Welcome to Louisa – Four Days in Algonquin Park

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Trip Info

Date: August 12th – 15th, 2020

ROUTE Rock > Welcome Welcome > Louisa x2 Louisa > Rock
Travel (Single)
4.5 hrs
3.5 hrs
3.5 hrs
Travel (Double)
6.5 hrs
4.5 hrs
5.5 hrs
Portage #1
375m
320m
3,000m
Portage #2
275m
1,725m
-
Portage #3
2,170m
-
-
SINGLE CARRY
2,820m
2,045m
3,000m
DOUBLE CARRY
8,460m
6,135m
9,000m
DIFFICULTY Travel (Single) Travel (Double) Portages Single Carry Double Carry
Total
11.5 hrs
16.5 hrs
6 portages
7,865m
23,595m
Per Travel Day
3.8 hrs
5.5 hrs
2 portages / 1,310m
2,620m
7,860m

Map of trip details and campsites for Welcome to Louisa trip report in Algonquin Park

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Background

Planning for this trip was a little different than usual since, well, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and everything. Nobody was even sure if the parks would be open for the season, and when they made the announcement, nobody anticipated how busy the park would actually be. I’ve been very cautious since the beginning of COVID-19; even though backcountry camping is inherently social distancing, there were still questions like what happens when you pass people on a portage, how to handle washroom breaks during the drive up, etc.

After lots of pre-planning, we decided to do Rock > Welcome > Louisa > Rock. We’d be starting mid-week on a Wednesday, having the canoe delivered the night before so we could get on the water early Wednesday morning. I was pretty confident we wouldn’t see many people on route to Welcome given that it would be mid-week and we’d have a very early start. Welcome to Louisa we probably wouldn’t see many people either if we got on the water early. But heading back to Rock Lake on the last day is when things would inevitably get busy.

Day 1 – Rock Lake to Welcome Lake

The not-so-fun part about getting on the water super early is the even earlier wakeup. Our alarm was set for 3:30am and our plan was to be on the road for 4am, arrive at Rock Lake 7am, and launch out at 7:30am. We were pretty spot on with our timing and got on the water right as planned.

Paddling by the cliffs of Rock Lake
We need to get closer
Very pretty shorelines of Rock Lake

I brought a DSLR with some gear for the first time, and as excited as I was to use the camera, neither of us were excited about the extra weight. We were both carrying over half of our body weight, closer to two thirds. The first portage into Pen was a confirmation that i) carrying close to two thirds of your bodyweight is too much, ii) the 2.1km, 1.7km, and 3km portages we had ahead of us were almost as scary, if not more scary than the pandemic itself, and iii) we were both definitely in much worse shape this year.

We doubled back when we finished the portage to visit the waterfall and take some pictures, then continued onwards with our journey to Welcome. We saw a few canoes on Pen, but for the most part the lake was very quiet and most sites were unoccupied.

Taking a second to stop and appreciate the surroundings
And now one proper smile for the camera

The Galipo River had low water but nothing that required dragging. There were a few small dams to lift over since we were going upstream, but nothing that made us get our feet wet. The landing for the 275m is pretty poor and navigating the rocky area was a bit tricky and set us back a few minutes. We single carried the portage, but it once again confirmed our lack of excitement for the 2.1km ahead of us.

We met a group just before the portage that said they came from the northwest beach site on Welcome, which was the site that we were aiming for; it was nice to know that if we didn’t die on the portage, we might be rewarded with that site.

We arrived at the portage and despite wanting to just turn around and camp on Pen for three nights, it was time to take a shower in bug spray, strap all loose gear onto our packs, and get it over with.

We took our first 5min break after about 700m, right at the peak elevation of the portage… which was funny because I had predicted I would make it that long before needing a break, and when I checked on Avenza, we were literally right at that exact spot.

With the camera gear strapped on top of the barrel, I was stacked pretty high and I’d need to find the perfect tree to let me rest the canoe and duck down to exit. Unfortunately there weren’t good trees so I ended up flipping the canoe down completely, which is a pretty big waste of energy when you’re already super drained. Thankfully I only needed to do that one more time; we made it another 700m or so before taking our second and final break, then pushed through to the end of the portage.

We arrived on Welcome with a refreshing breeze and decided to load quickly and get to the site before giving our body the chance to go into “damn you for making me do all that work” shut down mode. The northwest beach site was still available so we brought our gear on land, quickly paddled to fill up on water, then decided to finally lie down and relax.

