Canoeing to Burnt Island Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park

Panorama view of our campsite

For our 30th wedding anniversary this year, the only gift I wanted was for the two of us to spend time together, away from everything. Thus we chose to go camping in the back country of Algonquin Provincial Park Thanksgiving weekend.

After checking with our adult children that they didn’t mind us going away for Thanksgiving, we left Hamilton at 7:15 am. As we were driving towards Algonquin, my husband decided that we should add an extra day to our trip to avoid the traffic coming home.

Once we arrived at Canoe Lake, we then changed our destination from Little Doe Lake to Burnt Island Lake since there were just too many bear warnings for the first area. We are quite prepared with our cans of Bear Spray, plus we keep a clean camp site and make sure our food is always in a barrel tied high up in the trees. (The one exception is my cream, which is in a thermos, in a thermal bag, tied in the water).

Food barrel tied high in trees.
Food barrel tied high in trees.
Keeping my cream cold in the water
Keeping my cream cold in the water
Matt and I ready to embark
Matt and I ready to embark.

We left Canoe Lake at 12:30 p.m., arriving at the first of four portages at 1:45 p.m. Our itinerary went as follows: Canoe Lake to first portage to Joe Lake, then Joe Lake to the East Arm, then to Joe Lake; we avoided the second portage into Lost Joe Lake since the water was high enough to paddle through the river; the next portage was from Lost Joe Lake to Baby Joe Lake, where I proceeded to fall trying to get back into the canoe (the lake was not deep enough for us to sit in and paddle, I walked well hubby pulled the canoe through the river); soaking wet from the waist down and with sore knees since I fell onto rocks, we headed towards the portage to Burnt Island Lake, at this point we had to do the portage since there is a dam between the two lakes.  Once in Burnt Island Lake we found a campsite around 5:15 pm. We had spent approximately five hours in the water.

Day two: We awoke around 7 a.m. with a drizzle of rain. Erect second tarp beside the tent, so we do not get wet from the rain. Our daily was spent lazily by the fire playing scrabble and cribbage. There was quite a violent rain and wind storm Saturday night, apparently the remnant of Hurricane Nate. The tarp over our tent did an excellent job of keeping our tent dry. Once the tarp would fill with water, it poured off each side. Around 5 a.m., there was one last huge wind gust that made one of our ropes snap, but this was easily fixed. Another day of relaxation, until I picked up the bear spray and accidentally sprayed myself in the eye. I had neglected to put the safety back on the can after going to the toilet. It sprayed forward, but then there was a back-wind. Thankfully we always have a jug of water on hand, so Matt quickly jumped up with the water, and flushed my left eye.  The rest of the day was again spent just relaxing and enjoying the view and silence.

Our two cans of bear spray
Our two cans of bear spray

Day three: Was shorts and t-shirts. We did some fishing and took lots of pictures. In the afternoon we went for a canoe ride, where I became so involved with picture-taking I didn’t realized I was moving back in my seat, only to fall backwards into the canoe. It hurt, and I couldn’t right myself back into the seat. Matt paddled back to the campsite so he could remove me from the canoe. (I tend to be the comic relief).

Laying down in the canoe because I fell backwards.
Laying down in the canoe because I fell backwards. Please ignore the rat’s nest of a hairdo I have.

Day four: Monday, another day of tuning out and enjoying nature.

Day five: We packed up our campsite and started the paddle back home.

Over the five days, we snapped, between the two of us, with our Nikon’s and phones over 1000 pictures. Here are a select few:

Tip of the canoe

I couldn’t get enough of the sunsets in Algonquin:

Our daily view:

Red merganser resting on the warmth of the rock
Red merganser resting on the warmth of the rock


red breasted merganser having a stretch
Red breasted merganser having a stretch


An experience of a lifetime began today

For the past week and a half, it has felt like we’ve been on a roller coaster, as we readied ourselves and middle child for her experience of a lifetime. When she was born some twenty-three years ago, I never imagined that one day she would leave to travel to the other side of the world.  Going away family dinners were held, a lovely party at the Ping Pong Bar & Lounge put on by one of her best friends. Friends she hadn’t seen for ages, people she grew up with, came to wish her safe travels and good luck.

Always the adventurous one, unable to find a job at home, she looked overseas. Off to Seoul, South Korea to teach English as a Second Language for a year. So this morning after the alarm went off at 4 a.m., we gathered her luggage, just under the weight limit of fifty pounds, trying my best not to cry, knowing I will probably not see her for a year, we drove her to the airport.

When she lands in Seoul tomorrow, she will be fourteen hours ahead of our time. She will not have a phone, hopefully she can find free wi-fi to tell me she’s safe. I will try not to worry.

Middle child on the plane.
The adventure begins for middle child.


Our first trip to the back country of Algonquin Provincial Park – the East Arm of Joe Lake

Years ago, when I first mentioned to my husband that I would like to take a trip into the back country of Algonquin Provincial Park, he thought I was nuts.  Especially since what I actually meant was we would canoe, then portage, then canoe some more while looking for a campsite. We would rent three canoes, one for me & the fifteen year old, the second one for my husband and the ten-year old, and the third one was for our twelve-year-old and my brother (who said he had canoeing experience).  Though my husband thought I was crazy, he started to prepare for the inevitable by doing chin-ups, push-ups, upper body strength exercises, etcetera.

