Algonquin Outfitters

Fall colour canoe/photography trip

Algonquin Park, Smoke Lake to Cache Lake, September 25th October 1st 2012 by Doug Hamilton

Clouds on Lawrence Lake by Doug Hamilton

Clouds on Lawrence Lake by Doug Hamilton © 2012

Last Wednesday my good friend Paul Morrison and I departed on a 5 night , 6 day canoe trip from Smoke Lake to Cache Lake with a 2 day side trip built in to Lake Louisa. Both of us are photographers but Paul is a world famous ski and adventure tourism photographer, originally from Ontario but living in Whistler BC for the past 35 years. Like me he has a soft spot for nature, the grandeur of canoe routes in Algonquin Park and the majesty of fall foliage. Our decision to leave on Wednesday was prompted by weather constraints earlier in the week and what we hoped would be the peak of fall colours. The timing was ideal.

The trip ended at Cache Lake so that meant I needed to shuttle my vehicle from Smoke Lake where our trip started , back to Cache Lake somehow. My plan was to do this before the trip started so the car would be waiting when we finished. I tried for 40 minutes to hitch a ride from Cache back to Smoke but almost all traffic on Hwy 60 that day in the morning was east bound with almost zero traffic west bound. So, not wanting to waste the first day canoe travel I decided to drive back to Smoke Lake, park there and do the shuttle at the end of the trip. We came out Monday afternoon when the highway was busy with fall colour travellers. I got a ride right away then.

Our trip took us through Smoke, Ragged, Big Porcupine, Phipps on to Lawrence; then a 2 night side trip to Lake Louisa , returning via Lawrence, Pardee, Harness, Head to Cache. The small interior lakes were empty of people ; just us ! There were a few people mainly on Ragged lake with a few more on the north end of Big Porcupine and Lake Louisa. The lack of other canoe parties this time of year provided more of a wilderness experience than we expected, which was an added bonus. The fall scenery was spectacular and well worth the 4000 Km trip from BC for Paul.

View Doug Hamilton’s Smoke to Cache canoe Trip 2012 in a larger map

The trip

Day 1:    Smoke Lake to the south end of Big Porcupine where we camped on the big rambling rock outcrop site there in a red and white pine grove
Day 2:    Bonnechere through to Lawrence Lake where we camped on the (best) campsite at the far east end of that lake
Day 3:    Lawrence, Rod and Gun to Lake Louisa ….where we camped 2 nights on the first good campsite on the left  on Louisa (very nice !)
Day 4:    Explored all the west end of Louisa
Day 5:    Paddled back through Lawrence again, Pardee, Harness and camped on Head.
we had wanted to camp on Kenneth but we got side tracked at the waterfall system on the outflow at Pardee for photos… pushing daylight by the time we got to Head.
Day 6:    out to Cache.

There is a series of little streams connecting the interior lakes that generally follow the portages between lakes. Some of these offered some excellent photo opportunities with rambling cascades surrounded by multi coloured leaves; more or less a nature photographers paradise !

The lake shores and distant hills throughout the route were a good mix of conifer and hardwood forests with all shades of colour Lawrence Lake Camp Sitefrom pale greens through to vivid reds. In fact this year is the best fall colour year I’ve seen in Algonquin for a long time. A lack of deep frosts this fall with light winds and damp conditions in September after a very hot and dry summer seem to have set up the colours in a good way ! We think we went through the ideal peak of colours around last Friday (the 28th of September) but in fact the entire trip was close to peak and it was still amazingly vibrant on the Monday when we came out.

Along the way some of the wildlife we encountered included loons, mergansers , kingfishers, ravens, nuthatches, owls, various raptors, moose and a possible bear ! When I say possible bear , here is the story.

At the end of the portage from Rod and Gun Lake (weird name for Algonquin lake dated to earlier times I guess) to the NW end of Lake Louisa there is a parks map of Lake Louisa posted on a big pine tree that you cant miss. It is undated but looks new. On that map 5 campsites circled on the extreme east end of the lake (closest to Rock Lake). These campsites are (or were) closed due to a problem bear. This is a first for me to see a warning map like that on a remote portage. So we entered Lake Louisa with Lake Louise Algonquin Parka discussion of bears and how I never encounter them on campsites in the interior. As fate would have it around dusk on our outstanding campsite miles away from the bear problem area, we are startled by a massive commotion of breaking branches , crashing and clomping and breathing just behind our campsite. We look at each other. Bear or Moose. Paul lives in bear country and he is thinking bear. I’m thinking maybe bear but maybe moose but bear is on my mind because of the bear warning. We muse that there is a logging road somewhere back of our campsite that has not been used in a few years but that it might make a nice bear runway from east where the problem is and bring it to us ! This is the thinking when one gets a bit paranoid I suppose. Well that noise never did happen again and the rest of the night was peaceful although sleep was slow to come. Paul slept near the axe; all funny now in hindsight. We checked the noise zone in the morning and could not see tracks or evidence of what could make so much noise. I did see old bear sign not that far away though so I do lean towards it being a bear. The good thing is, whatever it was ; I guess it stumbled on us and was scared away.

