It doesn’t seem to matter how much planning and preparation goes into my backcountry camping trips – something always seems to happen that I hadn’t foreseen!
This 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park (Magnetawan Lake access point on the West side of the park) was to be my 1st canoe trip since the fall of 2016, when I did a trip along the Tim River, also at Algonquin. And this time, I’d be paddling with my new(ish) friend Jen, who I met through social media connections. I was slightly paranoid while prepping food, as Jen is Celiac, so I had to be extra careful in my choice of ingredients. Lists made and prep done, it was time to start the trip! The forecast looked great, though we would be starting at the tail end of a heat wave. Drinking lots of water would be key.
Day 1: Magnetawan Lake access point to Misty Lake, through Hambone Lake, Acme Lake, Daisy Lake, the Petawawa River and Little Misty Lake
We picked up our backcountry permit at the Kearney office, and set out for the Magnetawan Lake access point.
In terms of gear, we had 1 canoe pack, 1 big backpack, a waterproof bag of food, a small backpack with water and stuff (Jen), and a camelbak with water and stuff (me). And of course a canoe, 3 paddles, a bailer, throw rope, painter, and 2 PFDs (worn at all times in the canoe). We knew that we wouldn’t be able to single-carry everything on the portages, so instead we would walk each portage 3 times (1st time with canoe and gear, 2nd time empty-handed, 3rd time with the remainder of the gear).
We pushed off the dock and headed for the first portage, about 500m away. Starting our trip on a Tuesday meant that there weren’t many other canoes around. We paddled through Hambone Lake toward the portage to Acme Lake, and thankfully the water was high enough that we could keep paddling and skip the portage. It was on the portage from Acme Lake to Daisy Lake that I had my first adventure.
Jen carried the canoe, and me my big backpack. We put the canoe down on the dock, but after Jen headed back to get the rest of our gear, I decided to put it into the water, since the dock wasn’t too big and I didn’t want to block anyone who needed to use it. I lifted the canoe into the water, stepped away from the dock, and no… the canoe did not float away. I grabbed my backpack, stepped into the water to load it into the canoe, and sunk down with my right leg up to my waist in muck!! My backpack ended up in the water, but everything inside it was in waterproof bags, so nothing got wet or damaged. Just my ego, as this entire ordeal was witnessed by a couple in their canoe! Thankfully I was not injured, and I was able to extricate my foot (and sandal!) from the muck. What a start to the trip!
We paddled through Daisy Lake and along the Petawawa River, which was twisty and narrow and my kind of paddling (except for the deer and horse flies). We continued through Misty Lake and Misty Forks, where we encountered our first moose of the trip! He was a young one, and was exactly where we needed to paddle in the river. We sat and watched him for a while, and then eventually he headed into the woods.
The first few sites on Misty Lake were taken, but we managed to find a great one. We set up Jen’s 3-man tent, her bug shelter (a welcome refuge from the mosquitos, deer and horse flies), threw a rope over a tree branch to hoist our bear bag and safely store our food, boiled water to rehydrate quinoa spinach soup in Jen’s Kelly Kettle (so cool!), and cooked bannock using Jen’s Trangia stove, and then made apple crumble for dessert. We also cooled off in the lake!
We were exhausted, but for some reason, neither of us could fall asleep! It may have been the bullfrogs calling loudly all night long, it may have been the loons calling for slightly less time, or it may have been that we were overly tired. Who knows, but I do know this – I slept less than 4 hours that first night! I love the sound of bullfrogs and loons, but not in the middle of the night!
Distance paddled: 15.7 km (Note: all distances for paddling and portaging are approximate, based on Jeffsmap Algonquin map and my Inreach data.)
