Trip report: 4 day Algonquin canoe trip from Rock Lake to Clydegale, Harry, Lake Louisa and back to Rock

Canoe trip planning presented a new challenge for me this year – for the first time ever, I was unable to read the paddling and portaging distances on my map! Thankfully, it was nothing my optometrist couldn’t easily fix.

My friend Jen and I decided on a route that would have us camping on lakes neither of us had camped on before. We planned to cover a little less distance than last year’s first trip together, when we did a 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin from the Magnetawan Lake access point to Misty/White Trout/McIntosh/Daisy Lakes. Our plan this year was to single carry every portage if possible, and in particular, the super long ones (2k-3k!).

Day 1: Rock Lake access point to Pen Lake to Clydegale Lake

Somewhere around 1 PM we pushed off the dock at the Rock Lake access point, with me in the stern and Jen in the bow. We headed for the portage into Pen Lake. I carried the canoe and Jen’s barrel, while she carried the big canoe pack, paddles and other miscellaneous (annoying) things. After that first portage, we changed things up slightly, adding more weight to the barrel, and allowing Jen to carry only the paddles in her hands. And just like that, our portaging system was set!

About to set out from the Rock Lake access point.

Pen Lake was completely new to me, and looking at it on my map (Jeffsmap – waiting patiently for the new Unlostify Algonquin map to come out!), it looked like a relatively big lake with little moose viewing potential. Was I ever wrong! Jen and I rounded a corner to see a young moose feeding in the water. We watched him for a while, and then continued on. We rounded the next corner, and spotted a second moose, a large female.

I love her eyelashes!

We left her, rounded the next corner, and you guessed, a third moose, this time at the Galipo River and portage to Welcome Lake! We were pretty amazed at our luck. Finally, we left this young guy and headed for the short portage into Clydegale Lake. We knew that all of the sites on the lake weren’t booked, so we knew there would be a site for us, but we didn’t want to paddle too far only to have to return if the sites were taken. We did end up having to packpaddle a bit, but we ended up with a great site not far from the portage back into Pen Lake.

Apple crisp.

We set up camp – our tent, bug shelter, and bear rope over a tree branch – and then jumped into the lake to cool off. It was quite a hot day! There was a cute little garter snake at our site, and a very pretty sunset. Jen cooked us foil dinners over the fire (potatoes, other veggies and cheese, with sausage in hers as well), and then very yummy apple crisp!!

We went to bed pretty tired, but we both had a terrible night’s sleep!!

  • Day 1 distance paddled: 15k (all distances approximate)
  • Day 1 distance portaged: 375m + 275m

Day 2: Clydegale Lake to Pen Lake to Welcome Lake to Harry Lake

We disassembled our tent, and boiled water for oatmeal, packing up the bug shelter and the rest of our things as we finished using them.

Did I mention the bugs? Oh my god. Mosquitos, horse or deer flies, and even blackflies! Despite bug spray with deet, over the course of our trip we were absolutely covered in bites, bumps and red dots. Even though we would re-apply bug spray for the portages (because that’s when they were the worst – often at the start/end) we were sweating profusely (well, I should speak for myself here!) and the bug spray was sweated away! I did wear my bug jacket around camp, but there’s no way I could portage with that thing on – way too hot even though it is only made of mesh! But the moose moments make the portaging and bug challenges worth it!

We set out from our campsite, with just a short paddle over to the portage into Pen Lake.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

We had a short portage and a long portage (2170m) on our way to Harry Lake. On the long one we encountered a big group of teenage campers doing multiple trips back and forth with their canoes and gear. Each and every one who passed me asked if I knew how much longer it was to the end. “8 minutes at my pace!” was my first answer. The only time I asked one of the kids how much longer I had to go, the answer was, “It’s a LONG way!” so I never asked again. Too demoralizing. At one point, two boys helped me to get the canoe back up after I had taken a much needed break!

Once into Welcome Lake, we were able to paddle right into Harry Lake without another portage, as they are connected by a creek. It was in the creek between Welcome Lake and Harry Lake that we saw another moose. I spotted the ears long before we got close.

Spot the moose ears as we paddle away!

By the time we got to Harry Lake, a poor night’s sleep, heat, and physical exhaustion caught up with Jen and she wasn’t feeling great. Once we chose our campsite, we set up the tent and she lay down for a while.

Dinner was awesome pizzas on the campfire. I think we were in the tent ready to sleep before it got dark!

Dinner view.
  • Day 2 distance paddled: 10k
  • Day 2 distance portaged: 275m + 275m + 2170m

Day 3: Harry Lake to Rence Lake to Frank Lake to Florence Lake to Lake Louisa

On day 3, Jen woke up feeling refreshed and awesome! Yay! Before leaving our campsite in the morning, I spotted what looked like a shoelace on the ground, but when I got closer, I realized it was a snake! Turns out it was a Northern ring-necked snake, one I had never seen before (the ring around its neck is not visible in this pic). We also had a loon family just off our site. I love loons and the varied noises they make, but 2 AM is not my preferred time to listen to them! One night we had very vocal loons calling back and forth to each other – one of whom sounded like it was right outside our tent door.

We paddled from Harry Lake into Rence Lake, and then did a short portage into Frank’s Lake, which continued on to Florence Lake. From Florence Lake we arrived at the portage into Lake Louisa, and boy was it ever muddy! Lots of evidence of people slip-sliding their way from the water onto the drier ground inland. Our sandals and feet were completely mud covered, and I went into the mud part-way up my calf. Thankfully, I didn’t fall. We carried the canoe together onto drier ground before beginning our portage.

Once into Lake Louisa, we knew that the hardest part of the day was behind us – now we just had to paddle to find a campsite. Jen had read some reviews of sites, so we scoped out various ones as we paddled by. We had heard that the lake can get pretty windy in bad weather, so we planned to get as close to the portage into Rock Lake as we could while still choosing an awesome site. We hadn’t seen a single person (other than each other!) all day long, and that continued on Lake Louisa. We pulled up to a campsite to swim, have our lunch, and relax a bit before finding a campsite for the night. I heard a man and saw evidence of people at one site, but never did spot anyone.

As we paddled along, I spotted something very dark against the green of the shoreline. “Jen, is that a moose?” I asked. She was impressed with my eyesight (thank you Dr. Ruhl – not only could I read the map but I could still see way into the distance)! We decided to go have a look, and sure enough, it was a big bull moose!! And just like that, we picked our campsite, the one 400m from the moose.

That’s one big bull moose!

We sat and watched him for a while, then headed over to our campsite. While setting up, we continued to sneak glances of him.

After setting up, we jumped into the lake for a swim, still watching the moose!

Spot the moose in between the tall trees on our campsite – this was the view from inside the tent.

For dinner we rehydrated some veggie soup that I had prepared, and Jen made bannock using my MSR Dragonfly stove. Yum. Then I made chocolate pudding which we added goodies to (peanuts, M&Ms etc.).

This was our first night not making a campfire, but honestly it was way too hot to sit by a fire. In fact, the first two nights when Jen cooked by campfire it was rather unpleasant being near it!

  • Day 3 distance paddled: 8k
  • Day 3 distance portaged: 320m + 1725m

Day 4: Louisa Lake to Rock Lake

The next morning I spotted a snapping turtle laying eggs on our campsite. She was there the entire time we packed up our campsite. As we paddled away, she swam by!

Snapping turtle laying eggs on our campsite.

We had a very short paddle over to the portage into Rock Lake. This one had an outhouse on the Lake Louisa side (it even had toilet paper!).

It was time for our last portage of the trip, a 3000m portage into Rock Lake. We planned to take 3 breaks, with me stopping when I needed to relieve my shoulders and back, and Jen stopping when she reached me. We had read that this portage wasn’t too difficult technically (not a lot of rocks and roots and ups and downs); rather, it was just plain long. So, we set off! When we emerged from the woods onto an old logging road, I spotted a weasel of some sort. A couple hundred metres later, I saw it again running along the trail. By 800m I was ready for a break but forced myself to continue to 1k. Jen caught me, but we didn’t stop for long, because the bugs were horrendous! We did adjust the stuff attached to the outside of the barrel though, transferring something (water?) to Jen’s pack, because it was swinging wildly on my back for some reason and yanking my back.

Another 800m later, I needed to put the boat down and take the pack off. But then I walked 1.2k without a break, and the portage was done! There were lots of bugs, but also tons of butterflies (White Admirals, apparently)!

We got back in the boat as fast as we could to get away from the bugs, and then paddled over to a campsite where we had a quick swim and snack before heading back to the Rock Lake access point.

Being a Friday, we saw lots of people paddling on Rock Lake as we were heading out. Over the course of the 4 days, we were lucky enough to see wildlife galore: 5 moose, 2 beavers (including one dragging a very leafy branch), loons, herons, a weasel, dragonflies, butterflies, woodpeckers, lots and lots of toads on portages and frogs in the marshy areas, turtles (3 or more), snakes, and a few too many biting bugs!

We made it!
  • Day 4 distance paddled: 10k
  • Day 4 distance portaged: 3000m

It was another great canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park!!

