Algonquin Park

Solo Canoe Tripping in Algonquin Park

An Algonquin Park Solo Canoe Trip Adventure by Shawn James, My Self Reliance

Solo Canoe TripIt is 6:00 am and I lie awake, staring up through the roof of my fly-less tent at a billion twinkling stars, watching them slowly fade as the eastern sky erupts in the subtle colors of a September sunrise. The haunting cry of a loon breaks the morning stillness, echoing off the rock cliffs that line the shoreline. The call is answered; not by another loon, but by a bull moose that grunts repeatedly as he pushes his way through the shoreline alders in search of a mate.

I climb out of my sleeping bag and wander down to the water’s edge, perching on the smooth granite bedrock to splash cold water on my face. The lake’s surface is a plate of glass, now reflecting the sun as it clears the top of the ancient white pines, bathing the entire landscape in a soft golden light while a light mist slowly drifts across the scene. I breathe deeply, the cool morning air filled with the scent of sun-baked pine needles and smoke from a smoldering campfire. This is serenity. This is Algonquin Park.


Why Go Solo?

Solo Canoe TripI love sharing this kind of experience with friends and family, but I have to admit there is something extra special about being there alone. How often in our regular lives do we hear nothing but complete silence, interrupted only by the peaceful sounds of nature? At home, at work or on the road, our senses are so inundated with unsolicited stimuli that we subconsciously tune it out, snapping out of it when someone nearby speaks. When I’m alone, I become one with my surroundings – every noise, sight and scent grabs my attention.

From a practical standpoint, going it alone in the outdoors has several advantages over
tripping with a group or another individual.

  • Scheduling conflicts – When I want to go, I just go. I don’t have to work around someone else’s schedule, and I don’t have to worry about them dropping out of the trip at the last minute. It is particularly inconvenient when the dropout was responsible for driving or supplying some of the food or gear.
  • Flexibility – As often as not, I adjust my itinerary mid-trip, and not everyone would agree with or support my agenda. I may want to paddle right until dark in order to reach a new destination or I may discover particularly good fishing that I want to enjoy for another day. I can linger longer and I don’t need consensus from a group to do so.
  • Ambition – Not everyone wants to paddle 35 kilometers to camp on Grassy Bay the first night of a week-long trip in order to experience the solitude of the Algonquin Park interior sooner, but I do. On such an occasion, I’m on my own, whether I like it or not.
  • Physical fitness – When I canoe trip on my own, I seek solitude and unique experiences, which often means travelling long distances. It is physically demanding, and I would never expect my wife and daughters, my usual companions, to embark on such a trip. If I wasn’t willing to travel solo, there are just too many places I would never get to see.
  • Skill – Group travellers should always plan their itinerary to accommodate the weakest and least-skilled member of the party. Often, that means avoiding the large lakes and whitewater rivers that I may be proficient enough to visit on my own.
  • Self Reliance – Travelling solo is inherently riskier than travelling with a group, and those risks should never be underestimated. Breaking a bone or capsizing a canoe deep in the interior is inconvenient for a group – it can be deadly for a soloist. When you canoe trip on your own, it is imperative to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. That means continuously honing your outdoors skills and using the highest quality gear you can afford, from your canoe right down to your fire starter.

When you achieve the level of proficiency necessary to canoe trip solo, your self-confidence will soar. This is a wonderful feeling, but it goes deeper than that. Self-reliance does not just benefit you; it benefits everyone around you as well. If you’re self-sufficient and capable of surviving in the wilderness on your own, you will rarely be a burden to your partners on a group trip. And, if they get into trouble and need assistance, you’re just the person to help them.


How do you get started?

Solo Canoe TripSolo tripping is not for everyone, but if you have the ambition, skill, physical fitness and mental acuity to spend time alone in the outdoors, then it is time to start planning your first trip. There are several things to consider that are unique to solo trips, so a little bit of research and a lot of planning is necessary.

  • Mentors – Visit online forums, such as those found on AlgonquinAdventures.com and MyCCR.com, and browse through the solo threads. Ask questions – members are more than happy to help you out.
  • Watch YouTube videos – Observe such things as the person’s gear choices, their canoe routes and meal plans. Pay particular attention to time spent in camp. Solo tripping is mentally challenging, and some people find it unnerving to be alone on a campsite at night.
  • Select the right gear – Most of the gear you use for group trips is also suitable for solo tripping, but there are some items that are designed specifically for soloists and will make your adventure safer and more enjoyable – a lightweight canoe and 1-person tent for example. I suggest waiting until after one or two solo trips before buying something that you may not use again.
  • Use an outfitter – Good outfitters have the experience and knowledge to put you on the right track. They can help you plan your canoe route and your meal plan, suggest the appropriate gear, and of course, rent or sell you literally everything you need for your trip. Nobody does it better than Algonquin Outfitters.

