Algonquin & Beyond

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Trip Info

Date: September 9th – 15th, 2017

Route: Canoe Lake > Little Otterslide Lake > Big Trout Lake > Redpine Bay > Burntroot Lake > White Trout Lake > Sunbeam lake > Canoe Lake

Total Number of Portages: 21

Avg. Number of Portages Per Travel Day: 3

Total Length of Portages: 24,690m

Avg. Length of Portages Per Travel Day: 3,527m

Total Travel Time: 33hrs

Avg. Travel Time Per Travel Day: 4.7hrs

Total Distance Covered: 98km

Avg. Distance Covered Per Travel Day: 14km

*The numbers above are based on double-carrying portages, since this is how I travelled. If you plan on single-carrying portages, you’ll want to divide the Portage Length numbers by 3, and subtract the estimated time saved from the Travel Time numbers.

Map of trip details and campsites for trip of six islands
To purchase your own copy (physical & digital formats) of the most recent version of this map, visit Maps By Jeff


I’ve been planning this trip since last summer ended; it was going to be the longest trip I’ve done, and by far the longest solo. 7 Days alone, trying to get as far away as possible from all of the access points, to the “centre” of Algonquin. The goal destination – Burntroot Lake. 

I had months of indecisiveness about the specific route – what lakes to camp on, what direction to travel, how many rest days to take and where to take them, etc. 

I’m drawn to small stranded island sites and peninsula sites that get views of both the sunset and the sunrise; so making Burntroot my goal destination seemed rather appropriate. I initially planned on doing 8 days with 2 rest days, one on Big Trout and one on Burntroot, but after some last minute changes and some spontaneous decision-making during the trip, I ended up cancelling both rest days and turned the trip into 7 days. 

The final route was Canoe Little Otterslide Big Trout Red Pine Bay Burntroot White Trout Sunbeam Canoe

Day 1 – Canoe Lake to Little Otterslide Lake

This was going to be my longest day of the trip, about 7hrs of travel including double carries. I knew getting an early start would be important, especially since I’d be taking on some pretty big lakes with potentially strong winds. I also knew that there was only 1 other reservation for Little Otterslide, so at least I wasn’t too concerned about racing for a site. I wanted one of the island sites, but any would do. The northwest island campsite is the nicest of them, so that was my #1 choice, but the southwest island campsite was the first site I’ve ever stayed on solo during my first solo trip, so I also considered camping there for the sentimentality. And the eastern site would be the fall back option.

I’m not sure if it was excitement or nerves, but I woke up at 4:30am, 30minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I ended up getting to AO well before they opened, and strapped the canoe to my car as quick as possible to head over to Canoe Lake. I saw tons of people ending their trip, coming towards Canoe Lake, but not too many people starting. I battled headwinds all along Canoe, Joe, and Burnt Island, and travelled alongside a couple from Missouri for most of the day. My wrist started bothering me early in the day, and I had a sore throat from the week prior that I hadn’t fully recovered from. Not off to a great start, but at least the weather was cooperating and I was making good time.

The highlight of my trip came on Day 1, during the 790m portage into Little Otterslide. I had a pack on my stomach, so I was keeping my eyes fixated on the ground to make sure I didn’t have any missteps. But because of this, I didn’t notice the extremely large moose about 15ft in front of me. Well, not until I stepped on a branch and she jumped from the middle of the trail into the forest beside me. I’ve seen moose from the water before, but never this close in the middle of a trail. I was just happy it wasn’t a bear. She stayed put just a few feet off the trail, and I managed to get some pictures and videos. Even when I came back for my second carry, she was still there. I met a group from Ireland travelling the opposite way as me, so I told them to stay quiet during the portage and they might get lucky and see the moose if she hadn’t left yet.

I collected some wood at the end of the portage and paddled by the rather unappealing campsites on Little Otterslide until I found the northwest island campsite available and for the taking. I’m pretty sure I was the only one on the lake despite there being 1 other reservation. At this point my throat was a bit worse, my wrist wasn’t any better, and both of these were accompanied by a pounding headache. I set up camp and decided to make dinner over the stove to save time since the sun was already low in the sky. I ate a box of Kraft Dinner and full pack of bacon bits quickly… too quickly. I started to feel a lot worse than before – nauseous, upset stomach, headache, sore throat, heart racing, and not able to focus. I had one goal, and that was to clean up camp ASAP and get straight into bed.

