Algonquin & Beyond

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Trip Info

Date: September 10th – 17th, 2020

ROUTE Canoe > Otterslide Otterslide > Big Trout Big Trout > Burntroot Burntroot > Big Trout Big Trout > Little Otterslide Little Otterslide > Canoe
Travel (Single)
7 hrs
3 hrs
4.5 hrs
4.5 hrs
4 hrs
6 hrs
Travel (Double)
8 hrs
4 hrs
5 hrs
5 hrs
5 hrs
7 hrs
Portage #1
Portage #2
Portage #3
Portage #4
Portage #5
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
29 hrs
34 hrs
24 portages
Per Travel Day
4.8 hrs
5.6 hrs
4 portages
Trip Reports 8 Days Solo in Algonquin Park Map and Details
Credit goes to Algonquin Map v4.0 from Jeff’s Map at, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. All derivatives or copies must use the same license and note the original author.


Considering the amount of time I spend staring at maps to plan a 2-3 night trip, you can imagine the amount of time I spent planning this trip. I knew that I wanted something that could be challenging and lazy at the same time. I was planning the trip so that travel days would be difficult, but with enough rest days to relax and enjoy some laziness.

I had my eye on the Cedar > Catfish > Hogan > La Muir > Catfish loop but I really didn’t like the idea of walking Unicorn Hill six times (double carry on the first + last day), plus the 5hr drive to Brent from the GTA.

I had plenty of days to work with so I decided to do my Trip of Six Islands route from 2017, but extend it to loop around La Muir, Hogan, and Catfish, with one rest day on Catfish and one rest day on Burntroot.

That was the plan for a while, but as it seems to always happen, things changed last minute. I had to shorten the trip and I didn’t want to do that whole route without rest days… so I opted for a much easier option.

Canoe > Otterslide > Big Trout > Burntroot x2 > Big Trout x2 > Little Otterslide

The travel days were still quite long with double carries, with enough rest days to make up for it.

Food planning and supply for an 8 day solo trip in Algonquin Park
Food supply for 8 days

Day 1 – Canoe Lake to Otterslide Lake

When you’re about to embark on an 8-day solo trip, you want to start with lots of positivity. So when I got on the water at 7:30 AM and it was cold, rainy, and windy… well, that wasn’t the start I was hoping for. Oh, there was also a headwind of course.

You know what would make things even worse? Trying to skip the 435m into Joe Lake by going upstream. Well, “trying” isn’t the best choice of words because I was able to successfully skip it, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend most of it knee deep in the water guiding the canoe through the strong current.

I successfully skipped the 435m, but I spent twice as long doing it and now I had cold wet feet for the rest of the day. Now I’m starting to wonder if “success” is the right choice of words…

Seagull standing on a rock on Burnt Island in Algonquin Park
This rock has seen some shit
Two seagulls taking flight on Burnt Island Lake in Algonquin Park
"Fly like a seagull, let my spirit carry me"
Three seagulls flying on Burnt Island Lake in Algonquin Park
"I want to fly like a seagull, till I'm free" ...(ok maybe the real lyrics are 'eagle')

More headwind on Burnt Island. Fast forward 2hrs and I finally arrived at the 790m into Little Otterslide. I know this portage well, and I know the second half of rocks and mud would be no fun given the recent rainfall. 

I was correct.

With a full barrel, my first carry of canoe + barrel + camera gear was over 70lbs, and it was pretty brutal. But the barrel is only going to get lighter and portaging is only going to get easier from here.

Seagull looking directly at the camera
I heard what you said about my shitty rock

The rain continued to drizzle while I paddled down Little Otterslide, and the full day of rain, wind, and cold were making my knuckles dry (my shoes couldn’t take a hint?), which I felt with every paddle stroke. I probably shouldn’t have put my only pair of gloves at the bottom of my pack with the rest of my dry clothes.

I was more than ready to get off the water at this point. The evening was cold and gloomy and I was going to be on the water early the next morning, so I didn’t really feel the need to get the nicest site. The prime site in the northwest of Otterslide was taken so I took the small island right beside it. The site was small, but it was also cozy and perfect for me.