Distance portaged: 6.3 km
Wildlife highlights: moose, snapping turtle, muskrat, frogs galore in the water, and toads galore on the portages
Day 2: Misty Lake to White Trout Lake, through Misty Forks, Petawawa River, and Grassy Bay
We woke up a little less rested than desired, but we were keen to get moving and see what kind of adventures the day would bring us. We ate hot cereal for breakfast, and laughed at ourselves for packing tea. It was so hot out that tea was the last thing I needed! While sitting on the shore eating our breakfast, a snapping turtle swam by. A good start to the day!
We packed everything up, and headed out. Just a few minutes after paddling away from our site, I spotted a moose on the far shore of Misty Forks, and quickly realized there was a little one as well – a mama and baby. How lucky were we?! The baby was small – definitely born this year. It was the smallest moose I had ever seen in the wild. We eventually continued paddling and after our first portage of the day, continued along the Petawawa River. There was the most amazing looking grass in the river – and so many frogs just sitting on top of it at the surface of the water.
It was so hot that the deer flies and horse flies were out in abundance! We used bug spray with Deet, but it was only marginally effective. We were sweating profusely, so we were likely just sweating it off!
I tried hard to drink water frequently so that I didn’t get dehydrated. The portages were more challenging in the heat and humidity, and the bugs didn’t help! It’s so frustrating to be portaging the canoe and to be unable to reach a spot that the bugs are attacking!
We ate our lunch while sitting in the canoe once we found a spot where we weren’t being swarmed by bugs.
Before we got to White Trout Lake, we spotted yet another moose (#4!). On White Trout Lake, we headed for the campsites on the East side. Randy from Algonquin Outfitters helped Jen and I to choose our route, and made some campsite suggestions too. Based on his advice, we found a great site!
By Day 2, we had our routine set – arrive at the campsite, pull everything onto shore, jump into the lake to cool off and feel somewhat clean again, and set the campsite up.
Thankfully, we both slept much better the second night! Before falling asleep, I heard a Barred Owl.
Distance paddled: 15.1 km
Distance portaged: 3.9 km
Wildlife highlights: snapping turtle, mama and baby moose, other moose
Day 3: White Trout Lake to McIntosh Lake, through Grassy Bay, and McIntosh Marsh
When I got up in the morning, I decided to pull out my bug jacket – I should have done it earlier on the trip! While the bugs still buzzed all around me, they couldn’t get me. Visiting the privy was much more bearable!!
Jen cooked us a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and copious amounts of maple syrup.
We started paddling back the way we had come the day before, but eventually headed further West into McIntosh Marsh. It was here that we spotted a loon with 2 babies. As we approached, the mama loon lifted her wing and one baby scooted underneath. At one point, one baby was by her side, and the other on her back. So cute!
We checked out a few campsites on McIntosh Lake before we settled on one. The things we wanted most in a campsite were good swimming (not weedy/leechy), and West facing for direct evening sun and potentially awesome sunsets!
The sky was clouding over, and eventually we heard thunder, but it was to the South and East of us, and we never got rain. However, the temperature dropped and the humidity disappeared, and with it, the majority of the deer and horse flies!
While making dinner, I discovered that the dehydrated salsa I had to add to our egg, veggie, bacon and cheese wraps was actually dehydrated tomato sauce! Oops – I guess I mixed it up with the food for my September trip at Killarney. At least it was a tomato base and went well with the wraps.
After dinner each night, I would add contact lens solution to my case, which I would then put in my pocket and keep there until bedtime, so that I didn’t forget to get solution out before hanging the food and our toiletries (I learned the hard way). But this time, I accidentally took my contact lens out. It was windy, and after the first few attempts at putting it back in my eye failed, I asked Jen for help, worried that the lens would blow away. But before I could finish my sentence, you guessed it – the lens blew off my finger! I saw it fall, and while we spent at least 10 minutes looking for it (including shining a headlamp at the general area we were in), we never did find it. Thankfully, I always travel with spares! I learned a valuable lesson – always put my contacts in and take them out inside the tent!
