Two Nights On Lake Louisa
Date: July 25th – 27th, 2016
Route: Rock Lake → Lake Louisa x2 → Rock Lake
Day 1 – Choosing a Campsite on Lake Louisa
We got onto the road just after 6am, stopped in Hunstville for a Timmies breakfast, stopped at the Algonquin Bound outfitters to pick up our lifejackets/paddles (the canoes were waiting for us at Rock Lake Access Point), and ended up launching out around 10:30am. The people at Algonquin Bound were very friendly and helpful, and the roundtrip canoe delivery and pickup was only $20… if you’re launching anywhere near the west gate off Hwy 60, I’d definitely recommend using them.
I did the Rock —> Welcome —> Louisa —> Rock loop last year, so I was very familiar with the route I was about to do. The first paddle to the 3km portage was easy, although there was a bit of wind and some overcast. We got to Louisa probably just after noon and were hit with some strong headwinds. Last year I camped on the northern shore, on the site between the two single island sites. This year I wanted to camp on one of the island sites, so the plan was to make our way from east to west and hope that one was available for us. I had my hopes on site #18 (eastern of the single island sites), since that is definitely the nicest of them. There were 6 permits for the lake that evening, but when we checked in at the permit office we were told that we were the only ones checking in for Louisa… meaning the other 5 permits were either already there, or they were coming from somewhere else in the park.
As we started to paddle, the wind picked up and became so strong that we were struggling to make any progress. After about 1hr of paddling, we passed 7 or 8 sites which were all vacant, and we finally had a view of the first island. As we continued to struggle against the wind and slowly inched our way closer to the site, we played one of my favourite games… “is that a canoe, or just a shrub?” I jokingly placed a bet with my girlfriend whether or not these green objects we saw on the shore were canoes, or just shrubs. It’s surprisingly very hard to tell from a distance. We kept changing our minds every minute or so, until we finally got close enough to realize that they were in fact just shrubs. After a long portage and a strenuous paddle, we finally made it to the first site we wanted to check out.
Considering that we had passed about 8 vacant sites, and there were 5 other permits who likely got to the lake before us, the odds of finding the other island sites unoccupied seemed pretty slim. We decided that if this site was nice enough, we would camp here for the night, and then decide if we wanted to take our chances and switch sites the next day. I wandered around the site and went through my mental checklist… seating was perfect for the two of us, the fire pit was decently built and faced east for the sunrise, there were 2 level tent spots, plenty of open rock for sitting, stargazing, and swimming, and a path that led to the other side where there were more flat open rocks to watch the sunset. It wasn’t a huge site, but it was cute and cozy and good enough to call home for the night.
Although as I walked around, I realized that it wasn’t actually an island… it was the site on the peninsula just east of the island. But we were already there, the winds were still strong, and the site was decent (flat rocks with a view of both sunrise and sunset is a huge plus in my books), so we decided to stay put.
The two tent spots were equal in size and levelness, but I decided to pitch it in the southern spot as it gave a perfect view of the sunrise. We relaxed for a bit, collected some fire wood, rigged the food pack hang, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the rocks and enjoying the quiet. We still hadn’t seen one other person on the lake so far. As we were cooking dinner we finally saw other people on the lake… two canoes travelling towards us, but once they realized the site was occupied they went to the site just north of us. We made burgers with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and walked to the western side of the site to watch the relatively uneventful sunset.
Even in the evening, when the wind usually dies down, Louisa still had windy waters. The site grew on us as the day went on, and I actually really enjoyed camping there. We were stuck deciding what we should do during our second day… it was my girlfriends first time camping, and since we were staying on Louisa for 2 nights, I wanted to do a day trip to show her more of the park. But there aren’t too many options for day trips from where we were, and I didn’t want to make the trip too stressful, so we decided that we would paddle around Louisa for a bit, switch campsites, and forget about a day trip.
We made a fire, had some s’mores, stargazed, and waited for the moonrise, but clouds started to fill the sky so we decided to call it a night around 11pm.
Day 2 – Same Lake, New Campsite
I woke up just after 5am and looking outside of the tent, I realized I already missed the first colours of the sunrise. Regardless, we spent the morning on the sloping rocks watching the sunrise and then went back to the tent and slept for another hour or so. When we woke up again, we walked around the right side of the site into the little cove, and saw the sun shining on the trees in a way that made it look like they had their fall colours.
We saw a baby otter on the rocky shoreline, which was the first wildlife we saw other than a mouse the previous night, and moose tracks during the 3km portage. I realized that other than the otter and mouse, the site was very quiet in terms of wildlife. No annoying squirrels or chipmunks rummaging around, and no signs of any large animals… it was just generally quiet, with very little rustling overnight. Only in the morning did the noise come when birds were chirping loudly.
