Backpacking in Ontario: Algonquin Park

At the end of August, Kris and I drove to meet Matt at for our annual backpacking trip, this year at Algonquin Park in Southeastern Ontario. Algonquin Park is primarily known for its water bound trips via canoe and kayak.  With a humongous 7,653 km² of forest and lake filled wilderness in the park, our backpacking trip planned to explore a little portion of the western side of the park on the Western Upland backpacking trail.

This trip also had a bit of travel time for us (33 hours total driving) through 4 provinces (for Kris).  Our travels to Ontario included an overnight camp out in Voyageur Provincial Park campground near Montreal.  The park and campground came recommended for us and was an easy off-the-road, good quality campground outside of the traffic of Montreal, but yet just inside Ontario.  The campground borders the Ottawa River and has access to the water.

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Camping at Voyageur made for a relaxing evening and morning to break up the days of travel.

We met Matt in the Algonquin Park itself, having one of his shortest drives yet for our backpacking trips (from Toronto).  It was a typical reunion of good friends and hikers with talk of new gear, conversation about how to spend the next few days and of course, sampling  Matt’s ‘craft’ soda.

The following day, we decided on getting our hiking legs in action to do a few day hikes the day before we began our backpacking trip.  This ended up being a good decision as we needed to ease our bodies into what was going to be a long first day of backpacking.  Our early planning had the first backpacking day at 25+ kilometres.So, the 18+ kms of day tripping over three hikes (Oxtogue Falls, Lookout trail, Track and Tower trail) was welcome exercise.  We were also introduced to the big wood forests, plentiful watercourses and covered canopy hiking that is typical of Algonquin Park.

It was also clear just how popular Algonquin Park is for day visitors and campers alike, likely due to its proximity to the more populated areas of Ontario.  The day trip trails were relatively busy with a variety of hikers and skill sets.  The views from the trail lookoffs were grand and made a person appreciate the expansiveness of the park itself.

There are a few stores and shops within the park boundary, spread out along highway 60.  For about an hour, we searched for a magazine or book for Matthew with no avail.  Matt had forgotten his mandatory hiking reading companion and would lament the same throughout the trip.

By the end of the day, we had our plans for the backpacking trip.  We hoped to hike to Clara Lake (25+kms) by Day one, Rainbow Lake (10+kms) by Day two and back to the start on Day 3 (20 kms).

We started off toward the Western Upland early the next morning in our clean shirts.  Within a few minutes of starting off, we saw a large moose on the trail ahead of us.  With a crash it disappeared into the woods and so began the ondulating trek toward Clara Lake and our evening campsite.  The day’s weather was perfect and we enjoyed the tree cover to keep us away from the sun while making our 25 kilometre day.

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Algonquin also has alot of unique signage.  The trails are also very well marked and well trodden.  We had no trouble finding our way.  For the first loop section of the Western Uplands trail, we followed a blue hiker sign.  The second loop follows a yellow hiker and the third (and hardest) is red.  What was also interesting to see on our hikes were the cross trails marked the portages between lakes.  At the lakeside, the trail markers are posted on trees with the distances of the portages ahead.  We saw some portages that were 2500m or more! Those that take on these adventures are clearly some people dedicated at canoeing.

We began to see the iconic Algonquin lakes on our way, many with islands dotting the middle.  Few beach shorelines are found  as the forest comes to the water’s edge and many fallen trees fill the shallows and shoreline.  We quickly passed Maple Leaf Lake and reached Maggie Lake for a lunch break.

After blasting across the woods between large lakes and late in the evening, we finally arrived at Clara Lake, our first destination.  Despite the long haul of travel, we quickly set to work with our nightly chores of campsite making, food cooking, eating and in my case, swimming.  I tried to swim at every opportunity in the evenings as a relaxing break to hauling backpacks.   The campsites are well established and most had a metal stand for mounting stoves and other cooking utensils.  As we ate supper, I reflected on the day’s hike and realized 25 kilometres in a day (on trail) is clearly my limit, or just slightly over that.  Nevertheless, it was still nice to take an evening swim.

Despite the beautiful surroundings, we were surprised to find small visitors arriving at the campsite just after sundown.  Like roving zombies (I had just had an apocalyptic book marathon prior to this trip), the mice emerged from the woods around us and could be heard gnawing on all things loose and crawling across the top of our tents.  We had hung our food as per our camping ‘rules’ — at a distance well away from our campsite.  However, this did not stop the mice from coming — and even chewing into my new(ish) water filter bag and tubing which was hung from a tree!  In the morning, Kris awoke to find that the mice and or chipmunks had a late night snack with his breakfast, lunch and dinners.  We were now down to one water filter — thankfully we decided to double up on some communal gear (another ‘rule’).

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With our second day underway, we took our time traveling across the 10.4 kilometres to Rainbow Lake. After our long first day, we jokingly said we’d continue onto the 20+ kilometre diversion toward Islet Lake  — and then quickly decided to continue the ‘easier’ route, knowing Day 3 would be another long day of travel. We arrived at Rainbow Lake early in the afternoon and had plenty of time for camp setup, swimming, island conquering and even a campfire to stave off Matt’s no-book boredom.  That evening, we had another visit from the mice, but were better prepared for the scurrying undead.

 

 

Day Three began with a bit more mice and food carnage.  Kris was now down to three nuts (kidding), but seriously was reconsidering all previous ideas we had about packing food!  We were also graced with a bit of heavy rain in the morning, but given the tree cover, had very little need for pack covers.

With our last day having been the start to a long weekend for those outside the park, as we hiked past the four lakes (Susan, Redwing, Lupus and Thunder Lake), we began to see more hikers (we had only seen two in our days in the backcountry).  We passed more groups heading to the first night campsites and began our quick hike to the end.  I was getting a second wind after a slow earlier part of the day and was anticipating the bag of chips in the car at the end of the trip!  I had experimented a little with packing ‘less’ food than I normally pack (lacking evening snacks), which was taking a bit of mental toll.  I realized that chocolate and/or sweets in the evenings may be a necessity for me on backpacking trips.

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Rainbow Lake Poses

The final part of  our trip was quite the denouement.  We had arrived safe and sound at the trailhead parking lot and quickly drove to the campsite hoping to empty out and dry our gear (amid great weather), before we scrambled off to the Portage Store restaurant for a well deserved meal.   After our meal, we thought it would be relaxing to play scrabble on the covered deck and watch the newbie canoeists with their daily rentals.  What we didn’t forsee was the thunderstorm rolling in and downpouring, all over the canoeists, but also all over our gear hung out at the campsite a 10 minute drive away.  It ended up downpouring for 10 hours straight, making our last night in Algonquin a bit soggy, but redeemed with thoughts of a another good trip done.

Matt made a great compilation of the entire trip using his new camera.  It does capture the terrain very well and shows some of our fun along the way as well.

Below is our last photo before our final (damp) night’s sleep for an even earlier (4:50am) wakeup to begin to the long drive home to the Maritimes.  Note: all photos of Dave in this post were taken by Kris Griffon.

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