This trip was going to be my first time exploring this area of the park, and the first time I’ve made a reservation in Algonquin exactly 5 months in advance. I’ve had my eye on David Lake for a few years now, but it’s always booked solid through the summer and timing has just never worked out. Initially the trip was going to be 2 nights on David with 1 night on either Little Trout or Queer, but we decided to use David as our home base for all 3 nights and do day trips to the surrounding lakes.
For the weeks leading up to the trip, there were two things that I consistently had my eye on… the weather, and the fire ban. The forecast for the trip was changing every day – from light rain, to sunshine, to heavy rain. Fortunately, as of the day before the trip, the only rainfall forecasted was on our first travel day, with 60% chances of a thunderstorm. We didn’t have as much luck with the fire ban though, as the ban was still on when we started our trip. I knew Algonquin had gotten lots of rain and the ban was only still in place because of the other fires in the province, but in the few days prior to our trip, the Parry Sound fire stopped growing in size and they were starting to get it under control.. I had a feeling the fire ban lift was imminent. Little did we know (until later) that the ban would be lifted the day after we left!
Day 1 – Heading to David Lake
We woke up at 4:30am and as per tradition, stopped at Tims on the drive up. We were the first ones at the outfitters, and the first of 48 to pick up our permits at the permit office that day. We headed down to Magnetewan to start the trip and launched just after 9am. The plan was to get to camp as quickly as possible, to try and set up before the potential thunderstorm hit. We double carried and made it to camp around 12pm and set up our tent just before getting 20min of very light rainfall… the storms never came.
Later that day we went up to Mubwayaka and checked out the north site (the south site was occupied) and paddled up to the first beaver dam at the start of the river, before turning back. Mubwayaka was a really pretty lake with lots of potential areas for moose sightings. The south site looked nice, and since it’s basically a dead-end lake (I doubt many people are taking either of the routes heading north out of the lake) it offers great privacy and seclusion. I do think David has the nicer site (if it wasn’t implied, I’m referring to the island… the other site is quite unappealing), but if David were already taken, I wouldn’t hesitate to book Mubwayaka.
For dinner we made instant rice with a pack of dehydrated chili – the type you “just add water” to the pack. It was both of our first time trying a dehydrated meal, and to our surprise, it was actually really delicious. Not the cheapest, costing more than $10/bag, but the convenience and ease of cleanup was a nice change. The mosquitos started swarming for about an hour just after sunset, but got better afterwards. We watched the stars for 45min or so before heading to my brand new Eureka Suma 2 for its inaugural sleep.
The Suma is my first half-decent tent purchase, made after lots of analysis paralysis. It sets up easy, is spacious enough for the 2 of us (and will be really spacious when I travel solo), packs down small, and weighs under 4lbs. The main reason I bought it though, is because it has 1 door 1 vestibule, which is becoming increasingly rare for 2-man tents. We didn’t put it through any major wind or rain to test its strength, but it did give us some great sleeps! The fact that the island was probably the quietest site I’ve ever stayed on definitely helped; there were no chipmunks/squirrels, and the bird’s only made noise during the day… nighttime on the island was very, very quiet.
Day 2 – Day Trip to Ralph Bice Lake, Little Trout Lake, and Queer Lake
The day trips we planned were to go to Little Trout one day, and to Queer Lake the other day, and take a look at all of the campsites. Well, all of the vacant campsites, and considering that this whole area of the park was booked full for the weekend, I wasn’t too sure how many we’d actually get to check out. We made a last minute decision to combine both day trips into one extra long day trip, and use Day 3 instead for a rest/lounge day on our beautiful island site.
After watching the sunrise we took a post-breakfast morning nap before starting our day. We ended up leaving the site at around 10am, anticipating we’d be gone for 6-7 hours. We were able to check out a few sites on the north shore of Ralph Bice while paddling to the short portage into Little Trout. The west end of Little Trout was full, with large groups on each site, one of which included a resident guitar player for the lake.
We were able to go on shore for some of the sites in the east end of the lake, on the north shore, before the rest of the permit-holders made their way onto the lake for the night. Considering that the sites we were able to check out on Ralph Bice and Little Trout were likely the last choices (since they were the ones vacant), they were surprisingly all pretty decent. Very few would I consider “bad” sites. It seems like you can’t go wrong on either lake, unless maybe you’re the absolute last ones there.
This is what happens when there’s a fire ban; several campsites had very large piles of firewood just waiting to be used:
It was midway through Little Trout that we really felt the 30 degree sun beating down on us, which is also the time we realized that we forgot to bring sunscreen in our day pack… we knew this probably wasn’t going to end well, but we decided to keep moving forward anyways. We made our way towards Queer, which we knew was also fully booked for the night. We were surprised to see the first 2 sites in view from the portage were empty. We were even more surprised to see that every single site we passed while heading south down the lake were also empty. The lake was fully booked, yet by mid afternoon, there was no sight of anyone on any of the sites.
