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Five of the Best Backcountry Canoe Trips in Algonquin Provincial Park

Central Ontario is home to one of Canada’s most prized wilderness jewels, Algonquin Provincial Park. As the third-largest provincial park in Ontario and the oldest provincial park in Canada, Algonquin has been drawing adventure lovers from near and far since it was established in 1893. The area is teaming with wildlife, diverse trails, meandering rivers and over 1,500 lakes, in short — Algonquin Park is a nature-lovers wonderland waiting to be explored by canoe!

 When faced with the prospect of deciding how exactly to tackle exploring the park for the first time, which covers an astonishing 7653.45 km2 area, one can find themselves at a bit of a loss. There are a ton of helpful online resources to help you plan your perfect backcountry canoe adventure in Algonquin park, like Algonquin Outfitters Planning a Canoe Trip, and if you’re looking to explore the natural beauty of the park on land prior to setting out for a multi-day canoe trip, check out the Best Hikes in Algonquin Provincial Park by 10Adventures.

Another common question for those trying their hand at a backcountry backpacking or canoe camping trip for the first time is “what do I bring?”. Algonquin Outfitters is your one-stop shop for everything you’ll need for your backcountry adventures. From tents, canoes, packs, clothing and more — you’ll find it all here!


Five of the best Backcountry Canoe Trips

Smoke Lake to Kirkwood Lake – 5 to 6-Day

 This 6-day canoe trip will get the adrenaline pumping, and immerse you in the coveted remoteness and beauty of Algonquin Park’s backcountry wilderness wonderland. This jam-packed trip will have you exploring 7 lakes and tackling 10 portages in total. You’ll find yourself enjoying the peace and solitude that Algonquin’s interior can provide, especially while camping on Kirkwood Lake where there are just 2 campsites in total!

 

Day 1 – Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake

Enjoy a great warm-up day on a 2-hour paddle south to the Ragged Lake Portage where you’ll portage 720m to reach Ragged Lake. With plenty of campsites to choose from (over 20!), you’ll have no issues settling on the perfect spot to lay your head tonight.

Day 2 – Ragged Lake to Big Porcupine Lake

This morning you’ll set back out on Ragged Lake to head to the Big Porcupine Lake portage, which depending on where you camped, should take around an hour. Brace yourself for a tough going ahead as you tackle what is known as “The Devil’s Staircase”, a 590m uphill portage to reach Big Porcupine Lake.

Day 3 – Big Porcupine Lake to Kirkwood Lake

With a couple of days on the water under your belt, you’ll set out this morning to cross two lakes (Bonnechere and Phipps) to reach Kirkwood Lake. Heading to the southern part of Big Porcupine Lake, you’ll reach the first portage to Bonnechere. An easy 200m portage will bring you to the narrow lake of Bonnechere which you’ll head north up to reach the portage to Phipps Lake. Another easy 161m portage to Phipps Lake will set you up nicely for heading north up towards the final portage of the day to Kirkwood Lake. This final portage is a mere 47m as you head downhill to Kirkwood. You’ll note a cool waterfall connecting the two lakes which is always a great spot to post up and cool down in before setting out to reach your campsite. With only 2 campsites on the whole lake, Kirkwood feels incredibly remote and private, especially on the one campsite, which can be found on an island in the middle of the lake.

Day 4 – Kirkwood Lake

Enjoy a day trip to another lake today like nearby Pardee Lake or Lawrence Lake. Kirkwood Lake also has several large rocks spotted throughout the lake that you can paddle out to and enjoy basking on and swimming around.

Day 5 – Kirkwood Lake Back to Ragged Lake

The return journey retraces your initial route and today you’ll set out from Kirkwood Lake to cross Phipps, Bonnechere and Big Porcupine Lakes to reach Ragged Lake where you can camp for a final night.

 Day 6 – Ragged Lake Back to Smoke Lake

An easy final day on the water, day 6 will see you complete the 720m portage (downhill this time!) to reach Smoke Lake. A final 1.5-2h paddle will have you back at your start point to complete this epic 6-day backcountry canoe trip.


Lake Louisa Loop  – 4-Day

This exciting loop is a favourite amongst Algonquin Park enthusiasts and takes in some stunning lake and cliff scenery along the way. Covering 3 lakes in 4-days, great opportunities to spot wildlife (yes even Moose!) and some challenging portages, this is the perfect escape into the wilderness of Algonquin.

Day 1 – Rock Lake to Pen Lake

Portage to Lake LouisaFrom the Rock Lake Access Point (#9) set out on Rock Lake heading south. Spot Rose Island as you continue through the sea of waterlilies towards the portage to Pen Lake where you’ll be met by the sound of Pen Falls rushing in the distance. A 375m portage will bring you to Pen Lake where you can find a spot to camp for the night. Those interested in “beach camping” can opt to paddle to the eastern shore, where if you’re lucky, you’ll snag the coveted beach campsite.

Day 2 – Pen Lake to Welcome Lake

Set out this morning back on Pen Lake and head to the portage to Welcome Lake accessed via a narrow stream. You’ll gear up for the first 275m portages, a great warm-up for the next portage which covers 2170m. You’ll soon be welcomed by the sandy shoreline of Welcome Lake, where you’ll no doubt feel very welcome!

Day 3 – Welcome Lake to Lake Louisa

This morning you’ll set out via a creek that connects Welcome Lake and Harry Lake, so no portaging is required for this crossing. You’ll continue in the same fashion via connected creeks from Harry to Rence and Rence to Frank Lake. Next, you’ll tackle the 1725m portage to lovely Lake Louisa where you can scope out an ideal campsite for your final night.

