Algonquin & Beyond

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Trip Info

Date: September 14th – 16th, 2023

ROUTE Smoke > Parkside Bay Parkside Bay > Smoke
Travel (Single)
3 hrs
3 hrs
Travel (Double)
3.5 hrs
3.5 hrs
Portage #1
250m
250m
SINGLE CARRY
250m
250
DOUBLE CARRY
750m
750
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
Total
6 hrs
7 hrs
2 portages
500m
1,500m
Per Travel Day
3 hrs
3.5 hrs
1 portages
250m
750m
3 Days Solo on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park, Trip Map with Route and Campsite Information

To purchase your own copy (physical & digital formats), visit Maps By Jeff

Background

There isn’t any exciting background for this trip. No juicy story or long-awaited plans. I had my vacation days booked for Thursday and Friday, and the weather was looking fantastic, so I knew I was going somewhere in the park. But I hadn’t decided on Parkside Bay until literally the night before the trip started. I noticed that there was only one other permit issued for the Thursday, and then only one permit remaining for the Friday, so I quickly booked of those two nights. Saturday was already completely booked for Parkside Bay, as well as all of the surrounding lakes, so I decided I would just do a two night, three day trip and head home on the Saturday.

I have had my eye on Parkside Bay for a few years. I’ve explored almost all of the lakes south of Highway 60, but I had never been to Parkside Bay. For the past few years, there were weekends were I almost booked it, but then last-minute changed my plans to go somewhere else. This time, I last-minute decided to book Parkside Bay and I was looking forward to finally exploring the area.

Day 1 — Smoke Lake to Parkside Bay

This trip started on a Thursday. Thursday is garbage day on my parents’ street. My canoe is stored at my parent’s house. Raccoons love garbage. Those are all completely related facts. At 5:45 AM, I was loading my canoe on top of my car while raccoons were 15 ft away from me, rummaging through all of the trash set out on the streets. I guess I started the trip with a wildlife sighting!

When I was on Highway 60, about 30 minutes from Smoke Lake, I got stuck behind an “oversized load” vehicle. It was a massive truck being escorted by several cars in front of it and several cars behind it. They must have been taking up 500m worth of the highway. I was driving at around 20km/hr and there was absolutely no way of passing them. Thankfully, after 15 minutes or so, they pulled off to the side, presumably to let the large lineup behind them pass. No less than 60 seconds later I got stuck behind a school bus that was making frequent stops every minute. I know education is important and everything, but so is camping!

I finally made it onto the water at 9:00 AM, while a few other groups were getting ready to head out from Smoke Lake. The waters were calm, with a gentle tailwind behind me. The groups that were trailing behind me had caught up while I was doing my double carry, during my only portage of the trip. There were two older gentlemen with a beautiful wooden canoe, two men with their respective children, and a couple with their two dogs.

The tailwind continued to push me south, down the quiet and almost completely uninhabited Ragged Lake. Once I did the u-turn to get to the narrows leading into Parkside Bay, the tailwind had turned into a headwind. As the wind started to pick up, I saw a motor boat heading towards me from Parkside Bay. I didn’t think they allowed motor boats on Parkside Bay. How did it even get in there?

The paddle through the narrows into the main body of Parkside Bay was surprisingly draining. It was a rather hot day outside and the headwind made the paddle take a decent bit longer than it would have in normal conditions. By the time I arrived to the main body of Parkside Bay, I was ready to find my home for the next two nights. There was only one other permit issued, besides myself, for the first night of the trip. During my second night of the trip, Parkside Bay was going to be booked solid. I was happy that I would get at least one night of peace and quiet, while also getting to choose from the best sites on the lake.

I saw an occupied campsite in the narrows, which confused me. The lake was supposed to be completely empty on Wednesday (the previous night). It was unlikely that the one other permit arrived before me, and even if they did, why would they take a not-so-great site in the narrows? My guess was that they were camping off-permit and didn’t want to draw suspicion, so they took a less desirable site. Especially if they planned to stay for the whole weekend when the lake was fully booked, they would be less likely to get caught on a crappier site.

