Four Days In The North Of Algonquin
Date: September 3rd – 6th, 2015
Route: Kiosk Lake → Manitou Lake → Three Mile Lake → Maple Lake → Kiosk Lake
This was my first time visiting the north of Algonquin Park, so I was pretty excited about it. I was originally planning this as a solo trip, but my friend who hasn’t been on a trip in almost 10 years flew in from the states, so I decided to pass on going solo. When choosing the route, I wanted something relatively challenging but with enough time in each day to relax and enjoy the quiet for the last time of the summer. I originally planned on doing the route clockwise, but decided to go the opposite way because each lake had more campsites available during those respective days (meaning better choices, and more privacy).
Day 1 – A Perfect Evening on Manitou Lake
We got on the road at about 6am and made it onto the water around 11am. We were camping on Manitou, and we were literally the only campsite booked out of 42 sites! I couldn’t get over how ridiculous that was, that only 1/42 campsites were booked… not to mention it was the Thursday before a long weekend.
Anyways, this meant we were in no rush to get there, so we paddled leisurely through a calm Kiosk lake and took our time. Water levels were really low so we did the first 3 portages together as 1 longer portage of about 1km. It was a pretty easy portage, and at the end we stopped for a quick snack and saw what looked like an otter popping it’s head out of the waters in front of us.
After a couple minutes down the Amable Du Fond River we hit the set of ‘rapids’ shown on Jeffs Map. It was more like 2 metres of fast current with lots rocks, making it hard to navigate through without banging up the boat, so I just got out and dragged/guided the boat through a rock-free narrow passageway.
Next was the 1355m portage, which other than one short incline, was a pretty easy portage with a few man-made canoe resting stops along the way. A couple meters before the end of the portage I just about stepped on a snake. It was my first time seeing a snake in Algonquin and it slithered off well before I would have been able to put down my packs to get my camera.
We got to the end of the portage at about 2pm and the sun was shining bright in the cloudless sky. The end of the portage is one massive beach, probably the biggest that I’ve seen in Algonquin… it’s like going to Aruba except cheaper and more private!
One of the staff at Algonquin North Outfitters told me that his favourite site on Manitou was the one right on the beach, so I decided to check it out. Right on the beach I saw an unimpressive fire pit with one log (more like a thick stick) to sit on, and I thought this must be some kind of joke. I kept walking and found the actual campsite just a minute further where the beach connects to the forest. It was a pretty nice campsite with a good fire pit, lots of seating, some surfaces for a kitchen table, a couple tent spots, etc. I realized that the fire pit outside was secondary and the primitive nature of it was actually quite fitting for its location on a sandy beach.
We were all pretty impressed with the site and almost considered staying there, but the day was early and there were still 41 other sites that we hadn’t seen, so I couldn’t justify taking the first site we came across regardless of how nice it was. The only downside to the site would be that for swimming, the sandy waters were around knee deep for about 20 metres before dropping off into more swimmable depths. Also during busy times you’ll have lots of traffic passing through at the end of the portage. Otherwise, the view is spectacular and the campsite is really nice.
The plan was to go towards the tiny island in the middle of the lake (just north of the island with 3 sites), since I’ve read great things about it and I’m a big fan of small stranded island sites. On the way there are 2 small islands, each with 2 sites that we were going to stop and check out.
We pulled up to the smaller northern island and took a look around. The eastern campsite had a nice fire pit with lots of open rock for swimming and watching the sunrise. The western site was up on a bit of a cliff (there are stairs built from the landing to the campsite) and had even more open rocks that were larger and flatter, making it a great place to stargaze and watch the sunset. The fire pit wasn’t the best, but I could just grab some rocks and build it up a bit better. The landscape of the trees was in such a way that it was quite picturesque and almost illusionary.
Both sites had 1 or 2 smaller tent spots, but halfway between the sites was one of the biggest tent spots I’ve come across. You could easily fit 3-4 small tents or 1-2 larger tents on this football field.
Between the two campsites there was everything you could ask for; gorgeous views for the sunset and sunrise, large flat rocks for stargazing and lounging, great swimming spots, massive tent spot, decent fire pit/seating area, etc. There were also these mysterious feathers scattered along 10-15ft of trail between the two sites, which I figured must have come from a careless campers sleeping bag or something.
As much as I wanted to see the tiny island site, it couldn’t be THAT much better than this and we would waste at least an hour if we went to check it out and decided to come back to these… so we decided to stay put and in the morning we would pass by and see what we might have missed out on.
We set up camp, went for a swim, and cooked a big dinner; double cheeseburgers wrapped in peanut butter smothered tortillas with mashed potatoes on the side… delicious!