This is when I noticed a very large pile of instant coffee poured out in the middle of the fire pit. I got a fire going to burn the coffee, as well as all of the other garbage left by the previous campers, and went to hang my barrel. SNAP. The branch came flying down. Things just were not going well for me right now. I still felt terrible, and the sun was on its final minutes. I decided to tie my barrel to the trunk of a tree, took a Pepto Bismol, and got into bed.

Food barrel tied to a tree on Little Otterslide Lake
Stay away bears!

I seriously questioned my ability to continue the trip if I woke up and wasn’t feeling better. Even getting back to the access point wouldn’t be easy, but I would take a rest day if needed. I started getting cold feet, but not in the traditional sense I guess. On the positive side of things, I managed to get through Day 1 without getting my shoes wet!

Day 2 – Little Otterslide Lake to Big Trout Lake

I woke up feeling substantially better. Thank god. The only thing still bothering me was my throat, but I only noticed it when I wasn’t getting enough water or food, otherwise it felt fine. I made some oatmeal and packed up camp while the mist swiftly swept across the lake and the first signs of light started to fill the sky. The water was like glass as I paddled up to the start of the Otterslide Creek. Despite a little bit of mud, the portages on the creek were pretty flat and easy, and the paddles in between were peaceful and scenic.

A calm morning on Little Otterslide Lake in Algonquin Park
A calm morning on Little Otterslide Lake
Reflections on Little Otterslide Lake in Algonquin Park
Reflections on Little Otterslide Lake

Early on, I ran into a group from France travelling in a canoe and an inflatable 2-seater kayak (first time I’ve seen this). I made a point of staying ahead of them until the 700m portage where I knew they would pass me since they were single carrying. It would have been nice paddling through Otterslide Creek feeling like I was alone with no one around, but even though that sense of remoteness was lost, I definitely didn’t want to paddle the creek with a kayak and a canoe directly in view the whole time. 

I managed to stay in front of the group, and managed to keep my view unobstructed and natural. Although, earlier in the day I partially ripped one of the straps on my barrel harness, and if it fully ripped, that would be some pretty bad news. I thought about getting out my duct tape and repairing it right away, but if I was able to get it to the site in one piece, I’d rather spend the time and sew it properly. So I very carefully continued along through Otterslide Creek hoping that it wouldn’t completely rip on me. 

I followed a heron for a nice stretch, and saw a snake cross the creek in front of my canoe, but asides from that, there was no exciting wildlife to report.

Portage landing on Otterslide Creek between Little Otterslide Lake and Otterslide Lake
Portage landing on Otterslide Creek

As I paddled into Big Trout I had a sense of amazement take over – the lake is so vast with its panoramic views of the distant shoreline, I just needed to stop paddling for a second and take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. The first stranded island campsite that I passed in the south of the lake looked interesting from where I was, and I seriously considered stopping there. But I found it hard to justify taking that site when I still had the whole lake to explore – plus, it was only 1pm or so, and it would make my next day of travels longer. So I pushed forward.

I noticed a few occupied sites in the distance, and a few sites that didn’t look too appealing to me. I ended up paddling across the lake, all the way to the west side. I turned a corner and saw the small island with one site on it (just north of the narrows). It looked beautiful, and more importantly, available! I turned my head and saw another beautiful island site, the west option on the island with 3 sites. This site actually looked nicer, but it had a white marker instead of orange, which convinced me to paddle towards the first island that I spotted. It did make me a bit curious though – was the other site closed? Was it because of overuse? Maybe bear activity?

Anyways, I went straight for the first island with one site. The beach landing was flooded with the high water levels, but I went ashore to take a look around. The site has a well built fire pit with great seating, surrounded by a few tent spot options.  Beyond the main area are some steep hills, with one trail leading to the rock point at the front of the island, which is what made the site look so appealing from the water. The rock point gets great sun exposure from the afternoon until sunset, however there aren’t many comfortable spots to relax. The west shoreline is also closer than I was anticipating, so while you can see the sunset, it’s not as scenic as viewing it from a more distant location.

