Algonquin & Beyond

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Trip Info

Date: August 31st – September 5th, 2023

ROUTE Kawawaymog > North Tea (West) North Tea (West) > North Tea (East) North Tea (East) > Biggar Biggar > North Tea (East) North Tea (East) > Kawawaymog
Travel (Single)
2.5 hrs
1 hr
3 hrs
3.5 hrs
3.5 hrs
Travel (Double)
3 hrs
1 hr
3.5 hrs
3.5 hrs
4 hrs
Portage #1
Portage #2
Portage #3
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
13.5 hrs
15 hrs
10 portages
Per Travel Day
2.5 hrs
3 hrs
2 portages
6 Day Heat Wave on North Tea Lake & Biggar Lake, Trip Map with Route and Campsite Information

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


Last year I had plans to do a long trip down the Tim River from Magnetawan, looping through Shippagew, Big Trout, McIntosh, Misty, and back to Magnetawan. The night before the trip I had a sudden change of heart and decided to switch the route to my northern Algonquin trip. This year, I decided I would go back to my original plan and do the Tim River trip. I had it all planned out perfectly; I was leaving during the long weekend but my first few nights would be on the Tim River and Shippagew, so I would be the only permit in the area and would avoid the long weekend madness.

But once again, the day before the trip, plans changed. The forecast was calling for a massive heat wave. Most of the 10 days of my trip would have temperatures in the 30’s, with “feels like” in the mid to high 30’s. Almost no cloud coverage and very light wind. The heat would be STRONG. I wasn’t sure how I felt about some of my long travel days on the water in those temperatures, but my biggest concern was Elo. This would be her first multi-day backcountry canoe trip (10 days is pretty massive too) and I was nervous about being mid-trip and something going wrong. There would be no quick or easy exit with the Tim River itinerary. Elo has a double coat, with black fur… how much heat could she tolerate? Would letting her swim and staying in the shade be good enough? Would her food spoil in that heat over 10 days?

Plan B was to give Elo to my parents for the week, but I had just found out that my mom had strep throat, so that plan was immediately scrapped. Being a paranoid dog-dad, I decided once again to change my itinerary the night before the trip. Based on the limited availability over the long weekend, I decided to hang around the North Tea area. I had never been to North Tea Lake, but it had been on my to-do list for a few years, so I thought this would be a great time to explore the area. Both North Tea East and North Tea West were fully booked on the Saturday and Sunday, so I would move to Biggar Lake for those nights, and then back to North Tea after. If anything went wrong, I would always be within one day travel back to my car. I changed my route literally at 7:30 PM the night before leaving. I usually print out a screenshot of my route from Jeff’s Map, but without a printer I had no time to do that. I do have Avenza on my phone, but I like to have a backup, so I hand-drew the map on a piece of paper.

I booked permits for the full 10 days but I knew that based on the weather, I likely would not stay the whole time. But I packed out ready for a 10-day trip. Food packing was… interesting. I still can’t believe it, but I somehow managed to fit 10 days worth of food into my 20L barrel. That included 25,000 total calories for me, and 20 cups of food for Elo. I purchased a Jetboil Minimo this year, and since I use it exclusively for boiling water, it would have no food scents, so I was able to pack it in my main pack to free up some barrel space. That definitely helped.

Despite the last-minute change, I was extremely excited for this trip.

Day 1 — Kawawaymog Lake to North Tea Lake (West)

I launched onto a rather calm Kawawaymog Lake at around 9:30 AM with a gentle tailwind behind me. The Amable Du Fond River was a very beautiful and peaceful paddle. The water levels posed no issues and with the exception of a very tiny dam that had an opening to paddle through, there were no obstructions along the way. The two portages leading into North Tea Lake weren’t very difficult. There were some stairs to climb and some ups-and-downs, but the portages were very short, so despite the terrain, they still felt easy. All of the landings were great too; each landing was spacious and flat and could serve as a good lunch spot.

I saw a handful of different groups on the portages, including lots of people travelling with children. One group of two people were travelling with their two dogs. The dogs were unleashed so I asked them to leash their dogs as I approached. I was carrying a canoe on my shoulders with my barrel and camera gear on my back, and Elo tied to my waist… I didn’t need an excited Elo pulling at my waist while I was carrying that load just because the group decided they were exempt from the leash rules. The owners tethered their dogs to a tree, and during my second carry I noticed two huge piles of poop where the dogs were tied. I called out to the owner and he used a stick to fling the poop into the forest. It’s crazy how some people bring dogs with them and either unknowingly or blatantly break every dog-related rule.

Elo waiting in a red solo canoe at the end of a portage leading into North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park

I took a short break before launching onto North Tea Lake. The winds were much stronger, but thankfully still at my back. I barely had to exert any energy to paddle. The tiny stranded island in the middle of the lake was one of the first campsites I passed, and it looked beautiful. I usually like to explore the lake a little bit before settling on a site (if it’s a lake I’m unfamiliar with), but this site looked too good to pass up. Tiny stranded island, flat beach landing, spacious interior, flat tent spot, rocky shoreline to swim and enjoy the sun… it checked all my boxes.

The best branch for a bear hang was right beside my tent, but I’d rather set up a proper hang nearby, rather than a subpar hang further away. The island was super tiny anyways, if a bear decided to swim over for a visit, it wouldn’t really matter how far away the barrel was hung. I set up my tent and filled my new 4L MSR Dromedary water jug, and then relaxed for a while. There was a little bit of firewood left over from the previous group and I was surprisingly able to scavenge some more scraps from the island to get a supply I was happy with for the evening.

Cody and Elo leaving an island campsite on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park in September 2023 v2

The strong winds were noticeable throughout the campsite but they weren’t that bad unless I was standing at the western rocky shoreline. In the middle of the site it turned into a gentle breeze, and on the eastern rocky shoreline it was even less noticeable. At around 5:00 PM I made myself dinner, washed down with a few sips of whiskey. I only brought one flask with me for this trip in an effort to prioritize barrel space, so I wanted to savour what I brought.