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Trip report: Killarney 6-day fall canoe trip from George Lake access point

My friend Cheryl and I headed to Killarney Provincial Park at the end of September with high hopes for our 8-day canoe trip starting at the George Lake access point, where we would paddle a route that included many new-to-me lakes. Cheryl and I had previously started a trip at this access point, but that was our 8-day, 90k hike of the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail – we had never paddled in George Lake! Day 1: George Lake to Freeland Lake to Killarney Lake We were on the water by 2:30 PM, on a day that was rainy, foggy, and cool (high of 15C?). Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful. We started out with Cheryl in the stern of her canoe, and me in the bow, but we would change that up over the course of the trip, sharing the power and steering responsibilities. We also shared the navigation, with me using my new Unlostify map, and Cheryl using the official park map.
Starting at the George Lake access point. [Photo by Cheryl]
Our first portage of the trip was a very short 50m into Freeland Lake, so we decided to carry the packs, and then go back for the canoe. However, our goal for the trip was to single carry (i.e. carry everything at once) all portages except for the tiniest ones, something we had never managed to do on a trip together before. In fact, I had never single carried on any canoe trip, but with a 3km portage on this one, it was a necessity!! We paddled through Freeland Lake and then portaged 430m into Killarney Lake, where we would stay the night. We didn’t have our eyes on a specific site, but we hoped to be fairly close to the portage to Threenarrows Lake, which we would tackle the next morning. As it turned out, we passed 2 unoccupied sites and then several occupied ones, which made us wonder whether we should backtrack to one of the empty ones we had seen, or go further and hope that there was a site available and we wouldn’t have to paddle all the way back later. We pushed on, paddling against the wind, and were relieved to find that site #24 was free! Phew. It had been raining all day long, and our wildlife sightings for the day included only a single frog!
It was a rainy, foggy, and cool start to the trip. [Photo by Cheryl]
We set up our campsite, putting up a 2-man tent, a small tarp for a dining shelter, and throwing a rope over a tree branch for our bear bag. This would be our routine when we reached each campsite. Then we boiled water for hot chocolate, added Baileys to it, and enjoyed a yummy energy square alongside it. Later we ate “Thanksgiving on the Trail” (essentially dehydrated chicken, with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and gravy) before climbing into the tent for the night. Overnight, there were thunderstorms for more than 4 hours, but we were fortunate in that the thunder and lightning never came close (though the rain did!).
  • Distance paddled: 7.96 km
  • Distance portaged: 50m + 430m
  • Campsite: #24
Day 2: Killarney Lake to Threenarrows Lake After a cup of gatorade, mug of tea, and bowl of hot cereal, we packed up our campsite and set off for the 3k portage to Threenarrows Lake. We had no idea how eventful our day would be!
Cloudy start to the day. [Photo by Cheryl]
It was a short 700m paddle to get to the portage. According to the time estimates on my Unlostify map, the portage would take us 2 hours if we single carried (we assumed that we were “typical” paddlers, not “relaxing” or “speedy” ones). This would mean that the person carrying the canoe would take the lighter pack, and the other person would take the heavier one (an uncomfortable, non-ergonomic canoe pack) plus the paddles and my camelbak. Cheryl took the canoe and her backpack, knowing that I was willing to switch part way if need be. We had already decided before we started walking that we would definitely be taking a few breaks along the way! This portage starts with a steep uphill, but then isn’t too bad really. It had streams, rocks, hills, slippery sections, creek crossings and tree obstacles to navigate. And there was rain at times. And thunder. We stopped two times for a few minutes to free ourselves from the packs and boat, and then continued on our way. At one point, Cheryl slipped and fell on a wet rock, but thankfully, she was not injured (she even managed to hold onto the boat). At the end of the portage, there is a short paddle across a small lake before another 430m portage! But once we were done the second one, we were into Killarney Lake…and facing a paddle into the wind…and whitecaps! At this point, I was in the stern. We approached a narrowing of the lake and felt the wind increase in strength. The waves were big, and the wind was pushing the bow to the right. We had hoped to go through the channel and head left. We paddled as hard as we could, but we could not turn the bow dead straight or to the left. The waves were hitting us broadside and the canoe was rocking. I briefly considered letting us get blown to the right shore where there was a bit of an eddy, and trying again to go through the channel. Instead, we allowed ourselves to float backwards, and decided to paddle hard (from a spot with less wind/waves) back to the left and into an eddy there, where we could regroup and decide on our next steps. We did not want to flip!! One idea was to make the little peninsula our campsite for the night (we wondered if it might even be the campsite we were looking for). Cheryl got out of the boat and scouted out the peninsula. She proposed that we portage our stuff over it to the other side, where there was a calm area for us to get back into the canoe and paddle around the left corner to the campsite (she had found it – but it wasn’t on the peninsula). We agreed that if we couldn’t paddle around the corner to the left (into the wind), we would instead turn the boat and ride the waves to another campsite on the other side (a different part of the lake).
Maybe a goose egg? We found this while portaging across the peninsula.
Thankfully, we had no trouble paddling around the point (we weren’t trying to fight our way through a narrow channel), and so we landed the canoe at the campsite and were grateful to be done paddling for the day. I’ve never been defeated by wind and waves before! We later saw three guys in a canoe make it through the channel, none of them wearing lifejackets!
A very windy day.
After setting up our campsite and hanging some things to dry, we sat down to have a snack, and were amazed at all the little bits of vegetation that were being pelted at us by the wind! Small boughs were flying, as were little bits like twigs. The wind was something else! We kept our eyes peeled for trees about to fall. Thankfully, none did at our site. Later in the trip, we saw many huge trees freshly fallen, both on campsites and on portages. It wasn’t until our trip was done and we were back at the George Lake office that we heard from a Park Ranger about a tornado in Ottawa that same day!!
Different kinds of fungi all over the place.
We “swam” to feel somewhat clean again, but the water was cold and air temperature not really conducive to warming up post-swim, so we just went in part way and splashed ourselves! The first time I opened the thunderbox lid, a salamander ran across the seat and fell inside! I apologized and hoped I wasn’t peeing on it. At some point, Cheryl spotted a glove sticking up from the ground, and was very relieved to not find a body with it!
  • Distance paddled: 1.35 km
  • Distance portaged: 3110m + 400m
  • Campsite: 43
Day 3: Threenarrows Lake We had planned to stay 3 nights on Threenarrows Lake, but hadn’t decided before the trip began whether we would change campsites every night, or stay put. Based on weather forecasts from my Garmin InReach (which communicates using satellites – no cell signal required), it looked like Day 3 would be a better weather day than Day 4, so we decided to travel on Day 3 to a different campsite – and get ourselves closer to the west end of the lake, so that we would have less distance to travel when we started moving again. This turned out to be our sunniest day of the whole trip. We slept in, and weren’t on the water until 11:30 AM. We headed west for site 45, then paddled in an upside down U shape, finally reaching site 46, which we briefly considered taking. But we decided to continue paddling against the wind (the majority of the trip, we paddled against the wind!), and to hopefully be able to stay on site 47 or 48. We were in luck! Both were empty, so we took site 48, the closest one to “the Pig” – the steepest portage in the park, which we would tackle on Day 5. We decided that Day 4 would be a “stay put” day.
When your feet get cold on a fall canoe trip and the sun comes out, you modify your paddling stroke. [Photo by Cheryl]
But before we reached our campsite for the night, we had an interesting encounter with a float plane! We were in the water near site H21 (a backpacking site) having a snack when Cheryl noted that a float plane seemed to be coming straight for us. In fact it did land in the lake, and proceeded to zoom past us through a narrow channel that we would soon be paddling in. Once we got around the corner, we saw that it was at a cabin – it had either dropped people or stuff (or both) off. We watched it take off again (safely out of its way) before we started paddling. Before setting up our campsite, we ate lunch on the rocks by the shore, and tried to warm our feet in the sun at the same time! Then we set the campsite up, and gathered wood for a fire. I used my stick stove to boil water for hot chocolate, and then we built a fire to make pizzas. They were delicious, with pepperoni, bacon, cheese, pineapple, peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and onions. YUM! DSC09184 We saw a beaver swim by our site while we were sitting at the water’s edge, but didn’t see any people all day long! After getting ready for bed, I climbed into the tent. Cheryl was part-way to the thunderbox when I heard a screech,  a howl, and then the unmistakeable sound of a Barred Owl. I yelled to Cheryl, “You okay out there?” She was. We still don’t know what happened – had it been me, I would not have continued on to the bathroom on my own! We heard Barred Owls again multiple times that evening and overnight, but it never sounded as close as it did the first time.
  • Distance paddled: 8.73 km
  • Distance portaged: 0 km
  • Campsite: 48
Day 4: Threenarrows Lake Since we weren’t changing campsites on Day 4, and it was quite cool out (down to 3C with the windchill according to my InReach!), we decided to go for a walk after breakfast to stay warm. We stuck close to the shore and headed in the direction of the Pig. We picked a path through the woods, climbing over branches, under tree limbs, around bushes etc. for about a kilometre. Then we turned back. Just before reaching our campsite I spotted a jaw bone on the forest floor. I’m not sure what animal it belonged to.
Jaw found on the forest floor.
We had a snack, then started a fire to try to warm up. It was too cold to just stand around. Unfortunately, it was too windy to get much heat from the fire. We couldn’t sit too close to it for fear of embers burning our clothes – unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to me. I felt something burning my leg, and brushed the ember off my rain pants, but not before a small hole was burned into them. My pants underneath didn’t get burned, but now sport a small white patch. We had mugs of hot water to drink (I was rationing the hot chocolate, and didn’t feel like tea), and then went into the woods to have lunch, where it was a little more sheltered from the wind. We sat against big trees for backrests, facing the thunderbox just a few metres away. Not exactly scenic. We then climbed into the tent to try to get warm. Despite being inside my sleeping bag and wearing a winter hat and gloves, I was still cold! I wondered if I would be cold in the night (I had packed my summer sleeping bag, not realizing the temperature was going to drop so much). It was in the tent that we first started talking about the possibility of shortening our trip, because the weather forecast looked bleak – 80% chance of heavy rain for the last couple of days of our trip, and continuing cool temperatures. We studied our maps and tried to figure out how we could change our route. We didn’t want to stay on lakes that we hadn’t reserved, because that may mean someone with a reservation wouldn’t be able to find a site. This is more of a problem on small lakes – on large lakes, provincial parks often leave a few sites unreserved. Thankfully, I had my InReach, so what ensued was a 4 hour+ confusing text conversation with my husband, to see if he could change our route. Messages were being sent or received out of order, so it was funny at times (and frustrating). I learned my lesson: start each text with a time stamp! The Ontario Parks reservation line told Alasdair that once we started our trip we couldn’t change our route, but when he called the park directly, the Park Ranger was very helpful and got us the lakes we wanted! At some point during this conversation we forced ourselves out of the tent to make dinner (as Cheryl would say, the answer to the question, “Should we go in the tent?” is always no… because if you do go in, you never want to leave!). After dinner, we climbed back into the tent for the night! Once we knew that our reservation had been changed, we could go to sleep!
  • Distance portaged: 0 km
  • Distance hiked: 1.95 km
  • Campsite: 48
Day 5: Threenarrows Lake to Artist Lake to Muriel Lake to O.S.A. Lake After packing up our campsite, we set out for the Pig, a short paddle away. We had walked this portage before, when we hiked the full length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, but I’m pretty sure at that time we were glad we weren’t carrying a canoe! We decided that I would wear Cheryl’s pack and carry the canoe, but as soon as I got the canoe up, I realized there was a problem – I couldn’t tilt the canoe back, which meant I could only see the ground immediately in front of my feet. I walked for a short time like that, then realized it just wouldn’t work! Turns out with our slight height difference, or maybe just how the pack sits on me, it was too high, preventing the canoe from pivoting. Cheryl removed everything from the top of the pack, put it into hers, and bingo! I could walk and tilt the canoe and see in front of me! Kind of important if you don’t want to walk into big rocks, trees (!) or people. When walking this portage, you essentially climb the first half, then descend the second half. The ground is rocky – small and large rocks – uneven, wet in places, and very steep! The pictures don’t quite do it justice. I took a break part-way down, and then stopped again before reaching the end and turning to start the 650m portage to Artist Lake! We paddled through Artist Lake, where we reached a small waterfall at the other end. We decided to carry the packs first (140m), then return for the canoe. But we didn’t walk far before we realized that we couldn’t possibly be on the portage, despite having walked on a well worn path. It ended, and we were forced to cross the creek. We continued along the other bank, but it too seemed like a very weird portage. And the end was a steep climb up a bank. We wondered how we’d manage with the canoe. We realized that we must have missed the portage, and in fact, we did. We found the portage sign at the end and it directed us a different way. We hadn’t seen a portage sign when we arrived at the waterfall, but we weren’t surprised – not all portages seemed to be marked.
Pretty waterfall.
From here we paddled a very short distance to another short portage, which would take us into Muriel Lake. We paddled through Muriel Lake, did yet another portage, and then found ourselves on the shore of O.S.A. Lake – the sun had come out, but so had the wind! And you guessed it, we would be paddling against the wind as we tried to find a campsite. There were 4 campsites on the west side of the lake (where we were), and only 1 on the east side. We wanted to stay at the east side if we could, because then we’d have less distance to travel the next day, but we also didn’t want to paddle the entire way across the lake only to find that the site was taken! We stopped at one of the island sites and almost decided to stay – there were whitecaps on the lake and we were pretty much done with fighting wind for the day. But, we checked the weather, and the winds were expected to be the same in the morning, plus rain, so we decided to go for it and hope that the site across the lake was empty! As we paddled across, the whitecaps continued and a couple of times the waves broke over the bow of the boat. As we got closer to the site, we saw something that looked like a canoe… we hoped that it wasn’t. Eventually, we could see that it was a rock. Phew. We arrived at the site, couldn’t see a canoe, tent, or person, and said, “Hello?” No response. We had a site! This was our most scenic site of the trip, with a view of the mountains across the lake. It also had 2 private beaches, one on either side of the site. After setting up I made us some Baileys hot chocolate, and then we sat on the rocks at the shore planning future Killarney canoe trips! We made really yummy egg wraps for dinner, which also had tons of veggies, bacon, cheese, and salsa. As we were eating, the wind was blowing dark clouds in, so we made sure we were ready for the oncoming rain. We had already made ourselves an awesome kitchen shelter, complete with backrests!
Our kitchen shelter ready for the coming rain.
It turns out we were in the tent for the night before the rain came.
  • Distance paddled: 6.17 km
  • Distance portaged: 1280m + 650m + 140m + 170m + 590m
  • Campsite: 28
Day 6: O.S.A. Lake to Killarney Lake to Freeland Lake to George Lake We awoke to more rain on our last day. We cooked our breakfast and ate it under our kitchen shelter, then packed as much as we could under the tarp. Then it was time to finish packing the tent and tarp, and set out for the last time.
Wet, windy, cool end to the trip. [Photo by Cheryl]
We had two options for portaging into Killarney Lake, and we chose the one with a shorter portage plus a beaver dam lift-over (rather than the one with the longer portage).
Huge trees down at campsites and along portages like this one. [Photo by Cheryl]
We encountered a few canoes as we headed out, and then a large group of about 10 canoes of students near the end. We had two portages to tackle on our last day, one into Freeland Lake and then one into George Lake. We were travelling at a similar pace of two men that we had met a few days earlier, so we chatted with them for a bit at one of the portages. They made me want to go paddle in Alaska! While we had very few wildlife encounters this trip, they saw 2 wolves, a bear, moose, otters and some kind of weasel! They highly recommended that we paddle the more northerly parts of the park.
Back at the George Lake access point.
It rained off and on while we paddled, but when we arrived at the George Lake access point, it had stopped. It wasn’t the weather or trip we had hoped for, but we still enjoyed ourselves! After the canoe was back on the vehicle and all our stuff was packed away, we headed to the park office to get a refund for the nights we wouldn’t stay at Killarney. That’s when we heard about the crazy wind storm that blew through the campground the same day we were being pelted in the face with tree bits. Apparently the campground and office lost power for 60 hours, and downed trees in campsites meant that park staff had to cut them so that cars could be freed from campsites.
Mike Ranta at Herberts Fisheries in the town of Killarney. [Photo by Cheryl]
Once we left the park, we headed to the town of Killarney for fish and chips at Herberts Fisheries. I had never been to the town, but Cheryl had. We walked into the building and who did we see but Mike Ranta, a modern day canoe explorer (he has paddled across the country by canoe – with his dog Spitzy). He plans to do it again to raise awareness for Canadian vets. We enjoyed our fish and chips, then headed home. Killarney, we’ll be back!
  • Distance paddled: 7.58 km
  • Distance portaged: 130m + 430m + 50m
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Trip report: 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park – Magnetawan Lake access point/Misty/White Trout/McIntosh/Daisy Lakes