This would be a five-day trip so we needed to bring quite a bit of food for the six of us, plus all of our gear. We crazily had an insane amount of gear, six sleeping bags, three air mattresses, one very large sleeping tent, one very large kitchen tent, six small lawn chairs, cooking utensils, two coolers, back packs, towels, life jackets, fishing rods, an axe, rope (for tying the food in a tree), one book for each child, one toy for each child and the map.

We started our trip with the four and a half hour drive to Algonquin Provincial Park arriving at our destination around lunch time. We rented the canoe’s and started the careful packing. An hour or so later we were finally off into Canoe Lake, our starting point. This is a pretty big lake which can either be very calm or full of white caps. This day would not be a calm day and as it turned out, my brother was not the best at steering a canoe! We were not even a quarter of the way across the lake when we realized my brother and middle child were very far behind and not going anywhere fast. What to do? Naturally we had loads of rope with us so my husband decided it was best to tie the lagging canoe to his and he would basically pull/paddle/steer for the two (good thing he had been working out for months). Three hours later we were finally across Canoe Lake and at the portage to Joe Lake. We unloaded the canoes, giving everyone something to carry as we walked the 295 metres to Joe Lake, numerous times.

295 metres

Once we repacked the canoes, tied the one canoe to the other, we were off to our destination the East Arm of Joe Lake. Now each campsite is marked with an orange triangle and there are exactly ten sites on the lake. It was starting to get dark when we entered our destination and hubby was getting very worried that we would not find a campsite even though I reassured him numerous times that a site was pre-booked, of course it is still first come first serve. We paddled and paddled and paddled finally finding a site that wasn’t occupied – the second last one on the lake! It was a gorgeous site, but we couldn’t appreciate it at that moment because we had to unpack everything, set up the tent and get some food into our tummies. Sandwiches for the first night. Next we had to find a suitable tree to tie the food up so the raccoons and/or bears would not be tempted. We found a rock to tie some rope around it and them we started the fun of throwing the rock in the air trying with all our might to get the rope around the perfect branch that was high enough from the ground and strong enough to hold our food.

After a good night’s sleep, we untie the food from the tree, collect water from the lake which is boiled for five minutes (most say three minutes is enough, but we like the extra two minutes) to make sure it will not give us an upset tummy. Porridge with dried fruit is made, plus coffee for the adults and yes I always bring cream no matter where we go which infuriates hubby since he drinks his black. Dishes are washed while the kids investigate our campsite, particularly the toilet. The following is a picture of the toilet from one of our other campsites in the backcountry during a spring camping adventure:
Toilet in the woods

The day is filled with swimming in the lake, fishing, more canoeing and just relaxing whilst the kids play. When swimming we always wear are life jackets regardless that all of us can swim well. We are in strange waters and it is always best to be safe. For example, on the one day while the eldest was practising her canoeing skills, hubby & middle child were swimming around her, my brother, my son and I were canoeing around the lake. My son asked if he could jump out of the canoe and I said sure when we get back to our site but what I didn’t realize at the time was that he would jump without the “okay you can jump now” statement from mom. As soon as we were close to our site, the boy jumped, and since we were not prepared the canoe went over dumping my bother and I in the lake. Hubby was not able to see if we were okay and for a moment he did not know what to do – the eldest was drifting down the lake, middle child and the youngest were in the water. Luckily my brother came up from under the water quite fast, but it was a couple of minutes for me since I had been hit in the head by the rim of the canoe. Once up from under the water, I yelled that I was okay and we started the task of retrieving the upside-down canoe. I can laugh at the situation now, but at the time I was quite upset. I refrained from yelling at my son since I had given him permission to jump, but explained the importance of not jumping out of the canoe when the others were not prepared. I believe we spent the rest of the day just swimming and relaxing.

Sadly, my brother had to return home earlier then expected so we packed him up, canoed back to the portage, unpacked, walked, packed and canoed him back to his car. We returned the one canoe, and paddled, portage, and paddled back to our site (the one benefit of all the paddling is I did lose quite a few pounds).  The last day of our adventure was amazing, the kids spent hours sitting around the campfire, feeding chipmunks which actually would sit in their hands after filling up on nuts. They sang songs, and got along fabulously! Hubby and I packed everything up into one canoe deciding it was best to put all five of us in one while towing the other (he didn’t think I had the strength to paddle a full canoe and he was quite correct). Once off, we paddled, portage, and paddled our canoe train back to the car where we unpacked and packed the car this time. We returned the canoes, and started the long drive home.

Since then we have purchased our own canoes and a kayak for our eldest and have returned to the back country of Algonquin Provincial Park numerous times, each time a different site and different adventure. We do limit ourselves to one portage even though the now teenage boy would like to do quite a few.

Note: this was first published as a page in 2012, but the actual trip had occurred years before.