The wind started to calm down at 6:00 PM so I went for an evening paddle. I circled the adjacent islands, checking out the campsites that were vacant, along with a few sites on the northern shore. One site in particular was extremely buggy for some reason, and I saw some scat that looked like it could have been from a bear. On the southwestern shore of the large island there was one group occupying both sites; they had their canoes at one landing, but were fully set up at the other site. They obviously didn’t want neighbours and didn’t care about occupying two sites, although I should give them the benefit of the doubt since maybe they did have two permits booked. Lots of the campsites on North Tea West were very beautiful, with a mix of beach campsites and island campsites to choose from.

Sunset on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v1

As I rounded the corner from one of the islands, I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. It only lasted for a few seconds before finishing its journey below the shoreline. That was also my cue to head back to my island campsite before darkness took over. By the time I got back, there was very little light left guiding the way. I gave Elo some dinner, cleaned up camp, and got a decent sized fire going. I had a few marshmallows and one more sip of whiskey. The temperature was perfect, the campsite was perfect, the fire was perfect… it was a perfect evening.

I went to the eastern shoreline to check for the moonrise because the full moon was supposed to rise shortly after the sunset. My timing was perfect and the moonrise was absolutely insane. It was the best moonrise I had ever seen; I really couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I quietly listened to Moon Song by Phoebe Bridgers while watching it rise. Every day in the city I walk Elo and watch the sunset and see one or two stars and wish I was in Algonquin. And then I was finally there, watching a 10/10 moonrise with stars filling the sky and I out-loud chuckled to myself when I realized how happy I was.

After watching the moonrise and going back to the main area I noticed that spiders had taken over the campsite. They only came out at night, but any bag or piece of gear I picked up had at least one spider on it. I made sure the fire was ‘dead out’ and then gave Elo a thorough brushing with my hands in case any spiders had taken comfort in her soft fluffy fur. We got into the tent at around 10:00 PM while the winds started to randomly pick up again. I decided to sleep with the fly door left open so I could see outside through the mesh. The moon was directly in front of the tent door and the illumination created an extremely bright nightlight for the tent.

With the early wakeup and drive to the park, plus 4 hours on the water under the hot sun, setting up camp, and going for a 2-hour evening paddle, it ended up being a very long day and I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 — North Tea Lake (West) to North Tea Lake (East)

I slept really well overnight with some of my new gear. Before this season started, I got a new sleeping pad (Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated), pillow (MEC Camp Pillow), and earbuds (Moondrop Quark). I tested them on my one-nighter to Whitefish Lake in August to make sure there were no issues, like a leak in the pad, but this was my first time bringing them on a multi-day trip. Night 1 = success.

I got out of the tent around 7:00 AM, just in time to catch the sun crossing the shoreline. It was a really spectacular sunrise. I set up my GoPro for a timelapse and then took some pictures and videos with my Canon R7. After enjoying the beautiful sunrise, I went to pack up camp. I wasn’t in any rush since I was only moving from North Tea West to North Tea East (no portages, yay!), so I took my time. I got on the water around 9:15 AM with a gentle tailwind, similar to Day 1.

I stopped to collect a few campsite reports along the way. I stopped at two beach campsites on the eastern shore just north of the peninsula dividing North Tea West from North Tea East. The peninsula site was vacant too, but I decided not to stop on shore. It did look interesting but I figured I’d stop for a visit on my way back later in the trip.

Sunrise on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v2

Once I made it into the east side of North Tea Lake, I saw the first two single-campsite islands in the distance. The one further east looked occupied, but the closer one looked vacant. As I approached, there was no orange campsite marker at the site, but the fire pit was well built with leftover wood, the thunder box was intact, etc. There’s normally a sign indicating when a campsite is closed, so when I don’t see that indication, I assume that the orange marker either i) blew off during a storm, or ii) was stolen as a souvenir. Plus, with the lake being almost fully booked for the evening, I knew if I didn’t camp here, someone else likely would.

Similar to Day 1, this campsite checked off all my boxes. Stranded island, good canoe landing, lots of rocky shoreline for swimming and sunbathing and stargazing, flat bench seating, kitchen counter between trees, sheltered tent spot, and a spacious interior. I decided not to take the risk of paddling further down the lake when I didn’t know whether I would like those sites or not. This campsite was the perfect place to call home.

I slowly set up camp and had a very lazy day. I scavenged some small branches scattered around the island to add to the small pile of leftover firewood. I was able to get enough wood for maybe 1-hour worth of fire, which was all I needed for the evening. The island is dominated by tall pines and I legitimately could not find a single branch suitable to hang my food, especially considering my barrel was at its almost full weight with mine and Elo’s 10-day food supply. It’s extremely rare for me to make this decision, but I decided that I wouldn’t hang the barrel overnight.

Cody and Elo leaving an island campsite on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park in September 2023

Towards the back of the island was some more open rock at the shoreline that I thought would make for a better spot to watch the moonrise, and then the sunrise the next morning. There was also a new memorial plaque towards the back of the island, for a park ranger that died in 2022.

The island was bustling with small wildlife, mostly birds and caterpillars. I also saw an infinite amount of spider webs so I was mentally preparing myself for the evening invasion of my arachnid enemies. I survived the battle of Night 1, but would I survive their next attack?

I stayed at the island the whole day, relaxing, doing nothing, just living the good life. I relaxed in the sun. I relaxed in the shade. I relaxed in the tent. Ok, enough relaxing, time for a swim with Elo. Ok, back to relaxing now. The sun was very strong on both Day 1 and Day 2 — around 25 degrees with no clouds and very little wind — and the next four days were predicted to be 5-10 degrees hotter! I already felt drained from the sun and I wasn’t excited for the heatwave that was still yet to come. As a precaution, I spent most of Day 2 in the shade. I didn’t want to get heat exhaustion before the big heatwave even arrived!

I watched lots of groups pass by the island since it was directly on the canoe route from North Tea West to North Tea East and beyond. A few groups paddled directly in front of the island, with a couple groups saying hello and asking if I was staying for the weekend or leaving the next day. There were only a couple motorboats that passed by. To be honest, I completely forgot motorboats were allowed on North Tea Lake, but thankfully they were pretty quiet and I barely even noticed them.

Moonrise over North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v1
Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3
Sunset on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v2
Sunset on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3
Sunrise on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3
North Tea Lake astrophotography September 2023
Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v4
Moonrise over North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v1

At 6:15 PM I went for a long evening paddle, until 7:45 PM. You know those clickbait titles on YouTube “I did xxxxx so you don’t have to!” Well, I checked out the campsites on the west shoreline so you don’t have to! The campsite directly across from my island site and a tiny bit south, had one of the steepest inclines I’ve seen at the front of the campsite. And the next site over on the shoreline, just north of my island campsite, was extremely basic and forgettable. I can’t say I was surprised that on an almost fully booked lake, those were two of the campsites left vacant.

The campsite on the south shore across from my site was also vacant (though I didn’t go on shore to check it out), meaning every campsite within view from mine was empty. For a very busy weekend, it almost felt like the lake was completely mine!

I paddled nearby the adjacent solo island campsite and watched the sunset from there. It was a really enjoyable experience watching the sunset from the water with Elo. She switched between watching silently, and laying down on the bottom of the canoe for a snooze. The weather was comfortably warm. The lake had a very gentle breeze. And the sunset itself was breathtaking as the whisks of clouds kept changing formations as the sun lowered towards the shoreline.

Elo resting her head and sleeping in solo canoe while out for an evening paddle September 2023

When I got back to camp I did some last minute chores before the sunlight was completely gone. I had a snack, brushed my teeth, put on my evening clothes, dried Elo’s paws, tidied up camp, and started a fire. I sat by the fire for 45 minutes and then went to the east-facing rocks at the opposite end of the island to check for the moonrise. I left my camera packed away and told myself I would enjoy the moment without worrying about photos.

The full moon was beaming red as it slowly raised itself about the shoreline. Compared to Night 1, the shoreline across from this campsite was further away in the distance, meaning the height of the shoreline looked shorter, relatively. This meant that there was less vertical distance between the actual moon and its reflection on the water. It may not seem like a big deal, but it made the moonrise look absolutely magnificent. It might have been an even better moonrise than Night 1, which if you asked me on Night 1 whether that could be possible, I would have responded “Impossible Cody! Impossible I tell you!”

I almost regretted leaving my camera behind, but sometimes it’s nice to live in the moment and not worry about documenting every detail. This is a memory that I knew would last forever even without the photos. It was a real treat staring at the stars above while simultaneously watching the moon rise. And to think, I almost stayed by the fire pit and didn’t go to the east facing rocks! Silly me.

Moonrise over North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v2

Ok, I might have lied a little bit with the whole “I didn’t feel the need to document everything”. When I got back to the main campsite area, I was actually able to see the moonrise from the rocky shoreline, so I got out my camera for some photos. Photos can’t do it justice just how spectacular it really looked in person.

After taking some photos of the moon I continued with some more astrophotography. I played with the exposure to try and capture some interesting star photos, cloud photos, making the moon like the sun, and making the sky look like it was daytime. All while being too lazy to change from my RF 24-240mm to my wider 17-50mm f2.8. I also did everything handheld because I was too lazy to get my tripod.

I pulled a weather report from my InReach Mini while doing the astrophotography and then finally got into the tent at around 10:15 PM. I wanted to get a good sleep so I could hit the water early before the worst of the wind and heat. The main heatwave would be starting the next day, and it was also forecasted to have very strong winds during my travels to Biggar Lake.

I went to bed again with the rainfly door rolled up. The moon wasn’t directly in view this time, but its illumination still glowed brightly into the tent, creating a soothing nightlight for me and Elo.

Oh, and by the way, the spiders didn’t come out! Other than the typical spots like under benches and in the trees, but it wasn’t a full-on invasion all over my gear like during Night 1. I think they learned not to mess with Elo, because she WILL mistake you for food and eat you.

Day 3 — North Tea Lake (East) to Biggar Lake

I got a terrible sleep on Night 2. I realized that my sleeping pad was very slightly sloped and I was tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position. At 6:00 AM I decided to stay awake and start my day. I wasn’t in any particular rush, but I also didn’t want to move too slowly, so I packed up camp at a decent pace and got on the water at 7:45 AM.

Within the first hour of starting my day there was a massive tailwind and huge whitecaps. It’s not uncommon for the water to get this choppy on North Tea Lake, but I was surprised it was this windy at only 8:30 AM. Thankfully, the wind was pushing me towards Mangotasi Lake. No one else was on the water at this time. As I passed the nearby island I noticed it was a couple camping with three dogs. That’s a lot of dogs for one trip; more dogs than humans too!

The campsites on Mangotasi looked pretty average during my passing, but the lake itself looked like a great place to see wildlife. There were tons of beaver dams as well as marshy areas that I’m guessing moose love to visit. I particularly enjoyed the narrow passageway leading from the main body of Mangotasi towards the first portage. It reminded me of movie scenes where the group gets ambushed while going through a narrow passage. I was waiting for some 10,000 year old civilization to appear at the top of a rock holding a primitive spear. That never happened. My Hollywood moment would need to wait for another day.

Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3

The three portages leading from North Tea Lake into Biggar Lake were pretty easy. They had some ups and downs, but since they were all really short, the terrain didn’t pose too much of a challenge. I took a minute to look at the campsite along the first portage. It was located literally on the portage trail; it was a small campsite that was becoming overgrown from its limited use. It was near the beach landing, so water access wouldn’t be too difficult, but the campsite was pretty poor and I don’t know why anyone would want to camp there. The portage trail separates the main campsite area and the trail to the thunder box, which looked creep AF even in the daytime, so I didn’t explore further.

The first portage and the last portage had good landings but the short 40m portage in the middle was slightly more challenging. I particularly didn’t like the south end of the portage with its big rocky shoreline and limited options to load my canoe while keeping it secure. The first 50-100m after that portage was also pretty unenjoyable with the numerous rocks poking out of the water, waiting to take a yummy bite from the bottom of passing canoes.