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.

Ready to push off the dock at 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.

First moose sighting, a young male.

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!

Delicious quinoa spinach soup and freshly baked bannock for dinner.

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!

Photo credit: Jen

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!

See that dock behind me? It’s there for a reason.

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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Trip report: Canoeing Killarney (glowing eyes in the night and the “Amazing Race”)

I remember this October 2013 trip for the glowing eyes in the night, the “Amazing Race” adventure, and paddling in strong winds and waves! My friend Cheryl and I had never been to Killarney Provincial Park before, but we had heard great things.

As we drove to the park on a Thursday morning, the sun began to disappear, clouds covered the sky, and we wondered when we would get rained on. We made a quick stop at the French River Provincial Park to eat our lunch, and then we were on our way again. At the Bell Lake access point, more than 400 km from home, we went into the Killarney Outfitters office to get our camping permit. We were immediately asked how we enjoyed our trip! Surely we looked too clean, dry, and chipper to be heading home? Permit in hand, we got the canoe down to the water, loaded everything in, and set out, with me in the stern.

We had chosen the popular Bell Lake/Three Mile Lake/Balsam Lake/David lake/Bell Lake circular route, because it also gave us an opportunity to hike to the highest point around – Silver Peak, part of the La Cloche Mountain Range (which apparently used to be higher than the Rocky Mountains out west). Our first campsite was to be on Little Bell Lake, a very small lake with just one campsite on it, and only a short portage (130 m) from Balsam Lake. We learned quickly that you need eagle eyes to spot the portage and campsite signs at Killarney! The signs are significantly smaller than the ones at other parks. Before we got to Little Bell Lake, we had to portage 40 m from Three Mile Lake into Balsam Lake – the portage was on an old marine railway, which apparently used to be like a moving carpet that you could put your boat on… and watch it portage itself! That little mechanism is no longer in action. At the start of our paddling, the lakes were super smooth, with no wind and awesome reflections in the water. That changed when the light rain started. It then rained off and on for the entire time we were at Killarney.

