My First Ice Out Canoe Trip in Algonquin Park (Kind Of)
Date: April 29th – May 1st, 2022
This trip was 5 years in the making. I had been wanting to do an “ice out” trip for a while, but every year something got in the way. One year was the weather, one year I had just switched jobs, a couple years had COVID restrictions… this year, it finally looked like the stars had aligned. My only concern was the forecast of the overnight temperature for the first evening. It was calling for minus 8 degrees celcius and even colder with the wind chill.
As a last minute decision the day before the trip, I called the Wolf Den Nature Retreat and booked a cabin. The new plan was to explore the park during the day, then head back to my (warm) cabin to sleep at night. I’ve camped in the backcountry through nights with temperatures below zero before. I didn’t need to prove anything to myself with this trip. Plus, I was feeling a bit run down the day before the trip and I knew my body would not be happy with those brutal overnight temps.
Even though I switched to a cabin, I was already packed for the backcountry so I loaded my canoe pack and barrel into my car. By the way, did I mention I finally got my own canoe!? That was the real reason I knew an “ice out” trip needed to happen this year. I had just picked up my canoe three days before the park announced “ice out”, and I was itching to take it for a paddle. I’m not going to give too much detail about the canoe in this trip report because I’m going to write a separate article to show it off in all of its glory. I’ll update this post with a link when the article is ready.
Day 1 – Rock Lake and the Wolf Den Nature Retreat
This was going to be my first time going to Algonquin Park and NOT camping in the backcountry. Since I would be sleeping in a cabin, it meant I didn’t need to worry about getting to my destination early to find a good campsite. It also meant I could spend more time on the water since I wouldn’t need to set up camp. All of those things considered, I decided to sleep in until around 5:30 AM. If you’ve read any of my other trip reports, you’d know that’s a very late wakeup for me on the first day of a trip!
First, I needed to stop by my parents house to pick up my brand new canoe. Living in a condo means I don’t have anywhere to store the canoe myself, so luckily I’m able to keep it in my parents garage. After strapping the canoe to my car I got on the highway. Next stop, Algonquin Park.
Actually… the next stop was back to my parents because after 20 minutes of driving on the highway I realized I forgot the detachable yoke in their garage.
Ok let’s try this again. Next stop, Algonquin Park!
Not quite yet. Part of Highway 11 was closed near Barrie, so after being stuck in literally the same spot for almost an hour I had to take a massive detour. I finally made it to the park just before noon. Of course there was one last hiccup. I badly needed gas and the best option was to drive past Rock Lake (where I was going to be paddling) to Whitney, and then backtrack. I tried stopping at the Portage Store first, but they didn’t have their power running to pump the gas.
I finally arrived at my destination, Rock Lake, just after noon. I took the canoe off my car and loaded my boat with my pack and barrel. Even though I wasn’t camping in the backcountry, I wanted to add weight to the boat to help with stability and control in case it got windy. The ice had literally just come off the lakes a few days prior. Tipping the canoe, especially while being out there solo, would be an incredibly dangerous situation that I needed to avoid.
Water levels were the highest I’ve personally ever seen. The docks at Rock Lake were completely submerged underwater. I wanted to check out Pen Falls to see how strong it would be flowing with the high water levels, but I didn’t think I’d have enough time after my late start. The plan was to collect campsite reports on Rock Lake, which is already very time consuming, and I didn’t want to feel rushed.
I took my time paddling down Rock Lake toward the islands. I was still feeling a bit run down so I didn’t want to over exert myself. I did a COVID rapid test earlier that morning and it was negative so I think it was just lack of sleep and/or allergies kicking in.
It was a sunny day and I had a decent wind at my back. I visited every campsite on the larger of the two islands, Rose Island. Some of the campsites still had large sections of snow and ice at the site, from areas that hadn’t gotten enough sunshine yet for a full melt. It was funny visiting Campsite #14 with the high water levels; the large, flat rock at the front of the campsite is its identifying feature and is the best part of the campsite, but it was completely submerged. Afterwards I visited Jean Island. The two campsites on Jean Island are closed to camping but I went on shore briefly to check them out anyways.
Next, I paddled to the east shore of Rock Lake. Starting from the south end of the lake at Campsite #9, I made my way north, checking out each campsite along the way. Some of the sites on that east shoreline were very beautiful. I was already rather impressed with the campsites I saw on the islands, but after seeing the campsites on the east shore it made me really fall in love with Rock Lake.