Island campsite on Otterslide Lake September 2020
Island campsite on Otterslide Lake

I brought my gear and canoe on land from the terrible landing and set up camp quickly. Within 2hrs, camp was set up, I had finished eating dinner, and I was almost ready for bed.

I was on the water for 9hrs, and by the time I finished eating at 6:30 PM I was completely drained. I got one bar of cell service from the campsite so I called my girlfriend back home and spoke with her for a while before getting in the tent at 8:00 PM. 

By 8:30 PM, I was fast asleep.

Day 1 was cold, wet, rainy, and windy… but I was still so happy to be there.

Day 2 – Otterslide Lake to Big Trout Lake

The first night was one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the park – close to 10 hours and I only woke up 4 or 5 times in the night (trust me, that’s a record). My body was still sore from the 9hr trek of Day 1, but I was ready to go.

I packed up camp, had a quick breakfast, and did one last weather check while I still had cell service.

Misty morning on Otterslide Lake in Algonquin Park
Misty morning on Otterslide

Otterslide Creek was very calm and peaceful, but the current was definitely stronger than the last time I travelled through in 2017. It made the paddle much easier, but made me wonder if the paddle back upstream would be difficult.

I didn’t see a single person on the creek until the 730m portage, which is where everyone decided to congregate. People coming and people going, there were probably 5 different groups at the portage. Normally this wouldn’t bother me, but being COVID and everything I did my best to keep my distance and avoid small talk. Plus, I had some expensive gear with me so I didn’t want to leave anything unattended for too long.

When I got to Big Trout, I was struck with the same sense of awe as the last time I arrived on the lake in 2017. The opening from the river into the grand lake with impressive distant shorelines definitely takes your breath away. After taking some pictures and videos, I was on my way to find a place to call home for the night.

Panorama of Big Trout Lake during a sunny afternoon in September
A welcoming view entering Big Trout Lake
16 birds flying in sequence during a sunny day with clouds
16 birds looking like 1 bird in different stages of flight

The first site I checked out was the site on the point, facing west, in the northeast end of the lake. The fire pit was tucked away inside, the terrain was very hilly, and something about it just generally felt off to me. So I decided to keep on moving.

I passed a few occupied campsites on my way to the small stranded island site midway through the lake, on the south end. This site was small (small island = small site, shocking right?), which I didn’t mind, but it didn’t offer anywhere to enjoy the sun or watch the sunset. I wouldn’t have been upset if I stayed, but I knew the type of site I wanted for the night, and this wasn’t it. So I kept on moving.

Algonquin Park yellow airplane flying in the sky
Park plane doing a fly over on Big Trout Lake

Next on the list was the small island with two campsites just north of the stranded island. There was a group from that 730m portage that I had seen checking out sites on the lake, almost zigzagging with me, and they were heading for the west of the two sites. I was heading for the east site since I wanted the sunset view.

We both ended up taking the respective site, and after some small talk, I donated the firewood from my site for them to use – the wood would get much better use with a 5-person group anyways. They invited me to join later and sit by the fire with them.

I had been in the sun for a long time while paddling back and forth looking for a campsite, so I took my time leisurely setting up camp while enjoying the shaded campsite.

Island campsite on Big Trout Lake during solo trip in September
Home for the night

Once I had a bit more energy, I paddled over to the campsite across from me, the one on the point, to check it out. It was actually quite nice, open, and spacious; I wouldn’t mind camping there in the future.

I got back to camp and made some Kraft Dinner, then went back on the water for a front row seat to watch the sunset. I circled the island a few times, and when the sun was on its final minutes, I headed back to camp.

Sunset on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin Park
Sunset view from my campsite on Big Trout Lake

At around 9:00 PM I made my way over to the other group to see if the invitation still stood. I brought my own chair and kept a good distance since I’m still being very cautious about COVID. We spoke about tripping, different routes, what we do back in the city… the usual things you would expect.

It was a gorgeous night with a sky full of stars, so after the fireside chat, I went back to my site to do some astrophotography while watching some very curious mice play around the site.

