Algonquin Canoe Trip

25 - 31 August 2008

Andrew Smith

Some years ago I've decided to take a week or two every year to get away from computers, all my projects, and all the people I know so that I can clear my mind and come back ready to come up with new ideas. You can see what I've done in previous years at the bottom of the page. For the last week of vacation I had left this year I decided to do something new. Not ride a bike or hike for a few days, but take a canoe all around Alginquin park.

I've never ridden a canoe before, except for a couple of hours once. But having done the La Cloche Silhouette trail, I knew I can physically handle it, so I just did it. The unknown stopped scaring me when I was about 4 years old, so that wasn't a problem either.

On the trip I kept some basic notes and made some photos. I don't know if you'll find them interesting, but I want them for myself, and you're welcome too have a look also.

Gearing Up

Besides the regular camping gear (backpack, tent, sleeping bag, food, little things all as light as possible) I also needed a canoe. I wasn't going to buy one cause it costs over 2000$ and it would take many many trips to save that kind of money versus rental fees. There are lots of rental shops around the park, most of them with websites. I just used a search engine to find a few, and chose one that looked reasonable - Opeongo Outfitters.

It cost me 18$ per day for a light 15 foot Saugeen. I don't think you need a longer one unless you want more than 2 people in it, 15 feet is quite big. Also I payed 5$ to have it mounted on top of my car, I was surprised to find that was possible to do on a Neon with no racks.

In case you're wondering - while inside the park I payed attention to where others' canoes were rented from and the overwhelming majority were from Algonquin Outfitters. I don't know what their rates are, but I inconspicuously lifted the end of one of their 15 footers and it was a bit lighter than mine. I don't remember what the brand was.

Also since I started on a lake with no park office, I had to stop by a park office and pick up my permit. Half of it has to be displayed on the car while it's parked, the other half comes with you.


10:00 Started on Cache lake. This one is truly an access point and nothing else. There's a small parking lot and a bit of a dock, nothing else. Almost no wind, a few nice clouds covering the sun now and again. Looks like it's going to be a nice day.

On the way from Cache lake to Canoe lake there are lots of cottages, but not an overwhelming lot of traffic, generally speaking it's quite nice. A few photos from there follow. The first is a campsite on Tanamakoon Lake, the rest are somewhere in between access point 8 and Smoke Lake.

I also made a photo of a portage sign. Not that it's not obvious what it means, but just so you know how small it is. It's very hard to see from a distance, except from certain angles when the sunlight is bouncing off it.

The portages are almost exactly what I expected. Definitely not easy, having to carry both a backpack and a canoe, but not overwhelmingly hard. On a short one I tried to carry the canoe and backpack separately, but I found it takes 3 times as much time, and is at least twice harder - doing twice the distance with half the load is much worse than doing the distance once with double the load. There are hills, but not the type you need to be a mountain goat to climb.


The NW wind started picking up as I went, and by the time I got to the middle of Tanamakoon Lake (11:00), it was really bad. I just pushed with all my might to get through.

14:00 Then I got to Smoke lake. This is a big one, and if you don't know how to deal with the wind, you may as well go home (if you can even get off the lake :)). The problem is that if you go against the wind, and you're alone in the canoe, the front of the canoe is tipped up a little - and the wind wants to turn it backwards. It took a while for me to decide that muscle isn't the way to deal with it, and try some other things.

Finally I got it - what you need to do is this: instead of sitting on the seat, and letting the front of the canoe tip up, get down on your knees right in front of the seat, that way the canoe is balanced (your backpack is in the front) and that takes a lot of pressure off. Do that only long enough to turn the canoe back in the right direction, then sit back down on the seat and carry on as usual.

Learning this the hard way was a really stressful experience, so I didn't make any photos. The following are of Canoe Lake, I think. That toy lighthouse is pretty cute, it's very realistic and from a distance it does look like a normal big one. Actually it's only about as tall as me.


19:45 Got to a campsite I wanted on Joe lake, the third site south of Camp Arowhon. There's a photo of a 'campground' sign (these and the portage signs are the only signs on the trip), and also a photo of my campsite:


I barely had enough time to make fire and food, set up the tent, and hang the backpack in the tree. Need about an hour for all that. In the morning I realized I did something not very bright - guess where I hung the backpack? Yes, you can - on that very tree in the photo above, the one with the branches hanging over the lake :) Lucky me I apparently know how to tie a knot properly.