I arrived to my destination lake for the evening, Biggar Lake, at 10:15 AM. I don’t know what I was thinking, but for some reason I still had my sweatshirt on until the end of that portage. I stripped to my bare skin, reapplied sunscreen, and then started my shirtless paddle with the strong tailwind still at my back.

Almost full moon in the sky during the morning on Biggar Lake September 2023

As I paddled through Biggar Lake, passing campsites along the way, I was pretty unimpressed. None of the campsites looked too appealing other than a couple where I thought “this would do I guess, but it’s not really a destination site”. I was camping on Biggar Lake for two nights, so I was hoping for an aesthetic, spacious site for both me and Elo to enjoy.

I continued paddling east with the tailwind pushing me through with ease. I assumed the nice campsites would already be occupied, but as I rounded a corner midway through, I saw a big rocky shoreline and no signs of human life. And then a foot appeared and someone walked into view. Damn! I paddled closer and saw them packing away one of their chairs. Is there still hope!? I called out to see if they were leaving. To my surprise, they were. Nice!

Occupying the campsite was a group of six people who were the slowest moving group I’ve ever seen pack up camp. I waited for more than an hour watching some of them pack, while the others stood around doing quite literally nothing to help. It was still incredibly hot out, and only getting hotter as the day went on. The wind was only getting stronger as well, meaning for the entire length that I was waiting, I needed to continue paddling back towards the shore every time the wind dragged me away. I felt bad for Elo, I just wanted to get on shore so I could get her some shade, but I didn’t want to risk waiting at a neighbouring campsite and have someone else come and try to snipe this one from me.

After more than an hour of waiting, the group with three dogs came by. It was at a moment where I was paddling back towards the shore after the wind dragged me away, so they saw me paddling towards the site and thought they just beat me to it. Then they found out I had already been waiting for a really long time. Sorry! They took the site nearby, towards Loughrin Creek.

Fire during the night at Biggar Lake campsite September 2023

The group of six finally left. They left some garbage in both fire pits (the main fire pit, and the one on the rocky shoreline), but otherwise the campsite was mostly clean. I had a very lazy day and moved slowly setting up camp and collecting firewood from behind the campsite. Elo seemed to be on guard the whole time. She kept checking back into the forest behind the site, acting like she heard or saw something. She did this for the entire two days we were at the site. It reminded me of my early solo tripping years when I had a bit more paranoia and would be on high alert with my surroundings.

Since the campsite was on the western shoreline and the wind was coming from the west, there was very little wind directly hitting the site. I was able to see the whitecaps out in the distance, but at the campsite was just a gentle breeze. It was nice not having the wind thrash against the site, but at the same time, it was so damn hot outside that the breeze would have offered relief from the heat.

I had an AlpineAire meal for dinner and then went for an evening paddle. Probably not the smartest idea. The paddle, not the dinner. I should have waited a bit longer until the wind died down. The wind pushed me towards the north shore where I checked out one campsite on land, and another just in passing from the water. It was the paddle back to my campsite that was brutal. I had to exert a ton of energy and was still barely making progress. Waves were breaking into the boat and splashing Elo, and this was at 7:30 PM! Didn’t Biggar Lake get the memo that it’s supposed to be peaceful and calm at that time?

I was protected from the wind once I hit the shoreline where my campsite was located. I continued to paddle towards Loughrin Creek in hopes of seeing wildlife. I scouted the shoreline and then paddled into the creek for a few minutes before turning around. The sunset was blocked by the shoreline, but from the colours I was able to see higher up in the sky, I could tell it was a pretty sunset.

Moody skies late in the afternoon on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023

When I got back to camp I made myself a fire, cleaned everything up, and hung my barrel. The best branch I found was directly over the fire pit. It wasn’t the ideal place, but it was the best option, and I was able to keep an eye on it from my tent in case I had any unwanted visitors.

I went to the rocky shoreline and took a few astrophotography photos while waiting for the moon to rise. The moon would be rising on the opposite shoreline from my campsite and I would have front row seats to the show. I had my RF 24-240mm telephoto lens on my R7 for some close-up shots of the moon. The rocky shoreline of the campsite was perfect for stargazing. It was a very large outcrop, so when I sat by the water’s edge, there were no trees or shelter around me. I had complete exposure to the sky.

Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v8

I looked to the northern shore and thought “wait, hold on”. The northern lights aren’t always visible to the human eye the same way that we can capture it with our cameras, but I saw long white vertical streaks in the sky. It looked like a really weird cloud formation. Could it be!? I didn’t do any research beforehand so this was totally unexpected. I quickly snapped a photo to check what my camera saw, and holy moly it was indeed the northern lights. They were strong, and they were beautiful!

I quickly switched over from my 24-240mm to my 17-50mm f2.8 to take advantage of the wider 17mm and the f2.8 aperture. The moment I got the lens on, the moon started to rise in the east. Do I switch back, shoot the moon, then switch back again and shoot the northern lights? Will the northern lights be finished by then?

I decided not to be greedy. I have plenty of great moon photos, but zero of the northern lights. In all of my excitement and urgency, with my dog at my feet, the dusk mosquitos feasting on me, and it being completely dark out, I was quickly trying to make sure the manual focus and all of the camera settings were correct… I completely forgot to check the focal length! I was fully zoomed in at 50mm.

I took a 25-minute, 150 exposure timelapse at 50mm before noticing the massive mistake. Then I fixed it and took another 25-minute, 150 exposure timelapse at 17mm. I think they both look great, but the peak activity was finished before the second timelapse. I’ll ALWAYS be kicking myself for not getting the peak activity in the wider landscape composition. That extra 33mm would have been epic ☹.

Astrophotography with starry skies and tree silhouette on Biggar Lake September 2023
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v3
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v5
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v2
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v6
Moonrise on Biggar Lake with lots of clouds in Algonquin Park September 2023
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v4
Astrophotography with starry skies and tree silhouette with milky way in the background on Biggar Lake September 2023
Northern Lights on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v7

The moonrise ended up being pretty amazing again, for the third night in a row. Even more special was the strong glow from the moon brightening the foreground for my composition while shooting the northern lights. It lit up the large deadfall at the shoreline of the campsite while also casting some dramatic shadows. The timing for everything to line up like that was extremely lucky. Plus, watching the almost-full moonrise in front of me, with a thousand stars up above, the northern lights to the north side… this might have been the best nighttime experience I’ve ever had in Algonquin Park. No exaggeration. And to think, I was upset that Biggar Lake was “all that was left” when I was booking my permits. I was having the experience of a lifetime and Elo was chilling by my feet the whole time snoozing.