The photos included here give a good overview of conditions and features along the route..  All photos © Doug Hamilton 2012

It was a good one that also had lots of time built in to relax and for photography. We both finished trip feeling happy and inspired.

Doug Hamilton Photographer



Doug Hamilton is a photographer and a former interior canoe ranger warden for many years in Temagami. He loves the diversity of Algonquin and lately spends about 30 days a year exploring canoe routes there and shooting photos. Off season, spring and fall when the crowds have thinned, are his favourite times there.



  • Sarah says:

    Wow…looks like a great trip. Wonderful pictures….thanks for sharing!

  • Art says:

    I really enjoyed your story and the pictures. I have had similar experiences with noses in the bush at night. I always carry an air horn but I have never used it (or my knife) ha ha. I am not sure how useful they would be with a rogue bear. I guess that’s the risk you have to take in order to experience the wilderness. Thanks again.

    • RandyM says:

      Art, on most occasions an air horn would be very effective at driving a bear away, I’ve had very few bear encounters in Algonquin Park over the many years I’ve been in the park. I did once come across two bears on a portage and my wife walked up and slapped the canoe a few times making a very loud drum like sound and the bears ran away in the other direction.. Unfortunately I was portaging the canoe at the time and was lucky it only took about 10 minutes for the ringing to go away in my ears. An air horn would be quite effective. Unfortunately since your knife only has a range of the length of your arm, you might want to use your air horn first and never need to use your knife. By the way the bear has 20 knife like claws, never take a knife to a bear fight.

      • Art says:

        I hear you. I don’t imagine an axe would do much good either. But when you don’t have anything else it makes you feel better 🙂 I have never had a bear encounter in Algonquin either but I have in some other locations. Like when i was a fishing guide tromping through the bush by myself , oh and when coming down the Spanish River we had a few sightings. None have ever come into my camp or tried to get at the food pack . They always scattered at the sight of me. Anyway my son is really enjoying your pictures too. What a great time of year to go into Algonquin.

  • Doug says:

    I have never had a problem with a bear in Algonquin Interior yet and I’ve only seen a bear once or twice on a canoe trip there, both times in the north end near Kiosk access point. It was there many years ago that I watched a bear climb a tree one early morning to get a cached pack of mine. He ripped it open and ate a large package of cashews. Then he went away : )

    When I worked in Temagami for many years as a canoe ranger/warden we rarely encountered bears but with two notable and extreme exceptions. The famous “Hobart” bear who lived in and around Maple mountain, caused problems lots of campers for 2 or 3 years in a row in the Hobart Lake /Tupper Lake area. We ran into that bear many times and not in a good way…He would be holding campers at bay while moving pack after pack deep into the forest. He would be threatening if approached. One time we encountered a girls youth group who cached their food packs at the base of the Maple Mountain trail on Tupper Lake. (they were on a long 10 day canoe trip at the time) The packs were properly rigged between two tall trees up high (so they told us anyway). They decided to do an overnight sidetrip hike and camp near the firetower up top so they just took gear and food for one day and left the rest cached at the trail head. After they had set up camp on top of Maple Mt, a bear came in and ravaged their food and scared them massively. Its open up top with no where to hide except on the tower itself. I think they spent the night huddling in the hut on top of the tower, because of the bear fear. We ran into the girls the next day on Tupper Lake. They hiked down to trail head where their canoes and food and other gear was stashed. ALmost all of the packs and food were gone or ripped apart….No food left…rripped up and missing packs ! The same bear ? The Hobart Bear ? I think yes ! We radioed in for help and their canoe trip was over. This was most likely a once in a lifetime ordeal for them. The Hobart bear just vanished one year and have not heard of serious bear trouble in that location since then. Before that Conservations officers were flown in a few times to try to kill this bear. When they came in they never saw a bear : )

    Another time our group of 4 canoe rangers camped along the Montreal river during what was then the spring bear hunt season….We got into a campsite late in the evening, setup camp and unknown to us , we were camped near a bear bait. That evening a bear came running into the camp at a gallop and stomped right over the tent I was in, stepped right on top of John, my tent mate ! You can imagine the commotion ! Bear bangers going off…huffing and puffing noises …people yelling… Finally it all settled down and we figured out the bear was simply on a b line for the bait that was located about 20 meter behind where we were camped ! At least that is a problem that won;t happen in Algonquin !

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