View down the beach on campsite #1 on Welcome Lake in Algonquin
Welcome to Welcome! Our campsite for the night

As predicted, our bodies shut down. The next several hours were some of the laziest hours I’ve ever had on a canoe trip. We took a short nap and we both had zero energy to do anything even remotely productive. The fact that the whole day we travelled through 30-degree heat without a single cloud in the sky, after waking up at 3:30am, didn’t make the journey any less tiring. I also have some pretty bad knees for someone my age, and they were feeling really tight and overworked at this point.

If you haven’t noticed by now, there was a constant theme to Day 1… complaining! We loved every second of the journey, but that didn’t stop us from complaining about the early wakeup, the heat, the bugs, the portaging, my knees, and anything else we could think about.

I don’t even know what time it was when we finally set up camp, but it was much later than planned. Even after camp was set up, we were too drained to even want to enjoy the massive beachfront of our campsite, or sit on the surprisingly comfortable lounging rock chair atop the massive slab of shoreline granite. We just lounged lazily until it was time for dinner.

Of course, the first fuel canister I brought was empty (despite passing the float test back home), and when we tried the second one, something was off. I’m not sure if it was the canister or the stove itself, but the connection wasn’t secure and the flow of fuel wasn’t constant, so I didn’t feel safe using it. I guess we were cooking over an open fire all trip. It was time to head back into the forest to gather a bit more firewood to support the cause.

It was right around this time that we heard a very large animal behind our site; I was pretty confident it wasn’t bear considering the fresh moose tracks at our beachfront. Regardless, I had my bear spray in my hands just in case.

We were having dehydrated meals for dinner, so ‘cooking’ was really just boiling hot water. Once we finished dinner we left out some snacks for later in the evening and hung the barrel with an extremely sub-par bear hang… if you’ve camped on this site before, you’ll know the struggles of trying to find a good tree.

I set up my GoPro for what I would later find out was a very uneventful sunset time lapse, and we took the canoe out for a long evening paddle. We didn’t go very far but it was a calm evening on a very pretty Welcome Lake, and it felt extra relaxing after the tiresome day we had. We noticed one other group camping at the site beside the portage, but otherwise the lake seemed pretty empty.

When we got back to camp we got a fire going and enjoyed some good ol’ classic roasted marshmallows. After an hour or so, I decided it was finally time for my first attempt at astrophotography. I took a seat in the fancy rock chair on the front of the site and set up my gear in front of me. A few ‘forgot to take the lens cap off’ shots later, and I finally got going.

We spent probably one hour playing around, trying to get some unique shots while still recognizing the limitations of my relatively inexperience gear and my lack of night-sky photography experience.

Hello? Is there anybody out there?

I was very surprised and quite pleased with the shots I got. Once I was able to enlarge them on my computer I noticed some silly mistakes I made, like ignoring the 500 rule and keeping the shutter open too long, resulting in trailing. But overall I was very happy with the results for a first attempt.

I’m not quite sure how we both managed to stay awake until almost midnight, but after finally putting everything away and getting in the tent, I was asleep before I could even close my eyes.

Found the Milky Way
"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."

Day 2 – Welcome Lake to Lake Louisa

If you read my trip reports often you probably know that I don’t sleep very well in the backcountry, and I pretty much always wake up to watch the sunrise. So it was a weird feeling when I actually got a half decent sleep and woke up at 6:30am, past peak sunrise colours.

We had a quick breakfast before packing up camp and hitting the water; protein bar for her, banana bread and whiskey for me. Our initial plan for Day 1 was to set up camp and then paddle into Harry and Rence to check out some of the campsites, since I was guessing they would all be taken by the time we paddled through on Day 2. That was a hilarious thought by the time we got to camp on Day 1, so campsite scouting was now part of the Day 2 agenda.

A beautifully calm morning on Welcome Lake
Not a bad view to wake up to

The first site we checked out was the northernmost site on Welcome. I’ve seen pictures of this site before, and either it’s a new addition or the pictures just never showed it, but there’s an epic sandy, level tent pad at the front of the site facing east for the sunrise. Bonus points for that site already. The full campsite report (along with the others) can be found at the bottom of this report.

There were a couple shallow sections in the river, but again nothing that required dragging or that made us get our feet wet. The paddle was really calm and beautiful and with each passing moment the sun was getting stronger beating down on us.

Paddling towards Harry Lake

The river opened into a large beach at the front of an unoccupied campsite on Harry’s Lake. We checked out that site and upon getting back in the boat, realized we almost ran over a snapping turtle while parking at the site. I ‘snapped’ a few pictures (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) before he tucked his head away and went underwater.

Snap me and I snap at you

We continued along the south shore of Harry’s and checked out the next two sites, while noticing from a distance that the northern sites were also empty. To my surprise, Harry was completely empty as of 10am.