20:45 Almost completely dark, heard some people in canoes and saw them looking around with fashlights. They were looking for a campsite. I offered to share mine, since I was alone and it's a really, really bad idea to be out on the lake at night, you'll never find a site (this isn't the city, at night here you can't see two meters in front of you). They said thanks and asked if there are any other sites close that they could try first. I pointed in the right direction (two more just north of mine), and they never came back, I guess they found one.


5:30 Got up. Somehow managed to make a fire with the wet junk left from yesterday. Lasted just long enough to heat up water for soup and tea.

Photos from earlier and later in the morning, before I left at 8:00. The second one almost looks photoshopped, but it isn't:


10:00 At p2320. So far it's been easy going. I guess the only thing that makes canoeing really hard is the wind. This was my first really long portage. Had to stop for rest three times, but overall it wasn't bad, cause I wasn't in a rush.

This is somewhere in the middle of it:

11:45 Got to Ink Lake.

On the way to McIntosh there are some really pretty wetlands. Not an overwhelming lot of life, but it's nice and quiet, and wetlands don't smell like swamps (I thought they would). The black berries grow on bushes, I didn't care to try them to see if they're edible:


12:15 McIntosh Lake. Still no wind, so far a very pleasant day. This is all there (south end, island in the middle, and north end):


I stopped on the island for a bit of a rest. That photo of the rocks is from there. What you maybe can't see in it is a lot of fishes, or maybe you see them but you can't tell they're just sitting there. It's really strange, they don't move at all, I guess they like to warm up a little in shallow water between the sun and a rock.

Also I started to notice the ducks on the lake dive. And they're serious divers. It was hard to time them because they swim a long way under water and sometimes you wonder if they drowned, and then see them some place you never figured they can get to. Eventually I timed a few and they spend on average 50 seconds under water. Wow.

13:15 At p405. Soon after I got to the campsite I wanted - the one in the north end of Timberwolf Lake. A view from the campsite:

I was glad I got there so early, got a chance to relax after yesterday's ordeal. Made a clothesline and hung the tent on it to dry, also washed my clothes in the lake and hung them too, but underestimated a bit about how long they'd take to dry and had to move them on top of some bushes to dry in the sun.

Also tried to develop a tan, but that got boring, since there was no comfortable place to lie down in the sun.

19:00 Just went around the lake in the canoe for distraction. Caught the sunset, though the photo doesn't look all that pretty:


After dark swarms of mosquitos came out, and I went to sleep.


7:00 Got up

8:45 Left camp. I always try to make a nice photo of a water lilly, and I never get it right, here's my best shot this time:

9:15 At p130

Some shots of Misty Lake. Those tree stumps I wanted to capture because I saw them all over the place. The interesting thing about them is that I can't figure out when it is that they grew. Did they grow on land and the land get flooded? Where did the water come from? Did they grow from under the water? I couldn't figure it out.


10:00 At p705. Here for the first time I encountered swarms of mosquitos during the day. These, as I'm sure you'd agree, are very annoying. And for various reasons I didn't have any way of protecting myself. Actually I was mostly covered (long jeans, long sleeve shirt), but they still get the hands, the neck, and the face. Well this time they just pushed me to go faster and stop less for rest.

11:15 At p1125

11:30 Started the portage, and was on Tim River at 12:00, it seemed really easy, this one.

Tim river is a very small one. Quite deep enough for the canoe, so I wouldn't call it a creek, but 'river' seems like an overstatement.

Turns out (as I hoped) that the current on the river doesn't make much difference, if any. The beaver dams can be a problem though, I had to get out once to get my canoe over. If there are two people in a canoe, they'd have to get out a lot, I don't see how they could push it over like I did.


Saw a moose. It was just there, probably drinking. Didn't much care about me.

More photos, including a couple of beaver dams:


At one point I came across something strange. A concrete foundation for a bridge, with proper roads on each side of the river. It was strange because it's a rare sign of civilisation, and also because the road wasn't on the map. In the following days I crossed a few more roads like this, I guess they were used for forestry at some point, but according the the park paper forestry wasn't allowed in the park for years.

15:00 At p410. This is what rapids look like, and it's why you sometimes have to portage even though there doesn't seem to be anything special on the map:

Past the portage I saw some strange things growing on rocks. They look exactly like jellyfish, all flobbery and kind of disgusting, but they're attached to the rock, and I don't know whether they're plants or animals:

These water weeds are quite pretty, there are lots of them in all the rivers:

18:00 At p250

18:40 At campsite on Rosabary. Very tired. Turns out I had no idea how to estimate the distance traveled on rivers. I took them to be the same as lakes, thinking measuring a straight line will be close enough, but I was way off. When estimating how much time is needed to canoe on a river, one should at least double the straight line (which works quite well for lakes).

