3 Days Solo on Shirley Lake in Algonquin Park

Easy Nav

Trip Info

Date: August 8th – 10th, 2021

ROUTE Shall > Shirley Shirley > Shall
Travel (Single)
2.5 hrs
2.5 hrs
Travel (Double)
3 hrs
3 hrs
Portage #1
1,050m
1,050m
SINGLE CARRY
1,050m
1,050m
DOUBLE CARRY
3,150m
3,150m
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
Total
5 hrs
6 hrs
2 portages
2,100m
6,300m
Per Travel Day
2.5 hrs
3 hrs
1 portages
1,050m
3,150m
Trip Report and Details for 3 Days Solo on Shirley Lake in Algonquin Park August 2021

Background

There isn’t too much background info for this trip. I wanted to do one August trip this year, and I’ve never been out of the Shall Lake access point, so I decided to book Shirley Lake for a few nights. Most of the area was fully booked by the time I made my reservation, but I was lucky to snag a few remaining vacancies. I was planning on going to Godda afterwards, but the forecast called for a heavy amount of rain and strong thunderstorm warnings, so I cut the trip short and just did a there-and-back to Shirley.

Day 1 – Shall Lake to Shirley Lake

I wasn’t looking forward to doing the long drive from the GTA to Shall Lake, but I got on the road right at 4:30 AM to start the journey. I decided against taking the quickest route and instead opted for the simpler route, driving up Hwy 11 then across Hwy 60. It’s much more mindless of a drive, and I love driving down Hwy 60. It’s just so beautiful. It was only an extra 15min, so I thought it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

I got on the water at 8:30 AM and paddled through a calm Crotch Lake to my one and only portage of the day. I was greeted by a dead, half gutted fish right at the portage landing. Yum. The 1km portage felt quicker than a 1km should feel since it’s such a flat and easy portage. Other than the one nuisance blowdown midway through, and the non-stop swarm of mosquitos attacking me, it was a breeze. 

When I launched onto Shirley I could see one or two campsites occupied in the distance, but I was going to try my luck with Campsite #5 midway down the lake. And if #5 was taken, I’d keep paddling north. 

I wasn’t all that impressed with Shirley Lake when I entered the lake, but as I continued paddling my opinion quickly changed. The eastern shoreline is flat and uninspiring, but the beauty of the lake is seen in the mountainous western shoreline and the tiny islands dotting the northern half of the lake. 

I was on the water well before anyone else coming to Shirley Lake that day, but I did pass a few groups leaving their campsites. One group came from the island, and another group came from the northernmost site. I realized I might have actually arrived on the lake too early, and I might pass an occupied site that would become vacant shortly afterwards.

When I passed Campsite #5 and saw it was occupied, I was hoping they were just packing up and on their way out. I had a decent tailwind at my back so I decided to just relax and drift with the wind while admiring the shorelines of Shirley Lake and see if the group at Campsite #5 were on their way out. I kept my distance so not to intrude, but after 20min of waiting and drifting further away, there was no sign of them leaving so I continued onwards.

I knew that the island was still available, but from the pictures I’ve seen it’s not the type of site that appeals to me. I’m sure it’s a great site, but I know most of the other sites on Shirley Lake have west facing beaches, and the island site did not. West facing beaches appeal to me. The next stop on my journey was towards Campsite #3. I paddled very leisurely, taking full advantage of the tailwind helping me along the way.

I arrived to find Campsite #3 taken as well. I did the same thing and just put my paddle down, relaxed, let the wind drift me forwards, and hope that they were packing up and on their way out. This time, they actually were. I waited probably 30min for them to leave, again keeping my distance so not to bother them. I really didn’t mind waiting, it was such a peaceful morning and the large island was blocking most of the wind so the waters became much more calm as well. Plus, it was only 11:30 AM and the day was still very young.