Since we were the only campers on the lake we made use of both sites, though we cooked at the western site so we could enjoy the sunset as we ate. The western site is the better of the two, but they’re so close to each other that they ought to be reserved as one large site… it’s not like the lake is lacking available sites anyways.
The ONLY unenjoyable moment of the day was when a fishing boat from one of the cottages pulled up literally right beside our island to go fishing. A massive lake with 42 campsites, only 1 occupied, and they decide to post up right beside us. We asked them kindly if they’d be able to go somewhere else, but they refused. Once they left we got back the feeling of remoteness and enjoyed the rest of our night on the site.
The sunset was gorgeous and the stars that night were breathtaking. We even saw the northern lights which blew my mind since not only have I never seen them before, but I didn’t think it was even possible to see from this far south.
Just as we were getting in the tent for the night I saw a speck of orange through the trees; I knew it wasn’t a fire since no one else was camping on the lake, and there was no flicker to it, so we decided to go see what it was. A half-moon moonrise. Just when I thought we couldn’t get anything more from Day 1, we got a beautiful moonrise to end the night. Perfect weather, some wildlife, sunsets, amazing campsites, stars, northern lights, moonrise… it was a pretty perfect day.
Day 2 – Site Searching on Three Mile Lake
We got onto the waters late, just before noon, and started paddling the rest of Manitou lake. I hopped onto shore to check out the small island site, and it was definitely nicer than each of the 2 sites that we stayed on individually; but if you’re able to camp on both sites together like we did, then it’s a toss up. The small island had a better fire pit and possibly a better tent spot, but it wasn’t elevated and it didn’t have any large open rocks by the shoreline, so the views wouldn’t have been as nice.
Anyways, we got to our one portage of the day, the 3km into Three Mile. I took the canoe for this and the first 200m or so is some steep thigh-burning inclines that drains all your energy for the next 2.7km. There are a couple of canoe resting stops set up, though I managed to do it with just a 30 second breather about halfway through.
We got to Three Mile and I was exhausted… we had some choppy waters to paddle through, and the plan was to get to the south side of the lake and check out the 4 island sites. Most of the sites en-route looked pretty average, though the one just northwest of the larger island looked pretty nice, but it was already taken.
We went clockwise around the larger island to look at the 3 sites. The first, northern site had a ridiculous incline leading to a fire pit with absolutely no seating, and an even more ridiculous incline leading to where I imagine the tent spot would be. I couldn’t be bothered to explore further so I got in the canoe and headed towards the next site. The eastern site was alright, though nothing that really stood out about it. There were about 10 or so tree trunk logs about 2-3ft in diameter that were recently cut down… a strong wooden smell and wood chip shavings surrounded the entire site.
Next was the southern site on the island, which can be accessed by either the east or west side of the island. The hourglass shape narrows into about 15-20ft of land connecting the east and west entrance to the site. The west entrance had a beach landing that wasn’t ideal for swimming unless you wanted to walk pretty far out, but it was gorgeous nonetheless and provided an excellent place to watch the sunset. The fire pit had plenty of seating, and faces east for a view of the sunrise. A couple good tent spots as well.
Just past the thunder box we went into the forest and found a goldmine of thicker pieces of wood for the fire. I also found an old wooden door that looked like it led somewhere underground, that I joked was either hidden treasure or a bears den. Realistically, it was probably just a covered up thunder box. We paddled to check out the small island site just in case it was some hidden gem, but it was pretty disappointing. So back to the other site we went.
Once again we had perfect sunny weather all day, and enjoyed another breathtaking sunset. The stars were shining just as bright as the night before, but unfortunately there weren’t any large flat rocks to lie down on. The only downside to the site is that there were lots and lots of flies buzzing around when we were cooking, and some bees as well. By the beach area there were swarms of these tiny, barely visible white flies that would itch like crazy when they landed on you… not quite sure what they were, but they definitely weren’t enjoyable. The site was also pretty exposed meaning it got a bit chilly in the evening, but that didn’t really bother me.
Day 3 – Maple Lake, Our Third Island Campsite
On Day 4 we had to wake up really early since we had a long day back to Kiosk Lake, and my friend had a flight that same evening. That meant we would only have Day 3 to enjoy Maple Lake, and since Maple Lake is what initially drew me to plan a trip to northern Algonquin, I told my friends I’d like to get there as early as possible in the day. So we woke up and cooked breakfast while watching the sunrise and got on the waters before 9am.
The four portages were pretty straightforward and not too difficult. North Sylvia was a pretty lake though the campsites didn’t look too enticing. Boggy Lake was exactly how it sounds. And Dahinda and Ratrap were decent as well.
