspension bridge over the Trent River.

Ranney Falls. Wide, but not too tall. It is taller than Ed "Too Tall" Jones though.

Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge.

In Ontario, if there's a waterfall, there's a good chance a hydroelectric plant is nearby. Water is a great source of power to harness, after all.

Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge.

I am guessing that is a sign for a snowmobile route.

The world's largest Toonie, or Canadian two dollar coin, can be found at Old Mill Park in Campbellford along Northumberland County Route 30. Brent Townsend, the artist who created the polar bear image on the coin, lived locally in the Campbellford / Trent Hills area, making Campbellford the right place for this fun roadside attraction. The giant $2 coin, however, was constructed by local metalsmith Steve Redden under the direction of the Royal Canadian Mint. The polar bear on the Toonie also has a name, Churchill, which was chosen by popular vote in 2017.

Veering off of Northumberland Road 30 and turning onto Northumberland Road 35, just west of Campbellford.

Plenty of farmland along the byways of Northumberland County.

Crossing the Trent-Severn Waterway in downtown Hastings.

As best I can tell, that is a swing bridge over the Trent-Severn Waterway for the Lang-Hastings Trail.

Getting ready to turn onto Highway 7 in the vicinity of Canada's Dinosaur Park. Jurassic Park, it is not, but we aren't that far from Toronto, home of the Raptors.

Highway 28's southern terminus at Highway 7 just east of Peterborough. Highway 28 ventures north towards the Kawartha Highlands, Bancroft and beyond.

Flashback to my other visit to this part of Ontario back in April 2007. Highway 28 once went through Peterborough, while Highway 134 once bypassed Peterborough to the east. In June 2003, some revisions were made to the highway system around Peterborough, causing Highway 134 to be replaced by Highway 28 between Highway 7 and Lakefield. 

Former Highway 134 was numbered as such because it was a northern extension of Peterborough County Route 34. 

Highway 7 and Highway 115 form a bypass to the south of downtown Peterborough. While Highway 7 continues west towards Linsday after getting around Peterborough, Highway 115 continues to the southwest to Highway 401 in Clarington, providing access to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) from there.

Sir Sandford Fleming was a Scottish-Canadian engineer who spent a number of years in Peterborough. Among his accomplishments included drawing up plans to connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada by railroad, and was the director of the Canadian Pacific Railway when they were building a railroad through the Rockies. He was also credited with creating Universal Standard Time, which was adopted worldwide in 1885.

Entering Peterborough on the Sir Sandford Fleming Parkway. I decided to take a roundabout way through town so I could stop at Kawartha Dairy for some Tiger Tail ice cream. After reading about Tiger Tail ice cream, I decided to try this famed orange and licorice concoction that one can find in Canada, since I don't believe it exists in the States, I enjoyed it, but stopped at Kawartha Dairy again later during my trip and and tried a flavor I liked even more, Key Lime Pie.

Breaking out my calculator for this detour on Lansdowne Street in Peterborough. I'll get to Highway 7 and Highway 115 eventually, or is that Highway 0.0608695652173913?

CPKC Peterborough Swing Bridge as seen from Maria Street in Peterborough.

Hunter Street East tunnel through the Peterborough Lift Lock.

Peterborough Lift Lock, or Lock 21 of the Trent-Severn Waterway, is the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world. The lift lock is 65 feet tall and opened in 1904. A more detailed write-up about the Peterborough Lift Lock can be found on Gribblenation here, because it deserves a more in-depth look.

Hopping onto Highway 28 on Peterborough County Road 4 near Douro.

Somewhere near Lakefield.

Entering Burleigh Falls on Highway 28 northbound. There is a Burleigh Falls in Burleigh Falls, but I didn't get the pictures I wanted.

Getting ready to turn onto Peterborough County Road 36. This was Highway 36 until 1998, when the highway was downloaded to Peterborough County and Victoria County (now Kawartha Lakes).

Peterborough County Road 36 turns right here in Buckhorn. Turning left onto Peterborough County Road 23 will take you back to Peterborough.

Yes, that is the Bobcaygeon that shares its name with a Tragically Hip song. Apparently Gord Downie, the late lead vocalist of the Tragically Hip picked Bobcaygeon since it was the one town name he could think of that rhymes with the word "constellation". This is in the chorus of the song lyrics.

Along Peterborough County Route 36, somewhere south of Catchacoma.

Upon entering Bobcaygeon, we have entered the City of Kawartha Lakes. It was known as Victoria County until 2001, when the various towns and cities of Victoria County were amalgamated into Kawartha Lakes.

Kawartha Lakes Road 36 turns to the left and goes to Lindsay, while we'll turn to the right onto Kawartha Lakes Road 8 to get to the next town.

Following this fingerboard sign to Fenelon Falls. This is in the vicinity of former Highway 121.

Fenelon Falls is more than old signs, although I'm digging these old signs nonetheless. Fenelon Falls is located on the Trent-Severn Waterway and was named after Francois de Salignac de La Monthe-Fenelon, who established a mission on the Bay of Quinte and traversed the Trent-Severn Waterway during his travels.

Fenelon Falls itself.

The short water connection between Fenelon Falls and Sturgeon Lakes.

Trent-Severn Waterway Lock 34. It's more traditional than the lift locks in Kirkfield and Peterborough, or the Big Chute Marine Railway for that matter.

Fenelon Falls is pretty popular during the summer. There's a few shops and restaurants along the canal.

Just west of Fenelon Falls, I somehow shuffled over to Highway 35, just to quickly head off to Kawartha Lakes Road 8.

An upcoming intersection with the invisible route.