After the group left I went on shore to check out the site. It was very large, open, and spacious, with a very accessible beach landing at the front. There was enough room to pitch probably 10 tents, not that it mattered since I was by myself. And the fire pit area was pretty good as well. Although, the group that just left forgot to fully put out their fire! There were no flames, but it was still very warm to the touch and I was able to find a few embers. No water was poured on it, they clearly just let it die down and assumed that would be good enough. Don’t be like that group, make sure your fire is actually out completely before leaving your site! That’s how forest fires happen.

Speaking of forest fires, the one peculiar thing about this site was that there must have been a massive root fire at some point. Almost every tree was black at the base and the lower half of the trees were completely dead. About 50% of the trees had fallen, and most of those had been chopped to the stump to use as firewood. That’s why the site was so ‘open and spacious’. I didn’t see any reason to be concerned (other than needing to be cautious of widowmakers up above) since it seemed like the fire didn’t happen recently, but it definitely has a negative affect on the aesthetic of the site. On the plus side though, there was basically unlimited firewood right at the site.

It didn’t call for any rain until later in the evening but the sky was full of overcast so I set up my tarp right away just to be safe.

After setting up the rest of camp I relaxed for a few hours as the sun decided to make an appearance. I had a really enjoyable, lazy day at the campsite and didn’t do too much. I went for a leisurely paddle in the late afternoon, maybe 4pm to check out the area north of me. One of the two sites in the north were occupied, but the other was still vacant so I went on shore to check it out.

One thing I really liked about both of these campsites is that you have to wrap around and go behind the large islands to get to them. It honestly makes them feel like they’re part of a different lake completely since they’re so cut off from the rest of the lake. But I mean that in a good way. And the view west overlooking the three small islands across from the sites was just gorgeous. I was happy with the site I was camped at, but the location and view from these sites definitely make them desirable in their own way.

After slowly paddling back to my own campsite I decided it was time for dinner. I made a random AlpineAire meal… the reason I say ‘random’ is because I don’t recall what meal it was, so clearly it wasn’t that memorable.

After dinner there was still 1-2 hrs left of sun, the waters were calm, and I had nothing that I needed to do. So, back on the water I went! I decided to circle the large island and check out the campsite if no one ended up taking it. The site was indeed still available so I went to take a look. It was nicer than I had expected, though very dark and enclosed. But two things really stood out to me… first, the view south down Shirley was gorgeous (I keep describing the views on Shirley as being gorgeous, I recognize that I should probably have a thesaurus handy while writing these trip reports, but the truth is, there are just never-ending gorgeous views on Shirley!). And the second thing was the fire pit. It was pretty epic. But you can take a look at the pictures from my campsite report and judge for yourself.

I stayed on the water admiring more of the tiny islands surrounding the large island while the sun was on it’s final minutes, about to dip behind the shoreline. I never realized how many small islands there are on Shirley Lake. While looking at the map before the trip my mind just focused on the one large island dominating the centre of the lake, and I completely overlooked the other 7 or 8 smaller islands. But while on the water, I definitely didn’t overlook them. They add so much character to the lake and each one is prettier than the last.

I got back from my second evening paddle after the sun had just crossed the shoreline. I brought my barrel down since I had hung it before I left, and started to get a fire going. Clouds began filling the sky towards the end of the sunset, but I took my chances and hoped that I’d be able to sit by the fire for a bit before any rain started.

I ended up keeping the fire quite small, mainly because it was such a hot evening (still in the mid 20’s even after the sun disappeared) and I needed to wear long clothing because the bugs were pretty brutal at that time of day.

I spent maybe an hour or so by the fire before deciding to call it a night. I got into the tent just past 10 PM, and literally less than two minutes later, then rain finally started. Great timing.

Day 2 – Rest Day on Shirley Lake

The rain started right as I got into the tent and lasted throughout most of the night. By the time I woke up everything was still wet, but at least it wasn’t raining any more. Good thing I had a tarp protecting all of my fire wood and gear.

I tend to get campsites that have views of both the sunset and sunrise, but that wasn’t the case with this site. So despite normally waking up at 5 AM to watch the sunrise, I actually had a major sleep in all the way to a whopping 7 AM. Crazy late, right?