Queer Lake might not be a lake with grand views, but I really appreciated its uniqueness, from the fire-burnt section of the shoreline, to its winding turns, variety of small inlets, and open mid-section of the lake. Ralph Bice and Little Trout were much more ‘generic’ looking lakes (albeit with nice sites), but Queer offered something a little bit different, in a good way… although, lots of the campsites are close by and face each other, so I can see how that would be a deterrent once the lake starts to fill up.
The sites on Queer were all average to above-average, until we got to one of the southernmost sites of the lake, perched atop a large rock cliff. The rock faced west for the sunset while offering good swimming, sunbathing, and stargazing opportunities. Inside the site, the fire pit was well sheltered and there were several tent spots, including one massive area capable of fitting any size tent you could possibly bring. It had the perfect balance of shelter where you need it, and exposure where you want it. We made a game of rating each site we visited throughout the day, and this easily topped all the other 6’s and 7’s with a solid 8.5. Everyone looks for a handful of different criteria in a site, but regardless of what you’re looking for, this site probably has most, if not all of it.
We decided not to check out the few sites all the way in the south, and instead opted to head back. We were already feeling sunburnt, and we still had the full return trip to complete.
The winds started to pick up once we got to Little Trout, so now our heat exhausted and sunburnt bodies had to battle a couple hours of headwinds before making it back home. At the end of the portage leading into Ralph Bice, we were both feeling completely drained and were dreading the final paddle. But I had a bit of an “aha!” lightbulb moment when I thought to myself “why have I not gone for a swim yet?” In all my fatigue and exhaustion, I hadn’t even considered that maybe going for a swim would be a good idea to help me cool down.
So swimming is what I did. The landing into Ralph Bice is a nice beach landing, with shallow sandy waters and a slow drop off. Dunking my head was incredibly refreshing and gave me a much needed jolt of energy to help start the final paddle.
Anyways, some stronger headwinds made us put forth all of our energy into this final paddle, and instead of resting before our last portage, we instead decided to get it done as quickly as possible and rest once we were back at our campsite. By the time we got back, we wanted to sit on our large west-facing rock and enjoy the late afternoon sun, but decided that probably wasn’t a smart idea given the red hue on our skin. So we hung out by the fire pit, with the trees overhead sheltering us from the sun.
Dinner was more dehydrated meals – this time I had a 3-cheese pasta with chicken, while she had a chicken gumbo dish. Both, again, were surprisingly better than we were expecting. Afterwards we went and watched the sunset and took an evening paddle. After a failed attempt of trying to stay awake to watch the stars, we went straight to bed before 10pm, before the sun had fully set.
We didn’t know this at the time, but the fire ban had been lifted earlier that day at 1pm… but even if we did find out, we were so drained from our day trip that we would have had no interest in making a fire anyways. So off to bed we went. Tomorrow was scheduled as a rest day, and we planned on doing exactly just that.
Day 3 – Going Back to Mubwayaka Lake
Once again I woke up to watch the sunrise, and afterwards went back to the tent for a short nap. I needed to make sure I was well rested for our rest day! After a late breakfast we decided to paddle to Mubwayaka again to see if the group from the other day had left, so we can check out that south site they were on since it looked nice in passing.
Once we got there, we saw the group starting to load their canoe, meaning they were probably heading out shortly after… good timing for us! Instead of hovering right beside the site we decided to paddle around the rest of the lake to give them some privacy while enjoying their final minutes on the site. It started to rain at this point, which unfortunately meant they were going to stay on the site for a little while longer instead of hitting the waters. We finally gave up and made our way back to David, getting into our dry, warm tent to relax for a bit.
Right as we got comfy, I heard them come from the portage and pass by our island… I knew all of the back-and-forth would be really silly, but I decided to go back to Mubwayaka once again. It was mainly out of principal, that I wanted to see the site, and tried to, but failed, and knew that now would be my last chance before the next group came for the night. However, she was taken over by her newfound comfortableness, so I was destined to go alone.
I made it to the site and went on shore to look around – it was basically what I expected while viewing from the water. It opened up quite a bit once inside, and had several (4 or 5) good sized tent spots, with an average fire pit, and a west-facing rock exposure that would be perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and stargazing. I stand by what I said earlier, that David is the superior of the two, but Mubwayaka is a pretty great backup. Mubwayaka itself I actually found to be the prettier lake, David just had the nicer site.