I was pretty impressed with what I saw from the water while paddling by the campsites in the main body of Parkside Bay. I would have been happy with the large island campsite, or any of the few peninsula sites just north of the large island, on the east shore. But the northernmost peninsula site was the winner of them all, in my opinion, so that’s where I settled.

The campsite had lots of chopped firewood, an extremely large beach and rocky shoreline, and a really nice fire pit with flat seating and a kitchen counter behind it. The thunder box was a little far away but it looked relatively new. Tent spots were plentiful as well. It also had one bar of cell service at the front of the site, which, as I would find out later, was similar to many other campsites on the lake. I couldn’t have asked for a better campsite for the next two nights.

Parkside Bay peninsula campsite in Algonquin Park, September 2023

Elo must have loved the campsite as well, because she immediately got a bout of zoomies and ran straight into the water. I let Elo swim often, but only when I say she’s allowed. I don’t want her to get into the habit of swimming whenever she wants, because if the water is mucky, or if it’s late in the day, I don’t want her going in. So, I made her come out immediately and then I tethered her to a root on the ground as a gentle ‘time out’.

I arrived at the campsite at around 12:30 PM. I was in no rush to get fully set up, so I opened up my chair and had a snack at the front of the campsite. It felt really nice sitting on the large beach with the sun beating down on me and the wind blowing against my face. But I made a massive mistake… I forgot to bring my baseball cap! I had my toque, but that was it. The brim of the baseball cap was essential for keeping the sun out of my eyes. Damn.

I wanted to give Elo water but I couldn’t find her collapsible water bowl. I looked all over and then it hit me… I forgot it at the portage landing! I couldn’t believe it. I became the type of person that I always complain about. I become THE PERSON THAT LEFT SOMETHING AT THE PORTAGE. I decided against paddling back to get it, which would have been around 3 hours round trip. I was hoping it would still be there in a few days when I was on my way out. I decided to use her collapsible food bowl for water throughout the trip, and for meals, I was going to hand-feed her.

Sitting at front of campsite during beautiful fall morning on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park, September 2023

It was only at around 1:30 PM that I started to set up camp. I pitched my tent, set up a bear hang, and collected some more firewood. At first, I was excited with all of the firewood left over by the previous group, but I quickly realized it was all soaked through and some pieces were rotted. I brought all of the wood to the front of the site so it could lay out under the sun, but I knew that I would need to collect a lot of new wood regardless.

At 3:00 PM I went for a paddle and filled my water jug. I bought an MSR Dromedary this year, and I really liked how easily fillable it was, but I disliked how using Aquatabs was a bit more challenging because I needed to use one of my hands to hold up the Dromedary. But overall, it was still much better than my previous, heavy, bulky water jug.

While out for the paddle I went to check out some campsites. I looked at four campsites in the north end of Parkside Bay. Two were great, and two were pretty bad. It was during that paddle that I noticed an Ontario Parks motorboat stashed in between two of the sites, on the north shore. That was the motorboat I saw earlier in the day! It all made sense now. They came back earlier, stashed the boat, then disappeared through the forest.

I got back to my campsite at 4:15 PM and made myself an early dinner, an AlpineAire Creamy Beef with Noodles and Mushroom. It’s one of my favourite meals from AlpineAire. I went to the front of the campsite to enjoy my meal. After a full day of sniffing and excitement, Elo finally settled down and slept at my feet while I was eating my dinner.

The view out onto Parkside Bay was quite lovely. The fall colours were just barely starting to emerge; they still had a long way to go before reaching their peak. I was non-stop moving all day so it felt great to sit, close my eyes, and listen to the sounds of nature. The silence was nice. Well, other than the constant ringing from my tinnitus, which was really annoying.

I fed Elo a little bit later, at 6:30 PM, and then went for another paddle. I looked at four more campsites as the sun was getting low in the sky. I saw another other occupied campsite, which was the group from earlier with the dogs. They were extremely quiet though; I had no idea they were there until I paddled by their campsite. I also saw the same canoe from earlier, the group that I thought was off-permit in the narrows. And they were staying the night again. I was highly confident that they were camping off-permit.