But the site itself was still very nice, and it was an island offering both sunset and sunrise views, so it satisfied what I was looking for and I decided to stay for the night. I set up camp and relaxed around the site before cooking an early dinner. I wanted to have everything cleaned and organized before the sunset started so I could give it my undivided attention without worrying about any chores. I noticed a group pull up to the island site with the white marker, hang around for 10min, and then leave. I brought out my binoculars to see what was going on, and noticed it was the French group with the kayak. They arrived on the lake much earlier than me, but for some reason they were still looking for a campsite about 2hrs after I got to my island.

Now my curiosity peaked and I needed to know what it said on that white marker. I decided to paddle over and check it out, bringing my headlamp and camera in case I wanted to stay there to watch the sunset. And that’s exactly what I ended up doing. I got there and the sign said “No Camping. Campsite is closed for August 31 to September 2, 2017” with a signature from a park staff member. There was no reason given, but it seemed odd to me that it was closed for just 3 days, and by September 10th the sign hadn’t been removed. I wandered around and followed the site back into the forest, but I didn’t see signs of any reason the site would be closed.

No camping sign on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin
No camping sign on Big Trout Lake

The campsite was definitely more scenic than the one I was camped on, and if I had seen an orange marker I probably would have ended up there for the night. Oh well. At least I stayed there for a while to watch the sunset, which was absolutely stunning. The horizon had a rainbow of different hues, and with its reflection on the waters and the scattered islands in the distance, it felt like I was staring directly at a painting of a tropical oasis waterfront. It was definitely one of the more scenic landscapes I’ve watched a sunset from. I paddled back to my site just before darkness completely took over, and after sitting by the fire for a while and watching the fastest mouse I’ve ever seen continuously circle the fire pit, I hung my barrel and called it a night.

Sunset of Big Trout Lake in Algonquin
Sunset on Big Trout Lake

Day 3 – Big Trout Lake to Red Pine Bay

Going to bed I was warm, but both this morning and the previous were absolutely freezing. I still woke up early enough to watch the sun rise as a thick fog crossed the lake. I got a fire going right away to keep myself warm, while having a very unusual breakfast. A shot of whisky and some Mike and Ike’s to start it off, followed by a toasted maple French toast bagel with Nutella spread over it and marshmallows melted on top. It was pretty delicious, which I guess isn’t that surprising when you have that much carb and sugar in one meal.

Sunrise on Big Trout Lake in Algonquin
Sunrise on Big Trout Lake

As I was loading my boat, an elderly soloist passed by my site. We exchanged a couple words in passing, and he told me that he was heading to McIntosh. He said the last time he did the 2.4km portage was with his father back in 1953. That date means he would have either needed to be extremely young at that time, or 75+ years now… or both. Either way, it was impressive. I asked if he travels solo often and his response was “I used to trip with different people but towards the end it’s more by myself”. I know it wasn’t intentional, but I found that statement to be very sad. He seemed like an interesting person and someone that would make for great company around a campfire.

Anyways, I set off on Big Trout and stopped to check out a couple campsites en route to the portage. When I noticed how slow I was moving, I decided to stop looking at sites and pick up the pace a bit. The wind started to pick up once I got to Longer Lake, but fortunately it was coming from the west so it helped me for a good part of my paddle. Longer Lake was pretty and had a sense of familiarity to it, even though I don’t think I’ve ever been there before. The campsites however looked pretty uninviting and I made a mental note to not camp here on any future trips – especially not when you have so many great campsites on the surrounding lakes.

I made it to the poison ivy portage and was surprised at how much poison ivy there actually was – and how much of it was overhanging on the trail as well. You can be careful where you walk, but you’re inevitably going to brush up on it, even if it’s just a little bit. I ended up triple carrying, just to be careful and make sure I didn’t trip or fall or anything. I saw a small snake on the rocks at the start of the portage, and instantly remembered reading a trip report the week before I left where the person mentioned seeing 4 snakes on those rocks.

Poison Ivy Portage between Longer and Red Pine Bay
Poison Ivy Portage between Longer and Red Pine Bay

I finished the poison ivy portage and the following 70m, and even though both of them are short, they’re quite annoying. Lots of loading and unloading on relatively poor landings for such short distances – the portages are by no means difficult, but you’ll hate doing them anyways.

As I got into Red Pine Bay, the wind was still at my back. I checked out the east-facing island site on the west side of the lake, and really liked the cool seating area and well built fire pit. The tiny island just west of this site was very picturesque and looks like it should be in Killarney, but the site doesn’t open up on it’s west end so you don’t actually get a view of it… this meant I also wouldn’t get a view of the sunset. I was pretty tired and wanted to prioritize a good sleep, so I was more keen on getting a sunset view than a sunrise view. I continued looking through the site and couldn’t find one good, level tent spot. It was hard to pass up the fire pit and seating, but I decided to keep moving.

As I got closer to the east island site on the lake, I thought “wow, this has potential to be epic”. And using the word “epic” to describe this site still wouldn’t do it justice. I went ashore to find an open, spacious site with the most epic fire pit I’ve ever seen (both aesthetic and functional). I laughed at the idea of wanting to stay at the other site because of the fire pit. There were a few different tent spot options, and the trees became a little bit denser in the back half of the island where the thunderbox is located and a steep hill leads to the highest campsite cliff I’ve personally ever been on.

The cliff is one massive west-facing rock with plenty of room to sit and enjoy the afternoon sun, the sunset, and stargaze during the night. It offers a commanding panoramic view of the lake, making you truly feel like a king as the wind and the sun breeze against your face. 

On the other side of the island there’s a small hidden trail that leads to more open rock, which gives a 270 degree panoramic view from east to north, great for all of the same views as the large cliff (minus the elevation), but also includes a sunrise view. And just to add one more viewpoint, the massive rock for the fire pit also faces west and can actually be climbed up onto. It’s probably 15ft or so above the ground behind it, and is large enough to comfortably sit about 5 people. I should note however, the site is very exposed and wouldn’t be good in bad weather, but fortunately for me this wasn’t an issue.

I was stricken with joy as I brought my gear on land and set up camp for the evening. Expectedly, there was no firewood on the island, except for a generous pile left from a previous camper. I pulled my usual move and stocked up on the last 70m portage before entering Red Pine Bay, so I had plenty of wood at this point.

I lay out under the sun atop the cliff listening to music, before eating dinner on top of the fire pit. I went back to the cliff to watch the sunset and noticed that I hadn’t seen one other group since I left my island on Big Trout earlier that morning. I was completely alone in the middle of Algonquin, on vast lakes with perfect weather, watching a beautiful sunset from a spectacular island site. Everything I wanted from the trip was here in this perfect moment.

Afterwards I went back to the fire pit to add my own contribution of char to the massive rock, before going to the front of the island to lie under the clear sky full of thousands of stars.

Night-time fire on Red Pine Bay in Algonquin
Adding char to the epic fire pit on Red Pine Bay

My next day was going to be the easiest of the trip – moving to Burntroot was a very short day and required no portaging, so there was no rush to get on the water and I could be lazy with my packing. But this stranded island on Red Pine Bay immediately became one of my all-time favourite sites – would I even want to leave?

Day 4 – Red Pine Bay to Burntroot Lake

I mentioned previously that I wanted to prioritize a good sleep, but I decided to watch the sunrise and then go back to bed afterwards. Before walking to the rocks at the front of the island, I gathered the essentials: headlamp, Nalgene, camera, hat, gloves, chair, and notebook. Alright, off we go.

The sunrise was very pretty and the view from the rocks was perfect. The morning was cold and I noticed I had some major bags under my eyes. My lack of sleep was finally catching up to me. After the sunrise I had a quick bite to eat then went back in my tent. After a quick nap I lazily packed up camp and threw my excessive amount of leftover wood into my boat and started heading towards Burntroot. Normally I leave my extra wood behind, but with no portaging and a guarantee I’d get an island site, I decided to bring most of it with me.