Rock Lake was a ghost town. None of the campsites were occupied and I think I saw maybe one boat on the water the whole day. I got on the water around 12:30 PM and by the time I finished looking at all of the campsites it was about 6:30 PM. It was a surprisingly long day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The winds were quite strong and there were whitecap waves, so I had one final battle against the headwind until I made it back to my car at about 7:00 PM.
Earlier that morning my new GoPro Hero 10 had glitched on me and somehow deleted the first two videos I had taken. It was likely an issue with the SD card, not the GoPro itself. I did a format of the card to start fresh and it seemed to work fine for the rest of the day. Well, when I got back in my car at the end of the day it glitched on me again and deleted ALL of my footage from the day! I was extremely frustrated. Luckily, I brought my old GoPro Hero 7 as well, so I was going to use that for the rest of the trip with completely different SD cards. I would worry about trying to recover the lost footage when I got back to the city, but I didn’t have high hopes for it being possible.
My final destination for the day was Wolf Den Nature Retreat. I arrived just after 8:00 PM and was given a quick tour of the property and was shown my cabin. The entire place had such a great atmosphere and the cabin was very cute and cozy. I immediately loved the place and was very happy with my last minute decision to book a cabin there.
I brought my canoe to the front of my cabin and locked it to a tree. Flipping it upside down, I noticed it already had a ton of ‘beauty marks’ on the bottom. I joked to myself that soon enough I’d have the ‘two tone’ optional add-on but without the extra cost or weight.
I was super tired after having a very long day so I just had a few snacks for dinner and had a lazy evening. There was barely a cloud in the sky all day, and that continued throughout the evening. After the sun set, the sky lit up with stars. Even though the temperature was making its way into the negatives, I decided to set up for some astrophotography. At around 11:00 PM I decided I was too cold and too tired so I packed up and called it a night. I got into my cozy sleeping bag inside my cozy log cabin and fell asleep instantly.
Day 2 – Canoe Lake to Tom Thomson Lake and Back
I didn’t have too much to do in the morning before heading into the park. I had a quick breakfast, tidied up my cabin, and then got moving. The plan was to paddle up from Canoe Lake to Tom Thomson Lake, and back to Canoe Lake. It would be more than 6hrs of travel round trip, not including any wind delays or time to stop and check out campsites. It was going to be a long day. I got on the water just before 10:00 AM. It was a little later than I had wanted, but still hopefully early enough for what I had planned.
I battled a light headwind on Canoe Lake as I headed north. The well-known sign in the water that signals the direction of Joe Lake vs. Potter Creek was almost completely submerged due to the high water levels. At the end of the 260m portage was a group of four, in two canoes, so I stopped to chat with them for a bit. One of the gentleman recognized my Algonquin & Beyond logo on my toque and said he’s been following my website for a while and really appreciates the campsite reports. They were off to Littledoe for a few nights.
I continued north towards Tom Thomson, stopping to check out all of the campsites on the west shoreline of Joe Lake. The winds were much more calm in the narrows, but started picking up again as I entered Tepee Lake. By the time I crossed Tepee Lake I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Tom Thomson and back if I continued stopping at every campsite. I would have to be selective on which ones I wanted to check out.
I only stopped at a few campsites on the Little Oxtongue River because to be honest, they were all pretty crappy. Almost all of the campsites on the west shore of Joe Lake, and along the Little Oxtongue River were very small with no notable features. I pushed forward toward Tom Thomson Lake and by the time I arrived at the lake at 3:00 PM, I was completely drained. I had already spent 5 hours under the sun and aside from the occasional gust, the wind was just a gentle breeze. My butt was also very sore from sitting on the seat of the canoe for that long. I knew that I still had a long ways to go before the day was over so I would need to pace myself and give myself some time to rejuvenate.
I took a break at one of the campsites on Tom Thompson Lake to have a snack, refill my water, and try to get back some energy. I ended up checking out four campsites on Tom Thomson Lake, and four on Littledoe Lake. By the time I finished those clusters it was 4:00 PM and I knew I couldn’t stop at any more sites. I was dead tired and still had 3 hours until I was back at the Canoe Lake access point. It felt like a shame that I couldn’t visit every site since the whole area was completely vacant (other than the one group I mentioned earlier). It was pretty weird seeing the most popular area of the park completely empty, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rare opportunity of getting to be there alone.