Clouds started filling the sky as the evening went on. I continued taking a few more timelapses and finally switched my attention to the moon once the northern lights activity was finished. I really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. Other than the mosquitos… why were there SO many mosquitos at this campsite? I got absolutely eaten alive during the first hour of this whole adventure. But it was definitely worth it. I sat in the same one spot for 1.5 hours and didn’t move. I watched the moon rise higher and glow brighter in the sky as the stars above slowly faded from the moon’s illumination. The northern lights disappeared and heavy clouds rolled through the sky. After spending a very long time soaking in the wonderful experience, eventually I called it a night and got into the tent.

Day 4 — Rest Day on Biggar Lake

My day started at 3:30 AM when I woke up with a completely stuffed and runny nose. Why did this have to happen in the middle of a canoe trip? Did I breathe in too much smoke from the previous night’s fire? Was I legitimately sick? I was pretty restless after waking up and barely got anymore sleep after that point. 

At least the sunrise was really beautiful. I took a timelapse with my GoPro and took some photos with my Canon R7, but then I got interrupted by the silent call of the thunder box. It was whispering my name, but it was whispering loud enough that I couldn’t ignore its calls. The mosquitoes were pretty brutal at dusk and dawn at this campsite, so I made sure I didn’t waste any time doing my business. It was like blood in an ocean of sharks; I’d have about thirty seconds of safety before the attack started. The moment the mosquitos’ spidey-senses started tingling that there was exposed skin in the area, they would flock over.

Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v1

I had seen a lot of wildlife at the campsite. When I arrived the previous day, I saw a small snake slither into the grassy area of the rocky shoreline. I saw a few more baby snakes later on, plus some shed snake skin around the same area. I saw a mouse by the fire pit, mergansers in the morning, a ton of frogs and baby frogs, and a few different birds. But with all of that wildlife, I still hadn’t seen a single chipmunk or squirrel! Was I even in Algonquin Park!?

I went back into the tent for a short nap from 8:00 AM – 8:30 AM. It was a rest day, so I had nothing else on the agenda anyways. By 9:30 AM I had already visited the thunder box three times. My stomach was not happy with me for some reason. Afterwards, I made myself a coffee while listening to Either/Or by Elliott Smith. My nose was still completely congested. I decided it was best if I stayed in the shade for a little while.

I spent 5 minutes on the rocky outcrop with Elo to let her go swimming and burn off some energy. In the middle of her zoomies, for some reason she ran all the way to my tent, jumped up and did a sideways body slam into the mesh door. Why that even occurred to her, I have no idea. But there’s no use trying to understand zoomies logic. 

I noticed two small holes in the mesh door, presumably from her sharp nails. That wasn’t a good sight, but at least the whole tent was still intact… it could have been a lot worse! I didn’t have a proper patch kit with me so I used duct tape to patch it, using one piece on either side of the mesh so the two pieces would stick to each other. It worked perfectly.

Things continued going downhill from there. My energy levels kept declining and I started to feel overheated and nauseous. Remember when I mentioned that the campsite wasn’t exposed to the wind? Well, on Day 4 I really wished that it was. It was incredibly hot and the air was stale with no breeze to offer relief. Even in the shade, it was pretty uncomfortable. My nose was finally starting to decongest, but even the energy needed to walk around was enough to make me feel crappy. I took the fly off the tent to give it some airflow and then I went for another nap.

Eureka Suma 2 tent pitched at my campsite on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023

When I woke up, I looked up towards the sky and noticed another tear in the tent from Elo’s newfound wrestling career. It was right at the seam where the mesh meets the buckle that clips onto the pole. I used duct tape again, but because this one was at the seam it made me more concerned about the overall structural integrity of the tent, and whether this tear would become worse over time. Realistically, I would need to buy a new tent in the very near future. I did a very close inspection to make sure there weren’t any other spots that I missed, and thankfully I didn’t find anything else.

I was still nauseous after the second nap so I took a Pepto Bismal. While rearranging some sleeping stuff in the tent, I lifted Elo’s sleeping bag and it was somehow wet underneath, but dry on top. My initial thought was pee, but it was only wet underneath the sleeping bag (where would the pee have gotten in?), and it didn’t smell like pee either. Plus, that would be very out of character for Elo. I figured maybe it was condensation buildup while she was sleeping on it? I was stumped. Either way, I brought it outside of the tent to dry.

For the next little while I literally sat and did nothing. I needed to let my body cool off. I listened to In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson while staring out onto the absolutely breathtaking backdrop of Biggar Lake. The view from this campsite of the opposing shoreline’s rolling hills quickly became one of my all-time favourite campsite views in the park.

I pulled another weather report from my InReach Mini and did not like the 30+ heat that was forecasted for the next few days, with practically no wind and no cloud coverage. I saw this forecast before leaving for the trip, but I was crossing my fingers hoping that the forecast would have adjusted to some colder temperatures. Unfortunately, not. But I had to make some important decisions for the rest of the trip. How early would I want to get on the water to avoid the worst of the heat? What type of campsite should I aim for? How many more days should I stay? Was the temperature going to be too much for Elo? I was already feeling like total misery on Day 4 and the next few days were going to be much harder, weather wise. I really needed to start feeling better.

I forced myself to do something other than just sitting in one spot, so I organized some snacks for the next few days, and went for a short walk behind the campsite with Elo. Behind the campsite I saw an absolutely massive pile of animal scat, probably 12” in diameter. It must have been from a very large moose. Elo on the other hand had not pooped since earlier on Day 3 while we were portaging. Her schedule seems to be totally off when we’re on canoe trips. Some days she’ll poop 2-3 times, and sometimes she’ll go a full 48 hours without pooping. At home, she’s very consistent. Out here in Algonquin, it was the exact opposite.