We spent a lot of time under a tarp.

We arrived at our campsite after 2 hours of paddling (a distance of about 8 1/2 km), and set up the tent and the bear bag to hang our food – we used the “Reg method” for the first time, which is my go to method now. It took 5 minutes, used just 1 bag, 1 long rope, no pulleys or carabiners, and was dead easy to do! Unfortunately it rained while we were cooking our tortilla pizzas (with rehydrated dehydrated veggies and pineapple), but they were delicious. I also discovered – while prepping dinner – that we had failed to pack forks, knives and spoons (the guilty party shall remain nameless)! I did have a Swiss Army Knife, and Cheryl had a knife too, so all was not lost. We also had a big stirring spoon and a spatula. But, we spent the next few days experimenting with sticks as chopsticks, stir spoons, scoops, and knives! Cheryl lit a 1-match fire later, which we would have enjoyed more had it not been so wet out! That night when it was pitch dark out (no moon, no stars), I spotted what I thought was a 5-Lined Skink while I was sitting on the loo, but later at home I realized (with some photo comparisons) that in fact it was an Eastern Red-backed Salamander. It didn’t seem too bothered by my headlamp, or later my camera!

Pretty fall colours.

On Friday morning we had an awesome pancake breakfast with rehydrated dehydrated bananas, peaches and kiwi, Chai tea and gatorade. We packed up, and with Cheryl in the stern this time, we headed back to the portage to Balsam Lake, and then paddled our way to David Lake. At the 630 m portage we met 2 girls who were studying at Laurentian College in Sudbury and taking an Outdoor Recreation Management program – or something to that effect. They had to do a 3-night 4-day canoe trip before they could graduate. However, based on the STUFF they had with them, they clearly hadn’t yet learned how to pack lightly. One of the girls did carry one of our paddles and a pelican case, since she had a free hand. Getting under the boat with the canoe pack on was fun, and the portage started straight uphill, but it wasn’t bad. It turns out the girls were also hoping to camp close to the trailhead for the hike to Silver Peak, since they intended to do the hike the next day as well. When we saw the girls the next day near the top of Silver Peak, we found out that they saw a bear just after we left them (sleeping on a rock)!

We paddled David Lake toward the trailhead, getting increasingly concerned as all the campsites were taken (we had a permit to camp on the lake that night, but not on a specific site). We were really hoping that we didn’t get to the far end of the lake only to discover that we had to paddle 4 km back (into the wind!) to find a site. And we knew that the girls would be behind us, also looking for a site. We decided to forego lunch in favour of finding a site, and our determined paddling and race against the clock (we eventually saw their canoe behind us) made us feel like competitors on the Amazing Race! Finally we saw what we thought was a site, but it said that it was NOT a site and we should NOT camp there. We continued, passing a few more occupied sites, until finally we found a free site! We weren’t sure why it didn’t have a campsite sign visible from the water, but we pulled everything out of the boat, put the boat on shore, and breathed a collective sigh of relief! And then… we could see the girls’ boat… and at our site, we saw trail markers… that’s odd, we said… we quickly realized we were on a backpacking site, which we did NOT have a permit for! Survival instincts kicked in. We also felt badly that the girls may not have a site… but not badly enough to not take one ourselves! We quickly debated staying there anyway, or putting everything back in the canoe and heading further down to the lake to the last possible site (which we couldn’t see). Thankfully, the last site was free and we took it. We saw the girls paddling in the other direction (not sure where they were going). We had a site and we were very relieved!!! We put up our tent and bear bag, and then we had our lunch at 5 PM – a yummy carrot raisin pepper peanut salad – eaten with chopsticks, followed by some delicious apple crisp. I used the rehydrating apples (in very hot water) to warm myself up!

Warming up with rehydrating apples.

We gathered wood, and had a great fire! While Cheryl was filtering water and I was keeping her company at the shore, an otter swam up out of the water about 10 feet from me, stood on its back legs and took a good look at us. Then it ran up the hill away from us. (I had seen what I thought was likely an otter on the first day too, but while we were paddling and it was scampering up a rock on shore.) That night, I was almost at the loo – in the complete dark – when my headlamp caught glowing eyeballs not too far away! Coyote? Wolf? Fox? Bear? Moose? Do I stay to pee?? I did, and the thing clearly saw me, because it moved a bit higher up the hill. I walked back to the campfire very quickly and told Cheryl that I wasn’t going to the bathroom alone again that night!! It was freaky! (And maybe it was just a raccoon! But it seemed higher off the ground…. )

Using birch bark as a spoon.

Saturday morning it was quite windy. We had an awesome oatmeal breakfast (with nuts, raisins, and rehydrated dehydrated fruit) with Chai tea and gatorade, and then headed for the trailhead to hike 5.2 km up to Silver Peak. It was a short paddle there, and when we arrived there were 2 other canoes pulled up on shore. The trail was well marked with little signs, but in some places they used big rock piles to mark the route. When we were nearly at the top, a group coming down asked us, “Did you see the bear?” Apparently we were the only group going up who hadn’t seen it. We kept our eyes open, and as we made the final turn up the hill, we heard that group yelling at the bear “Go away bear!” They were loud! A few minutes before meeting that group, we had heard another group (around 15 men and teenage boys) yell something but we figured it was because they reached the top… later we realized it might have been them yelling at the bear. In any case, we got to the top, and as we arrived we met the 2 girls from the day before heading down (being “escorted” by 2 guys they met at the top) – because they too had seen the bear. I forgot to ask them where they found a campsite the night before!! We looked around, took some pictures, accidentally discovered a geocache, and then had our lunch before heading down. Of course the rain started pretty much as we arrived at the top! While eating our lunch 3 women reached the top, one carrying bear spray (Cheryl had some too), one carrying a fog horn, and one a massive knife. The one with the knife said she had no idea what she would do with it, but her husband made her take it!

View from Silver Peak.

We started our descent knowing that a bear was in the area, and it didn’t take long before I spotted it! We backed up, talked so the bear knew we were there, Cheryl pulled the bear spray out of its holster, and we waited for the bear to make a move. It was happily eating, but did eventually cross the path back towards the way we had come (uphill). Unfortunately, we lost sight of it, and didn’t want to keep walking because there was a big mound of earth that we couldn’t see over or around… and the bear could be right behind it…. eventually we did proceed, and saw that the bear wasn’t behind the mound – it was sitting or standing with its bum in a little den (at the base of a tree) watching us! The bear really didn’t seem bothered by us, so no bear spray was deployed! Just before arriving back at the canoe we decided to check out Boundary Lake, so we walked about 500 m and had our snack there. It was cold so we didn’t stay long. We walked back to the trailhead and paddled back to our campsite, and on the way passed very close to a man who was slowly – very slowly – going into the water in his white boxers! His friend said that he had intended to get in before we got there! Back at our site we gathered more wood, had rehydrated dehydrated minestrone soup, and fresh baked corn bread for dinner. Later we had chocolate pudding and Baileys. Yum.

Such a pretty landscape.

On Sunday we awoke to rain, and decided to pack up the tent and put everything under our tarps while we had our no-cook breakfast (homemade bran muffins and dehydrated applesauce – eaten like fruit leather – with gatorade). We had another windy paddle, but not quite as windy as the day before. At the first portage (210 m), Cheryl had a go at portaging the canoe, which left me to carry the huge pack, 3 paddles, and 2 pelican cases. At the 2nd portage (705 m), we were just pulling the boat out of the water when a fleet of canoes arrived – the group of 15 or so hikers from the day before, and I took the opportunity to ask for help to stand up with that huge pack on. Two men quickly ran over – “How long have you been sitting like that?” one said, “3 days?!” – let me tell you, it made standing up EASY! Part way through the portage Cheryl and I switched, so that I took the boat and she got the rest of the stuff. I was hoping that when I got to the end there would be at least one of the big group there and able to help me get the canoe off (I haven’t mastered that part solo yet). I was lucky! I got to the end and asked for help – 2 different guys jumped up, took the boat right off of me (I only asked for help for them to take the weight off one end) and asked where I wanted it – I said anywhere, so they put it right in the water for me! For the rest of the paddle back to the van it was pouring rain, and we were relieved when we arrived, knowing that we would soon be in clean and dry clothes (left in the van)!

All told we paddled/portaged/hiked about 42.2 km. Despite the rain, it was a great trip!

We couldn’t have been much wetter!

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My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park

It only took one camping trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park for it to become my favourite provincial park in Ontario! It may take 12 hours to drive there from my house, including stops, but it is well worth the drive. At Lake Superior I have car camped, canoe tripped and done backpacking trips. I cannot wait to return.

Here are my 10 favourite things to do while camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park, in no particular order:

1 – Visit the Lake Superior Coastline

Park your car at one of the many Coastal Trail access points within Lake Superior Provincial Park, and explore the coastline by walking the trail. In the past, we have walked through knee deep water to an island, where a pool of water collects and warms (sort of, depending on the weather of course). We even brought our backcountry stove and baked brownies on the little island! We have also gone swimming there. We have explored the coast like this many times, and are always amazed at the adventures we have! In fact, this is how we ended up finding bald eagles!