There was a bit of wind early in the morning and I had a feeling it might end up being a windy day. But other than the breeze, the morning was very quiet and peaceful. I hung out around camp for a few hours, slowly getting some stuff organized before heading out on a day trip. The plan was to check out a few more sites on Shirley before heading into Ryan and paddling around there for a bit.

I started the journey at probably 10 AM and for the first time I heard noise from the logging roads right beside the lake as I was paddling close to shore.

I paddled at a very relaxed pace towards Campsite #5. Today it was vacant. I was somewhat tempted to move to this campsite since it was nicer, but it would be too much work (it’s a pretty decent paddle between sites) and the last thing I wanted was to pack up and head back over to find it taken by that point. So instead, I just spent about 1-2 hours enjoying the site and relaxing on its beaches.

I continued towards Ryan, stopping at the site just west of the portage. The site isn’t indicated on Jeff’s Map, but there is a report for it on Algonquin Adventures PCI. It’s definitely still there and marked as an official site.

After taking some pictures of the site for my own campsite reports I started the portage into Ryan. It was at this point that I immediately regretted leaving the bug spray at camp. I brought my sunscreen with me, but why didn’t I bring the bug spray!? And why are the bugs so damn bad in the middle of August!? And why do the mosquitos seem to love my blood so much!? As you can probably tell, I got eaten alive on the short 515m portage. So much that I wore my rain jacket on my way back just to cover my skin, despite sweating profusely in the 30 degree heat.

The portage itself is extremely flat and easy, and quite literally follows an old road the whole time. 

When I finished the portage I quickly got onto the water to try and escape the bugs before having a snack and water break in the canoe. 

I was literally the only person on Ryan Lake, if you don’t include the person I saw at the start of the portage who was about to finish his last day of a 15 day solo trip.

I paddled to every single site and went on shore to look at all of them, with the exception of two. Pretty much every single campsite has a terrible canoe landing, but the two that I skipped were so bad that I just said “nope, not even worth it”.

All of the sites in general are pretty underwhelming. Tent spots were never an issue, but many had poor fire pits, limited or no seating, and a couple were very overgrown considering the lake has been closed to camping for a while now (this is the first year that it is open again). The lake itself is nice I guess, but not nearly as spectacular as Shirley Lake right beside it. It’s no wonder the lake was completely empty when everything else was booked solid.

After spending an hour or two circling Ryan Lake I headed back to Shirley. The wind had picked up by this point and it was near the threshold of being a cause for concern. It wasn’t that bad yet, especially since I was hitting it straight on, but if it was coming at my side maybe I would have been a bit more worried. It just made it annoying that my already long paddle to get back home would become even longer.

At least I got some good photo opportunities with some geese while tucked away in a small bay, mostly protected from the wind.

It was about 3 PM when I got back to camp, so for the rest of the day I just lounged around camp being lazy. Clouds started rolling in and I heard some very light thunder. I made sure everything was clean around camp, all my gear was under my tarp, and I was ready in case the storm came closer.

The thunder was very sporadic and never ended up getting too close or becoming very loud. But it was mixed with some faint noises from the logging camp just east of the campsite that came and went periodically.

At one point I heard something splash in the water and I saw something swimming a couple hundred metres away from my site. I knew there wasn’t another campsite nearby so I thought maybe it was a moose? But the head poking out of the water looked too small to be a moose. Maybe it was a beaver? No, the head looked too big to be a beaver.

I got out my camera, zoomed in as much as I could, took a picture, then zoomed in even further. Well, that’s definitely a human swimming. I realized it was someone from the logging camp who just cut through the forest to go for a swim. Hopefully they weren’t able to tell that I was photographing them because that would be pretty awkward. “I thought you were a moose! Ok, maybe a beaver.”

After an uneventful sunset blocked completely by clouds, I decided to get a small fire going. Despite wearing long clothing AND spraying myself with deet AND sitting beside the fire, the mosquitos were still all over me. I really don’t know why they’re so attracted to me. I know I’m a catch and everything, but there’s plenty of other humans they could feed on too.