I started to slowly feel better as the afternoon went on. But I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t leave the campsite and exert any more energy than I needed to. No campsite reports, no searching for wildlife, no leisurely paddles. I think it was the first time I ever spent a full rest day at a campsite without even getting into my canoe.

I had a Happy Yak Sheppard’s Pie earlier in the day so I didn’t do another dehydrated meal for dinner. Those meals were likely the cause of my stomach issues anyways so I didn’t need to double-down and have two in one day! I snacked lightly for the rest of the day while continuing to sit in the shade and stare at the beautiful shoreline opposite of my campsite. Next on the playlist was Meddle by Pink Floyd.

Elo sleeping in Eureka Suma 2 tent in Algonquin Park September 2023

Later in the evening after the sun had set behind the campsite, I made a fire at the fire pit on the rocky shoreline. The fire pit inside the campsite was extremely large and epic looking, but the massive boulder slants forwards, so all of the smoke reflects back directly in front of the fire pit. It was a very cool looking fire pit, but an extremely impractical one. I learned my lesson and used the smaller fire pit at the rocky shoreline instead. The mosquitos were once again awful. I don’t know if I had ever seen the mosquitos so bad during a September trip. At around 9:15 PM they finally decided to give me some peace.

Day 4 was the best night so far in terms of stargazing. The moonrise was a little bit later — at 9:50 PM — so it allowed the night sky to get completely dark and full of stars before that. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky either, so the stars were unobstructed and shining bright. I set up my camera for a few more timelapses. Of course, I checked for the northern lights, but they were nowhere to be found on that evening. I sat under the night sky for close to two hours, and for most of those two hours I got to enjoy the sound of wolves howling in the nearby distance. Every 15 seconds or so was a repeated howling pattern that lasted for more than an hour total. It almost sounded like a dog barking, but I knew with certainty that wasn’t the case. It was a pretty cool experience to end the day.

Day 5 — Biggar Lake to North Tea Lake (East)

After feeling like total crap throughout Day 4, I was in need of a good sleep. I woke up early at 5:45 AM but I slept well and felt very refreshed. Thank goodness. I was going to be travelling back to North Tea East, which would take between three and four hours, depending which campsite I chose. I knew I wanted to get on the water ASAP before the worst of the heat; it was going to reach 30 degrees before noon, and continue climbing from there. It was a windless, cloudless day, and even at 6:00 AM when I got out of the tent, it was HOT.

I packed up quickly. I noticed the bottom of Elo’s sleeping bag was wet again. It definitely was not pee. I’m sticking with my condensation theory.

I gave myself a few minutes to take some photos and enjoy the sunrise, because it was really quite special. And then I saw something shocking… a soloist on the water! It’s rare that I see other people on the water before me, and even more rare if that happens when I wake up at 5:45 AM with the goal of getting on the water early. He passed by my campsite at 7:00 AM, just as I was starting to load my gear into my canoe. I wondered what his motive was. Was he also trying to beat the heat? Did he have a super long travel day? Did he just like getting a really early start? Maybe it was a combination of those. I got some awesome footage of him paddling during the sunrise, but unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak with him.

Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v6

Right after the soloist passed by and I was continuing to load my gear into the canoe, I heard a very loud splashing sound in the opposite direction. It was way too loud to be a human. I got my camera with my telephoto lens and saw a moose swimming at the entrance to Loughrin Creek. I went for a paddle to that exact spot during my first night on Biggar Lake… I had the right place, I just didn’t have the right time.

I left my campsite at 7:15 AM. The water was dead calm. The tall shorelines of Biggar Lake created tall reflections on the perfectly still water, making it a very beautiful experience to paddle through. The sun was already very hot, as expected. I was able to find small pockets of shade for relief while paddling near the shoreline, since the sun was still low in the sky. Elo quickly learned that the sidewall of the canoe created a shadow while the sun was low, so she curled up in that shade.

Sunrise on Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v5

The portages went by quickly. Elo pooped twice on one of the portages, the same portage that she pooped twice at on our way into Biggar Lake. She must really like that portage! Or maybe she hates it? Hmm. Either way I was happy because she didn’t poop at all during our time camping on Biggar Lake.

The rocky entrance to the middle of the three portages sucked just as much on the way back towards North Tea Lake. My first time paddling through, on my way towards Biggar Lake, it was super windy so I couldn’t see the rocks hiding underneath. And then on my way back to North Tea Lake the water was still dark from the sun not reaching it yet, so again I couldn’t see the rocks underneath. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… well, luckily there wasn’t going to be a third time.

After finishing all three portages we took a short break before starting the long paddle through Mangotasi Lake towards North Tea Lake. I had a snack, made sure Elo was well hydrated, made sure I was well hydrated, and then got on the water. It was 9:00 AM and the sun was scorching.

Despite wanting to get to my campsite as quick as possible, I did stop to look at the two vacant campsites in the main body of Mangotasi Lake (the third one was occupied). The sites weren’t great, but they also weren’t terrible. I found the lake itself to be pretty forgettable, but it wouldn’t be the worst place to camp if North Tea Lake was busy. Honestly, I’d probably book Mangotasi Lake over Biggar Lake; my campsite at Biggar Lake was really awesome, but with so many permits issued for the lake, the odds of actually snagging one particular site aren’t high.

Twin falls in between portages between Mangotasi Lake and Biggar Lake in Algonquin Park

While paddling through Mangotasi Lake I really wished there was a breeze. Even a headwind would have been welcoming to bring some relief to the heat. I never thought I would wish for a headwind, but there I was. As I finally made it to entrance of North Tea Lake I started seeing canoe after canoe on the water. Keep in mind this was the Monday of a long weekend, and both sides of North Tea Lake were fully booked. It was busssyyyy.

