An Epic Family Weekend in Hastings Highlands: Fall Edition

Photos and story submitted by Michelle Caddey Maclean

It’s dark outside as I drop my bag on the floor of the Baptiste Lake cottage – “Aaahhhh. We made it!” My husband orients himself outside with a flashlight, my son lights a fire in the woodstove, and my daughter turns on the classic rock of 97.7 Moose FM radio while I unpack the groceries that will fuel the amazing weekend of activity we have planned. After settling in, we each grab a beverage, find a cozy spot on the couch, and switch on a movie to de-stress from the workweek and drive from the city. The fire crackles, owls hoot, and the wind softly blows leaves off the trees onto the roof of the cabin as we drift easily off to sleep.


Saturday: Kayaking, ATVing, Hiking, Eating, and Shopping

In the morning, we’re up, refuelled, and on the dock in the clean, cool air. The water barely ripples as we slip the kayaks into the translucent, tannin-tinged lake water. After an awkward transition into the kayak (I’m NEVER graceful getting in and out), my son and I are paddling across the bay to a secret, rocky cove with a trickling stream. There are no other boats or people within earshot; the only sounds are the sounds of the paddles clunking against the sides of the kayaks and the splish, splash as we propel ourselves forward. We watch for bears, elk, moose, and beaver but see none this time. Our eyes are filled only with the warm, rich colours of autumn, and that’s more than enough.


Kayak against the shore line in a forest setting Child in a kayak. Set on the water with a forest back dropMaple leaf leaves floating in water


After lunch, I don a helmet and hop on the ATV for a quick trip around the cottage neighborhood. The cottage is on a single-track road, and there are probably a dozen enticing side-trails. I have complete freedom to explore at my own pace. I feel the wind on my face as I open the throttle and encounter nary a soul unless you count the inunnguaq (aka inukshuk) towering over me on the steep roadside. A mossy streambed and an exceptional profusion of coloured leaves are the only things that stop me in my tracks.


ATV on a forest trail inukshuk in a forestWater fall in a forest setting


When I return to the cottage, my daughter is keen and waiting to go to downtown Bancroft. Like me, she’s a bookworm, and we love to visit Ashlie’s Books, a fascinating shop with new and used books, artwork, local maps, and related novelties. The proprietor is an understated, helpful man who clearly takes interest in his work. A sign out front claims that Ashlie’s is the last bookstore for 103 kilometers, but I would visit this shop even if there was an oversized Indigo next door. It has loads of personality. I particularly love the kid's section at the back of the store and the colourful lake maps with their labels for all the little islands, bays, and beaches that make the area unique. I rarely leave without buying a little something.    


Image of a book store signWomen in a book story. Reading looking at a book infront of book stands


Once I coax my daughter out of the bookstore, I convince her to visit Eagles Nest Park, a sanctuary in the middle of Bancroft perched on a rock face that resembles The Chief in Squamish, BC (on a slightly smaller scale). The Eagles Nest views are spectacular in the fall, and we walk for a leisurely five minutes over beds of pine needles, exposed roots, and the bare rock of the Canadian Shield to reach the lookout platform. The cool, intense green of the nearby golf course contrasts beautifully with the warm colours of the deciduous stands. We could spend the rest of the afternoon hiking at the top of the cliff, but we decide it’s time to head back. 


View from hilltop of forst below. Fog covered View from hilltop of forst below. Fog coveredView from hilltop of forst below. Fog covered


At the cottage, my husband has readied the outdoor firepit for cooking. We throw some seasoned steaks and foiled potatoes on the grill while my daughter strums her guitar in the background. We sit in the Muskoka chairs, sip beer, and flip through books and magazines while the meat sizzles. Food irrefutably tastes better at the cottage, and we savour every mouthful. After such an adventurous day outside, we have a quiet evening under the stars and then fall into bed exhausted. 


Steal cooking on a camp fire. Muskoka chair in backgroundFall leaves on a forest path


Sunday: Offroading and Waterfall-Chasing

Before we know it, it’s Sunday, and the drive back to the city later in the day looms over us. However, with carpe diem attitudes, we believe we can squeeze in a lot more fun before it is time to pack up.

 We hop into our Jeep and venture to Egan Chutes Provincial Park, on Highway 28, just 15 kilometres outside of Bancroft. Long ago, Egan Chutes appears to have offered visitor facilities. Today, it is a non-operating park (or nature reserve) for hikers, cross-country skiers, and 4x4 enthusiasts. We have visited the mesmerizing chutes (waterfalls) before, and we always take care to bring potable water, snacks, tow ropes, phones, first aid kit, life jackets, etc. in case we run into a spot of trouble. These natural thrills are awesome but remote. The Jeep handles the rocky, unmaintained “roads” with ease, and we hike to the sandy eddy-cove and poke around among the driftwood and collect pinecones to the roar of rushing water. 


Egan chutes water rapids Boy and Dad at Egan Chutes in fall. Look out at waterJeep driving through a water covered puddle on a forest trail


On the way back to Baptiste Lake, we stop quickly at High Falls dam. Waterfalls are a major draw for us, no matter what form they take! We walk carefully along the edge of the dam and the falls, touching the branches and leaves with our fingertips as we head down to the flat water at the bottom of the hill. The kids love the challenge of balancing on logs and hopping from rock to rock to stay dry. Walking a little farther down the High Falls dam road, we encounter some rapids that are almost as beautiful as those at the dam itself.


Women looking at High Falls dam water Stream at High Falls DamYork river waterfall


We consult our iPhones and see that our break from the city is ending. Reluctantly, we return to our vehicle and the cottage, gather our things, and quickly tidy up. After a pit stop at Kawartha Dairy for ice cream and cheese curds, kid-chatter ceases as they look contentedly out the Jeep windows. As we drive home, The Moose radio plays “Home for a Rest” by Spirit of the West, and we couldn’t relate to a song choice more.  



Story and photographs by Michelle Caddey Maclean

Photo of Michelle Caddey Maclean

Michelle Caddey Maclean is a seasoned professional writer, corporate communicator, website creator, and hobby photographer enjoying weekends at her cottage on Baptiste Lake, a large lake near Bancroft, Ontario. Michelle, her husband (Alasdair), and their two kids love to travel and have adventures in the Hastings Highlands, across Ontario, and around the world. When she’s not relaxing at the cottage or gallivanting around the globe, Michelle creates content and websites for professional services, government, healthcare, and technical organizations in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond under the name of Whisk Marketing Communications. Follow Michelle Caddey Maclean’s adventures on Baptiste Lake on Instagram at @bancroftbaptistelake .

 Ontario Highlands tourism banner