Lake Superior coastline

2 – Hike the Orphan Lake Trail

This 8 km long trail starts in a parking lot along Highway 17, makes its way around Orphan Lake, then down to Lake Superior. It’s not an out and back (there’s a loop), so there’s lots to see. More information on this and other hiking trails can be found here in a park guide. There’s a very pretty little spot along the Baldhead River that is perfect for a rest stop and a snack. One year, my daughter “caught” her first leech (on her leg) where the Baldhead River opens out into Lake Superior. Some random stranger helped us get it off of her. This trail has scenic lookouts and it joins the Coastal Trail. We like to swim in Lake Superior at this point – despite the river outlet and leeches!

3 – Watch the sun set on Agawa Bay

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched the sun set on Agawa Bay – it is still gorgeous!!

The sun sets on Agawa Bay.

4 – Attend programs at the Visitor Centre

We have participated in some fantastic programs at the Visitor Centre, from learning about the Ministry of Natural Resources canine unit, to laying on the beach looking up at the night sky, to “ask an interpreter” nights, to listening to a guest speaker’s paddling adventures on Lake Superior, to watching a Bill Mason video. We have learned so much through the excellent daytime and night time programs.

5 – Visit the pictographs at Agawa Rock

As stated on the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park website, “The Agawa Rock Pictographs are enduring messages from the past. This is a sacred site where generations of Ojibwe have come to record dreams, visions and events.” You can see the pictographs by hiking a short distance of about 500 m, or you can access them by canoe or kayak. Note, though, that the wet rocks can be treacherous, and caution must always be taken when viewing them. One year, my daughter was convinced she was going to die while looking at them – i.e. that she would be swept away by a wave – she was so worried that she wanted us to take a “last” photograph together.

More pictographs
One of the many pictographs at Agawa Bay.

6 – Swim in Burnt Rock Pool along the Towab Trail

The Towab Trail is a 24 km return trip, but you don’t have to go that far! If you hike about 4 km, you come upon Burnt Rock Pool, which is where the Agawa River opens up a bit and makes for a great swimming place. There’s a current, so it can be quite fun to float down river! It’s an easy hike from the parking lot to this spot. The trail gets tougher later on, and if you’re looking for an overnight hike, consider staying in one of the campsites at the very end of the trail. My husband and I stayed in the one on top of the waterfall – it’s the only one there – and it was amazing!

7 – Do an overnight backpacking trip along the Coastal Trail

We have had such fun hiking along the Coastal Trail to backpacking sites along Lake Superior. One year, the only visitor we had was the resident otter! The hike was tough going though, as it was more like bouldering than hiking. Add big packs to our backs and our balance was a bit off. It was, however, a great experience. The coast of Lake Superior is incredibly beautiful.

Our campsite on Lake Superior!

8 – Watch for wildlife

We have been lucky enough to spot some incredible wildlife at Lake Superior, including a bear while out running alone (terrifying, not exactly lucky!), and juvenile bald eagles along the Coastal Trail.

A juvenile bald eagle watches us from above.

9 – Explore the rugged coastline of Lake Superior

Pick a spot, any spot, and go for a hike. Check out the rocks – see the history! Such a beautiful shoreline.

From boulders to beaches to forests, the coastline is amazing.

10 – Swim in the huge waves at Agawa Bay

We love swimming in Agawa Bay, but it takes us a few days to get accustomed to the frigid water! The most fun is when the waves are huge.

Love those waves!

Trust me when I say that Lake Superior Provincial Park is an amazing place. And then, go see for yourself!

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Trip report: Fall Canoe Trip Along the Tim River to Rosebary Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park