Sunset view from Big Trout Lake campsite in AlgonquinView of stars from island campsite on Big Trout Lake September 2020
Astrophotography on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin Park September 2020
Starry skies on Big Trout
Eureka tent glowing from flashlight at night on Big Trout Lake

Day 3 – Big Trout Lake to Burntroot Lake

After a mediocre sleep, I started packing up camp while being treated to a very pretty sunrise. I could hear the other group was awake as well.

Pretty sunrise view from campsite on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin Park
Sunrise view from my campsite

I got on the water at 8:30 AM to start my journey into Burntroot Lake. Big Trout was surprisingly calm and I really enjoyed starting the day with a peaceful paddle through the lake. All of the campsites I passed on my way to the 300m portage were all vacant.

The portage was flat and easy, and before I knew it I was at Longer Lake. The winds started to pick up on Longer, but thankfully they were at my back.

After enjoying the small waterfalls just after the portage, I started my long paddle down Longer (pun intended). With every corner I turned, the winds seemed to change direction. For 10 minutes I’d be cursing, then the next 10 minutes I’d be thinking “ah, that’s nice”.

I remember the next two portages being easy, considering how short they are, but I also remember them being very annoying, considering the poor landings and poison ivy to watch out for. Unfortunately, I remembered correctly.

I was happy to finally make it onto Red Pine Bay, officially with a headwind, and start the final stretch to Burntroot.

The last time I stayed on Burntroot I camped on Anchor Island in the south of the lake. It was such a great site but I wanted to explore the north of the lake this time and see what those campsites had to offer.

But by the time I entered the lake from Red Pine Bay, the wind was picking up even more and the sun was taking its toll on me. It was the exact opposite of the cold and rain from Day 1, but equally as draining.

I decided that if Anchor Island were available, I would take it. And available it was!

Tall pine trees on anchor island on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin
Tall pines on Anchor Island - Burntroot Lake

It was still early in the day so I took some time to relax and have a snack before setting up camp. The forecast didn’t call for rain until overnight but dark skies were heading my way so I went into hustle mode to finish my few remaining tasks. Barrel hang, fill water jug, and most importantly, hang a tarp!

The winds started getting even stronger and Day 3 quickly turned into another Day 1… cold, rainy, and windy. 

At least this time I had shelter.

I had pitched my tent in a spot that isn’t meant to have a tent pitched, but I chose the spot to avoid rain run-off that the other tent spots were prone to from surrounding sloped ground.

The tarp was set up nicely as well, but it was completely exposed to the strong westerly winds so I had to keep my eye on it and make sure it didn’t take too much abuse. It was a brand new Aqua Quest tarp and I didn’t want to destroy it on its first trip.

Squirrel having a snack on a rock on Anchor Island on Burntroot Lake
My diet starts tomorrow

Day 3 quickly took a turn for the worse. I was extremely fatigued and took a mid-day nap, waking up very groggy. The weather outside did nothing to help and wasn’t very motivational. It was only Day 3, but the poor weather and remoteness of Burntroot made me doubt the rest of the trip. I knew tomorrow was a new day and after getting a good sleep and waking up to (hopefully) better weather, my spirits would be lifted.

I opted for a lazy dinner snacking on beef jerky, banana bread, and a Larabar. Right as it got dark outside at 8:00 PM, I was in the tent. Within 30 minutes I was listening to the raindrops slowly get louder as they hit the rainfly of my tent while I tried to fall asleep.

Day 4 – Rest Day on Burntroot Lake

Night 3 was easily one of the worst sleeps of the trip, waking up at 1:00 AM and getting a cumulative 1-2 hrs of sleep from that point on. Overnight was still super windy and accompanied by a rather heavy amount of rain.

Once the rain started to finally calm down at 9:00 AM I got out of the tent. My tarp was still up, my barrel was still hanging… everything looked good around camp. The skies didn’t look promising though.

As the day went on the rain came and went, but the winds only got stronger and stronger. It turned into possibly the windiest day I’ve ever had in the park. Not only did it make the day very unenjoyable, but it also made me very concerned about my tent and tarp that were taking a heavy beating.

