From Highway to Trail: A Perfect Taste of Wild Muskoka at the Kahshe Barrens Trail
The Kahshe Barrens Trail begins at the Muskoka Tourism office and consists of two loops which allows hikers of varying ability to experience either 2 kilometres or 4 kilometres of typical Muskoka wilderness – a perfect initial taste of Muskoka with towering White Pine and smooth bedrock domes.
After completing the Kahshe Barrens Trail my first thought was that it was a perfect taste of Muskoka’s wilderness, which is quite suiting because this trail is located right behind the Muskoka Tourism office in the municipality of Gravenhurst. If one wants to experience Muskoka wilderness as soon as they arrive in Muskoka, this is an ideal trail.
The Kahshe Barrens Trail consists of two loops, Casey and Kadz, each being two kilometres apiece, so you could walk one or both, for a total of four kilometres, depending on your timeline and your ability. The trail begins directly from the Muskoka Tourism Office parking lot. It is fairly flat, with no steep inclines, just a few rocks and roots—and maybe a bit of muck during the wetter times of the year. We, however, hiked this trail when it was snow-covered.
The Kahshe Barrens Trail head is located adjacent to the parking lot of the Muskoka Tourism Office #1342 Highway 11 Northbound.
My pal Judite and I had planned to snowshoe for this installment of the Muskoka Trails Blog Project, but alas, it was March 14th and there was still not enough snow to warrant wearing them. There was a fresh dusting however, which made the walking beautifully quiet. The new layer of snow had adhered to the ice that had been so apparent this winter and therefore made the hike much more stable and pleasant. We were to walk both loops and carried our snowshoes in for the photo op. After all, this is Muskoka—land of winter fun.
As stated previous, the Kahshe Barrens Trail begins right out of the parking lot of the Muskoka Tourism office and my loyal hiking companion made a bee-line straight into the building.
The Muskoka Tourism office is directly adjacent to the trail head and gives this trail an extra oomph as a destination—not to mention that the restrooms are meticulous.
Judite was in heaven! She is a destination brochure fanatic—and did this building have brochures! It also had the nicest restroom I’ve seen throughout my Muskoka Trails explorations thus far.
As Judite was scanning through the brochure displays, Pat at the kiosk desk was telling us that there had been a bare-foot hiking retreat group that had just hiked the trails the past weekend, yes, in bare feet! We were very happy to have our boots onؙ—even though Judite probably wouldn’t get to put her snowshoes into action. She had set a goal to snowshoe at least ten times over the winter of 2017-2018—not the ideal year for such a goal, but what can you do?
So in our boots, with our snowshoes tied to our packs, we set off onto the initial Casey Loop and right into a typical Muskoka Pine and hardwood forest.
The Kahshe Barrens trail provides an instant transition into Muskoka woodland—right out of the parking lot. This is great place to break up a long drive and move your legs to see Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera).
This trail holds beautiful examples of our most iconic Muskoka tree species such as Eastern White Pine, Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Yellow or ‘Silver’ Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), White or ‘Paper’ Birch, and our brilliant fall performers, the Maples Red (Acer rubrum) and the Sugars.
This Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) had ‘sapped’ all over the Muskoka Trails signs. The water had evaporated from the sap effectively turning it into candy. These signs can be found at the end of the bridge which marks the midpoint between the Casey and Kadz Loops. This is where you choose between a 2 km or a 4 km hike. This is also where I chose not to lick that maple sugar off the sign.
A beautiful example of towering Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) and bedrock outcrops.
About midway through the Kadz Loop we arrived at a chain of creeks and beaver pond bogs. These bogs were created when a Beaver decided to dam the creek in the past, creating ponds. These ponds have since been abandoned and have slowly filled in with sedges, Sphagnum moss, and subsequent vegetation—they could now be designated as ‘bogs’. The creek still flows through, persistently carving a water trail through the centre. These beaver ponds were the highlight of the trail for us; for me because there were groundcover plants that had melted out from the combination of sun exposure and bedrock outcrops, and for Judite because there were several trees that had been gnawed on by the Beaver that use the ponds as a travel route—we did not see any evidence of old beaver hutches in this particular bog.
This chicot was once a great White Pine that ended up becoming saturated to death by past Beaver families. They had dammed this creek and converted it from a rich creek slough into a full-on beaver pond.
A Beaver had been busy here in the past. This particular project seems to have been abandoned.
