A Quick Overnight to the Island Campsite on Whitefish Lake
Date: August 11th – 12th, 2023
There’s a delicate balance between waiting for bug season to be over, and giving in to the FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) watching everyone else go camping. I only have a limited number of vacation days so I prefer to use them in September and October, but I gave in and booked a trip for August.
This trip was based on a few things. First, the main point of this trip was to watch the Perseids meteor shower. I wanted to do an easy trip to start off the season with Elo (my dog), so I decided to book Whitefish Lake. It would be a 45 minute paddle to the campsite with no portaging. Easy peasy.
There are three campsites on Whitefish Lake but the park only issues two permits, and two of the campsites are on the island… which means I would be guaranteed an island campsite. This would be good practice to let Elo off-leash and test her recall in the backcountry environment without worry about her getting lost.
The forecast was calling for sunshine on the Friday (Day 1), nasty storms on the Saturday with 20mm of rain literally all day (Day 2), and then sunshine again on the Sunday (Day 3). My plan was to pitch a few tarps and power through the rain, and still get to enjoy Day 3. But when the forecast continued to get worse and called for rain all the way from Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon, I decided to pack up on Day 2 and head out. Sorry for the spoiler in the intro!
Day 1 – Paddling to the Island Campsite on Whitefish Lake
I set my alarm for 5:00 AM and after a quick morning routine, I went to pick up my canoe and strap it to the roof my car. I was on the road by around 6:30 AM and made it to the Rock Lake access point around 9:30 AM. I wanted to get there early to enjoy the only day of sunshine in the forecast, but if I arrived at the lake too early, there was a good chance that the campsites would still be occupied with groups from the previous night.
I took my time getting everything loaded into the canoe and then set out onto the water. There were a few other groups at the Rock Lake access point, ready to embark on their own weekend journey. It was a beautiful morning and the waters were quite calm. Elo seemed happy to be back in the canoe (first time of the year!).
It took around 45 minutes to paddle to the island on Whitefish Lake. I arrived at the south island campsite first and saw that it was occupied by a group from Camp Tamakwa. The main campsite area is right by the shoreline, so without intruding I paddled by and spoke to one of the counsellors that was near the water. They said they were packing up and leaving but would likely still need another hour or two.
I decided to paddle to the north island campsite to see if it was vacant. Unfortunately it was occupied, and this group told me that they were staying for the evening and then leaving the next morning. There is a third campsite on the west shore of Whitefish Lake, but the main reason I booked this lake was to guarantee myself an island campsite, so I decided to wait for the Tamakwa group to leave.
To kill some time, I paddled to the west shore campsite to take some photos for a campsite report. The landing wasn’t great with the current water levels, and the rocks by the shoreline were extremely slippery. It was pretty difficult to land my canoe and make it to shore without somewhere to secure my boat while the wind was pushing me around. Well, unless I wanted to get my feet wet… but I was much happier keeping them dry!
The campsite was pretty basic with a fire pit, seating, less-than-average tent spots, and a road about 10 metres behind the campsite. It didn’t offer a particularly nice view onto Whitefish Lake and there were no qualities that I found particularly impressive. I was happy that I stopped to check it out, but I only needed to spend 5 minutes at the site before I was ready to get back into my canoe and wait for the south island site to become vacant.
So that’s exactly what I did. I got into my canoe and paddled leisurely around the island. I’d paddle to the north then let the northern winds drag me back to the south. During one of my laps I spoke with a gentleman in a fishing boat who looked to be around my age; he said he was camping at the Rock Lake campground and asked if I would be attending the pow-wow the next day. I knew the pow-wow site was located on the north shore on Whitefish Lake, but I didn’t know that it was occurring during that weekend.
I only needed to lap the island once or twice before I noticed the Tamakwa group was finally on their way out. Once all of their canoes had left the campsite, I made my way over. I began setting up camp at a leisurely pace. There was one tent spot tucked away in between the fire pit and the water, but it was completely exposed with no tree coverage above, and with the forecast of heavy rain I decided not to pitch my tent there. Inland there were a few better, more sheltered options, so I chose one of those.
My big decision while setting up camp was how many tarps to pitch, and where to pitch them. Ideally, I wanted a tarp pitched in the main campsite area so that I could relax near the shoreline during the rainfall on Day 2, with a view out onto the water. The better tarping options were inland by the tent spots, but it wouldn’t offer a view onto the water, and it would most definitely have more mosquitos buzzing around.
The only problem with pitching a tarp at the front of the campsite was that it was a very exposed campsite and there were very few trees to use. After spending about 5x longer than it normally takes me, due to the unideal circumstances, I finally got a tarp pitched over the fire pit and main seating area. But this came with a compromise… it meant I wasn’t going to make a fire. I technically could have—I did pitch the tarp high enough—but I didn’t want to risk any embers flying up and burning a hole in my expensive tarp. It just wasn’t worth the risk. I opted for tarp shelter over fire.
I decided to collect firewood anyways even though I ruled out making a fire that evening. If I wanted a fire any time during my trip, I would need to collect the wood right away before the significant rainfall. There was a goldmine just a few metres behind the campsite, so it only took about 20 minutes to collect a 2-3 day supply of firewood. It was surprisingly buggy behind the campsite and I got more mosquito bites than I was anticipating for an August trip.
Lastly, I pitched my tent along with a tarp over the tent to take the brunt of the rainfall away from my tent’s rainfly, and then did my bear hang on a nearby tree. Tent, tarp, wood, and bear hang… setting up camp was officially finished.
It was around 3:00 PM when everything was finished and I was brutally tired. It wasn’t a very strenuous day, but I woke up feeling like I didn’t get enough sleep, and with every passing hour I started feeling worse and worse. I decided to get into the tent and let my body rest for a little while.
After a short micro-nap I woke up to the sounds of people talking. It was definitely coming from inland the island, not the water. Was it the group from the north campsite? I got out of the tent and noticed two men walking off into the distance towards the north side of the island, but from their backside I could tell it definitely wasn’t the group occupying the north campsite. Did people just randomly come onto the island to check it out? I think so…
Instead of chasing after them I decided to go hang out by the shoreline. It was still a beautiful sunny day and I wanted to spend time enjoying it while it lasted! At around 4:30 PM I made myself an early dinner, testing a new Happy Yak meal, the Mediterranean Pork. Honestly, it was friggin delicious. A fair amount of calories, a good amount of protein, and a very modest amount of sodium relative to other dehydrated meals… and most importantly, it tasted really good.
After a little bit more lazy time hanging around the campsite I went back into the tent to get some things organized and change into my nighttime clothes. AGAIN I heard the voices of people walking around nearby. I said “Hello?” and they responded back saying “Hello!” in a friendly tone. By the time I got out of the tent, once again they were off into the distance walking towards the north side of the island. It was a different group and there was about 4 or 5 of them.
I really wanted to chase after them and tell them that it’s really bad etiquette to walk through backcountry campsites. I’m sure they had no bad intentions and just weren’t aware of what they were doing, but still, it’s really inappropriate to do this in the backcountry. Plus, with the campsite I was occupying, the thunder box was literally a few metres away from the path of the campsite and in view, so if I happened to be doing my business, they would have walked right past me.
Instead of the potential to cause conflict, I decided to ignore them and go back to the shoreline. I reminded myself that Whitefish Lake is barely backcountry, and even though it’s wrong for these things to happen, I can’t say I’m surprised. There’s a campground nearby, cottages on the lake, cell service throughout… I knew what I was getting myself into when I booked this trip.
I decided to spend the rest of the evening doing what I love most, I got onto the water for a paddle. The sun was low in the sky and it started to become chilly outside. The winds from earlier in the day had began to calm down and the water was very peaceful. The Centennial Ridges cliff views were spectacular from the waters of Whitefish Lake. Paddling to the north shore I was able to watch some small wildlife enjoy their ‘dusk diving’ for an evening meal. It was a very peaceful time to be on the water and both Elo and myself really enjoyed it. In fact it was so peaceful that it put Elo to sleep in the canoe!
After the sun had set I paddled back to my campsite. I had one final snack for the evening, brushed my teeth, and then hung my barrel for the night. The campsite was kept very clean with all of my gear and the wood tidily organized under my tarp. There was nothing left to do but enjoy the evening.
Well, not until the mosquitos decided to come out. And they came out in FULL FORCE. The moment I stopped walking around there would be dozens of them buzzing all around me. Biting at my ankles through my socks and sweatpants. Sneaking their way underneath the hood of my sweatshirt. BZZZZ. BZZZZ. BZZZ. BZZZZ. I think I lasted maybe 10 minutes before I told myself “heck, if making a fire isn’t an option, and if the skies are going to be too cloudy to see the Perseids meteor shower, then I might as well just get into the tent now!” So that’s what I did.
Elo and I went into the tent at around 9:00 PM. After around 30 minutes I decided to try and go to sleep. But the moment I turned off my headlamp and put my phone away, I heard noises, again. But this time it wasn’t voices on the island.
Remember the pow-wow that the fishing dude told me about? He said it was happening tomorrow. But I guess the opening ceremony was the day before, because I heard very audible indigenous singing with percussive hand drumming. In one way, it was actually nice being part of their celebration, even if it was in a very indirect way. I was able to appreciate what they were doing and I felt it would be completely inappropriate if I let their celebrations bother me.
I don’t know how long the singing and drumming lasted, because within another 30 minutes both Elo and I were fast asleep.
Day 2 – Leaving the Island Campsite on Whitefish Lake
I must have been more exhausted than I thought on Day 1, because I got a great sleep! Or it could have been some of my new gear. There were some key pieces of gear I wanted to test on this trip—it’s better to test and learn and have something fail when I’m only 45 minutes from my car, rather than in the middle of a weeklong solo.
New pillow — If you read my trip reports you’ll probably see me constantly complaining about getting a bad sleep in the backcountry. Always. It’s inevitable. Sleep, me, backcountry… choose two. I’ve tried so many different types of pillows and recently I started bringing a full-sized pillow from home because I was getting desperate for a good sleep. This year I made my own faux-down stuffed pillow, and also bought the MEC Camp Pillow. This isn’t going to be a full gear review, but I used the MEC Camp Pillow and was very happy with it! It’s light, compresses small, and is comfortable to sleep on. Goodbye full-sized pillow.
New sleeping pad — Up until this very trip I’ve always used a Klymit Static V sleeping pad. Yes it only has an R-Value of 1.3. Yes I do a lot of camping in September and October when the temperatures drop to 0 Celcius and sometimes colder. Yes I have learned that some people call me crazy for bringing a 1.3 rated sleeping pad in those temperatures. And yes I finally decided to upgrade my sleeping pad. After countless hours of researching (and somehow getting frustrated enough that I ended up making this Sleeping Pad Comparison Table), I decided to get the Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Air Insulated Sleeping Pad. I actually decided to get the women’s version because it’s literally the exact same pad but with some better weight and R-Value specs, and the only trade off is a slight taper at the head and foot (they market it as having more support by the waist, where women need it). It’s much larger and heavier than my Klymit Static V, but it’s also much more comfortable and has a much higher R-Value at 3.5. I won’t go into too much detail because that can be a whole post on its own, but let’s just say so far I’m a happy camper with it!
New earbuds — When I’m in the backcountry I almost always listen to music while I sleep. The challenge has always been finding low-profile earbuds that don’t hurt after wearing them through the night. Part of the equation is having a pillow that doesn’t put too much pressure on the ear (which is one of the reasons why i like the MEC Camp Pillow, since it’s filled with foam pieces creating tiny pockets between them, and isn’t a smooth flat surface). I’ve always used the Shure SE215 which are great because they sit flush against the ear, but they’re still quite large and heavy so they put unwanted pressure on certain places. This year I decided to “upgrade” to the $17 Moondrop Quarks. I’m a bit of an audiophile and it was astonishing how bad they sounded compared to my some of my other gear that’s literally 100x more expensive, BUT the Moondrop Quarks are so incredibly tiny and weightless, they were so much better than the Shure SE215 for the sole purpose of sleeping earbuds.
It was only one night of testing, but I was 3 for 3 with my new gear. Cue Matthew McConaughey “alright alrighttt alrightttt”.
Back to the trip. I woke up expecting it to already be raining, because that’s what the forecast called for before I went to bed. To my surprise, it was overcast but not raining yet. When I checked the forecast again, I had about 1 hour until the rain was predicted to start. The rain was going to continue all day, all night, and all day the following day. It would vary between drizzle, downpour, and thunderstorms, but it was forecasted to be one of those three things for the next 36 hours. If there was any relief from the rain I would stick it out and wait for the sunshine, but instead I decided to pack up and head back to my car.
Here are the two ironic parts of my decision. First, it meant I spent all that time on Day 1 pitching the tarp, which Elo and I kept tripping over the tie-outs (lots of rope was needed since no trees were close by), while also preventing me from making a fire on Night 1, and I didn’t even use the tarp since it never rained!
Secondly, the moment I finished packing everything, including that tarp, the rain finally started. I waterproofed my whole campsite while it was sunny, and then took down all my shelter when it was rainy. Thankfully it was only a very light drizzle.
I knew that the group on the north campsite of the island were heading out on this day, and I really wanted to take photos of the campsite for a report to add to my database, but it was only 9:00 AM and I had a feeling they wouldn’t be gone yet. But after having breakfast and feeding Elo, I loaded my canoe and paddled by the north campsite to check. As expected, they were still there and nowhere close to being packed up. It was a beautiful morning despite the overcast and drizzle so I took my time and relaxed on the water for 15-20 minutes.
That was a mistake.
Only a few minutes after deciding to finally begin paddling towards my car, the rain started coming down. Hard. The light drizzle turned into a non-stop heavy downpour. I was upset with myself for wasting 20 minutes relaxing on the water when I should have and could have been paddling towards my car. Within 5 minutes of paddling it was like Elo and I had just gotten out of a shower. We were drenched. But surprisingly, and thankfully, Elo was completely unphased. She was chilling at the front of the canoe with no signs of discomfort or annoyance.
After 45 minutes of paddling I arrived back to my car with myself, Elo, and all of my gear completely soaking wet. The first thing I did was put Elo into the car. Then I loaded all of my gear into the trunk and tied the canoe onto my roof. Then I drove to the Rock Lake campground office and used the 2-3 ft of shelter from the roof to stand under while thoroughly drying Elo with a towel that I keep in my car for times like this. Then I changed out of my wet clothes into a spare set of dry clothes that I also keep in my car for times like this. Then finally, we were ready to head home.
I stopped at the Cache Lake access point to use the little wooden shelter by the water to make myself a coffee. Oh yeah, that was another new piece of gear I was testing, my new JetBoil MiniMo. I only use my stove to boil water for dehydrated meals, I never do any cooking, so I decided to get something more efficient than my last setup. And the MiniMo was definitely way more efficient! Since I wouldn’t use it for cooking, there would be no scents and I could pack it with my main pack instead of in my food barrel, freeing up more space for food in my already-tight-for-space 20L barrel. The MiniMo boiled the water extremely quickly and I was in-and-out of Cache Lake with my instant coffee ready within only a few minutes.
Ok, now I can start the drive home.
Thank goodness I made myself the coffee because the drive home took almost 1.5x longer than it should have. There was some sort of accident on Highway 400 and it was reduced to 1 lane going south and completely closed off going north. This caused bumper-to-bumper traffic in a spot with very bad cell service. Google Maps took me on a detour route, which I quickly learned was a big mistake. The GPS wasn’t recognizing all the cars taking the detour, and the detour was backed up even worse than the 400. After wasting almost 30 minutes on the detour I decided to turn around, pull over at the random baseball diamond / cemetery / church that were all adjacent to each other, and take Elo for a short walk. Then I got back into my car, headed back on the 400, and finally finished the drive, making it home by around 4:00 PM.
Parts of this trip were a huge success, and parts of this trip were, well, the opposite. The forecast shortened this trip into only one night, but the one and only night that we spent on Whitefish Lake was very lovely.
I was extremely happy with all of my new gear. I was extremely happy with how Elo behaved and listened to me throughout the trip (despite somehow finding every single leftover food scrap on the ground from the Tamakwa group). I was extremely happy that I finally got to spend a night camping in Algonquin Park, my first real trip of the season.
The rainfall really sucked on the way home and I had to spend about 2 hours drying out all my wet gear. The bugs also really sucked and I couldn’t believe how bad they were for August. I didn’t get to see the Perseids meteor showers, which was the originally basis of this trip. The people intruding through the island, the motorboats, and the pow-wow on the north shore were all reminders that Whitefish Lake, despite technically being backcountry, doesn’t feel like backcountry at all.
But the island site was beautiful and I had absolutely no regrets doing this trip.