Canoe Lake to Redpine Bay
The band of canoe routes stretching from Canoe Lake in the south to
Brent in the north is often mockingly referred to as "Main
Street", since it has the highest density of canoe trippers in the
park. Fortunately the crowds thin out rapidly 10 to 20 km from
Canoe Lake. The best approach to Canoe Lake and its immediate vicinity
is to cross this section as quickly as possible. By
starting early in the day it should be possible to reach relative
solitude at the Otterslide Lakes to the east or McIntosh Lake to
the north by evening.
The Canoe Lake access point is reached a few
hundred meters from Highway 60. The huge parking lot (often nearly full
mid-summer) serves as a reminder of the crowds ahead. The
rents canoes and can provide basic supplies. There
is also a restaurant in the store complex.
On a mid-summer weekend any backcountry traveller starting out from
Canoe Lake is likely to think they are paddling through
an outer suburb of Toronto. Cottages dot the shores, and the buildings
of several major camps dominate the center of the lake.
One camp even features a dock covered with artificial turf. The lake is
also likely to be crowded with inexperienced canoe
trippers. However, while dodging the power boats it is worth
remembering that Canoe Lake has an important place in
Algonquin's history. Around the turn of the century, when the Ottawa,
Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway offered the main
means of access to the park, Canoe Lake was the commercial center of
Algonquin. Artist Tom Thompson lived here for much
of the year, making extended trips into the interior in the spring and
fall to paint. Thompson's body was found in the lake in
1917; many believe he was murdered here. A cairn dedicated to Thompson
is located under an incongruous totem pole on the north
shore of the lake.
Travellers departing from Canoe Lake typically either follow Teepee Lake,
Fawn Lake and Tom Thomson Lake to the north, portaging into McIntosh Lake,
or Burnt Island Lake to the east. Both routes lead through the Joe Lakes.
The Joe Lakes
A wide, level 295 m portage leads past
the dam separating Joe Lake from Canoe Lake. Although Joe Lake is
with campers, the huge granite outcrops and bluffs at its western end
are quite scenic. The terrain becomes more swampy
travelling east through Little Joe Lake, and there is a chance of
sighting moose here. The red-shingled buildings of
Arowhon Pines Lodge can be seen on the south shore of Little Joe. At
its north end Little Joe narrows to a rock-filled, winding creek,
requiring some care in route finding. The portage trail leading
to Baby Joe Lake is located approximately 1 km up the creek, and to
avoid bushwacking it is important to ignore any
secondary trails seen along the banks, and continue until the yellow
sign marking the portage is reached.
Teepee Lake, Fawn Lake, Littledoe Lake and Tom Thomson Lake
This chain of lakes provides a route north from Canoe Lake to McIntosh
Lake. Teepee Lake is dominated by Camp
Arowhon. Fawn Lake has thick vegetation down to its shores, in places
giving the impression of canoeing through a tunnel in an
evergreen forest. Littledoe Lake has a scenic shoreline of points and
sharply indented bays, and offers many excellent
campsites, but is likely to be crowded with inexperienced parties.
Similar comments apply to Tom Thomson Lake. Bear raids
are likely, and anyone camping in this area should take full
bear-proofing precautions (see camp robbers). Unless forced to
camp here in an emergency, experienced travellers will usually cross
these lakes as quickly as possible on their way to more
secluded destinations in the interior. The 1140 m portage from
Littledoe Lake to Burnt Island Lake is in good condition. The south end
of the 2320 m portage
linking Tom Thomson Lake to Ink Lake skirts an extended swampy area,
with the trail alternately crossing the muddy edges of
the swamp, and then switching to the granite ridges which form the
banks of the swamp. Carrying a canoe over this varying
terrain can be difficult in places. The trail ends in an extended area
of mosquito-infested bog. A deep but narrow channel winds
its way tortuously from Ink Lake to McIntosh Lake, taking far longer to
traverse than one might guess on looking at the map,
and providing the insect inhabitants of the swamp with an extended
opportunity to dine. The Ink Lake bog is interesting in that it
has a high density of tamaracks- an unusual type of coniferous tree
that changes color and sheds its needles in the fall. In
summer the trees are easily recognized by their dark green color and
is a beautiful wide, circular basin, ringed by hills and dotted with
islands, many of which have prime campsites.