As I got onto Burntroot the skies started looking dark – a deep dark blue in the distance which could either be nothing, or could turn into grey thunderstorms as it got closer. The wind was also picking up at this point, which wasn’t very reassuring to me. I paddled hard to the east site on Anchor Island, and wasn’t impressed. I decided to take my chances and continue looking. 

I circled the island and got to the west site, and it looked gorgeous. I came around from the north side, so I got a beautiful view of the rocky northern shoreline. Luckily for me, as I rounded the corner to find the landing, the site was empty and available. It also had an extremely generous pile of leftover wood; thick branches, and perfectly split logs. I guess I didn’t need to bring my wood from Red Pine Bay, but at least now there was guaranteed to be a lot left over for future campers.

I was still undecided on the intent of the skies above, so I rushed to get my gear on land and get my tent set up. By the time I was done setting up camp, the dark blue above turned into a lighter, friendlier blue, with soft white clouds and a moderate breeze. My fear that storms were coming had completely subsided and it looked like I was about to have my fourth day of perfect weather. 

It was also around this point that I realized staying on Anchor Island was actually quite metaphorical… this was the halfway point in my trip and the farthest point I’d travel to before turning around and heading back towards the access point. Everything prior was leading up to this and everything after would be winding down – today was the anchor day of my trip. And being completely alone in the middle of the park, on Anchor Island with the sun at my back, made it all the more special. 

I went for a paddle through the windy waters to check out the island across from me with two sites on it. There is a beach landing in the middle; to the east, there’s a short trail leading to a well sheltered site with a great fire pit, good seating, good tent spots, and tons of wood scattering the site. To the west, a bit longer of a walk takes you past two ‘outhouse’ thunderboxes, before finally reaching the more exposed campsite at the tip of the island. A single bench sits in front of a cobweb filled fire pit, with limited tent spot options and no apparent landing. I circled the island in my canoe and still didn’t see a landing, and realized that if you had to land on the beach and carry your gear all the way to the site, you’d be cursing the whole way through. 

It was clear that the east site was the only one that got used regularly. The whole island had more available wood than any campsite I’ve ever stayed at though – which is surprising considering how small the island is.

As I rounded the corner to get back to the landing of Anchor Island, I saw two canoes pulling up right beside me. They probably thought we arrived at the same time for the site, but they shortly realized I was just out for a paddle and had actually been set up for a while. They were a group from England and it was their first time in Algonquin, so I invited them ashore to take a look at the famous anchor. We chatted for a while, they gave me a weather update from their InReach, and then they headed off.  The weather was supposed to stay sunny with only 10% rain for the rest of my trip, which was amazing news, and also, I had just realized that I’d run into a group from Missouri, Ireland, France, and now England – pretty cool that I had met more people from around the world than I did from Ontario.

I decided to fix the strap on my barrel harness, which is something I should have done back on Big Trout; so I got out my tiny sewing kit and went to work. Afterwards I made another early dinner and sat on the rocky cliffs beside the anchor, chowing away as the sun began to lower in the sky. I was treated to another stunning sunset – the sky itself was pretty, but the landscape in front of me was particularly special. Similar to the sunset on Big Trout, the wide panoramic views with scattered islands complimented the colorful sunset hues to display an extraordinary backdrop worth admiring. 

Sunset on Anchor Island at Burntroot Lake in Algonquin Park
Sunset on Anchor Island at Burntroot Lake

I was very proud of my barrel hang I set up, but my rope was barely long enough and I wasn’t sure if I had enough slack to tie it around my barrel. As I attempted to hang it for the night, I lost grip of one side of the rope, and it pulled higher than I was able to reach. Damnit. I tried using my paddle, wood, and other various things around the campsite to grip it and pull it down, but with no luck. I had no other option than to pull the whole thing down and try again. 

Getting it over this perfect branch was a fluke and I wasn’t keen on destroying my arm to attempt it again, so I settled for a subpar hang elsewhere. This is why I normally like hanging my barrel before the sun goes down – worrying about this in the dark isn’t really a fun chore.

After finally getting my barrel hung, I sat by the fire for a while and then went to the rocky cliff to enjoy some more spectacular stargazing views in the clear night sky. A couple shooting stars later and I decided to call it a night.

Day 5 – Burntroot Lake to White Trout Lake

Anchor Island opens up to the west, but there’s a small gap between the trees behind the fire pit, facing east, with two intersecting shorelines in view (the south island, and the actual shoreline). As usual I woke up to watch the sunrise, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it not only lined up perfectly with the gap in the trees, but the sun actually appeared precisely where the two shorelines met. For a west facing site, the sunrise view was unexpectedly perfect. 

Sunrise on Burntroot Lake in Algonquin
Unexpectedly perfect sunrise on Burntroot Lake

I warmed myself beside a morning fire and tried to pack up camp early enough to beat the strong westerly winds that were inevitably coming. The waters on Burntroot and Red Pine Bay were as calm as could be, but getting past the flowing water from the rapids at the 75m portage actually took more effort than I was expecting. The winds started to pick up after the 40m portage, and I ended up battling pretty strong headwinds for the rest of the day. 

Reflections on the waters of Red Pine Bay
Travelling to Red Pine Bay
The shorelines of Red Pine Bay
Travelling through Red Pine Bay
Paddling through Red Pine Bay
Paddling through Red Pine Bay

The only other group I saw while travelling was on Big Trout, and they stopped to look at the closed island campsite; unlike the previous visitors, they actually ended up taking the site. I continued on through the narrows into White Trout, starting to scout out potential campsites. The two sites in the narrows looked very unappealing, but the two on the northern shore of White Trout looked very nice (I only saw the west one from a distance though). 

For the first time all trip, I really felt the sun getting to me, but I decided to keep moving – my goal was to get one of the two island sites in the south. The sites along the eastern shore looked alright – not particularly great, but not too bad either. I really felt like I needed to get off the water and out of the sun at this point, but I still decided to keep moving.

As I got closer to the islands, the east of the two looked like a beautiful campsite and I couldn’t see any signs of it being occupied. I started paddling hard to get there as quick as possible, and when I was probably 50m away, I saw a group around the corner collecting wood from their boat, with a second boat at the campsite. It looked like they just got to the site and were starting to set up camp, and for the first time, I regretted doing my wood collection at the end of the 300m into Big Trout! At this point, I was just hoping the western island site was available so I could get off the water and get some shade.

As I rounded the corner and saw the landing, it looked available, but as I got closer I noticed a canoe hidden ashore on top of the steep incline. Great. I called out to see if they were staying for the night, even though it was around 3pm at this point and I knew the chances of hearing what I wanted were very slim.

It turns out another soloist was camping there, and he offered to share the site with me. I said that I didn’t want to impose and I would find another site, but he said he could actually use some company. I decided to at least go on shore to get some shade, and I’d figure it out from there. 

The site was ok, it wasn’t very scenic and doesn’t provide great views, but it had a few tent spot options with a decent fire pit, good seating, and 1 bar of cell service. The campsite is right in the middle of the ‘horseshoe’ and there are trails leading outwards towards either end.  

After a short snack break and some good conversation, I noticed some very itchy, red bumps on my inner forearm which definitely weren’t mosquito bites. I realized that poison ivy could have gotten on my pants earlier that day, and when I rolled up my sleeves and rested my arms on my lap, it could have transferred over. I immediately went and washed the area, and thankfully it went away shortly after.

It was starting to get late in the afternoon and I considered going to find another site, but the thought of getting back on the water at this point really didn’t excite me. I decided to take him up on his offer and share the site for the night. 

I set up camp and had another early dinner – the site wasn’t west facing so I wanted to get on the water to watch the sunset from my boat. I paddled around the marshy west side of the island hoping to spot some wildlife, but with no luck, so I paddled towards the east shore of White Trout to get a better view of the sunset. The east shore itself was really pretty with the red and orange fall colours starting to prominently show on the maple trees. Facing west wasn’t the most scenic landscape, but the sunset was easily the nicest of my trip – and ironically, it was the only night I didn’t have a west facing site. I tried not to think about the other island site which had perfect 360 degree views, and how close I was to snagging it.  

Marshy side of the island on White Trout Lake during sunset
Marshy side of the island on White Trout Lake
Stunning sunset on White Trout Lake
Stunning sunset on White Trout Lake

After the sunset I went back to the site and enjoyed an evening fire with my new soloist friend, and ended up heading to my tent around 10:30pm. I was 5/5 in terms of island sites so far this trip, and I wanted to finish it off with a sixth island on Sunbeam. I knew there was one island nicer than the others, but I also knew that with 7 reservations, it was really a roll of the dice if it would be available, or better yet, if any of the islands would be available. I guess I’d find out tomorrow.

Day 6 – White Trout Lake to Sunbeam Lake

I kept with tradition and woke up before the sunrise. I finished off my bagels for breakfast and packed up camp, hoping to get on the water as early as possible – I ended up leaving at about 8am. I thought about how close I was to getting the east island on White Trout, and how frequently I’m in situations where just a few minutes makes the different between getting the site I want, and not getting it. I told myself if it was possible to get one of the islands on Sunbeam, I would get it. I wasn’t going to collect wood beforehand and I wasn’t going to take unnecessarily long breaks between portages – for some reason, I felt like really pushing myself today and getting to Sunbeam as early as possible. It was another gorgeous day, so even if I didn’t get an island campsite, at least I’d get there early enough to enjoy the peace and quiet of the backcountry during my last ‘camping day’ of the trip. 

Paddling through Grassy Bay as the sun slowly rose higher in the morning sky was a really nice experience. The whole area is so visually different than the rest of Algonquin and has a unique aesthetic to it. Some of the sites looked decent along the way, and camping among the wetlands would definitely make for a different campsite experience. I didn’t see any large animals, but the whole area was bustling with smaller wildlife. 

Fall colours starting to show on Grassy Bay in Algonquin Park
Fall colours starting to show on Grassy Bay

I got to the first portage and loaded up for my first carry. I had three long portages ahead of me: a 930m, 1400m, and 920m. With double carrying, that’s about 10k and 4hrs worth. I knew there would be some elevation changes, especially on the first two, but I didn’t think they would be too bad overall. Well, I was wrong. These portages were hilly, muddy, and extremely buggy – pretty much everything that you hope a portage isn’t. The bugs hadn’t been too bad throughout the rest of the trip and know I knew why – the king mosquito sent out a memo to all of his mosquito employees and told them to wait at these portages and group together for one massive attack. And just to make these portages even less enjoyable, there are at least 3 or 4 flooded sections where you need to get back in the boat and paddle a short 20-30m distance. Travelling solo, that’s a lot of loading and unloading, not to mention that the detachable yoke needs to be removed every time you want to sit down. I ended up keeping the yoke on and kneeling in front of it.

But for some reason, I still kept pushing myself. On the walk back during the first portage, I even decided to jog some of the flatter sections. I didn’t take any breaks, and I was quick to load and unload every portage. I had very quickly given up on trying to stay clean, and by the end of the portages my shoes and pants were soaking wet and extremely muddy. I had music playing through my phone speakers the whole time to keep me moving at a good pace, and I ended up finishing all three portages in 3hrs flat. I’ve gone quicker than the times on Jeff’s Map before, but never by this much – 3 hours instead of 4, when all of it is portaging – I had pushed myself even harder than I planned. And I absolutely felt it. I was completely drained, tired, and sore, and I swore to myself I would never do those portages again… at least not without giving myself much more time.

On the positive side, I made it to Sunbeam right at 12pm, and even though I should have stopped for a quick water break, I just grabbed my paddle and paddled hard across the lake. I didn’t actually know which island was the nice one; I had seen pictures of it, but didn’t know where it was on a map. I had a feeling it was the southernmost island, so I went straight for that one. I didn’t see any campsites occupied or anyone else on the lake while I was paddling, and when I got there, it was indeed the nice one…and it was available! Despite the odds, I was the first and only person on Sunbeam at 12pm, when I knew there were at least 5 other reservations. 

Not even 10min later a couple passed by the island hoping to camp on it. All of my hard work earlier that day paid off. Every snack break I didn’t take, every yoke I didn’t detach, and every time I told myself “just keep moving”. I put myself through a lot, but it was worth it, and now I had the full day on this spectacular site to recover and enjoy. 