Before we switched sites, my girlfriend wanted to read for a bit, so I decided to take the canoe and paddle around Louisa… I was planning on making my way to the two single island sites to see if they were occupied, and if they were, possibly ask if they would be leaving, or staying for that night as well.
The first site I was supposed to pass would be the island with two sites, but as I started to paddle I saw a large cliff site on the southern shore. After looking at the map, I realized that I didn’t actually camp on the peninsula just east of the island, but I camped on the site just east of that one, Campsite #12 (on top of the “a” in “Louisa” on Jeffs Map)… I’m usually very good navigationally but for some reason I made a mistake twice about this site! I realized that we actually made less progress than I thought during our windy paddle the previous day, and my route to check out the island sites would be longer than anticipated.
Even at 8am, the headwinds were surprisingly strong again on Louisa, and even though I was able to keep the canoe pointing forward, there were a couple instances where the wind bullied me and spun the canoe around. As I passed the unoccupied cliff site on the peninsula, it looked gorgeous and I immediately thought to myself that if the island sites were occupied, I would be happy checking that one out.
I continued towards the first island and saw someone swimming by the shore of the eastern site. As I paddled around to the western side, I saw the canoes and tents, realizing that it’s probably just one group making use of both sites since the island is so small and the lake was relatively empty. After some more windy paddling, I got to the first of the two single island sites, and as I expected it was occupied. There was no one around to ask if they would be there for the night, so I checked out the western island site, which was unoccupied, and then turned around to head back.
I made it back by 9:30am and we got a fire going to make some oatmeal for breakfast. As we finished eating and started packing up camp, we saw a group of 5 canoes in the distance travelling towards us. We ended up leaving our site just a few minutes after they passed us, and saw that they were checking out the cliff site. We continued towards the islands and ended up seeing the group of 5 canoes behind us… clearly they didn’t like the cliff site for whatever reason… maybe it just wasn’t big enough for all of their tents.
We saw them head towards the southwest of the lake, while my girlfriend and I went towards the northwest. The east single island site was still occupied, and the person said he had another 2 nights there. We looked at all of the other sites in the vicinity, and none of them looked too appealing so we decided to paddle back to the cliff site and hope it wasn’t taken by then. It was a lot of paddling, and a lot of unnecessary ‘strategy’ to get a good site, but we had fun doing it, and it made the day eventful, especially since we had nothing else planned for the day.
We got back to the cliff site and it was still unoccupied, with the exception of two large, fat bullfrogs on the rocks by the landing. We brought the canoe on shore and started to look around. The view from the cliff was breathtaking… a full panoramic view of Louisa from the west to the east. A gorgeous view that was also perfect for both the sunset and the sunrise. There was a massive rock at the east end of the cliff which was nice to sit on and watch the sunrise. The west side of the cliff had a large slope, and towards the bottom there was tons of flat rocks and ‘humps’ in the rock that made the best chair I’ve ever sat on in Algonquin. You could sit or lie down comfortably, with full back support… a rare thing in the backcountry! It was also the perfect area for lounging and swimming, and we had a long sunny day ahead of us with plenty of time for lounging and swimming.
I like sites that are scenic and aesthetic, so I immediately fell in love with this site. The fire pit was pretty average and so was the seating surrounding it. That was probably my only complaint about the site… it had such spectacular views, but the fire pit was in the middle of the site pointed towards the forest.
There were a couple level tent spots big enough for 3-4 person tents, and once again we decided to pitch our tent in the spot that faced east for the sunrise. We walked further inland and found that there was very little fire wood nearby and we would have to go elsewhere to get anything substantial. Passing the thunder box, I was in awe… it was one of the largest, flattest areas I’ve ever seen on a campsite in Algonquin. It was almost a shame that they put the thunder box there since the space could be used to pitch multiple tents, or pretty much anything else.
Walking back to the cliff, soaking in the 10/10 view, I was extremely happy that all of the other sites were occupied and we ended up here. There was even a level tent spot right on the cliff, but it was completely exposed with no shelter, and an inch or two under the ground was all rock so we wouldn’t be able to peg the tent down. It would have been nice to sleep on the cliff, under the starry sky with the rainfly off, but I decided not to be stupid and we kept the tent where it was meant to be.
We couldn’t have been treated to a more perfect day. Sunny and warm with a nice breeze. We sat on the large rock on top of the cliff, and spent most of the day on the western rock face reading, swimming, and watching the sun go down. We realized that I actually left something at the last campsite, and we still needed firewood, so we went on a little trip… east back to the old site, then north to the site across from that, west to the next site, and then south back to our site… we basically made a square.