Once I got back from my second trip to Mubwayaka, we waited out the rest of the overcast by processing some of the extra long firewood logs left by previous campers. We still didn’t know that the fire ban had been lifted, so my intention was just to do something nice for future campers who would have the luxury of making a fire. After about 1hr of processing, we heard a canoe enter David from the Ralph Brice portage.
We ran to the large rock to say hi, but also to ask what the weather was going to be like for today/tomorrow, and if there was any update on the fire ban. Before I even got the chance to ask, they told me a ranger was going around Ralph Bice cleaning up campsites and letting people know the fire ban had been lifted. And what great timing, to find out right after I processed all that firewood! We were stricken with excitement – we were so happy that we didn’t find out AFTER our trip that the fire ban was lifted the day after we left.
The group passing by was a couple with their young child, and we invited them on shore to tour the campsite. After chatting with them for a little while, they headed off, and we did as well. We went to the Mubwayaka portage to collect some smaller firewood to use for the fire, before spending the rest of the day basking in the afternoon sun.
Dinner tonight was another ‘roughing it’ meal, KD with flavoured tuna. As cheap as it was, it was surprisingly extremely tasty. Afterwards, I decided to go for another solo evening paddle before starting the fire. When I came back and pulled up to the campsite, she was holding down the front of the canoe so I could step out easily. Right as I was about to stand up, I saw the largest spider I’ve ever seen on the front vertical wall of the canoe, just below her hands. The spider must have been the size of my palm, and the sun had just finished setting so we needed to turn on our headlamps to keep our eye on it.
We didn’t want to go to sleep knowing this spider was roaming around our tiny island, and I absolutely did not want to portage this canoe tomorrow if I wasn’t 100% sure it was gone. I didn’t know if there were any poisonous spiders in Algonquin, but I did know that if there were, this would probably be it.
Do we set it free somehow, or try to kill it? Any wrong move, and it would probably crawl away at 100mph and hide in a corner to never be seen again.
I decided to grab my paddle and carefully try to get it to crawl on the blade, thinking I would fling it into the water as far as I can. When it was halfway on the paddle, I lost hold of it and it fell to the ground of the canoe. I didn’t want to risk disturbing it any further, so we resorted to Plan B. We took a large piece of firewood that I processed earlier, and ended up going for the kill. Then I got it onto my paddle blade and proceeded with Plan A, flinging it as far as I could into the water. We hadn’t seen any wildlife yet on our trip, but we both agreed we would definitely let this count!
We finally sat down to make our fire. After 45min or so, we went to the back of the island to sit on our large rock and enjoy one last night of stargazing. Tonight, and tomorrow night (which we would be gone for) were supposed to be the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower, which we were really looking forward to. We spent about 30min watching the sky, and probably saw 9 or 10 shooting stars within that time. We went to bed satisfied with the stars, but sad that the trip was coming to an end.
Day 4 – Saying Goodbye to David Lake
I woke up to watch the sunrise one last time, while getting a bit of a head start on packing up camp. We got onto the water at 8:30am, a little later than planned, but made good timing throughout the day. The sun was shining stronger than any of the previous days, and even for the early morning, it felt like a scorcher. We saw some really clear wolf tracks on the portage into Ralph Bice, but other than wolf/deer tracks, the spider, and some noises from the shoreline, we didn’t actually see any exciting wildlife.
We got back to the car just before 11am and ran into a Park Warden and some younger helpers, carrying a few thunder boxes. I asked where they were going, and guess what they answered… that’s right, to David Lake. The thunder box was the ONLY downside of our site – it was very full and extremely smelly, and we were considering saying something to the permit office on our way home. Well I guess they had enough people complain about it because they were on their way over to dig a new hole… it’s too bad we just missed it though, I’ve never actually had the honour of being the first to poop in a freshly dug thunder box hole
After strapping the canoe to the top of my car, we started the drive home. The 45min of dirt road was so bumpy that the foam blocks came loose and we actually had to stop twice to tighten down the straps (due to my sunroof, we had to put the blocks on a bit of an angle, making them more likely to slip out). Luckily, my car made it back in one piece.
We stopped at Webers on our way home for the overhyped, yet traditional meal, and finished the rest of the drive with the windows down, letting the wind hit our faces while wishing we were back on our private secluded island on David Lake.
Overall, this was a really nice trip and a great way to start the season. David Lake was beautiful and the island campsite was my type of ideal site. Three nights is the longest I’ve ever stayed at one single campsite, but I really didn’t mind the lack of movement. As long as there’s enough to explore in the surrounding areas, and as long as you’re ok with an ‘easier’ trip, it’s kind of refreshing to do something like this every once in a while. I’m sure it won’t be our last time.