Algonquin Provincial Park is hands down one of my most favorite parks. I fell in love with its rugged and epically Canadian landscapes and the stillness of the backcountry lakes; untouched and unexplored by most. The vastness of this park is actually mind-blowing. After spending 5 days out in the park, traveling by canoe and by foot, we covered 42 kms on water and 7 kms on land, while crossing 14 lakes. Looking at the map we realize we have just scratched a thumb size portion of the park. You could keep coming back here for your whole life and find a new spot and a new adventure every time. THAT is what makes this park so amazing.
When I’m looking for a spot to get back to the basics, to test my ruggedness and to get truly off the grid, I phone my friend Sarah and tell her to get her paddle and pack ready for an Alqonguin adventure.
This year we decided to head south of Canoe lake. Most people know Canoe lake as the jump off point for the park’s most popular routes; most of which run north of it. The lakes north of Canoe are easy to access via quick and level portages, have well maintained put-ins, which are popular with weekend crowds. South of Canoe lake, lies Smoke lake. For those willing to paddle south of Smoke, they will be rewarded with an entirely different experience than that of the north.
After checking in at Canoe lake to grab our permits, fishing licenses and gear, we made our way over to (you can walk) Smoke lake access point to put in our canoe. There is a VERY large parking area here. Smoke lake is a large lake which has cottages and motor boats on it but no backcountry campsites. We loaded up 5 days with of food, wine and gear and hit the lake, for what would be, yet another.. back to basics, epic adventure.
DAY 1: Smoke Lake to Big Porcupine Lake
- Departure: Smoke Lake Access Point: outhouses and parking here. Dock for put-in.
- Total Distance Paddled: 13 kms; give or take a few trying to find a portage spot.
- Total Distance Portaged: 830m. UPHILL !!!!
Ragged Lake has a lot of campsites on it. Some were totally stellar. This would be a great lake to paddle into on the weekend as it’s easy to access. Come early to snag the best spots. We paddled around Ragged lake for too long trying to locate the portage into Big Porcupine lake. It’s a big and ragged lake…aptly named. The portage we were searching for was down a side jut that wasn’t well marked. At first, the area looked like it was a dead tree cemetery, so we avoided it. After a few “put yourself in the map” moments, we realized the route was there all along and it was quite easy to find. If it seems too hard, it probably is. Lesson learned. The portage from Ragged to Big Porcupine is named “Devils Staircase”. Believe it. It is NO JOKE. The portage is literally all uphill, over large rocks, is swampy and hella buggy. It was the only portage on the trip where we doubled back for our gear, and then took a shot of vodka at the end. No… sorry, we don’t have photo evidence. We needed to get the heck out of dodge before we were eaten alive.
Big porcupine was one of our favorite lakes, and we were stoked to be camping on it. Many enticing campsites can be found here. The lake is big, perfect for star gazing. It’s filled with hungry fish for the catching but also hungry bugs out for blood. The choirs of loons were singing in full force. On Big Porcupine, we enjoyed a giant meal of perogies, fresh caught trout, and a bottle… or two of wine before tucking in after a full day of paddling.
While we don’t consider ourselves newbies to this type of camping trip, we certainly are not experts by any means. Day one was a day of shaking off the cobwebs and getting back into the swing of the ups (literally) and downs of portaging and backcountry living.
Lessons Learned From Day One Of Our Trip
- Bug Nets = GOLD. I will never venture into the woods again without one. Works best when you put it over a brimmed hat and do a FULL TUCK into the collar of your shirt or jacket.
- Sweating is better than being eaten alive: Whist completing portages or around camp, we found it most effective to don our entire rain suits to avoid being lunch for swarms of mosquitos and black flies. Sweating is better than being lunch, hands down.
- Put yourself IN the map: Assess three times, not once, and then verify with a friend before choosing to paddle down a dead-end stream that turns into a swamp/mud pit that you almost get stuck in. If it seems unlikely, it probably is.
- Your feet will get wet: unlike the portages north of Canoe Lake, the ones south of Canoe Lake are…. well…. less frequented and less forgiving. Most of the pull-ins were swampy, rocky or impossible to pull ashore without getting out of the canoe. Just embrace wet feet. Pack extra socks.
- Hanging a Bear Bag – A. You will only get it on the first try when no one is watching. B. Hang your bag before you start drinking wine.
Check out PART 2 of our adventures south of Smoke Lake !!! The bugs and the laughs are plentiful.
REFERENCE MAP FOR BIG PORCUPINE: