Remember the road trips of your youth? The ones where you had to fight to get a window seat, and the summer days rolled into one another in one big smorgasbord of burgers, beaches, and roadside stops? This summer, Local Wanderer Heidi Csernak embarked on an epic cross-Ontario’s Highlands road trip.
A road trip to end all road trips. Read part one of her story below.
My number one road trip film has been One Week for over a decade, and it’s holding firm. The movie tells the story of Ben Tyler (played by Canadian actor Joshua Jackson) and a cancer diagnosis that set him on a cross-country journey, altering his and others' lives during chance meetings.
In the spirit of Ben’s solo ride, this summer I set out on a two-day road trip that took me from Hastings County to Haliburton and Minden Hills and planned a One Week roadie to make the most of every minute.
Tweed, Madoc, Marmora, Gilmour and Bancroft | Hastings County
Day one of my cross-county trip started with the promise of sunny weather. My stop list numbered over a dozen, and the first attraction took 30 minutes to find! Perhaps I was looking in the wrong direction, for the twelve feet this building occupies along the sidewalk, but that’s all it took to walk (and drive) past it more than once.
This hard-to-spot location in Tweed proclaims itself North America’s Smallest Jail but actually holds the “Biggest of the Smallest Jailhouses in North America” title. Either way, it was tough to locate.
The little jail with three cells (built within a few hundred feet of the Tweed’s former rail line) once held vagrants, miscreants, and even an accused murderer. Now it’s the Tweed Visitor Center, and when it’s open, remember to get a selfie behind bars.
From downtown, I headed north of Tweed to see Drain Poultry Farm’s Giant Concrete Chicken, then up to Highway 7 to the Unconventional Moose for a photo and perhaps a souvenir, but the gift shop was closed. It’s always a gamble, hoping tourism spots will be open when travelling mid-week in May.
Next up, I was looking forward to a sweet tray of goodies, AKA driving snacks from the Hidden Goldmine Bakery. This spot had been on my wishlist for far too long! I waved other customers to go ahead, eventually selecting two items, then choosing four more goodies. According to my math, it added up to a delicious takeout tray.
I left Madoc and headed to The Mighty Marmoraton Mine outside Marmora. The perimeter is fenced for safety, and there is a viewing area for visitors’ use. After looking into the blue water from a dizzying height, I walked back to my vehicle and promptly took a bite from each Hidden Goldmine square, barely stopping myself from having more. I forgot to take photos!
Besides, I needed to save my hunger for the next stop.
It’s not too early for burgers, I thought, looking longingly at the BIG inflatable burger outside the Rustic Roadside Restaurant in Gilmour, but they were closed. So I went to a favourite break stop, the Robinson Lake Rest Stop, a few kilometres down Highway 62. I could snap a few photos of my baked goods, using the Campfire Cookie to camouflage the bites I already took. After that, I tried to resist eating the rest of my delectable goodies.
When I drive up Highway 62, I usually head to Silent Lake Provincial Park for glamping, so auto-pilot took over, and I drove through Bancroft. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss my turn onto Highway 118 when it came up - and that’s when I remembered the stops in town; the Bancroft Mineral Museum and the Wattle and Daub Cafe. I could have had a sandwich!
They were now in my proverbial rearview mirror, so I kept rolling on.
Cardiff, Haliburton, and Minden | Haliburton County
I reached the Dragonfly Sculpture in Cardiff just after crossing into Haliburton County. The dark, dimpled eyes of the art installation glinted dully under the bright sun as we watched the darting dragonflies making meals of biting flying insects. Sweat dribbled into my eyes, so I walked across the road to the Cardiff Country Store for a cold drink and then took off for my next destination.
Just before entering Haliburton, I drove up to Skyline Park, which has a fantastic view of downtown and Head Lake. I enjoyed the lookout and the cool breeze, wandering around the small park.
I continued through Haliburton (I’d be back) and into Minden Hills, along the Gull River, into the picturesque downtown Minden to eat at The Minden River Cone - an ice cream cone-shaped shop! How cool is that for a roadside attraction? I was sure they’d be open, but already been proven wrong a few times on this trip, so finding out they were closed didn’t surprise me.
However, I was ready with another famous ice cream spot in Minden to visit: Kawartha Dairy. It might have been my imagination, but the other dairy lovers were impressed that I didn’t drip one drop of White Raspberry Thunder waffle cone despite May’s melting heat.