The only problem is the proximity to Canoe Lake and Highway 60, which
can lead to severe crowding in mid-summer.
On one memorable trip we had a yearling moose wander right through our camp on the south
shore of McIntosh Lake in the early evening. The moose seemed quite curious about us and
our tent, but wandered off after a couple of minutes.
A 547 m portage leads from McIntosh Lake to the start
of the navigable part of McIntosh Creek. The creek presents no unusual
challenges in normal water levels, although it may be necessary to break through
the occasional beaver dam. The current is fairly strong near the head
of the creek. The journey down the creek is interrupted by a second 745 m portage.
Both portage trails are relatively level and in good condition,
although mud may be a problem. The upstream landings are boulder-strewn,
but the downstream landings are relatively easy. The creek gradually
broadens and flows through marshland, eventually joining the Petawawa River.
It's important to keep track of position in this area, since it's quite
easy to get lost in the swamp. Losing
the main channel results in a slow and frustrating paddle
through reeds and water lilies. Navigation is helped to some extent by
a large signpost at the junction of the routes to McIntosh
Creek and the Petawawa River.
White Trout Lake
White Trout Lake begins as a gradual widening of the marsh along the Petawawa River.
The southeast end of the
lake is full of decaying vegetation, which supports an abundance of
aquatic life. This in turn provides food for a large population of fish
and waterfowl, particularly loons. Anyone camping on this part of the
lake is likely to be treated to a night-long loon serenade. An interior ranger cabin-
on of the few still in use- is located at this end of the lake. The cabin was once
associated with a fire lookout tower located on the high cliff on the eastern shore of
the lake. The ruins of the collapsed tower can still be seen. Another historic
site- the ruins of a farm operated to supply potatoes and a few other
essentials to logging camps around the turn of the century-
occupies the north shore of the lake. There are some small but passable
campsites on the eastern shore of White Trout Lake, but
none compare with the sites on Big Trout. The two lakes are connected
by a shallow 1 km long narrows. The
narrows tend to funnel the prevailing westerly
winds, and a stiff breeze is common in the late afternoon.
Big Trout Lake
In my opinion, Big Trout Lake is the ultimate Algonquin destination.
The lake is huge- the same size as any of the three arms of
Opeongo Lake- and surrounded on all sides by rolling green hills. The
clear, clean water is ideal for swimming. Although it lies
directly on "Main Street", the lake is so big and has so many superb
campsites available that it rarely feels crowded. The
majority of campsites are located on the many large and small islands
scattered along the length of the lake.
There is one
campsite at the top of the prominent high ridge of red sand and gravel
that forms a point jutting out into the eastern end of the
lake. To the north and east of this point the lake broadens into an
extended marsh. There is a good chance of sighting
moose here, in part because this area is lightly travelled. After a few
twists and turns the main channel through the marsh ends at
the muddy start of the 1840 m portage to Merchant Lake. This portage trail
winds over a hill through open deciduous forest.
One of the most popular trips in Algonquin is the loop beginning at Canoe Lake,
following Teepee Lake and Tom Thomson Lake to McIntosh Lake,
descending McIntosh Creek to White Trout and Big Trout Lakes, and then returning to Canoe Lake
via Otterside Creek and Burntroot Lake. Although the distance between Otterslide Lake and Big Trout Lake is
shown on the map as only 5 km, the many obstacles
encountered on this section mean that at least two hours should be
allowed to complete it, even for experienced parties. The
creek provides one of the shortest routes into the central interior of
the park, and so is very heavily used. Crowding is common
at portage landings, and out of courtesy to others all gear should be
stowed well off the trail if it is necessary to make more than
one crossing of the portage.