Astrophotography on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park September 2023 v5

I got back to camp at around 8:00 PM when there was barely any light left in the sky. I dried Elo’s paws and collected the wood that I had laid out to dry throughout the day. I made a fire and had a generous evening snack that included banana bread, a bagel, toasted marshmallows, and of course, whiskey. I pointed my camera straight up into the sky, looking through the opening of the trees, to do some astrophotography while I sat beside the fire.

Afterwards, I moved to the beach and did some more astrophotography. It was an incredibly starry night, with the Milky Way directly in front of the campsite behind the opposing shoreline, and clearly visible. It was a really special moment sitting silently on the almost vacant Parkside Bay and watching the stars with Elo at my feet.

Astrophotography on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park September 2023 v4

I spent over an hour stargazing as the temperature continued to plummet. I could tell Elo was getting cold because every time I would get up to grab something from the fire pit area, she would wait by the tent door and stare at me with a look that said “pleassseeee”. At 10:15 PM I made sure the fire was ‘dead out’ and then got into the tent.

It was so much warmer inside of my sleeping bag (obvious, right?), and Elo looked absolutely adorable curled up inside of hers. Before the trip I was a bit nervous about the nighttime temperature for Elo, so I went all out with the tent setup. I put an opened sleeping bag at the bottom of the tent as a ground sheet, then two sleeping pads for me and Elo, then a flat bed sheet wrapped around both of our sleeping pads, and then each of our sleeping bags on top of the bed sheet. Hey, there was only one short portage for the trip, so why not bring the extra comforts, right?

We both fell asleep instantly.

Day 2 — Rest Day on Parkside Bay

My first night on this trip was a great reminder of how much better I sleep in cold weather. My last trip was the “6 Day Heat Wave on North Tea & Biggar Lake” and as the name implies, there was a big heat wave. Overnight temperatures were in the 20’s. Yeah, it was wild. Night one of this trip had temperatures in the single digits, and I loved it. I woke up feeling very refreshed, which is a pretty rare feeling for me in the backcountry.

I got out of the tent at 6:15 AM and in typical September fashion, the lake was completely covered with a thick fog. I couldn’t see a damn thing. Visibility was limited throughout the campsite too since the sun hadn’t risen yet. I walked around the campsite, took a pee, let Elo pee, and then got back into the tent where it was warm and cozy.

Eventually, I got out of the tent, had something to eat, and made myself a coffee while listening to some Adrianne Lenker from my iPhone. It was a very slow morning lounging around camp.

At 9:45 AM I decided to go for a paddle to check out some more campsites on Parkside Bay. I started by visited the smaller island across from my peninsula site, which I had to circle around before finding the canoe landing on the southwest shore. Next, I visited the peninsula site just south of mine. After finishing at the peninsula site I realized that I didn’t bring Elo’s water bowl in the canoe, so I decided to go back to my campsite to grab it. The moment I left the peninsula site, that Ontario Parks motorboat was approaching my campsite from the opposite direction. Good timing I guess.

It was a park warden going around checking on campsites. He asked to see my permit, and then told me everyone should keep a campsite as clean as mine (he also seemed impressed with the bear hang). We ended up speaking for quite a while, probably 30 minutes or so. We spoke about the park, permits, dirty campsites, and a lot of conversation about bears.

The warden said he had to catch and shoot a few bears this summer. One instance was a few months earlier in the Parkside Bay area of the park. Another instance was earlier in the summer near the Magnetawan access point; a mother and her three cubs had learned that people would leave their food at the portage landing during a double-carry, and became a nuisance after getting into multiple people’s food. After the mother needed to be put down, the three cubs went to a rehabilitation center; one had died shortly after arriving, and the other two would be let back into the wild, hopefully forgetting the habits learned from their mother.

After a long conversation with the warden he went on his way and I got back onto the water to continue checking out campsites. It was around 11:00 AM at this point. I checked out the four east and southeastern sites on Parkside Bay, which were some of the last remaining sites I hadn’t yet seen in the main body of the lake.

