Brule-McIntosh-Sunbeam Loop 

Total Distance: 52 km

Duration: 4 days

Number of Portages: 16

Total Portage Distance:  9 km

Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice -- Note that portaging accounts for 17% of the total distance of this route.

It had been quite some time since I had done a canoe trip in the "downtown" area of Algonquin Park. I call it that because the lakes within a one or two-day paddle north of Canoe Lake are, by far, the busiest part of the park. 

My last time through the area, 6 years prior, was in the peak August paddling season, and I promised myself I wouldn't paddle this part of the park again in peak season due to crowded portages and a lack of available campsites at the end of the paddling day.  And when I say crowded, I'm talking August 1969 Bethel County kind of crowding. Yet, the lakes, rivers, and creeks are tremendously beautiful; and there is a human history in Algonquin Park of logging, trains, and homesteading that I find incredibly fascinating. 

So, I thought I would try another trip through the area during the long weekend in May and visit some spots that I had yet to behold in person with my own eyeballs. Perhaps the blackflies would be a deterrent to would-be trippers and the area wouldn't be overcrowded. Would it be just wishful thinking? 

Either way, it would be an adjustment to enter this part of the park again that was bound to have a good number of canoe trippers on a long weekend. Over the past three years, I had been choosing to canoe trip on more remote routes further north, getting spoiled by the amount of solitude and uninterrupted wilderness I was experiencing. Was I becoming some sort of wilderness snob? In the end, there was a bit of solitude and still a whole lot of congestion over the weekend. Allow me to share my experience with you. 

All maps shown on this page are provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have made additional markings to show route information

Day 1 - Canoe Lake to Potter Lake (12 km)

On Friday, May 17, I left Peterborough shortly after 2:30 PM. Departing right from work with my pre-loaded car, I made a beeline for Highway 60 with only a quick stop in Minden to get a snack. 

I arrived at the Portage Store on Canoe Lake at 5:15 PM. Remarkably, only one other person was launching a fully loaded kayak at the time. Could it be? Will there be solitude paddling up Canoe Lake? I assumed most of the other trippers had already made their way into the park earlier in the day. 

I was happy that it wasn't raining because the forecast was calling for a good amount of moisture. It was supposed to clear up after nightfall, so I was counting on the worst of it being over by the time I would be setting up camp. I don't mind paddling in the rain. Truth be told, I kind of like it. I know...I'm weird. 

I was aiming for Potter Lake and I had to get there first. I would be racing against the darkness and judging by the distance I had to travel, and the fact that I was double-tripping each portage, it would be a very tight race. It wasn't ideal, but such is the nature of a trip on the limited amount of time one has over a weekend for the working stiffs of the world. 

I made quick work of Canoe Lake (and amazingly had the lake to myself after I passed kayak man) and reached the north end of the lake, entering Potter Creek around 6 PM. 

At the mouth of the creek, a few cottages dotted both sides of the creek. A few hundred meters up the creek, I spotted the remnants of the Canoe Lake Lumber Co. Sawmill that operated there early in the 20th century. There were trees now growing out of the concrete foundation on the bank of the creek. I tried to picture what that area would have looked like with a sawmill on that point. I liked it better now as a forest, I surmised. 

Just a stone's throw away were the remains of a bridge that had once spanned the creek and allowed access to the sawmill. Very cool in a ghost town kind of way. 

Another half a kilometer up the river from there, I paddled under a much more modern bridge. It was the same road that crossed Joe Lake just slightly north of the Joe Lake dam. Much less cool in a modern development kind of way. 

Another 10 minutes upriver, I noticed a yellow portage sign on my left. I pulled up to the swampy take-out and began unloading my boat. I mean, why wouldn't I? It was my portage, right? My eye just happened to catch a quick glimpse of the portage sign again as I was unloading and saw that the portage was 1500 meters long! What the...? What the...? The one I was supposed to be on was much shorter than that! I hadn't carefully looked at my map and didn't realize that I was on another longer portage to Rainbow Lake west of Potter Creek rather than the one that would get me further up Potter Creek. It's a good thing I saw that sign before I started humping it up the wrong portage in the wrong direction! Was I having a senior moment at the ripe age of 53? Sheesh...