Day 4 – Complete the Lake Louisa Loop

The final day of this trip is the biggest, so be sure to enjoy a hearty breakfast before setting out for the journey back to Rock Lake. Cross Lake Louisa and get ready to tackle the final 3km portage back to Rock Lake. Paddle across Rock Lake to reach the same access point from the start of the trip.


Lake Opeongo to Big Trout Lake – 3 to 4-Days

Expansive lakes, sandy shorelines and towering pine forest–this trip is an excellent choice for those wanting to explore some of Algonquin Park’s largest and most beautiful lakes. A total distance of 70km over three days and two nights means you’ll definitely break a sweat, but the scenery makes all of the effort worthwhile.

Day 1 – Lake Opeongo to Happy Isle Lake

One of the great things that makes this route possible in just 3-days is the Algonquin Outfitters water taxi service that we highly recommend you take advantage of to get from your start point at the Lake Opeongo Access Point (#11) to the first portage that will bring you to Happy Isle Lake, located at the head of Lake Opeongo. Disembark the water taxi and set out on your first portage, a 2235m journey on a well-worn path to reach Happy Isle. Find a spot to camp on this gorgeous clear lake and unwind after an adventure-filled day.

Day 2 – Happy Lake to Big Trout Lake

Set out on the water this morning to reach the Merchant Lake Portage, then continue on the 340m trail headed north to reach Merchant Lake. This unique, basin lake is a joy to paddle, as you continue towards the next portage to Big Trout Lake, which is your final destination. Set out towards Big Trout with a final 1800m portage to top off the day. Big Trout Lake is truly beautiful, with several bays and small islands throughout.

 Day 3 – Return to Lake Opeongo

This morning you’ll retrace your outward route, setting out for a big day to return to Lake Opeongo where your trip began.


Rain McCraney Loop – 3-day

Beat the crowds and witness some of Algonquin Park’s most incredible contrasting scenery on this 4-day backcountry canoe trip that starts at Rain Lake Access Point #4. A unique portage that includes traversing an old railway line makes this trip extra special as well as the adventure of exploring an un-maintained part of the park.

Day 1 – Rain Lake to Lake Islet

McCraney Lanek Camp SiteA nice warm-up 5km paddle on the narrow waters of Rain Lake will lead to the first portage to Hot Lake. A 500m portage will bring you to Hot Lake from where you’ll set out on another similar portage just under 500m to reach Lake Islet. Scope your spot for the night and post up!

Day 2 – Lake Islet to McCraney Lake

Prepare for a big day on the water and on land as you make your way from Lake Islet to McCraney Lake this morning. Several portages from Islet to Weed Lake (45m), Weed to Way Lake (635m), and Way Lake to your destination, McCraney Lake (65m). Snag one of the cool island campsites on this gorgeous lake and enjoy another night under the stars.

 Day 3 – Complete the Loop

Today to make your way back to the start point, a hefty 1700m portage unfolds before you. Depending on your choice of the site on McCraney, your paddle should be under 5km to get to the first and only portage of the day. A final 2km paddle will bring you back to your start point to wrap up the trip.


Barron Canyon – 3-Day

This incredible 3-day trip invites you to explore the eastern realms of Algonquin Park and the beautiful Barron Canyon. Waterfalls, rapids and stunning canyon scenery make it the perfect 2-night escape into the wild. A total distance of 35km and 18 portages make it a great active adventure with tons to see along the way.

Day 1 – Grand Lake to Lower Barron River

Set out on the water from the Grand Lake Access Point (#22) bound for the Lower Barron River. Two short portages kick off the day (50m and 75m) and lead you to St. Andrews Lake. From here you’ll paddle before another 550m portage to reach High Falls Lake. Six portages on and several more lakes crossed, you’ll reach the beautiful Barron River that grants you a front-row seat to the majestic Barron Canyon. Find a spot to camp at this little slice of paradise and unwind after a long day of travel.

Day 2 – Lower Barron River to High Falls Lake

Traversing a total of 7 portages today makes for an easy final day of the trip as you make your way back to High Falls Lake for camping night two. Once you’ve found an ideal spot to camp here, paddle out to the 550m portage to walk the trail out to cascading High Falls (under half an hour). Make your way back to your campsite and enjoy the rest of the evening on High Falls Lake.

Day 3 – High Falls Lake to Grand Lake

An easy final day with just 3 portages will bring you back to your start point at Grand Lake today. First up, a 550m followed by two shorter portages to get back to the access point where you began.

 


  • Sunset from campsite on Big Porcupine Lake (Smoke Lake to Kirkwood Lake)

    Sunset from campsite on Big Porcupine Lake (Smoke Lake to Kirkwood Lake)

  • Nadine Gravis

    Nadine Gravis

  • Island_campsite_on_Kirkwood_Lake_(Smoke_Lake_to_Kirkwood_Lake) (1)

    Island_campsite_on_Kirkwood_Lake_(Smoke_Lake_to_Kirkwood_Lake) (1)

  • Hiking in woods around Welcome Lake (Lake Louisa Loop)

    Hiking in woods around Welcome Lake (Lake Louisa Loop)

  • Canoe carry on the portage to Lake Louisa (Lake Louisa Loop)

    Canoe carry on the portage to Lake Louisa (Lake Louisa Loop)

  • Campsite_on_McCraney_Lake_Rain_McCraney_Loop

    Campsite_on_McCraney_Lake_Rain_McCraney_Loop

Author:

Nadine Gravis

Nadine discovered a love for backcountry canoe trips over 5 years ago after making her first trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. She loves the idea of escaping into nature, putting her body to the test, and making lifelong memories on canoe trips with friends.

 

1 Comment

  • Bob McElroy says:

    Has Nadine personally done all of these routes? I ask because her route advice for the Barron Canyon strikes me as somewhat less than optimum.

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