The rivers are constantly turning, with hardly any straight sections longer than 50 meters. Not only does that double the distance, but it also significantly decreases the speed and increases the ammount of effort per meter needed. Often you have to either slow down, or even stop completely to turn the canoe.

Also - navigation on the small rivers is brutal. Because of all the turning both the sun and the compas are largely useless. And there are rivers merging, which makes deciding where to turn very difficult sometimes, especially if going upstream and both branches look about the same width.


6:30 Got up. This is the first morning without fog on the lake. Heard a pack of wolves - a combination of howling and squealing, I guess they were either fighting or maybe killing something. Lasted about a minute.

Looking at the map and considering yesterday's lessons about river length, preparing myself for a long tough day.

8:20 Left. 8:40 got to p365. Saw some new berries, didn't touch these either, also a photo of Floating Heart Lake:


10:15 Got to the pond on Latour Creek, between p1370 and p845.. This creek was much easier to navigate than Tim River - mostly much wider and no noticeable current, though I suspected I was going downstream, and no dams, which is a big deal.

10:30 At p845. Photos of another road not on the map, unmarked roads seemed to fascinate me on this trip:


11:10 Got to Loontail Creek. p845 was quite reasonable.

11:40 Passed by campsite just before merge into Nipissing River.

12:15 At p365. Must have merged into the Nipissing without noticing, good thing I was going downstream and going the right way was the easiest thing to do by accident. The rapids the portage avoids, at both ends:


13:30 At p90.

15:45 At campsite south of p30. At this point it looked unlikely that I'd get to Allen Rapids (the planned campsite), we'll see.

17:30 Got past p860.

19:00 (or so) got to a campsite, took me a while to realise what happened. Apparently the signs on Nippising River for p1825, the campsite east of it, and the west end of p385 are all missing. I can't say for sure about the first two, but I walked back and double-ckecked, the p385 sign is definitely missing.

Well, at least I did some white-water thinging. I thought it was strange when there were lots of rocks on the river, but by the time they became a real problem it was too late to turn back. The canoe isn't really the kind of boat you want for this sort of thing, you have to spend almost half the time in the water pushing it over rocks.

No damage though, I didn't feel like being careless with the canoe in the middle of the park, I haven't seen anyone today, and only one canoe yesterday.

These are random shots from places on the Nipissing River (between Loontail Creek and p385):


The campsite was free and there was lots of firewood, so the day ended ok.


6:30 Got up. It was raining on and off since I went to bed yesterday. Strangely enough the backpack wasn't soaked, even though it was hung in a tree with no cover.

Heard some heavy cracking noises, thought it might be a clumzy bear, didn't see anything. A couple of days later I heard similar noises and it was a moose, so that's probably what it was here too.

Found something that looked like a bloodsucker strongly attached to the bottom of my tent. Pretty disgusting.

Managed to start a fire with just one newspaper, but it never got hot enough to cook. At least the smoke scared some mosquitos away so I could eat in relative peace.

7:45 Left.

8:30 At p2715. Just before getting here saw a handful of beavers, but wasn't fast enough to get my camera out and make a photo.

After p2715 it started raining. Swarms of mosquitos everywhere, including on the river. I had no idea mosquitos come out during rain, I always thought they come out after the rain. Annoyingly they don't seem to care that raindrops bigger than them are falling all around.

I also learned that dragonflies eat mosquitos. It's really nice to see a mosquito floating around, and suddenly - zap, it's gone. Sadly there aren't enough dragonflies to keep all the mosquitos away.

11:30 At p500, a.k.a. p495.

13:10 At p1300. No photos so far, rain and mosquitos in the way.

16:10 Made it to camp on Whiskeyjack lake. The mosquito swarms almost unbearable at this point. As soon as I kill one that sits on me, 3 more come at me. Hours and hours of pain.

On the campsite it wasn't so bad, the one I picked was on a sort of cape, and I guess they can't deal with the wind.

Lots of firewood here, as if noone used the site for a year. Didn't even have to walk away from the site to gather enough. It burned real well too, strange considering that it was raining all day until a couple of hours ago.


6:15 Got up. The mosquito nightmare yesterday and what I learned about misestimating distances made me reconsider the planned route. I was going to go to Catfish Lake today and Big Crow Lake tomorrow, but looking at all the portages and rivers on the way to Catfish I chickened out and went straight down to Big Crow. The distance is about the same, but mostly all open water.

8:15 Leaving.

12:00 At p735. So far so good, pleasant day. Here's Burntroot Lake:

12:30 At Lake La Muir.

