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.

Getting There

The Canoe Lake access point is reached a few hundred meters from Highway 60. The huge parking lot (often nearly full in mid-summer) serves as a reminder of the crowds ahead. The Portage Store rents canoes and can provide basic supplies. There is also a restaurant in the store complex.

Canoe Lake

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 usually crowded 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 spindly leaves.

Tamarack swamp at Ink Lake

McIntosh Lake

McIntosh Lake 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.

McIntosh Lake

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.

McIntosh Creek

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.

Bull moose grazing near entrance to White Trout Lake

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.

Entering Big Trout Lake at the narrows

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.

Big Trout Lake in evening light

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.

Sunset on Big Trout Lake

Otterslide Creek

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.

Moose grazing in Otterslide Creek

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.

Entrance to Otterslide Creek

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.

Longer Lake

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!

Posion ivy on Petawawa River portages

Redpine Bay

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 of Burntroot Lake, or south over the 730 m portage to Merchant Lake.

Island campsite, Redpine Bay

Back to Virtual Algonquin main page Last revision August 2004

Copyright 2004 Garry Tarr and Jo-Ann Holden