Total Distance: 42.5 km
Duration: 3 or 4 days
Number of Portages: 14
Total Portage Distance: 9180 meters
Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice -- Note that the portages account for 22% of the total distance of this route.
Map is courtesy of Jeff's Map -- my route is marked in blue
In the third week of May, I found myself heading north for the third weekend in a row for a spring canoe trip. Awesome! I was able to get away from work early on Friday, and with Monday being Victoria Day, I had a bit of extra time to go a little further afield.
I had never been to the north end of Algonquin, so I figured this would be an opportune time to do the Maple-Erables Loop. The parking lot and launch point is at Lake Kiosk which is about a 20-minute drive south of Highway 17 just east of North Bay. From Kiosk, I would do the loop in a clockwise direction which would allow me to head downstream on Maple Creek on my last day of the trip.
Day 1 - Lake Kioshkokwi (Kiosk)
Leaving work on Friday from the shores of Lake Ontario just after 11 am, I headed west on the 401, up Highway 35 through Lindsay, through some pretty farmland near Kirkfield, and met up with Highway 11 just south of Gravenhurst. By the time I reached the Huntsville area, I was concerned that I might not be paddling that day; I was having a hard time keeping my car on the road from the wind gusts.
Arriving at the park office on Lake Kiosk just before 5 pm, my suspicions were realized. The wind was howling across Kiosk from the west and the two-foot-high whitecaps looked ominous.
When I checked in at the park office, the warden saw my booking for a backcountry site and said, "Sorry but you won't be paddling anywhere today -- not for a while, anyway!" She graciously arranged for me to stay at one of the front country sites -- one where I could hang my hammock. Not the solitude I went out there for, but hey, it was a place to sleep and I would be safe. I couldn't really complain.
Just before 10 pm, a storm whipped up and I was treated to some rain, thunder, and a light show. Somehow I drifted off to sleep in my hammock in the middle of it. Go figure. I must have been tired.
Day 2 - Lake Kioshkokwi to Mouse Lake
I woke up early to a cloudy and wet landscape, but thankfully the wind was down. I broke camp and made my usual Day 2 breakfast of bacon and eggs. It was not so nice enjoying that in a car camping environment, but again, I couldn't complain. At that moment I was able to paddle and get to more remote places and I was grateful for that. At the end of the day, one has to take what nature allows.
I was able to get on the water and started paddling east by 7:45 AM. The sky looked gloomy, but the sun was trying to break through.
In a quarter of an hour, I arrived at One Mile Bridge, an artificial causeway from days gone by that divides the lake. It was on a line that connected Brent to North Bay and was abandoned in the 1990s. The town of Kiosk was also shut down and residents were forced to move away; their homes were destroyed due to the fact that the town fell within the boundaries of Algonquin Park.
Though the bridge is a reminder of the logging history that helped form the park and does hold some historical relevance, it is a bit of an eyesore in a natural setting.
Past the bridge, I turned southward and paddled into the shallow southeast bay, where large stumps poked through the surface.
A pretty creek flowed into the lake to the right of the portage that would take me into Little Mink Lake and while I was unloading the canoe, a fish flopped in the middle of the flowing water. With visions of brook trout in my mind, I got out the fishing gear and cast into the base of the creek for a bit, but unfortunately had no luck.
The 635m portage from Kiosk to Little Mink went up the entire way but was only steep in a couple of places. A couple of hundred meters in, it crossed the trail that used to be the rail line.
From that point to Little Mink, it followed to the left of the creek and was quite a pretty walk that I rather enjoyed, despite the slick conditions from the previous night's storm.
Little Mink was a pond of a lake but very picturesque with tree-adorned cliff walls along the western shoreline.