We also saw evidence of many other forms of wildlife. The usual avian winter suspects namely Ravens, Black-capped Chickadees, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and White and Red-breasted Nuthatches were all about in the treetops—and then there were the mammal tracks. We came across the tracks of White-tailed deer, Fox, Snowshoe hare, Red squirrel, and Fisher (who enjoy eating the hares and the squirrels), which told me that this trail would be great for viewing our typical Muskoka wildlife.
As we hiked along, we startled a Ruffed Grouse and it flew to safety. The fresh dusting of snow on top of hard-pack allowed us to observe where it had wandered, browsing on buds from shrubs, before it had taken off.
We ventured down to the shoreline of the beaver pond bog where the sun had melted the snow back from the bedrock. The pine needles had been heated by the sun and smelled divine. There were some typical Muskoka groundcover specimens that had been cleared of snow—also thanks to the sun—and were shining in the pockets of light that managed to break through this overcast day.
The majority of the groundcover species that had melted out from the snow were members of the Heath—or the Ericaceae family. Several species from this plant family love to grow in this land of bedrock and Pine. It is the combination of bedrock and Pine—with the bedrock holding little-to-no soil depth and providing little-to-no nutrients; and the White Pine regularly depositing a deluge of highly acidic needles upon the bedrock—that lends to the ideal habitat for the Ericaceae so they too can call Muskoka their home.
Heath species love acidic and harsh soils and environments; baking sun, harsh winds, acidity, no soil? Bring it on! They thrive on adversity. Heaths (of course) and Heathers—of Great Britain and East Coast notoriety—are members of this plant family, along with Blueberry, Huckleberry, Leatherleaf, Labrador tea, Bog Rosemary, Wintergreen, and Trailing arbutus. All of these (aside from the Heath and Heather species) can be found in Muskoka and all of them have bell-shaped flowers which are simply adored by Hummingbirds.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) thrive in the shallow soil and acidic conditions that abound over the bedrock-abundant Muskoka region. The Arbutus (with the larger leaf in this photo) produce blooms which have a notably beautiful scent if you are lucky enough to happen upon them in the spring. Arbutus is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in Muskoka once the snow has melted.
The geological formations found among the bedrock outcrops along the Kahshe Barrens Trail are another great example of the geological phenomena that can be found throughout Muskoka. The bedrock shoreline along the beaver bog chain held many pure white quartz crystals along with the beautiful pinks of rose quartz. These beautiful examples of metamorphic bedrock also held some spectacular specimens of lichen.
Lichen are a phenomenon in themselves. They are the result of a symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungus. The two need each other to create the lichen structure in order to collect sun, water, and nutrients, to reproduce and survive. There are so many species of lichen that can be found on Muskoka bedrock outcrops. The little lichen sneak-peek of lichens we were privy to during this spring-like day led me to believe that the bedrock domes here along the Kahshe Barrens Trail must hold many more beautiful and photo-worthy colonies of lichen.
Bedrock and lichen and White Pine and Wintergreen are pairings often seen in this beautiful district we call Muskoka.
This species of lichen is in fruit or ‘flower’. Lichen need water to reproduce and redistribute. These ‘flowers’ are full of the lichen’s gametes, which are ready to move. The fruit cups capture water as well as high-velocity water droplets and then ‘throw’ the water—which by then contains the little gametes—outwards, splattering all of the sweet baby lichen genetics towards their new homes.
A beautiful example of crystalline metamorphic bedrock.
Bedrock outcrops of the Canadian Shield, like the ones you can find here along the Kahshe Barrens Trail, create wonderful little niches of dry heat that are lovely to visit for a rest. Especially this time of year when the month of March doesn’t quite know whether it is winter or spring—but the sun knows for certain that it is time to turn up the heat—and the bedrock obligingly soaks it up. The transition is quite amazing! I’ve noticed that the bedrock outcrops begin to warm up in the sun and melt the snow just after Groundhog Day, and by the end of February the tops of many rock outcroppings have dribbled themselves dry. These hot spots are the best places to sit and soak up the sun in March. They often smell like baking pine needles and are sought out winter picnic areas for my family and friends as winter turns into spring. It is a magical thing that is best experienced for yourself.
The vista along the Kadz Loop, where the beaver bog meets the creek, gave us a snowy taste of winter upon a spring breeze.
A creek runs out of the beaver bog and marks the midway point for the 4 kilometre Kadz trek, which is where the trail begins to head back towards the Muskoka Tourism office. Judite and I found this creek the very essence of tranquility that can only be found in the wilderness.