Windy Day on Burntroot Lake Sept 2020
Hi, welcome to Burntroot Lake. Here is some wind. Please enjoy your stay.

For the first time I was actually slightly concerned for my safety. I was alone, wind bound, no one around, and hadn’t even seen another group since leaving my campsite on Big Trout two days earlier.

By 2:00 PM the winds were ferocious with heavy white caps across the water. I decided to take down the tarp, hoping that most of the rain had finished for the day. Have you ever tried setting up a tarp by yourself in heavy winds? Unfortunately, taking it down during a windstorm by yourself is basically the same. I made some adjustments to my tent as well to add some reinforcements and strengthen its position in the wind.

I had tended to my gear, but now I was starting to get concerned about travelling back to Big Trout. I had seen the worst Burntroot had to offer, and it was bad… really bad. Even very early in the morning. It’s crazy to think how different this experience was on Anchor Island versus the last time I was there when it felt like paradise. I know the site is exposed to the elements, but the forecast didn’t call for anything even close to how bad it was. If I knew what was coming, I would have chosen a more sheltered site. But by the time it hit, I was already wind bound.

Sweatpants blowing in the wind on Burntroot Lake anchor island
Please, take some more wind. We've got plenty to spare.

Anyways, there was nothing I could do now. Even just looking at the water was scary. So I spent the whole day doing what any soloist wind bound on Anchor Island during a windstorm would do… I spent all day in the tent. I played some chess, took a nap, recharged some batteries, and wrote the first 3 days of this trip report in my notebook.

I know they call them ‘rest days’, but Day 4 was literally 90% spent inside the tent, listening to the thrashing winds attacking Anchor Island.

Extreme winds on Burntroot Lake Anchor Island in Algonquin Park
Here, you can have all of the wind. Have fun!

Dinner was another combination of dry food. Cooking anything, even dehydrated meals would have been challenging in the wind unless I went deeper into the island. The sky also looked like it could start pouring at any second, and I had already taken down my tarp.

I was hoping the wind and rain would die down so it would turn into a lovely evening… but unfortunately that just didn’t happen. So by 7:30 PM I was back in the tent and went to sleep an hour or so later.

You know those weekend days when you wake up and look at the clock and before you know it, it’s 8:00 PM and you’re wondering where the day went because you did absolutely nothing all day? That was basically Day 4.

So much for Day 4 being ‘a new day that would lift my spirits’.

Day 5 – Burntroot Lake to Big Trout Lake

Finally it was calm overnight. 

Just kidding. More wind, and more rain. 

I woke up at 5:45 AM to pack up camp and hit the water early. I wanted to cover as much distance as possible, as early as possible, before the winds would be at their worst.

This morning was definitely one of the coldest mornings I’ve had in the park, but it was also exceptionally pretty.

Red and purple sunrise colours on Burntroot Lake Anchor Island
Sunrise on Burntroot Lake
Dark red sunrise from Burntroot Lake in Algonquin Park
Sunrise on Burntroot Lake
Red sunrise on Burntroot Lake from Anchor Island campsite
Sunrise on Burntroot Lake
Crescent moon in the night sky on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin
"There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it's all dark."

I got on the water at 7:30 AM with a tailwind and crossed my fingers it would stay like that for the rest of the day. Spoiler alert… it did!

Day 5 was going to be the day of redemption, I just knew it. Burntroot wasn’t kind to me this trip, but I had a very lovely Day 2 on Big Trout, and now I was heading back for more.

I made good timing through the two short but annoying portages, and continued down Longer with a hefty tailwind at my back. This paddle down Longer was definitely… shorter. Sorry guys, no pun this time.

After stopping to take some more pictures at the falls, it was still only 10:30 AM. I was moving faster than planned thanks to the rare and elusive thing people refer to as ‘tailwinds’.

Right before I entered the portage I saw a group entering Longer; these were the first people I had seen since Night 2.