A crazy thing happened to me on the 410m portage from Little Mink into Mink Lake. I had decided to single-carry on this one because it wasn't too long, and didn't have much of an incline. I had my paddles strapped to my canoe and my full 125L dry bag on my back. Little did I know that the safety clip had somehow popped off my bear spray that was in its holster clipped to my belt on my hip. About 50m into the portage, I heard a psshhhttt and noticed that the waist strap of my dry bag had pressed down on the bear spray trigger and had let some loose into my trouser leg. Oh oh. I dropped everything and found some twigs to stuff under the trigger so it wouldn't happen again. I didn't smell or feel anything after a minute or two, so I went on my merry way thinking that I had narrowly dodged a potential situation of bear spraying myself...or so I thought.
I finished the portage, put in on Mink Lake, and began paddling out toward the western shore where I could hear water dumping into the lake, thinking it would be a good spot for some fishing. As I approached the spot, I began to feel a burning sensation in my right eye. I dipped my hand in the lake and started splashing my eyes. Well, within 5 minutes I was completely blinded in both eyes. I am guessing the spray was all over my pants, had gotten onto my hands and eventually on my hat and sunglasses, and with the perspiration of the portage and paddling, into my eyes.
I'm not going to lie, it was fairly excruciating. The burning prevented me from opening my eyes. I simply couldn't. In addition to the blindness, my sinuses went into overdrive and I could not stop sneezing. With my eyes closed, alone in a canoe in the middle of a large lake, I lost my sense of balance and orientation somewhat. I dared not move or lean for fear of dumping into the lake, difficult to do when your body is convulsing from repetitive sneezing. I simply had to wait until I was able to open my eyes. That took about 20 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I had no idea how long the effects would last and some crazy thoughts went through my head, but I kept reminding myself that the pain would subside and my eyes would be fine, eventually. Looking back, the situation is quite comical and I can chuckle about it now, but at the time, I certainly wasn't laughing. At least I got a good campfire story to tell from it.
I paddled the length of Mink Lake in a hurry. I had planned to investigate the Ascalon Station remains on the east shore, but my face was still on fire somewhat and I gave it a miss. Thankfully, the wind was well-behaved throughout the entire ordeal since it was only about 9:30 am, but I wanted to get off that larger lake in case it started coming up and I got more spray in my eyes. There were a number of sites on the east shore of Mink, but only two looked half-decent. I had a little trouble finding the portage into Club Lake. I eventually figured out that I had to travel upstream on a creek at the southwestern corner of the lake to get to it.
The 1165m portage into Club Lake was well-groomed and easy, despite its length and incline. It ascended about 50m in elevation, but it was gradual and not taxing. There was a fantastic grove of very tall red pines about halfway along that was followed by a meadow of dandelions. A beautiful, branchy white pine greeted me when I arrived at the shallow and swampy Club Lake.
Club Lake was the home of the Richie Bros. Lumber Mill in the 1930s and 40s. Apparently, they had dammed the creek into Mink Lake to have enough water volume in Club Lake to move logs. They also built a rail track connecting the location to the CNR track, just east of there. A large concrete structure still remains at the site near the portage. Is it just me or does it resemble something from Minecraft?
Club Lake was really two lakes divided by a very shallow creek. Obviously, that Richie Bros. dam no longer held water. Apparently, the site on the western bay of the lake contains a bunch of artifacts left over from the lumber mill. I would have liked to have investigated it, but the wind most certainly had come up and I didn't feel like fighting the headwind to get there, only to discover that the site was occupied.
Paddling the creek into the eastern part of Club Lake, I was thankful for the springtime water levels. I noticed a lot of canoe paint on rocks as I easily whipped past.
I passed a pair of canoes heading in the opposite direction and the fellows paddling them warned me that the portage into Mouse Lake was hard to locate. They then gave me directions on how to find it. However, when I got to the east end of Club Lake, the stream through the weeds was somewhat obvious, and it led right to the portage located to the right of a very pretty, little waterfall that cascaded over rocks into the creek. By that time, the overcast skies had moved on and I enjoyed the sublime beauty of the moment in the sunshine.