14:20 At p685. After getting over the portage I was greeted with a new challenge. A field of tall reeds to go across. Have a look at the photos. I don't know if you feel what I did when I saw it, it looks like there's this way into the reeds and then one has to wade across.

I was also confused a bit, I was expecting Hogan Lake. Took me a few minutes to notice the blue line between the portage and the lake.

An interesting thing about the reeds is that this is the only place in the whole park I've seen them grow. I'm rather used to reeds on lakes where I come from, and was surprised to not see any here. They are kind of pretty.


And this is Hogan Lake:

15:45 At p3750. The longest portage on my trip, possibly the longest one in the park (can't be bothered to check). Fortunately its the last thing I have to do today, and there's plenty of time. This one is pretty tough. There's a lot of climbing for the first 800 meters or so.

18:10 At Big Crow Lake. Just took the first campsite south of the portage, was exhausted at this point.


1:15 Woke up and went out for a piss. The tent was about 25m away from the lake, and I walked towards the lake a bit. Coming back I realised I can't find the tent. Tried to feel my way through, remember where the thinner trees are, or try a straight line from the opening on the lake to the fireplace, nothing worked.

Luckily I hung the backpack on a tree next to the lake, so I could find that. I got a newspaper and a lighter out, made a flare, and found the tent. Later in the morning I looked at the trees again to figure out where I was looking, and I realised I must have been 1 meter away from the tent and couldn't see it. And my tent is almost white, wow.

6:30 Woke up again. Heard some weird loud noises. Wondered if it's a bear, but didn't see anything until after I made the fire and was cooking soup. A moose and her baby went right by my tent. The old one just looked at me once and went about her business, eating. The young one was shy, and either stayed still or ran to behind the mother. Great stuff. I tried to make a photo, but it was still too dark for the camera. If you try hard enough you can see part of the mother here:

7:00 Half an hour later, another moose walks by my canoe, just as indifferent to me:


Once I started going down Big Crow Lake I realised the water is dirty not only near shore where the moose walked by, but everywhere, even in the middle of the lake. I don't actually know what petrol smells or tastes like, but this smelled and tasted like petrol. I had to refill my water bottle later, and it took some effort to get the smell out of it.

I can't remember where this was, maybe Little Crow Lake:

13:00 At p965. And p310. The reason there's two is that you have the option of doing the 310 on a small lake or over land. I went over land, but I don't recommend it, there's a lot of climbing to go such a short distance.

Been taking it easy all day but looks like I'm moving too fast anyway. Will probably try to make it to the car today.

After passing the portage it's like I stepped out of the wilderness and back into civilisation. Lake Opeongo has nothing of the wildernes Algonquin is famous for, and that I've seen over the last week. Campsites are occupied all day long, motor boats constantly going by, dogs barking, bleh. Good thing I already decided to not stop here today. I would have a really hard time finding a campsite, especially since I was a day early and had no reservation, but even if I did it would have been hard - even the North Arm of the lake is quite big.

17:45 At the Opeongo Access Point and Park Office. Wooh!

Found the pile of canoes near the dock that all said Opeongo Outfitters (where mine was from), and just left mine there. I wanted to call and ask if I would get a refund since I came back two days earlier, but the phones weren't working. I didn't bother doing it later either.

This is aso where I stopped taking notes. To make it to the car (back at access point 8) it looked like a 25km walk, so I expected to be hiking until midnight at least. One annoying thing is that there were no garbage bins at the park office, so I had to carry the garbage with me too, that was unexpected, though not too bad cause there wasn't that much of it.

Hiked over to highway 60. Apparently I underestimated how far it was from the lake to the highway, so added another 5k to the estimate.

At the Beaver Pond Trail or so someone stopped and offered a ride. I was too tired to quickly consider the offer, and just accepted. They were going to give me a ride as far as the campground where they were staying, I said that's fine, as long as it's in the right direction it's great. Then we found out we're all russian, and they decided to take me all the way. Very nice people, didn't even accept money for gas (with the gas prices these days).

On the way 2 or 3 times they pulled over where we saw a bunch of other people looking at something. I was amused seing so much enthusiasm about looking at wildlife, I was so used to seing it already.

And that was it for my trip. They dropped me off right next to my car, which was very dirty from something but started without trouble, and I drove home.

I had a great time, and I recommend it for anyone interested in this sort of thing, though I'd advise doing something less extreme first to see if you can handle it, for example go do the La Cloche Silhouette trail.

Equipment (see how many times the word light is repeated?)
General points of interest
If you have questions for me, please use this form.

Other trips of mine.