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Date: October 24th, 2023

Map and Trip Details for The Trip Report "Day Trip to Kearney Lake and Tea Lake Campgrounds" in Algonquin Park

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


My website has always focused on my trips to the backcountry, meaning it has always been backcountry-based content. I had an idea to start documenting the front country (car camping), in a way that added value to the information that was currently available. For example, Ontario Parks provides pictures of every campsite, but they usually only have two or three images, they don’t show the full scope of the campsite, and many of the photos are literally a decade old.

I won’t go into too much detail about the project I had in mind, but basically it was geared around doing a better job of documenting the front country in Algonquin Park. With 1,300+ front-country campsites, the project was going to be a massive undertaking.

Someone named Dan had submitted more than a dozen backcountry campsite reports through my website. He clearly enjoyed the process of documenting sites, so I asked if he would be interested in helping me with this project. I would offer compensation of $1.50 for every campsite report. I forecasted that it would take two to three minutes per campsite, which included taking pictures of the site, as well as the necessary walking time between campsites and the campground. In one day, it could easily pay a couple hundred dollars.

There would be specific rules to follow though. For example, i) every photo needed to be landscape orientation, ii) a total of 4-7 images per campsite, iii) photos needed to be clear, good quality, iv) the first photo for every campsite should be the post with the campsite number, and v) campsites should be documented in ascending order, even if it meant more zig-zag walking. With thousands of images that would need sorting through, rules “iv” and “v” were particularly important.

The purpose of this trip was going to be a trial-run for the project. Were my forecasted time estimations accurate? Were there any challenges that I had overlooked? Is this whole thing even going to be feasible? My goal was to test one or two campgrounds in 2023, learn what I can about the process, and then do the bulk of the campgrounds the following year.

Dan and I decided to meet at Kearney Lake campground at 9:00 AM. Kearney Lake had 104 campsites, and while it was a bit large for a trial run, I thought it would be ok.

I packed snacks, two 1-litre Nalgenes, my camera gear, some extra clothes, and my daypack with my usual essentials, including my GoPro, InReach Mini, gloves, first aid kit, bear spray, and a few other goodies.

Kearney Lake Campground

I woke up at 5:15 AM. I wasn’t bringing my canoe on this trip, so I loaded the rest of my stuff into my car and then took Elo for a quick walk and made myself a coffee before heading out. I stopped at one of the On Routes for a quick bathroom break, and then made it to Kearney Lake campground right at 9:00 AM. I literally pulled in at the exact same time as Dan; the timing couldn’t have been better.

We spent a few minutes chatting and discussing a game plan, and then got started. We decided to split the campground in half; I would document Campsite #101 to Campsite #159, and he would document the sites on the other side of the campground, Campsite #201 to Campsite #246. Elo was going to be tethered to my waist the entire time.

Campsite at Kearney Lake Campground in Algonquin Park, October 2023

Many of the sites are in the interior of the campground, not along the waterline. Those campsites offered very little privacy; they were just a big patch of ground adjacent to one another. Other sites were tucked away down by the water and offered good seclusion, relatively speaking. There were a few sites near the beaches that offered a beautiful view out onto Kearney Lake, but would likely come with the trade-off of having lots of people walk nearby the campsite as they visited the beach.

The half of the campground that I was documenting was a pretty mixed bag with the types of campsites available; some were big and spacious, and some were quite small. The campground itself was pretty no-frills. There were a few outhouses, a few water taps, and a beachfront with a view onto the lake. But there was nothing too extravagant. The comfort station was on the second half of the campground that Dan was covering.

Most of the picnic tables at the campsites had been flipped vertically, presumably to prevent snow buildup over the winter. Or maybe it was so that the local moose and bears didn’t have somewhere to sit and enjoy their morning coffee. 

While I was documenting the campsites, a few Ontario Parks vehicles were driving through the campground. They didn’t mind that we were there; we were quiet, respectful, and not disturbing anything. I spoke with one lady and she mentioned that she was taking note of which campsites still needed the tables to get flipped. The campground was in the process of being closed for the winter, but thankfully the outhouses were still unlocked (which would have been a big problem for me at around 11:00 AM when duty called).

Fire Pit in front of Kearney Lake at Algonquin Park, October 2023

It took about two hours to collect all of the campsite pictures from my half of the campground. Dan finished at a similar time. We met back at our cars for a snack break, to give Elo some water, and to relax for a bit. One of the park rangers asked to check our DVP. That stands for “Daily Vehicle Permit”. No, not the Don Valley Parkway for you Toronto folks.

Then we headed back into the campground. I decided that I also wanted to take general photos of the campground, to show what the overall environment looked like. How wide were the roads? How close together were the campsites? What does the comfort station look like? How are the views from the beach? You get the point.

I also wanted to do a full walkthrough with my GoPro, to film the general campground as well as each individual campsite. Filming with the GoPro wasn’t part of my original plan, when I estimated two to three minutes per campsite, so adding it to the to-do list basically doubled how long everything would take. There was a lot of battery being drained from our iPhones and my GoPro, but we came prepared with portable chargers for our iPhones and backup batteries for the GoPro.

It was only during the second round that I saw Dan’s half of the campground. Personally, I thought the half that I covered was nicer. Dan’s half had some bigger campsites overall, and it was where the comfort station was located, but I thought the campsites in my half had a nicer overall aesthetic and better views out onto the water.

