Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Algonquin Canoe Trip! October 9th to 15th

Camping in the backcountry in Algonquin Provincial Park. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Aaron and I FINALLY went on vacation this year! This time it was north Algonquin Provincial Park. We did 74 km of paddling and 13km of portaging in a loop that started from Kiosk, down to the Nippissing River, across the Nippissing River to Cedar Lake, and then up and back again to the launch at Kiosk.
Many people thought we were crazy going this late in the season. Comments ranged from "Look out for BEARS!" to "You are going to freeze!" Honestly, I can't think of a better time for backcountry camping in Algonquin than in October. Here are my reasons:

1. The Fall Colours!!!
2. Cool temperatures means no sweating while portaging!
3. Fewer people! We didn't see one other person camping our whole time out. The park and its campsites were ours to choose from!
4. Better viewing of wildlife. Animals right now are busy. Squirrels are active, moose are mating, and birds are migrating.
5. Fewer bugs. It was so quiet one night that I could hear my ears humming, as there were no bugs calling at all. The only bugs we ran into was a little swarm of Blackflies on our last day.
So, after seeing this list, why WOULDN'T you want to go camping in the fall?

I always get a little upset whenever I state I am backcountry camping and I get the same reaction "Watch out for bears!!". I think people overreact a little when it comes to Black Bears. The only night I was nervous about bears was the first night when we were at the group campsite at Kiosk. Bears are animals of habit and can remember things (such as where to get food) so if one person leaves food out at a group campsite and a bear finds it it will remember and may return. In fact, bears are a lot like us! We know that we can get food in the fridge, and bears know that if careless people leave food at their campsites it is a free meal. Luckily for us there were no "problem bears" at Kiosk. At all our other campsites we would put all the food in one of our packs and tie it up in a tree. If we couldn't find a proper tree, we would put the food in one of our packs, cover it in our tarp and put it under the canoe.
This was our best trip yet! Here is a summary of each day. I must make note that this is a canoe trip, and although I did bring binoculars, let's just say that when you are with a non birder, you don't stop much to birdwatch.

Day #1
Picked up canoe from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville. It was a 16 foot, 42 pound Kevlar Swift Kipiwa. A nice canoe, but double keeled, which made it difficult for Aaron to turn. Stability was great though!!
Arrived at Kiosk. Camped there the night at group campground.
Sightings: Common Loon, Grey Jay, American Robins, Black-capped Chickadee, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Raven.

Day #2 (Lake Kioshkokwi to Maple Lake)
Lots of frost on the car this morning!
Launched out of Kiosk onto Kioshkokwi Lake heading south. Very windy and rough waves! Maple Creek was much calmer. Saw six other campers on a portage (the only campers we will see the whole trip!) We also watched a Ruffed Grouse display. We camped out on an island on Maple Lake and enjoyed some of our homemade dehydrated food (Shepard's Pie and Spaghetti!)
Sightings: Common Loon, Raven, Red Squirrel, Swamp Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruffed Grouse, moose tracks.
Temperatures: High of 15, Low of -2 (sunny)

Day #3 (Maple Lake to Little Osler Lake)
We woke up on the island and saw three moose across the lake while we had breakfast. They were three cows and we even heard them calling once we paddled again. We had a grueling portage today of 1230 metres that was quite steep! At the end of a portage I accidentally went up to my knees in muck! Later that night I tried to dry my wool socks....I ended up burning them to death...lol
Sightings: 3 cow Moose, Common Merganser, Grey Jay, Pileated Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, kinglets, Hairy Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Red Squirrel. NO PEOPLE
Temperatures: High 13, Low 5 (sunny)

Day #4 (Little Osler to Nipissing River)
Today we did two of the longest portages on the trip (1830 metres and 1410 metres). The first one was a little rough, in fact most portages were tricky because the fall leaves on the ground sometimes covered up things like rocks, and tree roots. On the second portage Aaron tripped on a tree root, slipped, turned his ankle and had the yoke of the canoe land and slide down his back..Needless to say he went down in a heap onto the ground. Luckily his boots prevented him from twisting his ankle!
By 4pm we got to the Nippissing River. It twists and turns to the point that you feel you are not going anywhere! We did see three moose, a beaver, and a Great Blue Heron followed us. We camped that night next to a damn. It is cold here being next to running water and I even wake up in the middle of the night shivering!
Sightings: Moose, Beaver, Robins migrating, Kinglets, Blue Jays, Muskrat, Great Blue Heron, Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, White-crowned Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker, moose tracks and scat, bear scat. NO PEOPLE
Temperature: High 9, Low -7 (sunny)

Day #5 (Nipissing River to Laurel Lake)
We woke up with frost on the tent! It got very cold last night and our thermometer reads -7c. Our fuel froze, as did our waterpump overnight. We continued down the Nipissing in sunshine but it quickly got covered by clouds and later came very light sprinkles of rain. We had some homemade dehydes (chicken catchatori and butternut squash!) under the shelter of trees once we reached Cedar Lake. Tonight we camped out on an island on Laurel Lake. It is small and the "crapperbox" is right at the top of the island so everyone can see you do your business...lol
Temperatures: High 7 Low -7 (mostly cloudy with some light showers)
Sightings: River Otter, Ducks, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Loon, Raven, Pileated Woodpecker, Moose, Robins, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ring-billed Gull. NO PEOPLE!

Day #6 (Laurel Lake to Mink Lake)
Today is our last full day, it is cloudy all day but the cool temperatures are great for paddling. We heard a shotgun this morning while having our breakfast. The big game hunt just started. This hunt is open to natives only. We made sure that we were quite vocal while portaging. We started paddling next to the old CNR railroad that is now gone, and pass what remains of the town of Daventry that at one time had a railway depot, and a nearby sawmill. There still is a road that goes to Daventry and we saw a hunter (our first human sighting in three days) drive down the road. Tonight we camped near the old railroad and I grabbed the only souvenir of the trip, a railroad spike! That night we heard a Moose calling near our campsite.
Sightings: Red Squirrel, Raven, Loon, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Moose, Kingfisher, kinglets, and a human.
Temperatures: High 7 Low 5 (cloudy)

Day #7 (Mink Lake back to Kiosk)
Our last day. We got up incredibly early to see the clouds breaking finally, which usually indicates that it is going to clear up and get windy. We decided to hurry up and get to Kioshkokwi Lake before the possibility of getting wind bound! It did get a little breezy once we made it to Kioshkokwi, but nothing like our first day out! Once we almost got back to our original launch the sun came out and illuminated the fall colours! It was so beautiful! We didn't want to leave!
Sightings: Common Loon, Raven, Red Squirrel
Temperature: High of 6 (clouds breaking to sunshine!!)

That basically sums up our vacation. We did learn a few things that will better prepare us for our next fall camping trip, the biggest one being to bring items into the tent that may freeze over night if left outside (fuel and waterpump). What made this trip more enjoyable than others was bringing our own homemade dehydrated foods, rather than buying brand name dehydes that can prove costly when you are out for a whole week.

Where will we go next year? Not sure yet, but we may go back to Killarney. We shall see :)


  1. Sounds like a very nice trip. Thought you'd get Boreal Chickadee, but maybe you will see one at Point Pelee instead!

  2. I am hope so.. I have been looking every day for one..though not in Pelee.

  3. What a great account and what stunning photos!