Although I'm pretty sure it's Kawartha Lakes Road 48 in Argyle.

Kirkfield. Had I known there was another lift lock along the Trent-Severn Waterway in Kirkfield, I probably would've stopped to see it, even though I think it was closed for repairs.

Kawartha Lakes Road 48 is a former King's Highway, at least between Beaverton and Coboconk. It is still King's Highway 48 south of Beaverton and down to Markham.

Passing through Bolsover, Ontario.

I was following the Trent Canal west of Bolsover, but it is time to start turning north, and to kick things off, here's an END! sign for Durham Regional Road 51.

Then onto Highway 12 north, which passes along the eastern and northern shores of Lake Simcoe.

A pair of standalone Highway 12 shields.

This shield is in Brechin.

At this roundabout just north of Brechin is the southern terminus of what was Highway 169, now a Simcoe County road in these parts. At one time, this was Highway 69, but the powers that be were nice enough to give the road a new number in 1976. But as things tend to go in Ontario, Highway 169 was downloaded to the counties in 1998.

I stopped at Tudhope Park in Orillia to see Golden Leaves, which is a sculpture that was made to honor the musical legacy of Gordon Lightfoot, a native son of Orillia.

The four meter tall bronze sculpture sits with Lake Couchiching in the background, with the various leaves showing different songs that Gordon Lightfoot performed.

A bit of a closeup. I happened to stop by a few weeks after Lightfoot had passed away, so the sculpture had turned into a memorial as well.

Flanking the bronze sculpture on each side are two standalone lead sculptures. This one is for the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a fitting tribute for the crew lost in the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck and a companion song on long road trips I've taken over the years. Once the driving is done, one can also enjoy the Edmund Fitzgerald porter, brewed by the Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio.

Back to roads, Highway 12 has a southern bypass of downtown Orillia.

Which you can taken to Highway 11 and the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway.

But I decided to go around the east side of Lake Couchiching. 

Passing by the Casino Rama on Simcoe County Road 44. It's not just a super cool name for a casino, it's also the name for the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, who have a reserve here.

Simcoe County Road 44 ends at an old friend whilst in Washago, Simcoe County Road 169.

Hopping onto Highway 11 northbound. We'll be following the Highway 11 corridor for the rest of the day. 

A rogue Highway 169 reference appears. I don't know if it's been around since the days of yore when there was an actual Highway 169, or if it's an error. But there some claims and myths about Highway 11 as well, that is is part of the world's longest road, Yonge Street. That may no longer be the case, it was it was dropped by the Guinness World Book of Records in 1999, and a nice article was written about that here. Highway 11 is still super long, and is the second longest highway in Ontario at 1,784 kilometers, or 1,108 miles in length.

I think this article needs more cowbell.

Highway 11 has some turnarounds south of Gravenhurst.

I prefer these diagrammatic signs over the arrow per lane signs you'll find in the States.

A case where the route number matches the exit number. We are now in Muskoka, and Muskoka District Road 169 goes towards the northwest to Foot's Bay and the Highway 400 corridor.

Continuing north of Highway 11. While I did not get to North Bay on this trip, I have been through there on a different trip. But I visited Bracebridge and Huntsville on this trip.

Bracebridge is located along the 45th parallel north, so yes, it is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. It shares this distinction with several world cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, along with Bordeaux, Torino and Bucharest. Montreal, Ottawa and Portland, Oregon are just slightly further north.

Highway 118 goes to the east, Muskoka District Road 118 goes to the west. I'm not even going to pretend that I know how to pronounce Vankoughnet.

While I skipped over Gravenhurst, I thought I'd explore Bracebridge.

Venturing into downtown Bracebridge like a wrecking ball on Muskoka District Road 37.

This way into downtown.

The Silver Bridge, which carries Muskoka District Road 16.

Muskoka River at the Silver Bridge.

Bracebridge Falls, which has been altered for hydroelectric power generation.

A view of the Muskoka River below Bracebridge Falls.

The upper part of Bracebridge Falls. There is a walking trail where you can explore around the waterfalls.

Bracebridge Falls.


The bottom of Bracebridge Falls.

Wide view shot of Bracebridge Falls, and the Silver Bridge above.

Bracebridge is a pioneer for hydroelectric power generation in Ontario, having gotten their start in 1894.

One last look at the Silver Bridge.

Historic marker explaining the history of the Silver Bridge.

Muskoka District Road 16 ENDS! in downtown Bracebridge.

Downtown Bracebridge, which is said to be Muskoka's downtown.

Random sculpture I found heading back to my car.

Highway 11 and Muskoka District Road 37 shields. There is a municipal lot I parked in with easy access to Bracebridge Falls.

One of the other waterfalls in Bracebridge is Wilson's Falls. Light was starting to get a bit dodgy, so this was the best photo I got. There is a hydroelectric power generating station just out of view at the bottom of the falls.

Heading back to Highway 11 on Muskoka District Road 42.

But first, here's a roundabout to tackle.

Muskoka District Road 117, which was Highway 117 from 1974 to 1998. It was previously part of Highway 118 until it was renumbered, and was later downloaded by the province.

Highway 141, which will take you to Parry Sound and the Georgian Bay.

Ending my day in Huntsville, Ontario, which would be my home base for the next two nights. While I didn't take Highway 60 all the way to Ottawa, or Renfrew, I drove it to get to Algonquin Provincial Park the next day.

Sources and Links:
The King's Highway - The History of Ontario's King's Highways
Gribblenation - May 2023 Ontario Trip (Part 2 of 3)
Gribblenation - May 2023 Ontario Trip (Part 3 of 3)


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