COVID-19 has understandably given people the itch to get outside and surround themselves with nature, which has lead to an increase in new campers, particularly in the backcountry. I knew that tripping on an August weekend off Hwy 60 I might see some examples of this, but I was still shocked to see the disgusting mess left in the fire pit at the westernmost site on Harry. A full banana, face masks, water bottle, and a bunch of other junk. Is it really so hard to pack out your garbage? Are people really so ignorant and unthoughtful to think that leaving a mess behind like that is ok? Please, if you’re coming to the backcountry research “Leave No Trace” and follow the guidelines.

DONT DO THIS - please respect the outdoors and clean up after yourselves

Moving on. I checked out the eastern site on Rence but skipped looking at the western site; similar to the reason I didn’t check out the northern sites on Harry, I didn’t want to detour too much and add more time to our day.

By the time we arrived to the 320m into Frank, the few hours spent in the sun had already taken its toll on us and we were drained. The portage itself wasn’t too difficult but it was another unfriendly reminder of our dread to do another long portage. We spent a few minutes at the end of the portage resting in the shade before hitting the waters again.

The 1.7km was relatively flat despite a few ups and downs, but that didn’t stop us from complaining about our sore bodies. Just like the 2.1km on Day 1, we managed to do this portage with just two short breaks. The final 100m into Louisa is a very steep decline and we were quite happy that we didn’t have to climb it with all of our gear.

The beautiful clear water of Louisa was a welcome site after finishing the hardest part of our day. Now it was time to find a place to call home for the next two nights.

The first site we passed on the south shore was occupied, as well as the prime island campsite. The westernmost island was open, along with the site behind it, which I stayed on a few years back. But we decided to continue paddling.

We arrived at the island with two campsites and found them both available, so we snagged the western site. It has large open rock by the water, good swimming and stargazing opportunities, and a beautiful view west down the lake. Inside the campsite there’s a few sheltered tent spots, a well-built fire pit, good branches to hang food, and a very open spacious feeling throughout.

Hello and welcome to our home - please leave your shoes on the front rock

The only downside is that we knew Louisa was fully booked and we would likely be sharing the island with another group, which has the potential for an awkward moment when using one of the two outhouse thunder boxes. Also, the bugs were surprisingly bad inside the campsite. But I was a big fan of the site and we were willing to roll the dice and hope that our soon-to-move-in next-door neighbours would be quiet.

I knew the first thing that I needed to do before setting up camp. I stripped down into my underwear and went for a swim. No matter how tired or drained I am, swimming in a cold lake is just so refreshing and gives a jolt of energy. As I got out of the water I noticed a bunch of leaches that almost latched onto me, so counted myself lucky and decided that would be my only swim at this campsite.

We spent the rest of the day being just as lazy as the second half of Day 1, with the exception of paddling out to collect firewood. We followed a similar pattern… nap, be lazy, make dinner, go for a sunset paddle, make a fire, eat too many marshmallows, drink whiskey, and attempt some more astrophotography.

Evening paddle on Lake Louisa
The sun crossing the shoreline
Lighting up the sky
A cloudy evening lead to a short night of astrophotography

Day 3 – A Rest Day on Lake Louisa

I woke up at 12:30am feeling overheated, disoriented, and a bit claustrophobic which has never happened before. I took off some layers, drank some water, and looked through some photos on my phone until I was able to fall back asleep. I had a very restless night, not being able to stay asleep for more than one hour at a time.

We were planning on day tripping into North Grace and possibly McGarvey and Stringer, but after my lack of sleep we decided to paddle around Louisa instead, checking out any campsites that would be vacant.

But first, I went to watch the sunrise! I was up early enough anyways with my crappy sleep, and we were fortunate that no one ended up camping at the other site on the island.

We wanted to get on the water relatively early to try and get to some of the eastern sites before the flood of people made their way into the lake. Most of the sites in the middle of the lake were occupied, including the epic cliff site and the site just east of it, which were the two campsites we stayed on during our first trip together in 2016.

This image is brought to you in partnership with Quaker Oats (not really, but if you work at Quaker and you're reading this, feel free to send me free oatmeal)
I think I see a loon
Oh yes, look at that bright red scary eye, that's a loon alright
Diving to get away from me

We crossed to the north shore and checked out the two sites right beside each other, followed by the site just around the bend. Similar to the mess on the Harry Lake campsite, the western of the two sites had a fire pit full of dog food and food packages, with a bag of toilet paper underneath the seating. There was also a map of Lake Louisa pinned to a tree with an arrow pointing towards that campsite… in case anyone was confused where they were? It really upsets me seeing such a beautiful place left in such a mess.

Afterwards we headed south and were able to check out two of the four sites in that section of the lake. We had been on the water for a few hours already and despite another day of 30-degree sunshine, we were enjoying our leisurely paddling and exploring.

