Kayaking in Algonquin Park
Should you Consider Kayaking in Algonquin Park?
Are you more comfortable in a kayak than a canoe? Are you looking for a different kind of backcountry experience? Consider kayak tripping in Algonquin Provincial Park! If you don’t have the requisite gear, no worries – Algonquin Outfitters rents everything you need.
Trip Planning and Route Selection
Planning for a kayak trip is a bit different than planning for a canoe trip: generally speaking, kayaks are not lightweight and easily portaged! You will want to choose a route that either involves no portaging, or has just a few short portages. Trust me – ferrying two touring kayaks and all the gear between lakes gets old pretty quickly.
On a kayak trip with my friend Cheryl, we planned a route that didn’t involve any portaging on the first day, but on the second day we had to portage to a nearby lake to reach our campsite. The portage was a mere 310 m long. “How hard could that be?”, we thought. Well, let’s just say our arms and hands got a workout! We walked the portage 3 times – the 1st time with each of us carrying one end of a kayak plus gear on our backs, the 2nd time empty handed back to the 2nd kayak, the 3rd time with the 2nd boat and the rest of the gear. We had to stop every few feet, it seemed, as our hands got more and more tired. Cheryl asked me if I was cursing her yet for bringing the kayaks instead of the canoe! Your hands may thank you if you bring lightweight gloves for carrying the kayaks (don’t forget to bring paddling gloves too to keep your hands warm and dry and calluses at bay). Also, make sure you remove everything from the boats so they are as light as possible. We left a few things, thinking, “Would that really make a difference?” It did. Keep in mind that you may need to bring an empty bag or two to stuff loose things into for portaging (e.g. that map and compass and GPS you had sitting on top of your kayak within easy reach).
Another way to make portaging easier is to do it in more trips. On our final morning, when we portaged back to our starting lake, we decided to do things a little differently. In addition to removing everything from the kayaks, we added a trip, walking the portage 5 times instead of 3. This meant that we could carry the boats without packs on our backs. We were pretty pleased with our decision after encountering a moose at one end of the portage! We wouldn’t have seen it had we walked it only 3 times. Keep in mind, though, that extra trips add to the amount of time you’ll spend portaging.
Other things to consider when route planning
- Your kayaking abilities (Are you likely to tire quickly? Are you comfortable paddling in windy conditions?)
- How far, or for how much time, you want to paddle in a day
- Your preference for long narrow lakes, big lakes (higher chance for more wind and waves), small lakes, little marshy areas to investigate, quieter lakes, busy lakes etc.
- Motor boat traffic; and
- Access to hiking trails or proximity to things like historical ruins (check out Jeff’s Algonquin Maps for all kinds of helpful information).
Here are a few route suggestions
• Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park access point #11
• Smoke Lake (Access point #6) to Ragged Lake, Algonquin Park
• North Tea Lake, Algonquin Park access point #1
• Rain Lake, Algonquin Park access point #4
Packing and Kayak Loading
Another difference between canoe tripping and kayak tripping is that, with kayaks, you cannot cram all your gear into a big waterproof pack and throw it into the boat. Depending on the kayak you use, you will have one or two hatches to stuff your gear into. Cheryl and I have used her two touring kayaks. The hatches of kayaks are not that big, and are oddly shaped, so when you’re gathering everything you want to take, pare your things down as much as possible. Do you really need to bring a portable chair?
To make things easier for ourselves, we even drew a quick diagram for each hatch. We brought the diagram with us so that we knew where everything went! It saved us from having to rearrange things (like a 3-D puzzle) every time we headed out. We also used different coloured dry bags to simplify things (red bag goes here, yellow there, etc.). You’ll find that using multiple small dry bags works much better than using fewer large bags – it’s easier to fit small bags into tight corners and tiny spaces. Consider labeling your bags too.
Now that you’ve piled everything you’re going to take with you into a heap on the ground, how should you pack it? I highly recommend doing a test pack a few days before your trip, so that you’re not standing at the edge of a beautiful lake in the rain trying to cram things into hatches!
Tips for loading your kayaks
- If you don’t want something to get wet, use a dry bag – don’t trust that your “waterproof hatches” will keep water out.
- Try to balance your gear as best you can, with the heavier stuff towards the bottom and closer to the cockpit (as opposed to at the bow or stern).
- Don’t attach things on top of your kayak unless you need them while paddling (e.g. map, compass, GPS) – anything on top will affect the boat’s stability and balance. We did attach the canoe packs because there was no room for them inside the hatches.
- Leave the cockpit empty, with the exception of you, your water bottle (better yet, use a Camelbak) and a snack. I had a dry bag in there for my camera in case of rain.
- Don’t forget to pack a bailer and throw rope.
Benefits of Kayak Tripping Over Canoe Tripping
- Paddling a kayak is easy for beginners – no fancy strokes to learn!
- It’s easier to paddle a kayak in wind and waves, your kayak won’t take on water, and you’ll stay dry!
- You get to sit very low to the water, which is really neat.
- Kayaking may be faster.
Disadvantages of Kayak Tripping Versus Canoe Tripping
- You have to bring less stuff!
- It’s not so easy to bring kids!
- Loading the kayak and portaging it is much more challenging.
Even if the weather is somewhat lacking, as it was for me on one fall kayak trip in particular, with rain, wind, cold temperatures and even hail, you may be lucky to spot some of Algonquin’s amazing wildlife, as we did. Not only did we encounter the moose on the portage, but we had otters drop by our campsite, and we heard what we could only imagine to be a moose mating call deep in the woods.
Other Useful Links
- Algonquin Outfitters gear rentals
- Rain Lake access point
- Jeff's Map for route planning purposes
- Kayak Camper Website