The two sites on the northern shore weren’t nearly as nice as the two that we had stayed on. The eastern of the two (site #2) was very dark, sheltered, and uninviting. It was a small site with some small tent spots and a dark forest behind it. The fire pit was actually nice and overlooked the lake, but that was its only redeeming quality. Luckily, there was plenty of wood nearby the site, likely because the site doesn’t get much use. The western of the two sites (site #1) was slightly better, but still not somewhere I would have liked to camp. They both have a small sloping rock face, but face south and don’t have a nice view of the sunrise or sunset. The campsite was slightly larger, although still pretty small.. a couple mid-sized tent spots, a decent fire pit, and tons of seating to accommodate a large group. We finished getting wood and headed back to our site.
As we started making dinner I heard some sounds coming from the western part of the cliff. I walked over and saw two guys getting out of a canoe, thinking the site was unoccupied. Coming from the east, you can see our tent from a mile away, but coming from the west, it was a bit more hidden. They did one of those stretches of relief, reaching their hands way into the sky, and were probably thinking “a long day but we finally found a nice site!”. I almost felt bad when I made my presence known, but I recommended they take the site I stayed at the previous night, and after a few minutes of conversation, they went on their way. I went back to making dinner, which we finished early enough to relax and watch the sunset.
As we hung the food pack, I noticed three streaks on the ground by the thunder box which definitely weren’t there before. It looked like something was dragged, or my guess was that it came from a beavers tail. There were some clusters of branches on the site when we arrived, which I originally assumed was someone cleaning up the site, but now started to think it was from a beaver. We went back and sat on the large rock for a bit, and saw a snake slithering through the water, and then about an hour later we saw a small beaver swim by, moving away from our site.
As the sun grew lower, a large group of 4 canoes took the campsite across from us. Thankfully, with the exception of some talking while they went swimming, they weren’t noisy at all… the bullfrogs by the shore started their croaking in the evening and were much louder and more annoying than the group across from us! We made a fire and had some more s’mores, and once again went and sat on the rocks to stargaze. Another beautiful night with a sky full of stars, we waited until midnight in hopes of the moonrise before giving up and going to bed. I found out afterwards that the moonrise was at 12:10am that night, and we had just missed it!
Day 3 – A Short Day Home
Once again we woke up for the sunrise and this time it was really spectacular. We sat on the large rock on top of the cliff and watched as the morning sky slowly changed colours as the sun rose above the tree line. Once the sun was visible, my girlfriend went back to bed and I stayed a little while longer to listen to music and wait until the sun was high in the sky. We got a little bit more rest, made some breakfast, packed up camp, and got on our way.
A whole bunch of sunrise pictures:
While making a fire for breakfast, we realized that we hadn’t seen anyone else make a fire during our trip. On night 1, we had the late arrivers camp across the lake from us, and while I did see flashlights, there was no fire. I thought maybe they didn’t have enough time to collect firewood, but when we went to the campsite on Day 2, there was a courtesy pile left behind from previous campers. On night 2, when the group camped across from our second site, it was a similar situation… flashlights, but no fire. I checked the fire ban warning every day leading up to our trip, and while it was at “High”, there was no ban and the permit office made no mention of it. I just found it weird that for some reason, we didn’t see anyone else make a fire.
We started paddling towards the 3k portage and for the first time all weekend, the lake was actually calm. We saw some loons, and a mother duck with about 10 babies. We stopped paddling for a few minutes just before the portage landing, just to soak up the peace and quiet for one last time before heading into Rock Lake, which would probably be very busy.
We took one rest during the portage and the people that had stumbled upon our occupied site on Night 2 ended up passing us.. they said that they ended up camping on the site that I recommended, and they were happy with it. We followed some wolf tracks throughout the portage, and luckily there weren’t many bugs (unlike Day 1 where the bugs were really bad, likely because of the overcast and little bit of rain). We saw some people cliff jumping off the island site on Rock Lake, and then finished the paddle back to the launch point.
Once again we stopped at Timmies on the way home (gotta get that true Canadian experience), and made it back by mid day, with a nice tan, good memories, and several hundred pictures to sift through.
Overall I was really happy with the trip… we stayed on very nice sites, with the cliff site possibly being my favourite site I’ve stayed on in Algonquin, and had perfect weather for pretty much the whole trip. We also saw a decent amount of wildlife for only 2 nights and not much ground covered… loons, ducks, bullfrogs, snake, mouse, otter, beaver, and moose/wolf tracks. It was a great start to the summer, and my girlfriend had a great experience which I was really happy about. I’m much busier this year than last year when I was able to do 4 or 5 trips, but I’m definitely hoping to get out at least once or twice more this summer.