I leisurely paddled down Big Trout with the wind at my back, heading for the small island campsite mid-lake beside the large island with 5 sites. It was occupied when I passed by on Day 2, but it looked glorious with the east shelter and massive rocky shore on the west end. A private island with everything I look for in a site.

I arrived at the site and it was available. In fact, every site I saw while paddling to the island was still available. It was a quiet morning on Big Trout.

Island campsite in the middle of Big Trout Lake during a solo trip in Algonquin
Fourth campsite of the trip, fourth island of the trip.

I toured the site and what I didn’t notice from the water was just how grand and massive the west side of the island is. Not to mention, the view from the site west down Big Trout is a solid 10/10. I’m trying to think of a better view anywhere in the park, but I’m drawing blank.

I found one spotty bar of cell service as well. Normally I wouldn’t care, but the weather had been changing dramatically all trip from the forecast, so having cell service allowed me to take advantage of more frequent weather updates.

Side Note #1 – I don’t find the InReach Mini weather updates to be very reliable; better than nothing, but not as good as checking myself.

Side Note #2 – Once again, the weather changed for the worse. Before I left for the trip, overnight temperatures were ranging between 8-12 degrees, but when I checked the weather again on Big Trout, it was calling for -1 to 3 degrees. Great.

Marking the ground where there is cell reception service
Marking the tiny spot where I get cell service for weather updates

Back to Day 5. I took my sweet time setting up camp at this amazing site and then made some lunch. After two nights of banana bread and Larabar’s for dinner, I treated myself to an Alpine Aire Mountain Chili washed down with some whiskey while sitting in the sun on the west end of the island.

Despite the wind, the feeling of a hot meal in my stomach with the warmth of the sun hitting my face was an absolutely glorious moment. Day 5 = redemption!

Loon on calm blue waters in Algonquin Park
All a-loon on Big Trout Lake

The rest of the day was spent lounging at camp, processing some firewood, and going for an evening paddle to circle the large adjacent island. I’m guessing few people paddle that passageway around the north of the island, but it was really quite lovely. I stopped to check out all 5 sites on the island; I won’t go into detail about each individual site here since that’s what the campsite reports are for.

The trip was less than one hour, but by the time I got back, the site next to mine was occupied. The lake was basically empty so I’m not sure why someone would want to be so close to another party, aka me. I’m guessing they were aiming for my site and once they saw it was taken, decided it was too late in the evening to continue paddling elsewhere.

I got back around the time I would normally have dinner but I was still full from my late chili lunch so I just had some snacks instead. I went back on the water to watch a rather unique sunset. There were minimal colours in the sky, mostly just thick fog. But the sun looked twice its size and had a magnificent glow to it. It only lasted a few minutes before disappearing behind the fog and clouds.

Beautiful sunset on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin September 2020
After a beautiful sunrise on Burntroot I was treated to this gorgeous sunset on Big Trout

For the first time all trip, I finally made a fire. It was a chilly evening, I had plenty of wood, and I wanted to stay awake late enough to do some astrophotography.

Unfortunately the skies weren’t great that night to shoot the stars, but regardless it felt great to sit by a warm fire.

I felt good about Day 5; I loved the campsite, and I was just generally happy to be back on Big Trout Lake. 

Spirits were officially lifted.

Close up of campfire on Big Trout Lake
"It's good to warm my bones beside the fire"
Night sky photography on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin
A few stars in the sky as the clouds started rolling in

Day 6 – Rest Day on Big Trout Lake

I woke up at 1:00 AM absolutely freezing. Everything within my sleeping bag was fine, but if my face touched a part of the pillow not within the sleeping bag… well, it basically felt like ice.

I eventually got out of my tent to another freezing cold morning. But guess what!? I had more firewood, and believe it or not, I know how to make a fire! So that’s what I did.

Wood collection for a morning fire on Big Trout Lake island campsite
Just some morning wood

At around 9:30 AM I organized camp and headed out for a paddle. My plan was to check out the four sites across from my campsite, in the east of the lake (including the one I stopped at on Day 2 but forgot to photograph). The winds were picking up and were hitting my boat from the side, so I took a bit of a V-shaped route instead of a straight line to cross the lake. That way, the winds were never directly at my side.

