Algonquin & Beyond

Joe Lake Map & Overview

Joe Lake is one of the most travelled backcountry lakes in Algonquin Park. It’s one lake north of the popular Canoe Lake Access Point (#5), meaning it sees plenty of people passing through as they start and/or end their canoe trip. The portage going from Canoe Lake into Joe Lake is often referred to as the “highway” portage because of how busy it can get!

Joe Lake itself is a large, narrow lake, that is split into two sections for reservation purposes: Joe Lake Western Narrows, and Joe Lake East Arm. Joe Lake Western Narrows is connected to Tepee Lake in the northwest, while the Joe Lake East Arm is connected to Little Joe Lake in the northeast.

Even though Joe Lake is in Algonquin Park’s backcountry, it’s not a very remote lake. There are cottages on the lake, walking trails along the south shoreline, Camp Arowhon on the conjoined Tepee Lake to the north, and Arowhon Pines Lodge on the conjoined Little Joe Lake to the east. There are plenty of backcountry canoeing campsites on Joe Lake as well, but these campsites mainly attract new campers that are often just beginning their backcountry exploration.

Map of Campsites on Joe Lake in Algonquin Park, No Campsite Numbers
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Campsites on Joe Lake

For reservation purposes, Joe Lake is split into two separate sections: Joe Lake Western Narrows, and Joe Lake East Arm. There are 20+ campsites in total between both sections.

I’m not particularly fond of the campsites on Joe Lake, especially the ones in the Western Narrows. With few exceptions, the campsites in the Western Narrows are quite small and without any notable features. Some of the campsites have the fire pit and tent spots very close to the shoreline, making the campsites completely visible to people paddling by on the water. With all of the through-traffic that Joe Lake receives, these campsites will offer very little privacy.

The campsites in the East Arm are more aesthetic, often being more spacious (eg. Campsite #5), and with some campsites having beautiful rocky shorelines (eg. Campsite #8). But unfortunately, the busyness of Joe Lake still applies to the East Arm, so if privacy is what you’re looking for, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

For detailed written descriptions and photos for campsites on Joe Lake, you can view my Campsite Reports 👇

Paddling On Joe Lake

Joe Lake is often a paddle-through lake. Unless you are lucky enough to own one of the private cottages, you will most likely be paddling through Joe Lake to get to your destination. There are a number of backcountry campsites on Joe Lake, but relative to the total amount of people that paddle on Joe Lake, the backcountry occupants of the lake only make up a small percentage.

Joe Lake is a pretty lake to paddle through. When entering the lake from the 240m portage, you’ll immediately paddle underneath a bridge before entering the main body of Joe Lake. Next, you’ll come across the large island in the centre of the lake. The island will immediately catch your eye, with its mountainous terrain that’s home to two private cottages and two backcountry campsites. The island also acts as a fork-in-the-road, separating Joe Lake Western Narrows and Joe Lake East Arm. There are some more elevated rocky shorelines to admire while paddling through Joe Lake before making it to one of the adjacent connecting lakes, Tepee Lake or Little Joe Lake.

Portaging To Joe Lake

Technically speaking, there is only one portage in and out of Joe Lake. The single portage is 240m, connecting Joe Lake to Canoe Lake. This portage is often referred to as the “highway” portage because of how busy it can get! During the summer months, it’s not uncommon for you to wait in line, on the water, for your turn to access the canoe landing. The Canoe Lake end of the portage has a flat beach landing, while the Joe Lake end of the portage is a long rocky shoreline. The portage itself is extremely flat and well-maintained. On one side of the portage trail there is rushing water from the dam, and on the other side of the portage trail there is even an outhouse for those emergency bathroom breaks.

The reason I say there is “technically” only one portage in and out of Joe Lake is because Joe Lake is connected to Tepee Lake and Little Joe Lake. In the northwest, Tepee Lake is then connected to the Little Oxtongue River, Littledoe Lake, and Tom Thomson Lake, all without portages. And in the northeast, Little Joe Lake is connected to Lost Joe Lake and Baby Joe Lake with a series of short portages, some of which can be bypassed when water levels are high.

Joe Lake Trip Reports

Despite passing through Joe Lake on numerous occasions, I have personally never camped on Joe Lake. All of my trip reports that include Joe Lake only have the lake as a paddle-through lake, as I made my way towards my real destination for the evening.

But these trip reports still provide details about Joe Lake, like the time I almost got windbound during my first ever solo canoe trip, or the time I accidentally stumbled upon a tent while scouting campsites for my Campsite Reports.

Some of the trip reports that include Joe Lake are “My First Ice Out Canoe Trip in Algonquin Park (Kind Of)”, and “My First Solo Canoe Trip in Algonquin Park”.

The Verdict... Camp or Skip?

Joe Lake is an easy “skip” for me. While the lake itself might be pretty, I would not treat it as an overnight destination. Its central location nearby the popular Canoe Lake Access Point results in Joe Lake being extremely high-traffic, and along with the private cottages scattered throughout the lake, it does not provide a true ‘backcountry’ feeling.

I also find many of the campsites on Joe Lake to be very underwhelming, particularly in the Western Narrows. If a busy, high-traffic lake at least had nice campsites, it might compel me to spend the evening, but Joe Lake doesn’t fit the bill.

Ultimately, there is nothing that would attract me to camp on Joe Lake. I would much rather push through to one of the adjacent lakes like Littledoe Lake, Tom Thomson Lake, or Burnt Island Lake.

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