Solo Canoe Trip

Solo Canoe Trip


Relax and have a great time

A little bit of anxiety before a solo trip is natural, but if you are well prepared, you have nothing to worry about. Take it easy on your first trip. Start with one or two nights, and don’t travel too far. Stay close to an access point so help is nearby if you need it, or if you decide to cut your trip short. Leave plenty of time at the end of each day to set up camp, collect firewood and just relax. Build a small fire, make a hot drink and sit down by the lake as the day comes to an end. That first sunset on your own will be special. The sunrise the following morning will hook you on solo tripping forever.


Algonquin Park Solo Canoe Trip Day 1: Magnetawan to Grassy Bay


Solo Canoe Trip

Shawn James

Shawn is an entrepreneur specializing in renewable energy and online education. When not spending time with his wife and two daughters, he can usually be found plying the waters and hiking the forests of Ontario – solo.


  • Brent Taplay says:

    Looking to go on a solo canoe trip or take my 14 ft aluminum boat in 2 weeks time. Probably May 4-7 that being said the ice is off. Thinking taking the boat because I have never gone solo before. If I change my mind I can boat back real quick and go to Mew Lake along the highway that is open all year round. I have years of experience. Every year I take my son and go on a father and son canoe trips. Tent camping every year in many of a provincial park. I am thinking Lake Opeongo or Rock lake because I am familiar with these Lakes. We camp along the highway at Lake of Three rivers and take the kids out to these lakes and go exploring. We visit the natural beach campsites and the kids can be kids. Chuck rocks and sticks, be as loud as they want and I will not be on the their case expect to be safe. The kids enjoy the rope swings as well. Looking forward to trout fishing as I hope they are up high near the surface of in the back bays that will warm up quicker.

    So my only problem is my bearanoia. lol. I have had an experience where I almost met up with a bear as we were both walking down to the water. He got scared and ran off one way and I got scared and ran back to out site. Yes I know I did not stop and appreciate him. Or slowly walk away but when you are in that situation….first instinct is to run.

    So I would not have any problem with staying along the highway and doing days trips myself. I want to challenge myself. I want to be by myself. I want to escape. Last week was my dads 3 year anniversary of his death and we spent a many night in the park ourselves, so I feel the need to go back and process everything and reflect.

    But in the interior come sun down, (funny I see this with my son) I would start to become anxious. So my question is. when it is so quiet and my mind wanders I think I hear things in the night how does one adjust. Kevin Callan says still to this day it takes him not until days 5 to adjust and then there is no issues. I need some advice to cope, become one with nature and over come the quietness, loneness, etc that I so desperately want. Camper Christina says to talk to yourself and tell the bears in the nights what you are doing! Because yes I will have to get up and pee. Some say wear ear plugs.

    So Yes I can experience some self reflecting/reliance. My wife thinks I am nuts.

    Look forward to your reply, thanks

    • Hey Brent, congratulations on thinking about joining the solo tripping ranks!

      Solo tripping can be very rewarding and enjoyable but it’s not always for everyone. I personally love being on my own schedule. If I want to stop to take pictures or eat tomorrow’s breakfast today, I only have to agree with myself about it. That said you have to be able to get along with yourself and rely 100% on yourself to do 100% of the chores and duties.

      Often when one travels with a group there’s always someone that loves cooking, someone that loves making the fire, someone that loves fishing or setting up camp and someone always reluctantly volunteers to do the dishes and clean up. Solo tripping that someone is always you.

      So realize your strengths and weaknesses, work on learning skills that you don’t often use and maybe rely on others for and learn ways to make even doing the dishes fun. There’s no one to blame or lean on but you self on a solo trip.

      When it comes to the bumps in the night I’m like a lot of others, I tend to talk to them. Most animals will tend to run away if they hear you, including our black bears. If that doesn’t resolve the mystery then I often go to investigate. The growling bear turned out to be two trees rubbing together in the wind and the Sasquatch mucking about in my campsite turned out to be just a chipmunk rooting around my fire pit. I do a lot of singing to myself on portages (ya people heading the other way tend to give me funny looks) and I always explore my campsite before I commit to it for signs of recent activity by local wildlife and cleanliness by previous campers. Often a site that isn’t clean is an animal magnet.

      I also make sure my canoe is well up on shore (even tied off) nothing worse than waking up in the morning to discover that your Kevlar boat has blown away in the middle of the night (speaking from experience). I always make sure my site is clean before turning in and that my food pack (including soap and toothpaste) is hung up in a tree to keep the critters out of it.

      Like anything comfort comes with experience and knowledge and I’m a little like Kevin Callan, it takes me a day to two to settle into the back country sounds. Then I love laying in my tent hearing the wind blow though the trees, it always sounds to me like your on the bottom of the ocean with waves rolling over head.