After slowly devouring my ice cream and avoiding brain freeze, I returned to Haliburton and went to the Haliburton Sculpture Forest for a long, meandering walk to view Outdoor Art. It was late afternoon, and with only a few other hikers on the trails, it felt like I had the whole forest to myself. I walked with a map but chose to wander and discover the pieces as I explored.
I crossed paths with the hikers for a second time at the trailhead. A conversation blossomed, and we discussed the community gem: the artwork throughout the woods and the excellent trail system. I’d built up a hunger from the day’s driving, plus frequent stops, and hiking on such a hot day, so naturally, we started chatting about where to eat.
I received insider tips from these lovely locals. I filed away their suggestion to try Hook, Line and Sinker for a delicious dinner spot with a view of Haliburton’s waterfront the next time I was in town, where to get coffee in the morning (Up River Trading Co.), and how to find the Mega Munch food truck, my dinner destination.
The eatery was a block from the main strip, and there was a late afternoon lineup, giving me sufficient time to peruse the menu. I ordered Taco Fries for my takeaway meal. After checking in at the Silver Maple Motel, I ate my takeout, which was fantastic.
I settled into my room, which has finished with a modern look not usually associated with motels. Once settled on my comfortable bed, sleep found me shortly after, hastened by a full day and fuller belly.
It was raining hard when I woke on day two, so I stayed in, made coffee, and ate a day-old Hidden Goldmine donut as I stared across the motel parking lot at the dark clouds over Head Lake.
I willed the wet weather away, and it must have worked because I was out the door just after 9 am and headed to the Haliburton Rotary Steam Locomotive. She glistened with water droplets, and I couldn’t help but imagine her engine puffing as she pulled away from the station.
I followed the paved waterfront path toward Head Lake Rotary Park to see the old Train Station (now the Rail’s End Gallery & Arts Centre), Haliburton Welcome Center, a train car and a caboose. Nothing could dampen my enthusiasm as I toured the relics of an age gone by.
I would’ve stuck around a little longer if I had known the skies would clear so soon, but I pressed on.
Dorset, Algonquin Highlands | Haliburton County
As I drove up Highway 118, the grey cover broke apart, and fluffy clouds started to dot the sky. Taking a short detour, I was off to see the Logger at Stanhope Heritage Museum - I knew this spot would be closed, but coming up the winding road to see the tall wood carving under the clearing sky was worth it. The beautiful weather made me look forward to the views at my next stop.
Connecting to Highway 35, I enjoyed a most scenic stretch of road with Boshkung Lake on the west side, then Halls Lake on the east side, followed by Kushog Lake on my way to the Dorset Scenic Lookout Tower.
The entire way to the tower, I kept asking myself how high I would make it up before my body would say, “I’ve gone high enough.”
Once at the tower’s base, I decided first to investigate all the other views, starting with the roadside attraction, the Unfeasibly Large Binoculars art installation. Next were the scenic lookouts with Adirondack chairs, then I took the stairs down to Peek-A-Boo Rock.
Back at the tower’s base, I was ready to ascend and made it almost all the way, climbing the stairs higher than the treetops. From where I stood, clenching the railing, the Algonquin Highlands seemed endless.
With 360-degree views of the scenery, I could understand why this tower is a huge tourism draw.
I made my way back down slowly. My big feet were a hindrance, and my camera hip bag bounced on the narrow steps. I never let go of the handrails; reaching solid ground never felt so good.
I visited the gift shop and bought a refreshing drink before heading out.
I left Dorset and was en route to connect with Highway 60. I had one last stop before leaving the Algonquin Highlands, driving through Algonquin Provincial Park on my way to the Madawaska Valley.
I didn’t stay long at Oxtongue River - Ragged Falls Provincial Park - or go too far along the short, slippery trail that was getting muddier on the way down to the riverside.
I spied rushing water through the trees and listened to the raging river from a distance before opting to return to the trailhead. I later realized I only took my camera out of its case for one photo!
Continue the Journey!
Coming up in Following the Rails and Rivers, I’m travelling through the Madawaska Valley on Highway 60, stopping in Wilno and Killaloe, then into the Ottawa Valley. I head West and East on Highway 17, hiking, relaxing, exploring and eating great food along my route.
In the last part of my journey, Rocks, Rails and The Old Addington Road, I’m homeward bound and making the most of my time. My route goes through Lanark County to Pakenham and Perth, Sharbot Lake in Frontenac County, and Cloyne in the Addington Highlands.