A Truly Canadian Adventure: Haliburton Highlands

 

Disclosure: We were generously hosted by Haliburton Forest Nature and Wildlife Reserve and Yours Outdoors so that we could share this experience with you. As always, our opinions are entirely our own and this experience aligns with our family lifestyle.

 

 

Before spending three days in Haliburton, Ontario, we were your average Canadian family of four. Send us to tour a sugar bush, cuddle with sledding pups, pet a moose, and howl with wolves, and we’ve left feeling ultra Canadian! This trip was full of memory making, bucket list checking, first time experiences for all four of us, and I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself!

 

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Haliburton is located within a short drive of Toronto and Ottawa, and is the perfect example of a hidden gem all year round! Nestled in central Ontario, this area is popular among cottagers, but may not be very well known even among Ontario dwellers. For those outside of Ontario, you can fly into Toronto and take the 2.5 hour drive into Haliburton. We feel so fortunate to discover this peaceful place and share our adventure with you!

 

Where to Stay

Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve has so much to offer: 100,000 acres of forest, 300 km of trails, endless experiences and several amenities including accommodation options, from a two-bedroom unit to a large sixteen bed cabin. We stayed in “The Beaver House,” a three-bedroom cabin that was more than enough space for us to relax and settle into to for the next three days. It had a full kitchen, fire place, and three bedrooms (two of them had two single beds in each, while the third had a double bed).  As a family with two small children, the cabin was a perfect fit and being a short walk to the Wolf Centre, Hershe the Moose, and the sled dogs, it was so convenient to be able to take washroom, nap, and snack breaks in-between.

 

Our Trip Highlights

  • Touring Esson Creek Maple hosted by Yours Outdoors
  • Viewing wild wolves at the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre
  • Playing with the sledding pups at Haliburton Forest
  • Petting Hershe the Moose
  • Stopping in at the Haliburton Wood Shop

 

 

Day 1  | Arriving in Haliburton & Touring a Maple Sugar Bush

In the early morning, we travelled from Stratford to Haliburton, and as the sun rose our surroundings transformed into a northern winter wonderland. Rocky hills began to hug the road, towering forests met the bright blue sky, and frozen lakes were scattered everywhere in-between – It was stunning! We arrived at family owned and operated, Esson Creek Maple for a “sugar bush” tour organized by Barrie of  Yours Outdoors; a community of guides, environmental & outdoor professionals, accommodators, restaurateurs and other service providers with the goal of sharing Haliburton Highlands – Total dream job, amiright!?

First, we were taken along a snowy trail through the forest of tall maples; over 1,200 of them linked together with an elaborate series of taps and tubing funneling the trees’ sap to the “sugar shack” to be made into maple syrup. It was so neat to learn about different types of trees, the mechanics behind the vacuum pumps, and how the Bramham’s are operating a maple syrup farm that intentionally puts the health of the trees first.

After a walk through the maple forest, we were taken to the main hub of it all, where the collection basins and extractor were… And of course the samples! We were able to taste several different local syrups, all with a unique tastes, and all very delicious!  Although, the stand out treat was the Esson Creek Maple syrup snow candy, mmm-mm! This was an incredible experience and a check off of our bucket list! Yours Outdoors organizes several tours and adventure throughout the year in Haliburton, I highly recommend connecting with Barrie if you plan to visit!

After snagging a big bottle of syrup to take home, we stopped for lunch at a local fish & chips joint recommended by the friendly folks at Esson Creek Maple, Baked & Battered. Their fish and chips were delicious, but their coleslaw was amazing (and we aren’t really slaw people).

Afterward, we slowly ventured over to Haliburton Forest to check into our cabin, cook ourselves dinner in our full kitchen, and relax in-front of the fireplace for the rest of the evening. After the kids were snuggled into bed, I snuck out for a short walk and was surprised by the sound of the Wolf Centres’ wild wolves in a round of howls, it was such a spectacular sound! Many people will go their entire lives never hearing a wolf’s howl, so this was a pretty special way to finish off our first day.

 

Day 2  | Wild Wolves, Sled Dogs, and a Moose, Oh My!

On our second day in Haliburton, we rose to a beautiful blue sky and sunshine, we really lucked out with the weather on our trip! Since hearing the wolves howling the previous night, I was so excited to go see the pack in person. The wolves at the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve Wolf Centre are raised wild, meaning there is very little human interference. The individuals overlooking these wolves have so much knowledge about them, and we were able to learn about different members of the pack of ten (who the alpha male and female are, last year’s cubs, and how they all function together). Observing these majestic creatures in person was an amazing experience, there’s just something so special about them. Learn more about the wolves here.

One of our favorite experiences, and another first, was playing and cuddling with the dogsledding pups! Haliburton Forest has 115 sled dogs ranging in age from puppies to over ten-years-old. We were lucky enough to visit with a handful of the female pups (we were warned the males tend to mark their territory if you know what I mean!), they were so friendly and super sweet with the kids! Emmersyn made fast friends with a couple, Greysen enjoyed playing follow the leader (they even let him lead!), and I even got in a few snuggles myself!

Later that day, we ventured over to the small farm at Haliburton Forest to see Hershe the moose! Getting to meet, and even pet this handsome guy was something I was really looking forward to! Living in Canada my own life, I’ve surprisingly never seen a moose in person, until now! In 2011, Hershe was brought to Haliburton Forest after his mother was sadly killed in a vehicle accident. Today, he roams a four acre enclosure with two ponds, and consumes over 50 lbs of fresh leafs and twigs on a daily basis. This was the perfect way to finally observe moose and take it all in, compared to seeing one as it quickly flees into the bush! Learn more about Hershe here.

Following our meet & greet with Hershe, we escaped into the Wild Woods Walk, a trail that’s a part of over 300 km of hiking trails in Haliburton Forest. Along the way you’ll find pieces of semi-permanent land art from the Forest Art Project, installed between 2008 and 2011. Walking underneath a canopy of trees, in complete peacefulness, surrounded by incredible views was the perfect way to spend an afternoon, in fact the kids fell fast asleep in the wagon on our way back to the cabin.

After nap time we took a peek into the logging museum & vintage snowmobile display, just steps  from our front door.  The kids couldn’t help but hop onto a couple of their favorite rides, it was pretty neat to see how far snowmobiles have come over the years!

Day 3  | Cabin Life + Visiting the Wood Shop

Our last day in Haliburton was spent waking up slow, enjoying a delicious meal from the on-site restaurant, and stopping in at the Haliburton Wood Shop before the four hour drive back to Stratford.

As soon as we opened the door to the shop, the smell of fresh cut wood overcame us, and it reminded me of spending time with my gramps in his shop when I was young. We spent much longer than expected browsing the endless amount of beautiful handcrafted work including bowls, utensils, toys, paddles, and other décor and practical home items.  We couldn’t leave without getting a couple souvenirs, a small paddle for our tiny home wall, and a slicer for our homemade bread. It was the perfect way to end our trip and snag something to remember it by.

Haliburton, Ontario is a stunning place that I truly believe everyone must experience! If you want a very Canadian adventure, this is it! Make sure to connect with Barrie at Yours Outdoors and the folks over at Haliburton Forest Nature and Wildlife Reserve to help fill your trip with lasting memories! We will be back to experience it all again in the summer!

Haliburton Forest Nature and Wildlife Reserve

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Yours Outdoors

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Esson Creek Maple

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Disclosure: We were generously hosted by Haliburton Forest Nature and Wildlife Reserve and Yours Outdoors so that we could share this experience with you. As always, our opinions are entirely our own and this experience aligns with our family lifestyle.