      ~ Randy Mitson, Marketing Director, Algonquin Outfitters

  • Shawn James says:

    Hi Brent,
    It probably doesn’t help, but you should know that in 30 years of backcountry camping, I’ve only seen one bear at my campsite. On top of that, I have never seen a bear in Algonquin Park, despite my best efforts to find one.
    I think the best way to get comfortable out there is to learn as much as possible about the flora and fauna in the area that you are camping in. Knowing what’s making the sounds you’re hearing will suppress your imagination and make you more curious than anxious.
    Regarding bears and wolves in particular, I strongly advise that you visit a place to watch and learn more about them, such as Haliburton Forest for wolves, and Aspen Valley Wildlife Centre may have bears. Or, there is always the zoo, but something more intimate is better. I spent many years when I was younger hanging out with bears at dumps, watching them interact with one another while giving me respect as the dominant species. I now find them more fascinating than dangerous.
    Once at camp, I leave my pots out in a pile at the campfire at night, so if anything comes sniffing around, I’ll hear it. Better that than imagine a bear lurking silently in the forest. If I’m in a spot that has a strongly likelihood of an animal entering my campsite at night, I sleep with my canoe near my head, so that animal curious about me or my tent/bivy has to approach from my less critical body parts. 🙂
    I hope that helps. All the best,

  • Joe Gaspar says:

    Hi Shawn, your videos are awesome and inspiring. I had planned on going up to Algonquin for the first time w/ a buddy of mine, but the more I thought about it and saw your vids I decided to solo it. I totally agree w/ you on the solitude and quietness that you don’t get in your daily life (pending where you live). Being an avid fisherman, I’m aiming for the third week in May to target the trout that Algonquin supports. I’m just concerned about the temps and black flies during that time frame. Is it common to drop into the 20’s and 30’s during the night, and are the black flys in full roar by the third week in May? I know you (we) don’t have crystal balls to predict the future, but a ballpark answer would help and ease me up a little. Also, you mentioned about Sasquatch above. I myself believe they exist ( personal experience ) but are there a lot of reports on these animals in Algonquin. It seems like it would be an excellent place to support them. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Joe Gaspar

  • Harry Byrd says:

    Hey Shawn just got back from my first solo trip the other day. I’ve camped with the guys in Algonquin at least 15 times but this was my first solo trip. What can I say..I hated it. You’re right it’s not for everyone. I made it easy on myself; Access 7, Source, Bruce and 3 nights on Raven. The trek and paddle to the site along with the initial unpacking, exploring and setting up camp was exciting but then the boredom sunk in. I fished, read, canoed, bush crafted, prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner, napped and explored. Raven wasn’t a huge lake so there wasn’t many places to go. I found myself doing a lot of these activities longing to share them with someone else. I found the mornings and early afternoons the more tolerable times of day as that was when I was most occupied. Preparing meals and taking the canoe out and trying my luck at fishing but when late afternoon and evening came, that’s when it hit me the hardest and was lonely and realized I was my own entertainment. I thought about my wife and kids and what they might be doing at a specific moment. I looked forward to going to bed early so I could fall asleep and move on to the next day. I was thinking about cutting the trip short but told myself to suck it up. I was planning this trip for months and wasn’t going to waste the time and money I put into it.
    This is my story and my feelings. What might suck for me might be the best thing in the world for someone else. I guess I’m a homebody and just think that a beautiful serene place like Algonquin Park is meant to be shared.
    Oh for the record the only animals I came across were loons, ducks, mice and chipmunks. No lions, tigers or bears.

  • Hans Bludau says:

    Hans Bludau
    Hey Guys… just wanted to weigh in here. I’m not bragging, but I’ve been back country canoe/camping 50-60 times ( which isnt that crazy when you think 30yrs x 2/yr) and for some reason I’ve always gone with or lead a group of guys. Well Summer of ’19 the season’s of life afforded me my very 1st solo trip. Short version is why the hell didn’t I do this sooner!!
    Couple of observations:
    * It felt so good to be lost in my own thots for days w/o having to shuffle in other folks ideas. Very contenting (if that’s a word). In all my selfies I have a big grin on my face 😀 . I also had a few light bulb moments. Epiphanies are hard to script, so a pleasant surprise.
    * I actually changed my perspective on how I saw myself… for the better. I wont get into details, but mentally it was very healthy and good medicine!
    * One morning watching the sun rise I was shocked how slow the time passed. I thot I sat there for :45 and it was only :20. Wow, what a change from the Instagram world where :10 turns magically into :50 lol. Honestly, does any one else have life experiences where time slows down? Please share! I just found my 1st one 🙂

    Anyway, it’s January 2020 and I’m planning my 2nd annual trip… came across this and thot I’d share. Keep up the great work, Shawn. Your huge heart is evident in your work and it’s encouraging!

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