Getting onto Maple Lake, we wanted to check out the northern island site since I had read good things about it. We figured that would be the first site taken though, and we were already passing the southern sites, so we decided we might as well check them out.
We stopped at the northern of the two small island sites beside each other in the south of Maple Lake. It was small, cozy, and had just about everything that I look for in a campsite. We saw people leaving the other site beside it, so we went and asked them if they had passed the northern site, and if it was worth the paddle to check out. They said they didn’t go in that direction, but the site that they were leaving was the nicest one in the south of Maple.
I went ashore and took a look around, and it was nicer than the one I had just looked at, so we decided to camp here for the night. It was about 1pm so there was plenty of time to set up camp, go collect wood, and relax by the waters on yet another gorgeous sunny day.
While my friends took a mid-day nap, I went for a leisurely paddle and swam. I found a couple large rocks in the water that let me lie down with my lower body submerged, my upper body exposed to the sun, and a footrest for extra comfort. It was the ultimate lake-lounging experience. The lake was silent with the exception of birds chirping and water flowing, and this was probably the most peaceful moment of my entire summer.
Soon after my friends joined for a swim, and a canoe with a male and female pulled up to the northern site right beside us. They asked if we were camping on the southern site and when we said yes they said they would paddle somewhere else on the lake. I really appreciated that they would take a different site so that we could enjoy the privacy… I actually remember reading a trip log from someone who stayed at our site and they were very disappointed when a group of obnoxiously loud campers took the other site beside.
About an hour later 3 canoes of 9 guys pulled up and I heard them talking amongst each other “Is this where we’re camping tonight?”. Luckily they were heading to Ratrap, and as they paddled off they were singing the American national anthem at the top of their lungs. Thinking about the trip log that I read, I knew exactly how that person must have felt. Luckily the day passed and the site was left unoccupied.
As we finished our swim I heard something that sounded like it might be a moose by the shore to the south of us. I grabbed my camera and sat quietly on one of the cliffs hoping it would pop out of the forest. It made some more sounds, but never showed itself.
The skies became cloudy during the sunset, and after dinner I took the boat for one last leisurely paddle; this would be my last time paddling by myself for the summer, so I spent a while on the waters watching the sunset. Maple Lake is one of those lakes that has this inexplicable beauty to it, and I’m very happy that we got there so early in the day and I got to enjoy everything it had to offer.
The site itself was another spectacular site, just adding to the already 2 awesome sites that we had the nights prior. There were 2 fire pits, one sheltered with seating and another on one of the cliffs overlooking the sunset. A couple good tent spots, tons of perfectly flat cliff faces to relax on, and some trails at the back of the island to explore for a bit.
As we finished cleaning up dinner and hung the barrel we went to stargaze for the last time. It was another starry night, but we saw some lightning in the distance and thick black clouds started blocking out the sky. We prepared for rainfall and went to bed once the sky was fully black, though the rain never came.
Day 4 – An Early Start to Maple Creek
We had another early morning but this time we didn’t have time for a hot breakfast, so we ate some pre-made peanut butter sandwiches while watching the sunrise from the back of the island. We had about 4.5hrs of travel, plus a 4hr drive back to Toronto, and my friend had to be at the airport by 6:30pm, meaning we would have to be back a bit earlier so he could shower and pack his stuff. We were on a pretty tight schedule.
We made it onto the water by 7:30am, but the 4.5hrs of travel took longer than expected. The portages were easy, but Maple Creek had such low water levels that for lots of areas we would have to get out and drag the boat. There were also a bunch of beaver dams that we had to lift over.
The most exciting part of the day for me was passing what looked like pretty fresh wolf tracks. This trip was my first time seeing a snake, first time seeing the northern lights, and now my first time seeing wolf tracks.
Once we finished the 915m into Kiosk Lake we were hit with strong headwinds that made the paddle back to our cars a lot more difficult than we had hoped. The first 200m or so off of the portage was sinking muddy waters about 6 inches deep making it extremely difficult to paddle. We finally got back to the car and made it home by 5:30, just on time.
Overall this was an amazing trip. We had perfect weather the whole time, stayed on gorgeous campsites, were treated to the most spectacular sunsets, sunrises, and stargazing, and saw/heard a decent bit of wildlife. We only saw 3 or 4 groups of people the whole time, which is a pretty small number for Algonquin.
The lakes were beautiful and had such a peaceful atmosphere surrounding them. I’m so used to the southern more travelled routes of Algonquin that I didn’t realize just how serene it would be in the north. It was the perfect trip to end the summer, and next year I’m definitely going to travel through more of the north.