The return trip from Big Trout Lake up Otterslide Creek
begins in a scenic pool at the soutwestern corner of Big Trout Lake, where a 105 m portage bypasses
a small falls. This portage is followed amost immediately by a 730 m portage leading to the
central part of the creek. Following the 730 m
portage the creek winds its way through a long section of shallow
marsh. It is necessary to keep a sharp lookout for submerged
rocks on this section, and during low water levels in mid-summer it may
be necessary to disembark and pull the canoe in some
places. The current is quite strong here, making manoevering around the
rocks difficult. Early on a
jumble of rocks is reached that is impassable by canoe at low water.
This obstacle really deserves a portage, but none is
available, so in all likelihood it will be necessary to wade through
the slalom while half-pushing and half-carrying the canoe. As a reward
for the difficulties of paddling Otterslide Creek, there is a good
chance of sighting moose, particularly if all groups
in the area are travelling quietly. Hawks and osprey may be seen
overhead. Yes, once we even glimpsed an otter, but it was gone in a flash.
The Otterslide Creek run ends with a series of three short portages leading
into Otterslide Lake. These portages are level, but the approaches are strewn
with boulders, making landing difficult.
At the 265 m portage there is an intersection with a major branch
of the park's internal road network.
The Otterslide Lakes
The best campsites on the Otterslide Lakes are on the north shore of
Big Otterslide Lake, particularly on the open point. Unfortunately these
sites suffer from very heavy use due to their proximity to Canoe Lake.
The shallow, reedy channel connecting the two Otterslide Lakes is
a popular pasture for moose.
Burnt Island Lake
The 790 m
portage leading from the Otterslide Lakes to Burnt Island Lake is wide,
level, and in good condition. The portage trial ends on a sandy beach.
Burnt Island Lake has spectacular scenery and many superb campsites, particularly on the
rocky points jutting out into its midsection.
Unfortunately, the lake is crowded in mid-summer, and the most attractive
campsites are badly overused.
Burnt island Lake is perfectly oriented to funnel the southwest winds that
often rise on hot, humid summer afternoons. The lake can become surprisingly rough
under these conditions.
Crossing the 200 m portage from Burnt Island Lake to the Joe Lakes, one has the feeling of
returning from the unspoilt interior of Algonquin to civilization. The portage begins
at a wooden dock, and is essentially a wide (and heavily travelled) road.
Rather than simply completing a loop trip back to Canoe Lake using Otterslide Creek,
it is possible to head north from Big Trout Lake, following the Petawawa River deep
into the interior of the park. A wide, easy 300 m portage leads gently downhill from
Big Trout Lake to Longer Lake.
Longer Lake itself has little to recommend it. The lake is shallow with dense vegetation
reaching right down to the shores. At its north end the lake turns abruptly to
the east, merging with a broad, marshy section of the Petawawa River.
Petawawa River- Longer Lake to Redpine Bay
Continuing along the Petawawa River towards Redpine Bay, the banks close in and
the current grows.
Eventually two very short portages around rapids are reached. Both rapids are runnable by
experienced paddlers at high water levels. The second, shorter rapid is slightly easier than
the first, although the vertical drop is greater. The consequences of destroying a canoe on this section
are decidely unpleasant, however (it's a very long walk back to any access point), so
it's important not to underestimate the difficulty of the rapids. The portage trails are not
particularly pleasant. Landings must be made over piles of loose boulders in fairly
strong current. At the downstream landing on the 40 m portage it is necessary to mandhandle canoes
down a sizeable drop. The dark black rock at the landings adds a
forboding atmosphere to the area. Poison Ivy abounds along the trails, and it is extremely
important to be careful where packs and other gear are dropped. If in doubt, assume
anything green is poison ivy!
After the short rapids the Petawawa quickly opens into spectacular Redpine Bay.
There are several superb campsites here on the points and islands. Mature stands
of red and white pine tower over the bay and the winding channel leading north to
Burntroot Lake. From here it is possible to continue north ino the main body
Burntroot Lake, or south over the 730 m portage to Merchant Lake.
Copyright 2004 Garry Tarr and Jo-Ann Holden