After the contact lens incident, we had a fire so that Jen could bake a birthday cake on her reflector oven to celebrate Algonquin Park’s 125th birthday. While it baked, we roasted tiny marshmallows – a first for me! I’ll definitely do the mini ones again – the same fun with less sugar overload! Plus the outer part gets crunchy and while you expect a soft middle, there’s nothing there. Try it. At one point, Jen attempted to rotate the cake, but tipped it into the campfire by accident! We lost half the cake (it was still more liquid than solid at that point), but it didn’t matter! We still enjoyed a delicious birthday cake.
Distance paddled: 11.6 km
Distance portaged: 3.9 km
Wildlife highlights: mama loon and 2 babies
Day 4: McIntosh Lake to Daisy Lake, through Timberwolf Lake, Misty Lake, Little Misty Lake and the Petawawa River
On Day 4, we paddled a short distance from our campsite to the portage to Timberwolf Lake, where we spotted yet another moose! This one was on shore, but then started swimming toward the portage as we were paddling toward it. We waited in the canoe until she was gone, then paddled the last bit to shore. We were careful on the portage, knowing that she was near, and not wanting to get in her way.
On the portage from Timberwolf to Misty Lake, I had to climb through and over downed trees. At one point, I stood there holding the canoe over my head, with just trees and branches ahead of me. I asked Jen if I had maybe not paid attention and lost the trail, but nope, she said the trail ended at the downed tree. So I climbed through it! Later, I had to sit on a big downed tree in order to get over it.
When we arrived at Daisy Lake, we found that site after site was already occupied. It was Friday night, and we knew we were competing with people just starting their trip, and those ending it the next day. However, we had booked a site on the lake and knew there would be one for us. In the end there were 3 empty, and we chose a big one with a great spot for swimming.
We cooked pizzas in tinfoil on the campfire, and then homemade pudding, also on the campfire (with yummy toppings of peanuts and M&Ms).
This campsite had a few resident chipmunks who were brave and very interested in our food! It also featured garbage strewn all about, from toilet paper piles to plastic bags, contact lens cases and tampons! So sad and disgusting.
We settled into the tent for our last sleep of the trip.
Distance paddled: 14.8 km
Distance portaged: 4.5 km
Wildlife highlights: moose, mergansers (ducks)
Day 5: Daisy Lake to Magnetawan Lake, through Acme Lake and Hambone Lake
Our last day would be our shortest travel day. After a little photo shoot at our campsite, we set out for our last few lakes and portages.
Remember the muck I stepped into at the end of the portage from Acme Lake to Daisy Lake? Well, when we reached the portage at the end of Daisy Lake, we spotted the infamous dock, and once we got close, but before we could give a warning, a paddler stepped into the muck on the other side of the dock, and sunk down deep! Unfortunately for him, he was also carrying the canoe above his head! “Are you okay? Let me know if you need help.” I said. He said he was fine – he just needed to get his foot out!
At the other end of the portage we met a Park Ranger, who along with what was probably a student, was headed to Daisy Lake to do maintenance at the campsites. He asked if any portages needed work, and we told him what we had found. I also told him the story of my fall into the muck, and the guy we just saw do the same thing. He said, “Always test the ground with your paddle.” Lesson learned!
We met the fall-into-the-muck-paddler at the next and last portage, where he told us that his family was disappointed that they had missed his fall. He was nice enough to take a few pictures of us, including the one below!
And just like that, we arrived back at the Magnetawan Lake access point, our trip over.
Distance paddled: 3.2 km
Distance portaged: 0.6 km
One thing we loved about the route we did was the variety of areas we paddled through: little lakes, big lakes, winding rivers, lily pads, gorgeous grasses, beaver dams requiring us to lift over them, rocks in shallow waters requiring us to walk and pull the canoe alongside us, dead calm water, wind and whitecaps (well, I wouldn’t ask for this!).
We were surprised one day to find that we had cell signals on McIntosh Lake! The rest of the time, Jen and I used our Garmin InReach devices to communicate with our families and friends to let them know that we were okay.
I highly recommend this route, but be prepared for lots of portaging!
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