Anyways, I lasted about an hour before I had enough, put out the fire, and went to bed.

Day 3 – Shirley Lake Back to Shall Lake

Day 3 wasn’t supposed to be the last day of my trip, but the weather called for lots of rain (5-15mm for the next two days) and threats of thunderstorms with very strong wind gusts… so yeah, Day 3 ended up becoming the last day of my trip.

I don’t mind rain on a trip, but it’s usually tolerable when you know you’ll get rewarded with better weather afterwards. All of the good weather for the trip had already finished and it was only going to get worse from this point. Plus, I find the weather is much more tolerable when I’m with other people. The things I love most about solo tripping is being on the water and enjoying the sun. If it’s storming, well, you obviously can’t do either of those things.

The rain was supposed to start at around 11 AM so I packed up camp and hit the water by 9 AM. I battled a small headwind as I crossed Shirley Lake and made it back to the one and only portage standing between my campsite and my car.

I finished my first of two carries and started walking back for the rest of my gear. About 300m into the walk back it started to rain, and I realized I left my camera bag exposed at the landing. The camera was protected in the bag, but with enough rainfall it would seep through. I didn’t want to turn around so I considered just leaving it, but I knew that wasn’t the smart choice. So I turned around.

I wouldn’t mind walking the extra couple hundred metres if it weren’t for those damn mosquitos who were still hungry for more after the all-you-can-eat buffet they already enjoyed the last time I did the portage. 

During my second carry two things happened.

First, I saw a couple that I passed on Shirley Lake the day prior; they were looking for a campsite in the afternoon and I directed them to the northern sites and offered to share my site in case everything was taken. It was their first backcountry trip and we spent a bit of time chatting on the portage. 

Second, my Nalgene broke! Close to 10 years of service and the plastic loop around the mouthpiece finally gave out. It’s technically still usable but that loop is essential for me so I’d rather just use a different one. I actually took a picture of this Nalgene during my last trip to Queer Lake a few weeks prior and was thinking “this Nalgene has been through hell and has somehow still held up.” Well, I fully jinxed it. 

I wanted to check out a few campsites on Crotch Lake, but unfortunately every single one was taken. At least the rain had tapered off by the time I finished the portage, so I was able to keep dry during the paddle back to the launch point.

That’s about it. Day 3 was pretty uneventful and when I got back to the access I packed up my car and got ready for the drive home.

The Aftermath

Let me start this section by once again complaining about the bugs. How were they so bad for this time of the year? Ok, now that I have that out of the way… 

Other than 342,185 mosquitos, I didn’t see any large wildlife. Some frogs, loons, geese, and birds, but nothing larger than that. Sometime you just feel like you’re in a good wildlife viewing area, but that wasn’t the case with this trip. I guess it’s all the logging road noise and people around, plus the sporadic bar of cell service throughout Shirley and Ryan, it just didn’t feel very ‘wild’.

I rented my canoe from Algonquin Outfitters Opeongo, but for some reason I thought I rented it from Opeongo Outfitters. I saw the AO logo on the canoe and thought “hmmm, this is weird. Maybe Opeongo Outfitters bought an old boat from AO and never removed the sticker”. Turns out I was just mistaken the whole time; I only noticed when I checked my email to get the phone number to call and let them know that the canoe was waiting at the access point earlier than planned.

Ok let’s talk about the lakes for a second. I’m really happy that I day tripped into Ryan Lake, because to be honest I probably won’t be back any time soon! The lake isn’t particularly noteworthy, and the campsites even less so. Shirley Lake however, might be one of the prettiest lakes in the park in my opinion. Basically repeating what I said earlier in this report, but the mountainous western shoreline and tiny scattered islands in the north of the lake give it so much character and offer such charming and wonderful views throughout. Plus, most of the campsites are pretty nice. I decided to cut the trip short due to the weather, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Shirley again in the future.