I checked out the south island site and the site just north of it. When I was on my way back to the point site from Day 2, I noticed very dark skies rolling in. The forecast didn’t call for rain, but I didn’t want to chance it. I had a tent and tarp pitched and I would be much more comfortable under shelter than on the open water. Despite being only a few metres away from the point site, I decided to skip that site along with the north island site and head back to camp.

Eureka tent and Aqua Quest tarp on Big Trout Lake island campsite
Like that Rolling Stones song, Gimme Shelter

The rain ended up being a false call but I didn’t mind being back at camp. I processed some more firewood, pre-rolled some toilet paper, and wrote some campsite reports in my notebook while they were still fresh in my memory.

Just past 12:00 PM the group beside me packed up and left camp. They were late to arrive and late to leave… pretty much the opposite of what I tend to do.

Ok hold on, let’s go back to the pre-rolled toilet paper; I know you’re still thinking about it. So imagine this, it’s 8:00 AM and after a long night sleep it’s time for you to do your business. It’s 1 degree outside and windy. Your pants are around your ankles and as you unroll the toilet paper the wind is blowing it around, making it impossible to fold (don’t even suggest to scrunch). The wind is also giving you goosebumps and making you shiver. You wish there was a quicker way. And then you meet me and I introduce you to pre-rolled toilet paper. You’re welcome!

Merganser family swimming in Algonquin Park
A mohawk isn't a fad when it runs in the family

Today was definitely a busier day on Big Trout. By 1:00 PM I had seen three groups pass by my island, two checking out the site beside me, with one group deciding to stay. It was only two people but they were much louder than the two people from the night prior who I barely heard at all.

It was a nice site but nothing particularly special, especially if someone is occupying the site beside it (ie. me, on the island). Oh well, I guess I have new neighbours. Maybe I’ll do the Algonquin equivalent of baking them a pie and leaving it at their doorstep… roasting a marshmallow and leaving it in their canoe? Nah, that just sounds weird.

I was hoping the sun would make an appearance in the afternoon since it was overcast all morning, but that didn’t happen. It was another cold, windy, and gloomy day. The overcast lasted the full day and combined with the wind, made it quite bitter and extremely chilly.

I spent the whole afternoon and evening by the fire, basically out of necessity. My nose can only drip so much.

Morning fire to keep warm on island campsite on Big Trout Lake
Keeping warm on a chilly day

The wind finally calmed down in the evening and it actually felt weird being TOO warm by the fire. But hey that’s better than the alternative.

I could tell that the sky was clearly not going to be good for any astrophotography so after roasting some marshmallows that I forgot I had brought, I put out the fire at 8:30 PM and called it a night.

Day 7 – Big Trout Lake to Little Otterslide Lake

Day 7 started with another cold, windy morning. 

I guess that’s not really any surprise at this point though.

Dark sunrise with bright sun on Big Trout Lake in September 2020
Sunrise on Big Trout Lake
Misty morning with lots of fog on Big Trout Lake
A cold, misty morning on Big Trout Lake
Panorama of Big Trout Lake during a very cold and misty morning in September
A cold, misty morning on Big Trout Lake

I was up at 5:45 AM and on the water at 7:45 AM. I exerted more energy than I would have liked to get from my campsite to Otterslide Creek in the wind. 

Right before the first portage I saw 3 otters playing in the water. I thought to myself it’s been 7 days and these otters are the first wildlife that I’ve seen all trip other than mice, loons, frogs, etc. It’s funny how you can do a quick 2-nighter and see plenty of moose, or do a weeklong trip and see no big wildlife… just luck of the draw sometimes.

Side note, I’ve now camped on 3 different island campsites on Big Trout, and all of them had mice. And all of those mice loved attacking my ankles.

So yeah, otters. That was really nice to see. They would poke up and dive back under too quick for me to get any good pictures though.

Cloudy sunrise on Big Trout Lake on a cold morning in September
A cloudy start to the day

I knew that the Otterslide lakes weren’t very busy mid-week and since I was tackling the creek pretty early in the morning, I wasn’t likely to see another group throughout the day.