There were so many little plant ambassadors along the Kahshe Barrens Trail that were proudly representing for their species. Several impressive moss specimens and shelf fungi were present on tree trunks and dead falls. Honeysuckle and blueberry bushes, with their vibrant green branches, lined the sunny bedrock outcrops alongside the trail, patiently waiting for the warmth of spring so they can begin to produce sweet trailside treats for those who happen upon them in summer.
It was the sight of the blueberry twigs laden with flower buds that brought my mind around to what can also be found along this trail once the snow melts; a true harbinger of spring—the most attentive of all the Muskoka ambassadors—Blackflies! They’re always happy to see you coming back for more. Here’s a bit of blackfly trivia to keep in mind as you are swatting away at the air and cursing: blackflies are one of the main pollinator species of Muskoka’s blueberries and other fruit and are a very important link in the food chain here in cottage country. Hummingbirds rely on blackflies as a source of protein when they arrive to their nesting grounds after their epic annual migration. Blackflies are also very important to the many Warbler species and other songbirds that nest here in Muskoka. How could anyone hold anything against the little blighters knowing how helpful they are? Ha! I’ll try to remember this too—next time the little angels form a black halo over my head.
A different lichen species intertwined with moss. Another very common and interesting thing to find in the forests of Muskoka. As they help turn fallen trees back into soil they are just waiting to be discovered by those who appreciate the little things in life.
We hit the Casey Loop again at the midpoint bridge and were well on our way back to the parking lot. Judite chatted the remainder of the way about how happy she was that we were able meet in the middle of her commute to get some exercise and fresh air. Truly, the Kahshe Barrens Trail is highly accessible and is ideally situated, constructed, and maintained for the most casual—or even the impromptu hiker who may or may not have forgotten their shoes (as my children often tend to do).
We made it back to the parking lot and were marvelling about the fact that we were so close to a major highway —yet were still sheltered by the beauty of the mature forest canopy.
Seriously though, it is so easy for the family to tumble out of the car for a taste of Muskoka wilderness where they can exert some of that pent-up energy while enjoying the forest. Muskoka’s forest friends won’t mind, and perhaps you could see some of them if you are mindful enough. Keep your eyes peeled for the little things. Whether you are into photography, forest-bathing, burning calories, or hiking without shoes, these two gentle loops that make up the Kahshe Barrens Trail are just an exit away, and provide for a highly enjoyable putter through a truly wild Muskoka forest at any time of year.
HOW TO GET THERE AND BACK
The Kahshe Barrens Trail is located right off Highway 11 Northbound, just north of The Gateway to Muskoka sign when you are heading North. If you are accessing the site from the Southbound lanes, keep your eyes peeled for the exit to Muskoka Road #13 Southwood Road and Manson Lane.
Southbound cars must drive past the Muskoka Tourism office, drive south for a few more kilometres and then exit at Southwood Road #13. You then take a dog-leg left from the exit ramp onto Southwood Road under the highway. Turn left onto the extension of Manson Lane to re-enter Northbound Highway 11.
To head North from the Southbound lanes take the Southwood Road exit ramp. When the ramp meets Southwood Road head directly under the bridge and then turn left onto the Manson Lane extension to get back onto Hwy 11.
When leaving the Muskoka Tourism office parking lot you must turn right and go Northbound. If you need to return Southbound on Highway 11 you will need to drive about one-half kilometre and then exit on the Sparrow Lake D Road exit. Take the Rainbow Circle bridge over the highway and then turn left onto Sparrow Lake D Road to re-enter into the Southbound lanes.
Important note: Successfully exiting the Muskoka Tourism parking lot towards your destination takes a bit of study and sober second thought. YOU MUST TURN RIGHT and head Northbound. Please remember that the average speeds on this highway range from 90 km/h – 120 km/h. Take your time to judge the velocity and weight of the vehicles approaching.
To head Southbound after entering Northbound 11 take the Sparrow Lake D Road exit which is just after the retro Muskoka Store sign.
Written by Rebecca Krawczyk aka Botanigal. www.botanigal.com @botanigals
Visit the Botanigal website for more information about her family’s native plant nursery and apothecary, to see more botanical highlights of Muskoka, to learn more about plants of edible and medicinal interest, and to glean some of the other odd and interesting things she regularly stumbles upon in her travels throughout her home range of Muskoka and Haliburton.