This canoe trip was to be my first starting at the Tim River access point on Algonquin Provincial Park’s West side, chosen in part for the many accounts of moose sightings by what seemed like everyone and their brother! Would we join the legions of people saying that the Tim River is where to go to spot the mighty animals? Shortcut to the full slideshow: click on one picture, then on the little “i” and you will be able to read the picture descriptions.
At the put-in.
Day 1: Tim River Access Point to Rosebary Lake (15.9 km) My friend Cheryl and I arrived at the Kearney permit office around 11:15 AM on a Thursday in late October to discover the door locked, and a sign telling us that the office was staffed on weekends only. The sign re-directed us to the West Gate to buy a backcountry permit for “winter camping”. Apparently that sign foreshadowed our trip… There was a phone number for the park, so we decided to call to confirm that we needed to backtrack to Highway 60. The phone rang and rang and rang some more, but when a woman picked up and said that we could actually pay for our backcountry permit by phone, we were relieved! She gave us our permit number and we hand wrote a permit to leave on the dash of our vehicle. Outside the building, a helpful park staff member approached us and offered to open the office and help us, but we let him know that we’d just paid for our permit by phone. He must have been driving past and seen the canoe on the van. Very thoughtful of him. We jumped back in our vehicle and headed for the Tim River access point, which involved driving through Kearney to the Forestry Tower Road, and then turning left at the split (right goes to the Magnetawan Lake access point, where I did a first mother-daughter canoe trip in September with my 12 year old). The road was well signed until the very end, when a sign confused us and we didn’t know if we should go left, or down a very steep hill straight ahead. We chose the latter and made the right choice. We arrived at the access point to find not a single vehicle in the parking lot. Having recently taken a Navigation 101 course through Don’t Get Lost, I wanted to use this trip to practice my navigation skills rather than rely on my battery-powered GPS unit. By 1 PM we were ready to push off the dock!
Two of these little guys were on the dock at the Tim River access point. I consulted with Randy at Algonquin Outfitters and with Algonquin Park through Twitter, and apparently these are bullfrog tadpoles, which overwinter as tadpoles and can reach 6 inches in length. Very cool.
With the temperature near 10 degrees Celsius, no wind but cloudy skies, the conditions were fairly good. We did wonder when the rain would start to fall, given the weekend forecast of rain Thursday and Friday, grey skies Saturday and some sun on Sunday. Within the first few minutes of the trip, we spotted a beaver on top of its lodge, but it saw us and slipped into the water. The Tim River winds back and forth, some sections requiring very tight turns and much cooperation between paddlers. We also had to navigate multiple beaver dams, at least one necessitating the removal of our canoe packs from the boat so that we could lift the boat over the dam. The water was cool on our feet.
Always with my camera!
The fall peak colours were past, so the scenery was a mix of green and yellow, with the odd tiny bit of red remaining. We really enjoyed paddling down the river – exploring small, narrow, marshy bodies of water is my favourite kind of paddling. We paddled through Tim Lake, and portaged the 120 m (around a dam) back onto the Tim River. We kept our eyes open for moose, but saw none. We didn’t hear anything in the woods either. Eventually we reached Rosebary Lake, and did quite the circle around it trying to find the perfect site. We did end up with a great one, though I’m fairly certain it was the windiest one on the lake! It was 5:30 PM by the time we pulled up to our site. Cheryl set up the tent while I put up 2 tarps over the bench by the fire, so that at least we would have somewhere dry to sit if and when the rain came. We found a tree for the bear bag and threw a rope over a very high limb. By the time we were all set up, it was time to cook our dinner of pasta Alfredo with veggies. We prepared all of our meals at home ourselves, dehydrating most of it in our Excalibur 9-tray dehydrators. See full menu below. We were surprised to be bitten by some kind of insect at our campsite – they weren’t mosquitos, but they were definitely annoying! After dinner was done, we washed the dishes and hit the tent for the night! In getting water to do the dishes, Cheryl spotted more of the bullfrog tadpoles – they were in the water right at the shore. We were too tired to gather wood and have a fire, but we did boil water on our MSR Dragonfly stove to bring hot 1 L Nalgene bottles into our sleeping bags for the night! That night we heard an owl very close by that we couldn’t identify. We were quite comfortable in the tent, me in my winter bag and Cheryl in her fall one with a fleece liner.
Our campsite on Rosebary Lake.
Day 2: Exploration further East on the Tim River (6.6 km) On our first morning on Rosebary Lake, we decided to explore the Tim River East of where we were. So, after breakfast we packed what we would need for a day paddle, including our morning snack, lunch, water, map and compass, emergency beacon, first aid kit, and extra clothing layers, and off we went toward Longbow Lake, which we could access from Rosebary without a portage. We did have to do a 230 m portage from Longbow Lake to the Tim River, but it was an easy one. It was a windy day, but we didn’t notice the wind in this section of the river, a part of the river that features frequent sharp turns. We had to lift over several beaver dams, and portage at one spot over a massive fallen tree. It’s here that we ate our lunch, with me wrapping my feet in my rain pants and a sweater to keep them warm. It was a pretty section of the river that we paddled, but we didn’t see any wildlife – at all! Before we got too cold, we decided to head back to our campsite. Just standing around made us cold (between 5-10 C according to a little MEC thermometer that I recently purchased – not sure how accurate it is). So, we had our afternoon snack with hot chocolate, and then we headed into the forest to gather wood for our evening campfire. In doing so I also spotted cool types of fungi, and I took pictures as I went. Hiking up hill and breaking branches had me heating up and needing to shed layers! Later we adjusted the tarps over the bench to block the wind better. After dinner we enjoyed a campfire, and only melted 2 small holes into my tarp! It was worth it for the heat the fire provided! That night it was too windy to hear anything outside our tent, even if an owl had been nearby. Once again we enjoyed our hot water bottles at night! Day 3: Bushwhacking towards Longbow Lake (2 km) and moose searching toward Longbow Lake (2 km) Before getting up in the morning, we could hear rain hitting the tent. Sigh. Cold, windy and rainy is not a great combination for a canoe trip! However, I eventually forced myself to get up, only to discover that it was actually SNOWING! Yes. My thermometer read -2 C.
A single snowflake on my tarp, but it snowed for several hours in the morning.
We cooked our hot breakfast and ate it away from our campsite – in the woods – to get away from the whipping wind. Afterwards, we decided to go for a hike towards Longbow Lake, where there was a marshy area that we thought might be prime moose territory. Because my hiking boots fell apart in the spring when I hiked the entire La Cloche Silhouette trail, I returned them to MEC for full credit (manufacturing flaw) and since then have been hiking with hiking shoes that are not waterproof. I decided to put my feet into ziploc bags to at least keep them dry. Our hike was slow going, as we were bushwhacking the entire time, but the point was to explore (and keep warm!), and since we weren’t in a rush, we didn’t mind the slow pace! We achieved most of our objectives, so it was all good. The only thing we didn’t see was a moose! When we got back to the campsite, my feet were cold. Turns out they were sweating in the plastic bags and got damp. We collected more wood, and then decided to hide from the cold wind in our tent, where I put on warm socks and eventually fell asleep – clearly napping was the way to warm my chilly toes! We also read, and I studied my orienteering maps! We might have been happy to stay in the tent until the next morning, because the wind actually seemed to be picking up! However, we had to cook our dinner – or starve. We ate delicious egg/bacon/veggie wraps, while debating whether we should have a fire.
Dinner was delicious: egg, bacon, veggies, cheese, salsa on a whole wheat tortilla wrap (all dehydrated before and rehydrated with boiling water – except the wrap).
It was so windy that we weren’t sure it would be safe – or worth it. To get any heat from the fire, it would have to be fairly big or we’d have to be fairly close to it, but the crazy wind meant that embers would be flying all over the place. We scrapped the plan for the fire, and instead were in our sleeping bags with hot water bottles before 7 PM! It was pitch dark. We couldn’t believe that the wind hadn’t let up in 2 days, and that it seemed to be getting stronger. We also hadn’t had sun for longer than a few seconds at a time! Two nights in a row there was a pretty but very short sunset in a very small patch of sky.
Short-lived sun.
In the night, the wind continued to howl and the tent flapped. We wondered what the paddling conditions would be like in the morning for our trek back to the access point. Despite the cold conditions, we were cozy in our sleeping bags (with our hot water bottles!). Day 4: Rosebary Lake to Tim River Access Point (14.6 km) Given that we went to bed so early the night before, we were up early on our last morning. After breakfast we finished packing up, and were on the water at 9:25 AM. There were blue skies and real sun for the first time in 3 days! Predictably, we had to paddle into the wind as we crossed Rosebary Lake to the Tim River. In fact, the entire paddle back to the van felt like we were in a wind tunnel. Surely we’d be protected in the twisty turny river sections, we thought. Nope. We worked hard to keep the boat from going off course. We were both dreading the moment when we would have to get our feet wet to cross the beaver dams. Our fingers were frozen (despite wearing Neoprene paddling gloves) and our toes in our sandals and socks were also cold. The first beaver dam we were able to handle without getting our feet wet, but the second was not so easy. We checked both sides of the river, just in case one was better than the other and offered a way to keep our feet dry. Nope. There was quite a height difference between the water we were in (low) and the water we were going into (high). Not only did we have to get our feet wet, but we had to stand in the cold water while we removed our 2 canoe packs, put them on the ground/stick pile and lift the boat up, then replace the canoe packs. By the time we got into the boat our feet were freezing! We dried them with a towel, and put on not 1 but 2 pairs of socks. As we paddled I tried to keep moving my feet to get blood flowing into them again. They were so cold and felt miserable!! As we approached the portage around the dam, I heard what I thought was someone saying “Andrew”. We hadn’t seen a soul since we left the Kearney park office, and I thought that if we saw anyone on our way out, it would be Camper Christina (“Exploring and blogging about it in hope of inspiring others.”), who told me that she planned on doing a day paddle to the Tim River in her kayak that day. However, I figured with the crappy weather, she wouldn’t go. But we turned the corner, and as we got closer, I saw that it was her (and it turns out she yelled “Woohoo!” when she spotted my yellow canoe, not “Andrew!”). This would be our first time meeting, though we’ve been in touch through social media for a while. It was nice to have the opportunity to meet her in person! After chatting briefly, we were on our way again – she was heading the way we had come.
A rare shot of Cheryl and I in the canoe together (I’m in the stern), courtesy of Camper Christina.
At Tim Lake we were passing an island campsite when I noticed that the campfire was smoking and no one was there. So we pulled over, I took our bailer and doused the fire. We had a quick snack then continued on our way, back through the winding Tim River. We were not too far from the parking lot when I noticed something dark brown up on the hill – something that didn’t look like trees. A moose! Yes! We quickly realized that there were actually 2 of them, and they were making their way down to the shore. So we paddled a tiny bit closer, stopping with vegetation beside us to hold our place (the wind was pushing us into the plants). Cheryl was in the stern and she had to correct our position slightly as we sat and watched the moose. I took lots of pictures on my camera, but given that we were still quite far away, they aren’t as close up as I’d like.
Mamma moose.
After watching for 10 or 15 minutes, we decided to move a tiny bit forward so I could get less obstructed pictures, but mamma moose didn’t like that, and they left. It turns out we were less than 500 m from the van! We travelled nearly 41 km in order to see moose just metres from the van. We worked hard for those moose, in particular on that last day! Later, Cheryl said that she thought she had heard something in the woods before we spotted the moose – apparently she had. We arrived at the parking lot just before 3 PM – a full 5 1/2 hours after leaving our campsite. The wind definitely slowed us down!! We weren’t there for too long when Camper Christina arrived, so we chatted a bit more. Cheryl and I loaded everything back into the van, the canoe on top, and headed for Huntsville and a hot drink at Tim’s! The drive home was much longer than it needed to be because of an accident, but by 8:30 PM or so, I was home! We had a good trip, but the weather could have been better. At the same time, it could have been rainy, and that would have sucked! I look forward to going back to the Tim River earlier in the year. It is a beautiful spot. Menu for our 4-day trip: Breakfasts:
  • strawberry peach muesli
  • blueberry granola
  • apricot creamed rice
  • chicken/broccoli/cheese/pepper wraps
  • hummus/veggies/homemade tomato flatbread
  • carrot/raisin/peanut wraps
Homemade tomato flatbread with sundried tomato hummus.
  • pasta Alfredo with broccoli
  • corn chowder with homemade crackers
  • egg wraps
  • pizza trail mix
  • homemade chocolate granola bars
  • gonky balls
  • beef jerky and dried fruit
  • dried fruit with chocolate
  • water
  • gatorade
  • tea
  • coffee
  • hot chocolate with marshmallows.
We used one of the 5 (!) grills at the site as our dish drying rack. We also left our stove set up on it and moved it around out of the wind (as much as possible) to cook.
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Trip report: 1st ever mother-daughter canoe trip, Ralph Bice Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

At some point this summer, my 12 year old daughter suggested that the two of us could go on a canoe trip together. In fact, it must have been during our Massassauga Provincial Park girls only adventure in August, because that’s when we planned our menu for the trip. We originally decided on a 2-night adventure with no portaging, where we would stay on Magnetawan Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park. I made the reservation, and we were all set. However, when I told Randy from Algonquin Outfitters of my plan, he suggested that we could easily do a 2-night trip on Ralph Bice Lake (from the same access point), a trip that would involve 2 short portages. I checked with Ailish, she was keen to try it, so we changed our reservation and looked forward to departure day! We practised getting the canoe onto the roof of our van together, and while it may not have been pretty, I knew that we’d be able to portage just the 2 of us.

Shortcut to the slideshow! Click on one picture, then on the little “i” (see top right) and you’ll be able to read the picture captions.

DAY 1: Home to Park Office at Kearney Community Centre to Magnetawan Lake (access point #3) to Hambone Lake to Ralph Bice Lake.

After a 7 AM departure, we arrived at the Park Office at the Kearney Community Centre around 11 AM, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and heard that all 17 campsites on Ralph Bice Lake were booked for the night. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too hard to find an empty one, and that we wouldn’t have to paddle to the far end of the lake either. We drove about 40 minutes to the Magnetawan Lake access point and snagged an awesome parking spot (right next to the loading/un-loading spots). I untied the canoe right away, and decided to ask some men for help in taking the boat off the van. They both headed over to remove the canoe, but I clarified that I just needed one – I could do it with help! I thanked them and they continued getting their stuff ready for their own trip. Ailish and I ate our lunch, and then we carried the canoe and our 2 packs plus paddles, camelbaks, pelican case and knee pads approximately 50m down to the water – in a few trips! The access point was quite busy, with several groups plus a big one with what looked like a dozen adults in matching life jackets learning paddling skills on shore. We put our canoe into the water (there is space for 2 canoes, one on either side of a dock), and someone immediately put theirs right behind mine, essentially blocking my access to my packs. He realized what he had done, apologized and got my packs for me. We felt rushed to get in the boat and take off, but once we were away, it was all good.

Heading out on Magnetawan Lake.