But the last thing I was expecting to see was a wolf. 

Especially a wolf that jumped out about 10ft in front of me directly in the middle of the portage trail. He moved ahead until he was about 30ft in front of me and stayed at that distance for a good 10-20 seconds. He even peaked back once or twice and saw me behind him. He clearly wasn’t scared of me or concerned that I was there. It was both frightening and exciting at the same time.

I was only midway through the 730m portage and I still needed to finish, then walk back to get the rest of my gear. I didn’t know if it was a lone wolf or if there was a pack nearby, but regardless I kept my bear spray in my hand the whole time with the safety removed, just in case.

Paddling upstream the creek wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I barely even noticed a difference compared to Day 2. It was so calm and peaceful that I was actually starting to get really tired and decided to close my eyes for a few minutes midway through the creek.

Otterslide Creek shorelineOtterslide Creek shoreline with fall colours starting to turn orange and red

Once I finished and entered Otterslide Lake, the winds were brutal. I know I’ve been saying that about the whole trip, but today was particularly bad. White cap, flip-your-boat-if-you-face-them-sideways level bad. Similar to my second day on Burntroot, but I actually had to travel through it this time.

Sometimes there are waves but it’s more bark than bite and it’s not too difficult to paddle in. Sometimes it’s the opposite, strong winds without large waves. This was both. All bark and all bite.

I got wind bound at the nice campsite in the north of the lake, across from the portage. The plan was to get to Little Otterslide but I didn’t know if that would be possible. The winds were heavy and the campsite was completely exposed to those winds. There was also a risk of a thunderstorm rolling in later that day. I had been through this scenario already on Anchor Island and knew that I didn’t feel good about making camp at this site. But I also didn’t feel good about getting back on the water.

After 20 minutes of internal back and forth, I decided to get on the water. I added about 30lbs of rocks to the front of the boat and set out for the journey. I would be paddling directly into the headwind so with the extra weight at the front of the boat, it would help maintain control, keep the boat pointing forward, and prevent the wind from spinning me around where I would be prone to flip.

After what was one of the hardest (and scariest) paddles I’ve done while solo, I finally made it to Little Otterslide. I took the south island campsite, which I knew would give enough protection from the winds. This was also the campsite that I stayed at during the first night of my first ever solo trip, so it was a little bit special to me as well. This was my first time back since that trip in 2014.

Little Otterslide Lake campsite September 2020
Back at the first campsite I ever stayed at solo

I pitched my tent right beside the fire pit in a spot that was well protected from the wind. I made some lunch, frustratingly due to the two squirrels that would attack any food or container if left unoccupied for more than 3 seconds. They have clearly been fed too many times by humans. When they weren’t trying to get into my food or gear, they were scurrying underneath my tent floor, extra curious what was under there for some reason.

Anyways, the rest of the day was spent relaxing at camp, pretty much doing nothing but listening to the trees sway in the wind. It started drizzling around 6:00 PM so I got in the tent. The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. I relaxed in the tent and went to sleep. That’s pretty much it. A quiet end to a crazy day.

Looking up at the trees on the island campsite on Little Otterslide Lake
Listening to the trees sway in the wind

Day 8 – Little Otterslide Lake to Canoe Lake

The last day of a trip always has a bittersweet feeling to it. I was definitely sad to be leaving, but I was also looking forward to a warm shower and some real food.

Food barrel and canoe pack on Little Otterslide Lake campsite
"All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go"

The morning was chilly, but not too cold. The skies were cloudy, but not overcast. It was breezy outside, but the waters were relatively calm. It looked like the day might actually be the first day of ‘nice weather’ since Day 2.

Fall colours on Little Otterslide Lake view from campsite
Morning view of fall colours from my campsite

I hit the waters at my usual time, around 7:45 AM and made my way to the first portage. I finished my double carry within 40 minutes and took a short rest before heading onto Burnt Island. The winds picked up and were coming from the north, so crossing the first bay was very choppy until I had the northern shore for protection.