The sun was finally getting to the point of being uncomfortable and Elo was starting to show signs of being overheated. It wasn’t anything serious that I needed to worry about, but I could tell she was getting a bit restless on the water. I didn’t want to waste time checking out campsites that I wouldn’t end up taking. I knew what I wanted. I wanted a campsite that was exposed, to allow any small breeze to make its way into the site, but I also wanted a site that offered enough shade to set up camp and hide out from the sun. The island that I stayed at during Night 2 offered exactly that, and it was available when I passed by. It had everything I needed and I knew it would be perfect for the day. It was predictable, and predictable was what I wanted. My number one priority for the day was the health and safety of both me and Elo, and that meant getting out of the sun ASAP, so I took the campsite. I let Elo swim right away to cool down.

Unfortunately, in the two days that I was gone the campsite became a complete and utter mess. Elo was furiously sniffing when we got there, so that was my first clue. I noticed garbage in and around the fire pit. An onion peel in the bushes. Sauce stains on the wooden table. Pasta beside the fire pit. Crunchy snacks all over the ground. Swedish Berries gummies all around the tent spot (it’s like they were just throwing them around randomly). A spoon and fork in the bushes. Oh, and a Tylenol pill on the ground. Because that’s exactly what I wanted Elo to accidentally eat…

Why do people have to suck so much? I guess I wasn’t going to let Elo out of my sight while I was there. I cleaned up everything that I found, but who knows what I might have missed.

Elo sleeping beside a pile of firewood at Biggar Lake campsite September 2023

I was in no rush to set up camp so I got my chair and sat in the shade. I wanted to give my body some time to relax and cool down. The view from the campsite was quite stunning, and it was kind of funny watching canoe after canoe paddle by, back towards Kawawaymog Lake. I think people forget how easily sound travels over water because I was eavesdropping on some pretty funny conversations. I do have to admit, I felt bad for the people that were only leaving their campsite at 11:00 AM, it was going to be a very hot day for them on the water. There were hordes of people on the water at that time, but I felt even worse for the few straggling groups that left even later. By 1:00 PM, the lake was basically empty and dead silent.

Over the past few days Elo made two big revelations. The first revelation was that the sound of the barrel clasp opening meant there was a decent chance she was getting food. The second revelation was that the sound of a Ziploc bag opening meant there was a decent chance she was getting food. This become problematic because she wasn’t getting food every time one of those things happened, so I started feeling guilty any time I cracked the barrel to get a snack for myself. Sorry Elo but I’m having some banana bread and you don’t get anything! At least she kept herself busy snacking on the flies. She was ruthless with those flies. Anything within a two-foot radius from her became an immediate target. Ironically, I think the flies were bothering her more than the heat was. I was able to let her swim to cool down, but I couldn’t really do anything about the flies.

Almost full moon in the sky during the morning on Biggar Lake September 2023 v3

As the day went on, the wind picked up to become a very gentle breeze. Even though there were much stronger winds the past few days, since my campsite on Biggar Lake was blocked from the wind, the air felt very heavy. But on this campsite, the gentle breeze was extremely refreshing while sitting in the shade.

I spent a few hours sitting in the shade before I decided to set up camp at around 1:00 PM. Whenever I go in my canoe to fill my water jug from the lake, Elo waits by the shoreline extremely anxious. It feels like that cliché movie trope where the dad leaves for cigarettes and never comes back. Don’t worry baby, I’m coming back for you.

I made an AlpineAire Forever Young Mac N’ Cheese for an early dinner. It was probably the most substantial and filling meal I’ve ever had from them. At 800 calories, 35g of protein, and only $11.99, the value is pretty unbeatable. It was the first time I almost didn’t finish my meal… almost.

Elo on the other hand kept finding food scraps on the ground that I missed during my initial sweep of the campsite. I would stick my hand down her throat and try to get it out before she was able to swallow. I was successful maybe half the time. I quickly learned that I needed to keep an even closer eye on her. I couldn’t take even the slightest risk if there were more Tylenol anywhere on the ground. Thanks previous campers!!!!

I went for an evening paddle at 7:15 PM. I checked out three of the island campsites east of my island. They were all gorgeous campsites; I was happy with mine given the specific circumstances, but on any future trip I would gladly take any of the others. I paddled very slowly and made it back to my campsite at 8:15 PM, long after the sun had crossed the shoreline and just as there was barely any more visible light.

I made sure everything at camp was organized, had one more evening snack, and then spent the rest of the evening sitting at the rocky shoreline watching the stars slowly appear in the night sky. I decided not to make a fire that evening. It was the starriest night yet and the Milky Way was clearly visible. It was the best night of the trip for stars, by far. I had spent a lot of time under the stars during this trip, and Night 5 was no exception. It was a really special experience and I particularly loved the view of the night sky from that specific campsite. I also particularly loved how there were no bugs at this campsite compared to the brutal feast-fest on Biggar Lake the previous two nights.

Day 6 was going to be even hotter than Day 5. According to my weather report it was going to be a “feels like” 38 degrees at the day’s peak, again with basically no wind and no clouds. Oy vey. It was going to be another early morning on the water so I got into my tent at a decent time. Even at night, it was so hot that I slept in only my underwear, on top of my sleeping bag. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Day 6 — North Tea Lake (East) to Kawawaymog Lake

Like the previous day, I woke up at 5:45 AM to get an early start on the water. I slept really well and felt refreshed. While packing up camp I went to the east-facing rocks to watch the sunrise for a few minutes. Then I got on the water at 7:30 AM to an already very hot day.

The waters on North Tea had a top layer full of pollen (at least I think it was pollen) until I got far into the west side of the lake near the portage. Based on the handful of times I’ve paddled North Tea Lake, it seemed to be really hit or miss whether the water was clear. Normally huge lakes have clean water in the middle of the lake, but on that day, it was bad enough that I wouldn’t want to fill water from it.

Sunrise on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park September 2023 v1

The water was dead calm, which was also a rather unusual experience for lakes as large as North Tea. It was a really beautiful experience witnessing the vastness of North Tea Lake with such perfect conditions. All of the rolling shoreline and scattered islands dotting the lake were reflecting perfectly in the calm morning with no one else on the water. It was a nice treat to end the trip.

Wait, end the trip!?