Admonishing myself with a few choice words that wouldn't make my daughters proud, I reloaded the canoe and paddled upstream a few hundred meters to get to my correct portage on the right side of the creek. 

The portage was 380 meters in length and bypassed some bony rapids on a bend in the creek. Near the put-in at the north end, the portage crossed the road that allowed car access to Camp Arowhon on Teepee Lake. Like the whole area surrounding Canoe Lake, the road was well-used. 

At the put-in, the banks of the river displayed a lot of alder that was absent downriver. I was hoping it wouldn't get too thick. I wasn't too worried, though; it was only May, after all.  

Between the 390-meter portage and the 740-meter portage into Potter Lake, there were supposed to be two more short portages of 60 and 100 meters; I didn't take them. It's not like I tried to avoid the darn things, I just didn't see them! I wasn't sure if I missed seeing the portage signs, or if the signs simply weren't there. Being short of time, I simply got out of the canoe and waded up against the sets of rapids. They were not formidable in strength, just shallow and rocky. There was a fair bit of scraping that occurred, however. There were also a few beaver dams to lift over. It was generally hard work, but in the end, it saved me some precious time. Here are a few of the obstacles that I negotiated. Nothing too strenuous, certainly less so than two double-carry portages. 

As I got closer to the 740-meter portage, the current and rapids got stronger and paddling became more difficult. It was still May, and I guessed that the water levels were still somewhat high for Potter Creek. Getting a little tired and worried about the impending darkness, I was happy to see the portage sign for the trail that would get me into Potter Lake.  What was fun for me, however, was to keep repeating the word "Potter" in the same voice and accent as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. You know, the way he says it by overtly accentuating the initial P sound while simultaneously snarling. The things we do to amuse ourselves when we are alone. 

To add to my troubles, it finally started raining when I arrived at the take-out. The portage was a quick ascension up to an access road that ran west of the creek. It was a flat and easy carry from there on. The rain sprinkled for 15 minutes or so before dissipating. "Get to the lake, Potter!"

It was a quarter past eight when I put in to an emerging cloud of black flies at the south end of Potter Lake. The wall of clouds that had enveloped the area for most of the day was finally being pushed to the east. It was sunshine and blue skies behind it. I found out later from other canoe trippers that McIntosh Lake to the northeast got pounded with rain. Luckily, I got away easy with just a light sprinkle on Potter Creek. I think it was my "Potter" mantra that kept the rain away. 

By the time I reached the middle of the large southern bay of the lake fifteen minutes later, the sun was setting and casting an incredible glow over the area. I would have stopped and appreciated it more while taking the following photo if it weren't for the 6243 blackflies that were buzzing around my head all at once. It was more beneficial for my blood volume levels to keep moving and admire its beauty between paddle strokes. 

Of the two sites in the southern part of the lake, one was occupied and the other one looked bushy, dark, and foreboding. Picture the basement scene of the gate to hell in the Amityville Horror; I kept paddling north. The site in the centre of the lake was on a penninsula and looked to have great views south and west. More importantly, it was vacant! Yes! I immediately headed for it and made it my camp for the night.

The firepit was elevated on a rocky outcrop and was under the protective cover of some gorgeous white pines. The site was a gem. Better yet, when I climbed up to it, the blackflies all stayed back at the water. It was like someone had installed an invisible dog fence around the site except for blackflies instead. Perhaps, I just got lucky with the timing and the blackflies went nighty-night when the sun went down, but I do like my invisible blackfly fence theory. Either way, Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy.

I quickly got my hammock up and didn't bother with a tarp over the firepit area. It seemed like the nasty clouds would be gone for the night. The temperature was too cool for an emerging hatch of mosquitoes. More Happy! More Joy! I got a fire going and cooked a lovely marinated steak for dinner.

I sat there enjoying a full display of stars in the cool night next to a warming fire. It was a fantastic evening and probably the last bug-free night until August, because, boy, did the mosquitoes emerge the following evening! More on that craziness later. I was glad I stayed up long enough to savour the moment. It ended up being a wonderful, if not hectic, start to my long weekend trip.  

Day 2