I had noticed the fall colours start to be more prominent over the past few days, but this morning it was particularly noticeable, and especially beautiful. Every time the sun would peak out between clouds it would illuminate different pockets of orange and red maples across the expansive rolling shorelines.

Loaded canoe ready to launch onto Burnt Island Lake in Algonquin
Ready to launch onto Burnt Island
Shoreline on Burnt Island Lake starting to show fall colours Sept 17
The sun illuminating the shorelines

I was about halfway through the lake by 10:00 AM and decided to take a break and stop to check out one of the two campsites right beside the mid-lake island site.

Whenever I stop to check out sites, I always bring my small daypack with me since it has my InReach inside, and I usually tie down the boat to keep it secure. For some reason, I left my daypack in the canoe, and I pulled the boat up onto a sandy landing but didn’t tie it down. And just like Murphy’s Law states, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

When I finished taking pictures of the site and walked back to the landing where I left my canoe, I noticed that it had started drifting out into the water. It was tucked away in a bay safe from the winds, but apparently I didn’t secure it well enough. This was one of my worst Algonquin fears, and even worse, my InReach was in the boat.

It was about 15-20ft away from the landing by the time I noticed it, and it was slowly moving further away. This was clearly a problem, but would be an even bigger problem if it got further into open water where the winds would push it faster than I could swim.

I immediately knew I had two options; I could call out for help across the lake to a campsite I saw occupied when I paddled by, wait for them to paddle over, and find the canoe wherever it had drifted by then… or I could go swimming.

Keep in mind it was still 10:00 AM and I was wearing my wool socks, gloves, toque, and rain jacket as a windbreak because it was still cold outside. My PFD was still on as well. The thought of getting in the water was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. But a decision needed to be made right away.

Like a Porsche Boxster going from 0-60 MPH, I made my decision and went from fully clothed to fully naked except for my boxers within 3.7 seconds flat.

In 8 days, I didn’t think that THIS would be the one time I went swimming.

I grabbed the boat and brought it back to shore, put on my dry clothes, cursed a bit under my breath, and then laughed about the ridiculousness of the situation.

Fall colours on Burnt Island Lake on Sept 17 2020
Fall colours on Burnt Island
Panorama of Burnt Island Lake shoreline with beautiful fall colours
Fall colours on Burnt Island

By the time I was on Joe Lake the wind had calmed down, the sky was cloudless, and I was in heaven. It was the perfect level of warmth to paddle shirtless. There was a perfectly refreshing breeze. And the warmth and the breeze were accompanied by a beautiful show of fall colours. 

I took my sweet time paddling through Joe, checking out a few campsites on route, and taking a few breaks where I just lay back in the canoe onto my pack behind me and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as the northern breeze slowly drifted me to my final portage.

As expected, the final portage was extremely busy so I did my double carry as quick as possible to avoid coming too close to other people.

When I rounded the final corner of Canoe Lake and the permit office was in sight, I stopped paddling and once again lay back onto my pack and enjoyed my final moments.

For a trip full of cold weather, rain, and extreme wind, this last day was truly the perfect way to end the trip.

The Aftermath

This was the longest trip I’ve ever done, and Day 1 travelling 9hrs to Otterslide is the most distance I’ve ever covered in one day solo. I didn’t cover any new territory, but I was ok with that going into the trip. Burntroot wasn’t as kind to me this time around, but I found a new appreciation and love for Big Trout.

While I was hoping for better weather over the 8 days, it was still very enjoyable overall. The trip reiterated what I already knew about never trusting weather forecasts, and I discovered that my least favourite element is now wind. Sorry rain, but your reign is over.

But despite the bad weather, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey and the memories that I’ll take away. Coming face-to-face with a wolf mid portage was frightening yet exhilarating, and almost losing my canoe on Burnt Island is a story I hope to never repeat.

I set out on Day 1 on a cold, windy, rainy morning, but finished the trip with perfect weather and a gorgeous view of fall colours. That’s the right way to wrap up 8 days in the park.

Canoe tripping paddle close up image
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