We slowly made our way back to camp to find out our next-door neighbor’s had moved in while we were gone. It was a group of two and other than some noise from wood processing, we barely heard a peep from them the rest of our trip.

Not only did we now have next-door neighbors, but we also had an intruder! One chipmunk kept coming back to us, craving attention and looking for food. Any time we would leave something out he would try and drag it away. Little did he know, by intruding on our campsite he unwillingly agreed to be my subject for photography.

It was around this time that two canoes were paddling down the lake yelling “Ryan!!” as loud as they could, looking for someone in their party that had arrived on the lake earlier than them. They must have been mind readers because I was actually just thinking that I’d love for someone to continuously yell at the top of their lungs while on open water, while myself and several others were trying to enjoy peace and solitude. /s

I got my day’s worth of sunshine during our day trip so I spent the rest of the afternoon mostly inside the campsite. Most of the wood we collected the previous day hadn’t been processed yet, so I broke it down and organized it for later.

Not firewood, just a cool perspective view from our campsite

Can you guess what we did for the rest of the day?

If you guessed nap, lazy lounging, cooked dinner, went for an evening paddle, finished our pack of marshmallows, drank whiskey, and did some more astrophotography… well, you’d be right.

Sunset on Lake Louisa
Shooting for the stars on Lake Louisa
Shooting for the stars on Lake Louisa
Shooting for the stars on Lake Louisa

Day 4 – Lake Louisa to Rock Lake

I woke up on the last day feeling somewhere in the middle of the first night’s unusually decent sleep and the second night’s incredibly poor sleep. But this time I didn’t get to watch the sunrise, so instead I watched the mist gently sweep across the west half of Louisa as the sunshine slowly illuminated the distant islands and shoreline.

Look closely and you might even see a canoe

We started packing up camp around 7am and got on the water by 8:30am. As we paddled through Louisa we saw many more campsites occupied compared to the previous day. There were two other groups at the start of the portage, and even though I knew the portage would be busy I didn’t expect it to be as busy as it was. We probably passed 25-30 people and a couple cases of beer being carried along the 3km trail.

At least this portage was easier than the shorter 2.1km and 1.7km we had done on the previous days, and we were able to finish the portage in exactly one hour with just two breaks.

It was a rewarding feeling entering Rock Lake, finishing our trip with another day of sunshine. We took our time paddling the final stretch, stopping to get some pictures, having a snack, and just relaxing in the moment before ending the trip.

Duck, duck... where's the goose?
These cliffs look familiar

The parking lot was even busier than the portage so we unloaded our gear at the corner of the dock and did our best to avoid the other groups and continue socially distancing while loading the car.

We stopped at Webers on the way home, but not for the burgers. I always need a nap after ending a trip; sometimes right away, sometimes I can make it as far as the Webers parking lot. This trip was one of the latter examples, so we pulled over, set an alarm for 20min later, and made sure I was able to keep my eyes open before getting back on the road.

I’m new to the condo life and I wasn’t excited about needing to unpack and clean my gear inside a small condo, so we stopped at my parents and used their large yard to organize and clean. By the time we made it home we were pooped. After a long shower and a cold beer, we started looking through our pictures and videos from the trip. We barely finished before our heads hit the pillow.

No evening paddle. No marshmallows. No astrophotography. The trip had unfortunately come to an end.

(At least I still had whiskey)

The Aftermath

This was my first trip of the season and given the fact that I had barely left my house for the 5 months prior, it’s safe to say I was looking forward to this trip more than usual. It seems weird to complain about having hot weather, but it would have been nice if it were just a couple degrees cooler. But I’ll still take hot sun over rain any day.

I’ve paddled south from Rock several times in the past few years, but the last time I was on Louisa was in 2016 and the last time I did this full loop was in 2015. It felt nice doing the full loop, camping on Welcome again, paddling through the beautiful rivers, and ending with a few days on gorgeous Lake Louisa.

It’s the perfect mix of days that aren’t too long, with a few long portages thrown in to make you feel like you’ve earned your dinner. Plus, the area has tons of great campsites.

I definitely don’t regret bringing the camera gear, but the extra 10lbs crosses the threshold between what I can comfortably carry and what will make me complain about every portage. But most of our complaining throughout the trip was just for fun, there wasn’t a moment that we didn’t actually enjoy. If anything it just makes the trip more memorable!

The only really disappointing part was witnessing first hand the irresponsible campers who treat the backcountry like it’s their living room, leaving garbage behind and yelling across the lake.

But that wasn’t going to stop us from having an amazing trip and creating great memories.

My Campsites

Other Campsites Visited