As I was finishing checking out the campsites and I started paddling back to my own site, I saw lots of canoes enter the lake. It was arrival time for the weekend warriors! There were lots of big groups with multiple canoes, and most of them were quite loud. I can’t say I expected anything different on a lake so easily accessible like Parkside Bay, especially during a hot and sunny fall weekend.

I knew it didn’t matter which campsites the bigger groups occupied, because the lake is a big circle and sound was going to travel across the lake regardless. The biggest and loudest group stopped at the peninsula site just south of mine, but for some reason decided to leave that gorgeous site and take a campsite on the northern shoreline instead. They were by far the most obnoxious group for the remainder of the trip, but I was thankful they were at least a tiny bit further away by being on the north shore. Still, they were the group on the lake that everyone was probably angry at, due to how obnoxiously loud they were. As they paddled past me, a guy in one of the canoes said to his partner “that’s my dream, paddling a solo canoe with a dog up front”. Look at us Elo, living the dream!

Before booking Parkside Bay I knew what I was getting myself into with a fully booked lake on the Friday night. I was just happy that I got my one night of peace and quiet before the crowds came in.

Parkside Bay panorama front of campsite with red solo canoe on the water, Algonquin Park September 2023
Yellow caterpillar in Algonquin Park, September 2023 v1
Spider web during early morning on Parkside Bay in September 2023
Fire blazing at fire pit at Parkside Bay campsite, September 2023 v2
Parkside Bay panorama from campsite of green shoreline, Algonquin Park September 2023

I only had four more sites to check out in the narrows, but it would have to wait until later in the evening or the next morning. It was 12:30 PM and the sun was very hot, especially with very little wind to offer relief. It was time for me and Elo to relax at the campsite for a while. Also, I was craving banana bread and I didn’t have any stashed in my pockets, so going back to the campsite was a necessity. With a swig of whiskey to wash it down of course. Hey, don’t judge me, I’m on vacation!

I spent the entire afternoon lounging at the campsite. I let Elo swim, then she had zoomies, then we did some training with her kibble. We spent most of the afternoon in the shade since we were in the sun all morning.

I made myself an early dinner at 4:00 PM. It was the AlpineAire Ginger Beef with Rice. I’m not usually a fan of the rice-based dishes, but this one actually had some decent flavour. I watched more groups enter the lake searching for a vacant campsite while sitting at my beachfront enjoying my dinner. By 5:00 PM, most sites were full and I saw groups circle the entire lake and then head back towards the narrows. You snooze, you lose!

I went for an evening paddle at 5:30 PM. I planned on going deep into the narrows to check out any campsites that were still vacant. The weather had been perfect all day, and it continued to be perfect into the evening. The sun was hot and there was a gentle breeze on the water. It was the type of weather that you could be comfortable wearing a sweatshirt if you wanted, but you could also be comfortable going shirtless if that’s what you preferred.

As I was heading towards the narrows I saw a campsite-battle-off. It was white canoe vs. blue canoe. White canoe had two males in it; they had just circled the whole lake looking for a site and were heading back to the narrows. Blue canoe had three females in it; they were just entering the lake from the narrows. There was only one vacant site left nearby, on the south shore. Blue canoe with the females saw white canoe, and my canoe, both heading towards them, and must have realized the lake was full (thinking I was also searching for a site). They did an immediate u-turn and beelined straight for the south shore campsite. I could see that white canoe and blue canoe were both paddling at full intensity, but blue canoe prevailed! The three females made it to the south shore campsite first and successfully proclaimed it as their home for the evening.

Right after watching the campsite-battle-off, I heard a big splash in the water beside me. I know the sound of a beaver tail when I hear one! I stopped paddling, quietly got out my camera, and began to wait patiently. Elo was being a very good girl and was also waiting silently. Two beavers kept popping up nearby the canoe. They would pop up momentarily, and then dip back underwater, sometimes doing the famous tail splash in the process. I made sure not to disturb them, and after some time they became comfortable with my presence and continued swimming in circles without constantly dipping back underneath the waterline.