Yes, unfortunately I decided to head back on Day 6. If I stayed, I would need to find a campsite similar to the last island site, exposed to the breeze but also with enough shade to take shelter. And I would be confined to the shade the whole day with Elo, other than short breaks for swimming. I felt irresponsible keeping Elo out any longer in those heatwave conditions. Plus, the next three days afterwards were calling for rain and thunderstorms. It was already a 6-day trip, and for Elo’s first multi-day backcountry canoe trip experience, I think 6-days was pretty commendable.

I didn’t finalize my decision to end the trip until I had checked out a few campsites first. First, I stopped at the peninsula site that divides North Tea East and North Tea West. I really liked how it offered views onto both sides of North Tea Lake. But the entrance where the fire pit was located was mucky and smelled pretty bad.

Next was the campsite on the southeast tip of the large island. It had a big pebble beach and long trail leading towards an open, exposed area that was home to a cool looking fire pit and flat tent spots. On some days I would consider camping there, but with the long trail leading inland it meant there would be no wind at the site, and that was no bueno with the current forecast.

Last was the small island in the west end of the lake, with two campsites. I spent legitimately 30-45 minutes at the island debating whether I should stay for the night. Both campsites had their pros and cons, and staying at only one would have its limitations, but if you can occupy both sites it would be a pretty good duo. Based on how quiet the lake was, it seemed likely that I would have both campsites to myself if I decided to stay. The terrain was quite rough and mountainous for a small island and it didn’t seem like a safe spot for small children or pets. If I did stay, it would be way too dangerous to let Elo off leash with the steep cliffs. But after 30-45 minutes of contemplating, I made my final decision to keep pushing forward and end the trip.

One of the island campsites on North Tea Lake West side in Algonquin Park September 2023

In hindsight, checking out all of those campsites and wasting around two hours in the process was not a smart move. It meant I would be portaging and paddling later in the day when the sun was even hotter, and the headwind was even stronger.

The wind was starting to pick up as I arrived at the first portage. Both portages went quick and felt easy. I stopped after the second portage for one final rest before the long paddle back to my car.

Paddling down the Amable Du Fond River was very hot. The wind was at the point that it made travelling upstream slower than I would have liked, but it wasn’t strong enough to provide any relief from the heat. It was manageable, but I was really looking forward to the main body of Kawawaymog Lake to get some wind on my face.

I was wrong. When I arrived at Kawawaymog Lake the wind was brutal. It was way fiercer than I was expecting and I was faced with heavy rolling waves and strong white caps. Crossing the lake was going to be significantly more challenging than I had expected. There was nowhere ideal to pull over on shore to wait out the wind, and even if I did pull over, waiting several hours in the sun would not have been a smart choice either. My only path forward was… well, forwards.

You know how as you paddle across a big lake, landmarks on the opposite shoreline slowly get bigger and bigger as you make progress? Well, after paddling for 30 minutes on Kawawaymog Lake, the buildings on the opposite shoreline, where my car was parked, weren’t looking any bigger. I knew this was going to be a long paddle. And I had already been on the water paddling and portaging for a few hours under the hot sun before this headwind fiasco, so my body was already drained.

The waves were breaking into the boat at times, but luckily I was paddling straight into the headwind so I didn’t feel any sense of danger from tipping like I would have if the waves were hitting my canoe broadside.

It was on my final stretch of Day 6 that I had the strongest heat of the trip, and the only headwind of the trip. It was a brutal one too. It was totally exhausting, and even though I used plenty of sunscreen and drank lots of water, my body was completely drained. Elo seemed ok, I made sure she had lots of water and the wind seemed to help keep her cool. She wasn’t the one exerting all of her energy to get us back home!

It was such a relieving feeling finally getting back to my car after a paddle that felt like it took forever. I stopped to fill up gas and picked up a fresh bottle of water for Elo, along with a Coke Zero for myself. A cold, carbonated drink was very much needed! I was shocked that I didn’t need to stop for a side-of-the-highway slumber. Maybe it was the caffeine from the Coke Zero that kept me awake.

I arrived at my parent’s house to drop off my canoe. I let Elo chase the water from the hose, which is legitimately her favourite thing to do. When the hose comes out, her energy levels are like she took every drug known to mankind at the exact same time. Then we went for a quick swim in the pool to wash off. Immediately after getting out of the pool my body went into “you need to get home ASAP” mode, where my brain ceases to function on anything except the task at hand, which was to get home, and get rest.

The Aftermath

Despite this whole trip report being one big complaint about the heatwave, the flies actually seemed to bother Elo more than the heat. I made sure to keep her well hydrated and let her swim frequently to cool off. We spent a lot of time in the shade as well. I still felt like it was the right choice to shorten the trip. I had packed out and booked permits for 10 days, but I knew from the beginning that I probably wouldn’t stay the entire time. The 6 days felt like just the right amount of time given the conditions. I felt irresponsible keeping her out any longer.

It was crazy how different the campsite experiences were. Zero bugs on the North Tea Lake island campsites, and then a total feast on the Biggar Lake campsite. But all of the campsites I stayed at were spectacular and I was very happy with all of them.

I honestly forgot that motorboats were allowed on North Tea Lake, but it didn’t really ruin the experience. Sure, it would have been nice not to have them, but with a lake as big as North Tea Lake, your neighbours during a busy long weekend will be louder and more annoying than the motorboats anyways.

The moonrises were the nicest I’ve ever seen, and getting to witness the northern lights was an extremely special experience. Watching the moose in the distance on Biggar Lake was the cherry on top. Oh, and I can’t forget the stargazing. The last night on North Tea Lake in particular, with a fully immersive view from the rocky shoreline, might have been one of my favourite stargazing experiences ever.

It’s undeniably a ton of work tripping with a dog compared to a true solo trip, with a lot more logistics, responsibility, and considerations. But having Elo as my companion is very much worth it. It’s the small moments, like how happy she gets when we get inside the tent at the end of a long day. She plops down onto her sleeping bag and looks at me with a face that says “ok bed now?” and it’s absolutely the cutest thing ever.

This 6-day trip was a good test to see how Elo would act on longer trips that included big paddles and multiple portages. She passed the test with flying colours! I’ll be tripping with Elo all the time from now on. The extra work of bringing her along is well worth it. I just hope she doesn’t body slam and rip open the next tent that I buy.

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