We finished the second walkthrough of the Kearney Lake campground at around 2:00 PM—a total of around 5 hours—and took a break at our cars before deciding what to do next. We decided to head to the Tea Lake campground and tackle that one next. We didn’t have too many hours of sunlight left, so we needed to choose a smaller campground.

Tea Lake Campground

During the drive over to the Tea Lake campground it started to rain lightly. When we arrived, we decided to wait 15 minutes for it to hopefully calm down. Dan made himself a coffee while I let Elo sleep in the backseat of my car. We had already done more than 15,000 steps and Elo was very tired.

Once again, we split the campground in half. I took Campsite #20 to Campsite #42, and Dan took Campsite #1 to Campsite #19. The Tea Lake campground had a completely different vibe than the Kearney Lake campground. The Kearney Lake campground was much larger, and deeper into the forest, so there was more tree coverage. On the other hand, the Tea Lake campground was closer to the highway and had very little tree coverage between the highway and the lake. The Kearney Lake campground was dominated by tall pines, while the Tea Lake campground had more variety, including colourful maples that had mostly fallen by that point of the season. The Tea Lake campground also had more gravel ground, rather than dirt and soil. It felt much more paved through and well-used.

The campsites at the Tea Lake campground were all very similar to one another. Most of them had a big area of gravel ground, with maybe one or two defining characteristics along the perimeter. A handful of campsites along the shoreline offered water access via a small trail. One campsite in particular, Campsite #30, had a short walk through the forest to get to the site. It was very reminiscent of an interior backcountry campsite, with dirt ground, rocks all over, and plenty of shelter with its significant tree coverage. It was the complete opposite of the other open gravel sites in the campground.

The higher numbered campsites were located down a dead-end road, with a small elevation climb. I liked the privacy that those sites offered, but it came at the cost of being closer to the highway, so more traffic noise would be heard while camping at those sites.

It was on-and-off drizzling while we were collecting pictures at the Tea Lake campground. There were no park staff this time, and the bathroom doors were all locked for the season. Thankfully, I didn’t need to use the bathroom again! When we finished collecting pictures, we did a second walkthrough, similar to the way we did at the Kearney Lake campground.

Comfort Station at Tea Lake Campground in Algonquin Park, October 2023

It was only during the second walkthrough that I got to check out the half of the campground that Dan was responsible for. Most of the sites were very similar to the ones I was documenting, but there were a few right by the water that were more unique. The water sites were completely exposed with no shelter whatsoever, but they were directly at the water’s edge and provided a pretty view onto the lake. A couple of them also had their own tiny beach as well.

We couldn’t find Campsite #2. It wasn’t shown on the map of the campground, and we didn’t see it in person either. We speculated that it was probably an existing site a long time ago, that the park decided to close down at some point. My guess was that it shared the area with Campsite #1, but the area was too small for two campsites, so they closed down one of them.

Sunset over Tea Lake in Algonquin Park, October 2023

The on-and-off drizzling subsided during our second walkthrough of the campground. The day prior to the trip, the forecast called for 14 degrees and sunshine, but in typical October fashion, the forecast changed last minute. It ended up being 10 degrees and complete overcast, with the occasional drizzle. At least there wasn’t too much of a wind chill. And the overcast skies actually provided better lighting for the pictures; really sunny days can create strong contrast and shadows, which is worse for photos.

We finished both walkthroughs of the Tea Lake campground at 5:15 PM and went back to our cars, which were parked just outside of the closed gates leading into the campground. I fired up my JetBoil to boil some water for us. Dan had brought a Happy Yak soup, and I had an AlpineAire meal for myself. We enjoyed our meals and relaxed by our cars for around an hour. I had done over 27,000 steps and I was very tired. I couldn’t wait to get home, take Elo for one last walk, and then collapse on my couch. Elo was exhausted too; she immediately curled up in her favourite corner of the car and slept the entire way home.

The Aftermath

Let’s start with Elo. Elo was the best. Well, Elo is always the best, but she was such a good girl the whole day. I kept her tethered to my waist the entire time. She was very excitable and loved sniffing around, but that’s how she usually acts when we’re doing an outdoor adventure. She was extremely well behaved and took a strong liking to Dan. I think they’re best friends now.

It was nice meeting Dan in person. We had exchanged a bunch of emails before this project came about, while he was submitting his backcountry campsite reports. We found out that we were actually ‘next-door neighbours’ on North Tea Lake a few weeks prior. We were both camped on islands adjacent to one another, on the same night. It was a funny realization after the fact.

I was hoping to see some wildlife on this trip, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I thought maybe moose or bear would enjoy the empty campgrounds given how spacious they were, how quiet they would be with no one around, and how easy the water access was. But unfortunately, they never showed up. Who knows, maybe some black bears saw us and ran off long before we were aware of their presence. Yeah, let’s just say that happened.

Overall, the campground project was a lot more time consuming than I had imagined. I knew it was going to be extremely time consuming, but it was even worse than I expected. My forecast of two to three minutes per campsite was spot on, but I didn’t account for the second walkthrough with the GoPro, which essentially doubled the time of everything. But this was the exact reason why I wanted to do this trip, to use it as a trial run so I could plan the rest of the project accordingly. I didn’t do any of the post-processing work; I was planning on doing that over the winter. The post-production and website work was probably going to be more hours than the actual documenting and collecting of the content. I would get around to it eventually.

To see all of the campground information collected, including photos for every individual campsite, click on the pages below.

Campground Information & Campsite Photos

To see all of the campground information collected, including photos for every individual campsite, click on the pages below.

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