Beaver Swimming on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park September 2023

After enjoying the company of the beavers, I moved on to hang out with some loons a couple meters further ahead. In the distance I saw the losing white canoe finishing their paddle of shame towards the first campsite in the narrows, which was going to be their home for the night.

I continued paddling into the narrows and saw a group of eight canoes coming from the opposite direction. Yes, that’s correct, eight canoes. No, that’s not a typo. I told one of the canoes “I’m pretty sure every campsite in the main body of the lake is already occupied”. But for some reason, at 6:00 PM, the eight canoes decided to continue onwards into an already full Parkside Bay expecting to find TWO vacant campsites beside each other. Good luck with that.

I was able to collect two more campsite reports, and also photograph some geese. It was a good evening for wildlife! Midway between Campsite #2 and Campsite #3 was a rope swing set up at the edge of a cliff that looked incredibly dangerous. There was no path to the cliff edge, and no flat rock. It was just a steep cliff with a rope swing hanging from one of the branches. It looked like a fatal accident waiting to happen… I really hope the park staff take notice and remove it.

I realized that I hadn’t seen the eight canoes paddle back in my direction. There’s no way there were two vacant sites available. MAYBE one, but definitely not two. Would they be dumb enough to occupy my site thinking it was empty? All my stuff was there, but hey, I’ve seen some pretty dumb decisions made by campers in the backcountry in recent years, so at this point it wouldn’t have surprised me. I paddled hard to get back to my campsite, and thankfully no one was there. I later found out that all eight canoes camped at the one last vacant site, which happened to be the worst campsite on the lake. Is it bad of me to say I hoped that the park warden would do another round of permit-checking? They were blatantly breaking the occupancy rules.

It was around 7:00 PM when I arrived back to my campsite. I made a fire, fed Elo, and had a snack for myself. I had plenty of wood and I planned on putting it to use. I sat by a nicely sized fire until 9:00 PM. Elo kept going to the tent door, wanting to go inside. She would look back at me with her adorable tired puppy-dog eyes. I was nervous that she would paw at the mesh door to get in. She had already made two holes in the door on my last trip, and I didn’t want that happening again! I put her leash on and kept her by my side.

We went to the front of the campsite and spent some time at the beach, watching the stars and doing some astrophotography. It took about an hour of sitting at the beach before I realized how cold the night was. The fire was keeping me warm, but once I moved away from the fire, my body temperature slowly started to drop.

At 10:00 PM I decided to call it a night and head to the tent. Elo was more than ready; she was waiting patiently by the door while I organized the last few things at camp and made sure the fire was completely out.

Day 3 — Parkside Bay to Smoke Lake

I woke up at 6:20 AM after a mediocre sleep. Elo seemed to have slept fine. It was another very foggy morning and I couldn’t see out onto the water, but at least it was a little bit warmer than the previous day.

I took my time packing up camp. I had a bagel and piece of banana bread for breakfast, with a couple sips of whiskey to wash it down and warm my body. I wasn’t going to be back at my car for at least another 3-4 hrs, so one single ounce of whiskey was going to be ok. Maybe it was my empty stomach, or the cold temperatures, or my lack of sleep, but that one ounce actually got me slightly tipsy. It only lasted 20 minutes or so, but it was kind of funny since it was only 7:00 AM.

While I was packing up camp, Elo kept herself busy by chasing the resident campsite squirrels, along with the pinecones that they were dropping while running through the trees.

Elo sitting in the canoe looking out to foggy lake on Parkside Bay, September 2023

I got on the water at 8:15 AM. The lake was completely covered with fog and I had near-zero visibility. I couldn’t see anything more than a foot or two in front of me. Thankfully, I knew my way well.

The fog started to slowly lift off the lake as I paddled down the narrows. I stopped to check out one remaining campsite, along with the last campsite on Ragged Lake before entering the narrows. The campsites in the narrows of Parkside Bay aren’t the greatest, but in my opinion they’re better than a couple of campsites in the main body of the lake. The Ragged Lake site was an interesting one; it was set up very high with an almost vertical incline from the landing to the site. But it offered a very unique view out onto the marshy overgrown bay.