Ailish was in the bow, and me in the stern. We paddled for about 2 minutes (really) before we reached the 135m portage from Magnetawan Lake to Hambone Lake. I asked my new best friends (the guys from the parking lot) for help again to teepee the canoe so I could get under it, and they gladly assisted. This became a theme over the course of the weekend. I was not above asking for help, and everyone I asked was very friendly and willing to assist us!

The paddle through Hambone Lake was slightly longer, but it isn’t a big lake. We got to the portage to Magnetawan Lake and I asked a couple for help. “Do you know how to ranger?”, he asked. I had no clue what he meant, so he proceeded to give me a lesson (and teepee the canoe for me).

Once we got onto Ralph Bice Lake, we decided that we would take the first available empty campsite. Once the lake opened up and was wider, we met the wind that I had read could be an issue on Ralph Bice Lake. We had to decide whether to go along the left shore, or the right shore, because I didn’t want to travel straight through the middle in the wind. We opted for the left shore, since the first campsite would appear sooner. As it turns out, we were really noticing the wind as we approached the first campsite, and were disappointed to see that it was taken. Looking into an inlet to the left, we weren’t sure if the campsite was taken – what turned out to be a log looked like it might be a canoe. Looking at the only other campsites we could see, one was definitely taken and one looked like it probably was, so we opted to go into the inlet. The problem was that a direct line to the campsite meant that the waves were hitting the canoe directly from the side, and we were not happy about that. So, I turned upwind and decided to overshoot the campsite and then turn back. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the campsite was unoccupied – yay! We eventually had to deal with side waves again on our final approach to the campsite. If you’ve been to this campsite, you’ll know that it has a very steep access, with a rock face all along the approach. Now picture us being pushed – repeatedly – into the rock as I tried to calculate how to step out of the boat onto the wet steep rock without falling into the water. It was only once we were safely on shore that my daughter told me that she was terrified I was going to slip and fall into the water and she was going to float out into the middle of the inlet in the canoe in the wind on her own! But we made it and no one got wet. It turns out those were the biggest waves we saw all weekend (of course). It had taken us just over 2 hours to get to our campsite from the time we first started paddling – a distance of 4.07 km paddling and 405m portaging (we did a double carry).

After the slightly dramatic arrival, we unloaded the canoe, pulled it safely uphill, and set about figuring out where we would erect our tent, put up a tarp in case of rain, and hang the bear bag and hammock. As soon as the tent was up, Ailish got in and I set up a tarp and threw a rock over a tree branch for our bear bag. We explored our campsite, finding so many kinds of fungi! The variety amazed us – different sizes, shapes and colours in such a small area. We played some cards, read our books, had our homemade chicken noodle soup and homemade buns with raw veggies for dinner, and attempted – but failed – to start a small fire. All of the wood was wet. The previous campers had left wood all nicely piled and sorted by size, but we weren’t able to make anything burn for long. My MSR Dragonfly stove wasn’t pressurizing properly, so I was a bit worried we’d be cooking on the campfire all weekend – if we could start a fire – or eating cold food! Before heading to bed, we boiled water so that we would each have a 1 L hot water bottle (Nalgene bottle) in our sleeping bag overnight. I managed to make the stove cooperate. Day time temperatures for the weekend were around 15 degrees Celsius, and night time lows just above freezing. We were cozy in our winter sleeping bag (Ailish) and fall sleeping bag with fleece liner (me) along with our hot water bottles! After going to bed we heard loons and other campers trying to call to wolves.

DAY 2: Exploring Ralph Bice Lake

Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

After a yummy breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit, gatorade and tea for me, and oatmeal/peanut butter/chocolate chips, dried fruit, gatorade and hot chocolate with marshmallows for Ailish, we explored Ralph Bice Lake a bit, including one of the islands near our site. We found some shrivelled turtle eggs there. We spent the rest of the day playing cards, putting up and using our hammock, reading, napping, collecting dry firewood, doing art and just plain relaxing!

Swing time!

Our lunch was bagels and mud with dried fruit, and our dinner tortilla pizzas baked on the fire (there were 2 grills at the campsite, one of which coated with tin foil worked perfectly). The pizzas were delicious. We also made banana boats on the fire, with bananas, chocolate, and marshmallows (no banana for Ailish)! While sitting at the fire (dry wood burns!) we noticed about 20-30 small fish jumping out of the water at the same time. And then again a few minutes later. We had no idea what kind of fish they were, or what they were doing! After hanging the bear bag for the night, Ailish decided she was hungry, so I got it down, and we had a snack of naan bread. Unfortunately, mine was mouldy! Yuck. We were in the tent before it got dark, but came out to have a look at all the stars. Ailish was impressed.

DAY 3: Ralph Bice Lake to Hambone Lake to Magnetawan Lake to home

Early morning on Ralph Bice Lake.

On our last morning, we ate our breakfast and then packed everything up. Ailish had missed her daddy and our kitties (not her brother), and was eager to be home! We paddled over to the portage to Hambone Lake, but because we were the only ones there, we had to manage the portage ourselves. It was slightly harrowing, but Ailish managed to hold the canoe up high enough for me to get under it. And then from there, the portaging was easy. We were paddling along, discussing the animals we had seen over the course of the weekend (a few mice – some in the thunderbox! – loons, squirrels, and the jumping fish) when we turned a corner in Hambone Lake and I spotted something moving along the shoreline. A moose – and it’s mamma!

Mamma moose and baby on Hambone Lake.

We headed – very slowly – toward the moose, watching them as they watched us. We didn’t get very close, and they eventually headed into the woods. Such a great experience for us. Ailish had never seen moose other than from the car before. We arrived at the portage to Magnetewan Lake, and I once again asked for help from a group of 4 men. The guy who helped told me that he has to teepee the canoe for his buddy to carry too. We got back into the canoe and finished our trip with the short paddle back to the dock. We had emptied the canoe and pulled it onto shore just before the guys arrived behind us. Ailish and I loaded everything into the van, one of the guys helped load the canoe onto the van, I strapped it on, and away we went!

We enjoyed our canoe trip and I look forward to another one just the two of us.

Since arriving home, I’ve learned that Ralph Bice wrote a book called “Along the Trail in Algonquin Park”. I’ve put a hold on the book at my local library, and I look forward to reading more about the man for whom Butt Lake was renamed (his favourite lake in Algonquin).


Trip report: Massassauga Provincial Park by canoe – a girls only adventure

After last summer’s successful girls only trip to Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park, we decided to do it again, this time at The Massassauga Provincial Park.

Shortcut to more pictures: Massassauga Aug 2016 (click on one picture, then click on the little i to see the picture descriptions)

Day 1

We headed out early, stopping first at Swift Canoe and Kayak for my friend Cheryl to rent a Swift Keewaydin 15, and then at Oastler Lake Provincial Park to pick up our interior camping permit. We ate our lunch, then continued on to the Three Legged Lake access point, where, according to posted signs, we had 15 minutes to unload our stuff and get our vehicle out of the unloading/loading area. It took us 13 minutes. Phew.

We divided the 3 canoe packs between the 2 canoes (mine is a Swift Keewaydin 17), with my daughter Ailish (12) and I in our boat with Mae (11), and Cheryl with her daughter Anne (14) in the other. We pushed off, and away we went!

We paddled through Three Legged Lake, heading for the 370 m portage into Spider Lake and our awaiting adventure at The Massassauga Provincial Park. There are cottages and motor boats on this lake, but we didn’t encounter any issues. There were canoes going in both directions, but it wasn’t too busy. After about 2 km, we reached the portage. Cheryl and I each portaged a canoe, and went back for a big canoe pack. The kids carried the rest of the stuff (paddles, bailer, etc.).

Once back in the boats, we took a shortcut to the right of an island, and paddled for a little while longer before pulling over and having a quick snack. We continued on for a short while, reaching campsite #14 after about 1 1/2 hours of moving time (including the portage) and 4.3 km of paddling (plus 370m portage).

View of Spider Lake from way up high on campsite #14.

We spent the rest of the day at our campsite, setting up our tents, a tarp in case of rain, finding a tree to hang bear bags, exploring, swimming, and making our dinner (full menu here). The girls even made pottery out of clay from the lake. Anne spotted an endangered blue lined skink sunning itself on the rocks. We cooked our hot dogs on the campfire, and then had some s’mores. At 9:15 PM when the mosquitoes came out, we called it a night and climbed into our tents. Before the day was done, Cheryl had been stung by yellow jackets twice on her leg. There were yellow jacket nests on our site.

Cliff jumping at our campsite.

Site #14 is huge, with room for multiple tents. The site is way up high (the review we read said “don’t sleepwalk”), with a great view of Spider Lake. There was a fire pit with multiple grills, a picnic table, great jumping off rocks, and a nice rocky area at water level to sit on.

Day 2

On our second day, we didn’t even leave our campsite! We did a bit of a scavenger hunt, and spent a lot of time swimming, cliff jumping and reading. The girls also built a rope swing and took turns on that! In the afternoon a thunderstorm rolled through, but the thunder was distant and the rain short lived.

With the exception of 2 dinners, we cooked all of our meals on an MSR Dragonfly stove. In this picture, Cheryl is draining our pasta.

Once again, we abandoned our fire and headed for the tents by 9:15 PM when the mosquitoes started driving us crazy.

Day 3

On our third day, we decided to explore Spider Lake a bit, so we set out in our canoes and paddled into the wind, the kids in one boat, and Cheryl and I in another. We had a snack on an island just off site #9. We only paddled about 2 km.