The paddle back was very difficult. I realized the sun was stronger than I had anticipated and it was a huge mistake not having sunscreen with me in the canoe. I was getting burnt, and my butt was only getting more sore from the seat. Somehow, the wind also managed to change directions so I was stuck battling another headwind.
Just before Tepee Lake I decided to lay back in the canoe and rest against my pack. I was interrupted a few minutes later by a canoe passing by. It was two conservation officers patrolling the lakes to check for fishing violations. This was the first time I had seen enforcement in the park that wasn’t a park ranger or a park warden. After 5-10 minutes of chatting I jokingly apologized that I wasn’t breaking any rules, then continued on my way.
At the end of the 260m portage I ran into another soloist who also had a canoe from H2O Canoe. We chatted about our boats for a while, which gave me a much needed break before my final paddle down Canoe Lake. Right before leaving he mentioned that he actually follows me on Instagram. It was pretty funny that of the three groups I saw that day, two of them recognized my logo from my clothes.
The day was finally coming to a conclusion after the last tiresome paddle on Canoe Lake. I was completely and utterly exhausted. I felt like crap and thought I may have legitimately gotten heat exhaustion. It was 7:00 PM when I arrived back at my car, which meant I was out on the water paddling under the sun for 9 hours with very little breaks. I had never been more happy to get back to my car and sit down on a comfy padded seat.
When I got back to the Wolf Def Nature Retreat I fired up my portable stove and made a Sweet & Sour Chicken dinner from Backpacker’s Pantry. It tasted soooo good after the day I just had. I was debating whether I wanted to stay up to do some more astrophotography, but my body didn’t even give me the choice. By 9:00 PM I could barely keep my eyes open and within two minutes of “I’m just going to lie down for a quick second” I was completely passed out.
Day 3 – Leaving Wolf Den Nature Retreat
Day 3 was a short one and there isn’t too much to write about. I was originally planning to have another long day on the water, but after my complete exhaustion and slight sunburn from Day 2, I decided I shouldn’t get on the water again. Also, before my drive back to the Wolf Den Nature Retreat at the end of Day 2 I noticed an issue with one corner of my roof rack. It was still secure, but one of the inner pieces was jammed and I didn’t want to push my luck and drive with it for any longer than I needed to. So going straight home instead of detouring into the park seemed like the safest option.
So yeah, there wasn’t too much to do on Day 3. I packed up my stuff in the cabin, played with the resident Wolf Den puppy, then loaded up my car to head out.
When I got back to my parents house to drop off the canoe I set up the storage rack inside their garage (previously the canoe was sitting on the ground), and then went to Rack Attack to get my roof rack fixed. It doesn’t sound like that busy of a day, but I still had zero energy from the previous day and I was dying to get home, take a long shower, and be lazy on my couch. It was around 4:00 PM that I finally got to do just that.
I had been looking forward to doing an “ice out” trip for several years, and I was glad that I finally got to do it. It was definitely different than my normal type of trip, considering I didn’t sleep in the backcountry, but I was very happy with my last minute call to rent the cabin. Wolf Den is an awesome place and I’ll definitely be back again.
It was also really interesting to see the park so empty. I travelled through what would normally be some of the busiest areas of the park, and it was a complete ghost town. The park was almost fully booked for the original opening weekend of May 13th, so I guess people didn’t want to change their reservations. Or they didn’t even know the park had opened early. Or a combination of both.
Water levels were crazy high which made all of the various landings more difficult to access, but otherwise it didn’t really impact my travels much. I didn’t see any exciting wildlife on this trip, with the exception of some birds and one snake on a campsite on Littledoe Lake. Luckily, the bugs weren’t out yet. That’s the beauty of doing a trip right after ice out.
Day 2 was one of the longest and most tiresome days I’ve ever had in the park, and it took me a few days to recover from that. It was still a great adventure, but boy did I underestimate what 14 degree sunshine can do to someone after being on the water for over 9 hours. At least my red face matched my new red canoe.
Speaking of my new canoe, that was definitely the highlight of this trip for me. I had picked up the canoe just the week prior to this trip, and once I saw Algonquin Park announce the official ice out, I knew I would be taking it to the park for its maiden voyage ASAP. The canoe looked amazing, paddled beautifully, and I still can’t believe it weighs in at under 30lbs. I named the canoe The Tourist. It was The Tourist’s first adventure, but there will definitely be many more to come.