Parkside Bay shoreline during misty morning in September 2023

The area was busy with other campers. I saw some morning fires from groups that had just woken up and wanted to stay warm. I saw a couple canoes on the water as well. By the time I was entering Ragged Lake, the sun came out and it became very hot. I made it to the portage at 10:15 AM. Not bad, considering I was paddling leisurely and also stopped at two campsites along the way. Unfortunately, Elo’s water bowl was no longer at the portage. Someone must have packed it out with them. I felt terrible about it. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I had ever left or forgotten something at a portage or campsite.

I took a five-minute break after doing my double-carry, to give Elo some water and have a snack for myself before setting out onto Smoke Lake. Lots of canoes were paddling south down Smoke Lake to start their journey, and there were lots of motorboats on Smoke Lake too. There was a slight headwind, but it wasn’t anything too unbearable. I alternated between sitting and kneeling to keep myself comfortable for the long paddle, which took about 1.5 hours at my leisurely pace against the gentle headwind.

Fall colour shoreline of Smoke Lake in Algonquin Park, September 2023

It was the third gorgeous day in a row. The sun was hot, there were very few clouds, and there was a welcoming gentle breeze. I couldn’t have asked for a better forecast for the trip.

I met a group at the access point while I was loading my car. They were on vacation from Sweden and were doing a quick overnighter to Parkside Bay with a guide that was working for Algonquin Outfitters. One of them commented that Elo was gorgeous and asked if he could take a picture with her.

While getting Elo into the car I noticed that she had gotten into a burdock bush with lots of burr’s that got stuck all over her thick coat of fur. At least I think it was burr from a burdock bush; I posted a photo on Reddit asking what type of plant it was, and that was the response I got, so I’m going to stick with that.

I spent 5-10 minutes removing it while Elo gently whimpered in discomfort. Thankfully, I was able to get rid of all of it and she was totally fine after. I gave her some water and took her for a short walk to pee before getting into the car to head home.

The Aftermath

The first learning point from this trip was that I didn’t use enough sunscreen. I felt fine during the trip, but when I got home and looked in the mirror, was face was clearly red. It was a tricky situation because the mornings were freezing cold and I was bundled up when getting on the water, and I only applied sunscreen as the sun got hotter. But by that point, my face had already been exposed to the bare sun for a while. I should have applied sunscreen first thing in the morning, but I can’t say it was top-of-mind at 7:00 AM when it was like 5 degrees outside. Thankfully, the redness only lasted one day before fading into a regular tan.

Overall, I liked Parkside Bay, but it was missing a feeling of remoteness. The lake had cell service in certain parts, there was the motorboat stashed on the north shore, and the lake attracted some not-so-quiet campers to many of its sites. My campsite reminded me of Campsite #3 on Sproule Lake for some reason. I think it was the nicest option on the lake, and I was very happy that I was able to snag it for two nights.

In the city, Elo is very good at not eating stuff off the floor. But when we’re out in the forest, everything is food to her. I need to teach her not to eat stuff off the ground while we’re camping. But otherwise, she was absolutely perfect. She was perfect during our long canoe paddles, and perfect during our numerous campsite visits. She would get so excited every time we did a campsite report, eagerly jumping back into the canoe awaiting our next destination. When we would pull up to the site, she would wait for my command “ok, let’s go” before jumping out of the canoe. She’s the bestest girl.

Yay for no bugs. On my last trip to North Tea Lake & Bigger Lake, I had one campsite infested with spiders, and another campsite with tons of mosquitos. On this trip, there was practically nothing. It was perfect. We had a few squirrels at our campsite, but that’s it. I literally think they were the only squirrels I had seen in Algonquin all year up to that point.

The stars were some of the best that I’ve seen. Not just the visibility, but also the viewings from the beach at the front of my campsite. It made me think just how lucky we are to have access to such a beautiful place like this. I made sure not to waste any opportunity. I spent lots of time in my canoe watching the sunsets and sunrises, and then lots of time underneath the stars at my campsite. Even though it was only three days, I made the most of this trip.

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