Since Anne had spotted a five-lined skink, I hoped that I would spot one too by lifting up logs and rocks at our campsite – I never did, but I did spot this salamander!

Salamander at our campsite (maybe a Jefferson salamander).

Later, when the park wardens stopped by our campsite to check on our permits (they zoomed around in a small power boat all day long it seemed!), we chatted about skinks and they said that they often find them when they lift rocks up in the fire pits. I guess they like the warmth of the rocks.

During the day we made sure to keep the girls’ pottery in the sun, so that their works of art eventually dried.

Ailish’s small bowl and spoon at the right, which she put hot chocolate powder into. Anne’s big bowl in the middle, and Mae’s on the right.

At some point during the day I was stung on the back of my hand by a yellow jacket, and wow did it ever hurt! My hand also swelled up and I couldn’t make a tight fist. By the time I went to bed it was doing much better, and the next morning I was no longer in pain.

We enjoyed a very delicious dinner – mini tortilla pizzas – cooked on our campfire. In addition to tomato sauce, we rehydrated onions, pineapple, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini. Everyone customized their own pizzas and they were a hit.

Ailish preps her pizza.

Later that evening, the girls became superheroes with capes, so we did a series of fun (and some downright ridiculous) group shots! Afterwards, with four of us in the water and Anne standing in ankle deep water about to get in, she had her toe nibbled by a small turtle. Thankfully it let go and swam away, allowing us to swim in the lake one last time.


Day 4

On our last day, we packed everything up, said goodbye to the annoying chipmunks that other campers must feed (and who ate through our tarps that we had connected with a rope tied around an acorn!), and did a bit more art before getting back on the water and heading for our vehicle. We saw and heard loons during our trip, and Cheryl heard an owl one night. With the skink, salamander, and small turtle, we did alright with animal sightings!

More clay art.

Heading out.


It took us just under 2 hours from the time we left our campsite to the time we arrived back at the shore, including the portage and a short snack break. The portage was very busy, with 6 boats (including us) all heading for Three Legged Lake at the same time, and others coming to Spider Lake. Even the put in/take out was pretty busy!

We had a fun trip!!

Related post: Menu: 4-day canoe trip for 5 people (2 adults, 3 kids)

Algonquin Outfitters blog guest post: Canoe tripping with kids

Head on over to the Algonquin Outfitters blog to see my guest post on canoe tripping with kids! The article is based on a canoe trip I did this summer on Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park with my friend and our 3 girls, ages 13, 11 and 10.

Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

Trip report: 4-day girls only canoe trip on Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park (rope swings and snapping turtle friends)

Who knew it was possible to not only become emotionally attached to a snapping turtle, but to then witness its near demise all in one trip? But I’m getting ahead of myself! Earlier this year my friend Cheryl and I decided to take Ailish (mine) and Anne and Mae (hers) on a 4-day canoe trip. We settled on Rain Lake at Algonquin Provincial Park because 1) it was available, 2) it involved no portaging, and 3) Cheryl and I had been there before.

Shortcut to the full slide show:

Day 1: Thursday, August 6 – Huntsville to Kearney to Rain Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

Before we could start our canoe trip, we needed one more canoe, so after a 7 AM departure and a few hours of driving, we stopped at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville where Cheryl rented a Swift Prospector 17 to go along with my Swift Keewaydin. We continued another few minutes to Kearney, where we picked up our backcountry permit, and then drove the last 23 km or so to the Rain Lake access point. After loading everything into the 2 canoes, we were off – Ailish and I in one canoe, and Cheryl, Anne and Mae in the other (we switched up the seating arrangements over the course of the 4 days). We had read good things about the island campsites (there are 2), but we thought it was unlikely they would be available. We headed for them anyway, keeping in mind another site 2 before the portage to Sawyer Lake that apparently had a lake behind it you could swim in and have all to yourselves. It turns out the island sites were taken, so we checked out option B. The “rear” lake didn’t have good access to it and swimming would have been very weedy (read leechy) on the “rear” lake and on Rain Lake. We decided to check out the site next to the portage, which was available, and maybe less desirable because of the canoe traffic passing by to reach the portage. It was a large site, had great big boulders for sitting down by the water, and seemed perfect! Plus we had no desire to backtrack and go to one of the sites we had already passed. This campsite was 5.89 km (approximately) from the put in. We set up 2 tents, with the girls (10, 11 and 13) in one tent, and Cheryl and I in the other. We also put up a tarp in case of rain, and after about 30 minutes of attempting to throw a rock (wrapped up in rope) over a tree branch 15 feet in the air (and re-tying the rope several times as the rock hurled itself into the woods), success! – a safe place to store our food. This was definitely the highest branch I’ve used for a bear bag – there weren’t many options at this campsite! At some point, we first encountered a snapping turtle in the water at our site, who the girls later named “Buddy”. Despite his presence, we decided to swim – with some trepidation.

Buddy the snapping turtle

The girls strung ropes between trees to walk on, and also made a very fun rope swing. We cooked hot dogs on the fire for dinner, and roasted marshmallows later on for s’mores. All in all, a good first day!

Day 2: Friday, August 7 – Rain Lake to Islet Lake via Western Uplands Backpacking Trail

In the morning, Buddy reappeared! After a delicious oatmeal breakfast, we paddled a couple hundred metres over to the portage to Hot Lake, where we left the canoes and joined the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail. We intended to hike until we reached Islet Lake or Ishkuday Lake, swim, have lunch, and hike back to the canoes. The “hike” was really a “walk”, as it was along a flat old rail trail. We met a woman and her 12 year old son on the way, and based on her recommendation, decided to check out the first backpacking site on Islet Lake – if it was unoccupied, we would eat our lunch and swim there. We were in luck! It was a big, beautiful site, complete with an awesome rope swing that swung over the lake. We had walked at the most 3 km to get there, maybe less.

Thank you to whoever put this up – and left it! [Photo by Cheryl]
We swam, ate our lunch, and even had a small fire because the previous occupants had not doused it – with just a few big breaths and some birch bark, we had a flame! When a couple of hikers came into view, we waved them over since we hadn’t paid to stay at that site, and while it might have looked occupied, it wasn’t! We finished our lunch and cleared out as quickly as we could, despite the very generous offer to stay for 2 hours if we wanted to! We walked back to our canoe, collecting firewood as we got close to the canoe so that we could have another evening campfire. We paddled over to a little beach at the end of the lake (very close to our site and the portage). The girls swam, but the sun wasn’t out, it was cool, and Cheryl and I were wimps. We had a delicious pasta dinner, during which Buddy convinced us that other campers must feed him, as he came out of the water and attempted to climb up the rock to share our food with us. So sad. Thankfully, the rock was too steep and he kept sliding back into the water. That night, while I was filtering water from the lake, Cheryl and the girls witnessed Buddy get attacked by a larger turtle. He went for Buddy’s head or neck, climbed on top of him, somersaulted around, and then seemed to pin him to the lake bottom. We all feared for Buddy, and two girls were in tears. Thankfully, about an hour later we saw 2 turtles surface (in different locations), one of them definitely Buddy, as he had a distinctive wheezing/snorting sound and only one nostril. However, we never saw him again…

(Since being home, I’ve done a bit of research and it seems that our “Buddy” may actually have been a girl, and the bigger turtle may have been a boy… and the violence may have been part of snapping turtle mating behaviour!)

Day 3: Saturday, August 8 – Rain Lake to Sawyer Lake

Day 3 started with a yummy pancake breakfast, and fun around the campsite. We headed over to the beach to swim, build sand castles and swat deer flies.

Fun at the beach on Rain Lake [Photo by Cheryl]

Ailish practices her solo canoeing skills

Next we did the short (300m) portage to Sawyer Lake, where we looked for a beach or rocky area to stop and have lunch. Before finding somewhere, we stopped at an unoccupied campsite to use the bathroom! We eventually found somewhere to eat, but it wasn’t a great spot – just enough room to get out of the boats, sit to eat, and watch helplessly as a roll of precious toilet paper tumbled into the lake (my bad)!

Mergansers on Sawyer Lake

We headed back to our campsite, collecting firewood along the portage for a third and final campfire. We spent the rest of the day at our campsite.

Doing dishes in the setting sun [Photo by Cheryl]
When we first arrived at our campsite on Day #1, we found a hat and pair of sunglasses that had been left behind. On closer inspection, the hat belonged to “Kathleen”. So on our last evening, we each took turns sporting the hat and glasses and doing what we thought Kathleen would do.

Clearly I am not a dancer [Photo by Cheryl]
Day 4: Sunday, August 9 – Rain Lake to Huntsville

Early morning view from our campsite on Rain Lake

On our last morning, we had fantastic egg/veggie/bacon wraps to start the day. After packing up camp, we swam one last time, trying out a fallen tree as a jumping off spot. We also walked along the shore to the portage to Sawyer Lake, looking for a lost ziplock bag of Anne’s kleenexes and some rope… but we never did find it. We loaded everything into the 2 canoes and headed for the van. We really lucked out with the weather – it rained on 2 separate occasions over the 4 days, but for no longer than 2-5 minutes, and only a light sprinkle! We didn’t see any moose, bears or foxes, but we were amazed at the number of mice running around the campfire as the sun went down!

Canoe tripping with kids adds its own challenges, but we had tons of fun!