And the site was definitely spectacular. Everywhere you turn there seems to be another large rock point jutting out into the water, with stunning views and endless opportunities to soak in the sun no matter what time of day. There are plenty of tent spots to choose from, 2 fire pits (a main one with lots of seating, and another at the back of the island facing the sunset), plenty of branches to hang your food, and a massive rock cliff in the middle that you can actually get on top of for a cool aerial view of the site. 

This site, along with Anchor Island and the island on Red Pine Bay, each easily make my ‘all-time favourites’ list. One of the jutting rocks also had 1 bar of cell service, which you can either consider a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preference. The only downsides – I was able to see 4 campsites and 2 portage trails from the site, so privacy is definitely lacking, and there was tons of garbage throughout the site; glass bottles, a hand towel, a football, and more.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sun and then went for an evening paddle while the sun was setting. The sky had a thick haze blocking all of the sunset colours, but it actually let me look directly at the dark red ball in the sky without hurting my eyes. (I only looked at it for a second, I promise). I’ve never seen the sun and the sky like this before.

I made my last campfire for the trip and had a bittersweet moment enjoying the stars for one last time before heading back to the polluted city skies, and then called it a night.

Day 7 – Sunbeam Lake to Canoe Lake

My 7th sunrise of the trip was non-existent due to a thick fog covering the skies, which also blocked most of my view during the short paddle to the 120m portage. At the start of the portage was a blow down tree at chest level, with tiny branches poking out from every direction – the type of blowdown that’s not easy to carry over, especially not solo. Some tricky maneuvering later and I made my way past, on towards Vanishing Pond hoping that it hadn’t vanished by this point in the season.

Sunrise on Sunbeam Lake
Sunrise on Sunbeam Lake
Tree blowdown at the 120m portage from Sunbeam Lake
Blowdown at the 120m portage from Sunbeam Lake

The water levels were no issue, but I didn’t realize the whole area is absolutely covered in spider webs. The whole pond has grassy shrubs sticking out of the water, and every single one had multiple white stringy spider webs hanging off of it. It was extremely eerie, especially in the early morning with some of the mist still lingering. I paddled very cautiously through the narrow sections so I didn’t ‘crash’ the canoe and brush against all of the webs.

After the 405m portage, the pond opened up into Blue Jay Lake, which had a nice scenic view while looking down the length of the lake towards the opposing shoreline. At this point I noticed the fall colours were really starting to show, and as I continued through Littledoe and Tepee Lake, there were some sections with really pretty maple shorelines that I stopped to admire.

Fall colours starting to show in Algonquin Park
Fall colours starting to show

Once I hit Littledoe, I saw signs of life again as people were leaving their campsite to head towards their next destination. I paddled incredibly close to some loons without scaring them away, and continued onto Tepee Lake where an obnoxiously loud bell was ringing from some event that was happening at Camp Arowhon. The final portage of the day into Canoe Lake was as busy as a Toronto nightclub on a Saturday night, and at this point I officially felt like I was back in society.

I eventually made it through the Canoe Lake headwinds and back to the access point, strapping the canoe to my car and finally ending the trip.

The Aftermath

This was easily my favourite trip I’ve ever done, and I taught myself a lot throughout the process. I taught myself how to muster up the courage to get out of my warm sleeping bag at 2am when I need to go pee; I taught myself how to overcome my fear of spiders crawling on me from the inside of the thunder box (use a stick and scrape around first!); and I taught myself how to do a proper J-stroke to compliment my (still preferred) Goon stroke.

But in all seriousness, I challenged myself both in terms of distance travelled, and the ability to pack up and move camp every night. I travelled over 100km and camped on 6 gorgeous islands along the way, some of which immediately became all-time favourites. I watched 6 sunsets and 6 sunrises. I achieved my goal of getting to Burntroot Lake and being completely alone in the middle of Algonquin. And to top it off, I came face-to-face with a moose, I got to see the fall colours start to peak, and I had nothing but 25 degree sunshine for 7 days straight. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do a trip as epic as this again, but I’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

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