The take-out to the portage was a little tricky. It was rocky in the creek, but swampy and mushy on the banks, so I had to rock hop my gear and canoe up to solid footing.
The portage into Mouse Lake was 610 meters in length and rose in elevation by about 20 meters. Most of that rise was in the first 100 meters, after which the trail met back up with the creek. From the trail, I could watch the water crashing over rocks and numerous sweepers that crossed the stream. All of this was happening under a canopy of coniferous trees; it was gorgeous. There were a couple of gnarly old trees en route that were quite amazing.
The trail emerged at a small beach on Mouse Lake.
I loaded my gear into the boat and got out onto the lake. I hadn't paddled more than 20 meters, when I heard a rustling in the swampy area to my left. I glanced over to see a cow moose staring at me less than 40 feet away on the shore. The wind was blowing me into her and I froze for a moment. I wanted to get a picture of her, but I didn't want to get too close. Photo or quietly paddle away? I reached into my pocket for my phone and I managed to get a blurry shot of her as she darted back into the bush after sensing my movement.
Excited by that wildlife encounter, I moved into Mouse Lake to survey the scene. The roundness and beachy shoreline of the lake reminded me of Welcome Lake further south in the park. It appeared that I had the lake to myself, and thus, my pick of campsites. I opted for one of the two sites next to one another on the eastern shore because it had a lovely beach between them, was spacious in a grove of trees, and would have a great sunset if the weather cooperated.
It was about 2 pm when I pulled up to the beach and started carrying my gear up to my site.
I set up camp, gathered some firewood, and made some ramen noodles for lunch. There were blackflies out on the site, but not many were biting thankfully. Just in case they got nasty later in the day, I set up the bug shelter as well.
Little did I know that about the time that I was setting up camp shortly after 2 pm, my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario was being ravaged. The weather had been odd on the day thus far. Cloudy, sunny, windy, calm: it seemed I was getting a little of everything. In Southern Ontario, it was more than a little odd. A persistent May heatwave had created a weather phenomenon known as a derecho: an extended straight-line wind storm accompanied by severe thunderstorms, tornados, and 190km/h winds. This particular one wreaked havoc from Sarnia to Quebec, resulting in 11 deaths and $875 million in damage. Later in the day, when I turned on my Zoleo device and checked my messages, there were a number of concerned inquiries from my wife. This led to a series of texts and I discovered that, luckily, everyone was fine and we only suffered a downed tree in the backyard that did not fall on anything or anyone. A few days later, after returning home and seeing the destruction from the storm, I thanked my lucky stars that I was not canoe tripping in the derecho's path.
After 4 PM the sun came out in earnest. I went down to the beach to sit and hang out for a while. The first thing I noticed at the beach were the VERY fresh moose tracks that were just steps from my canoe. They were not there a couple of hours earlier when I arrived. How did I not see or hear a massive mammal less than 50 meters away from me? Was it the same mama moose that I saw at the portage?
I went for a swim with my hat, sunglasses, and clothes on to wash away any residual bear spray that may still be on me. The water was chilly as one would expect in May but very refreshing. Then, I warmed up in the sun on the beach with a bush cocktail and read my novel. Glorious!
The rest of the day and evening was lazing in the hammock, making a fantastic curry for dinner, more bush cocktails, popcorn by the fire, and a pretty sunset on a lake that I had to myself. What more could a canoe tripper ask for?
Day 3 - Mouse Lake to Maple Lake
I woke up to dark skies. It hadn't rained in the night, but it was imminent. I broke camp in a hurry to get my gear stowed away before the heavens started letting loose. I was on the water and paddling across the misty gray of Mouse Lake by 8 am.
While paddling, I was mentally preparing myself for what lay ahead, the 1705m portage from Mouse Lake to Mink Creek. It's a good thing I was ready for it, because it was a dandy!
Normally on long portages, I try to single-carry on all or part of them to avoid the long walk back for the second load, but at the start of this one, I left the canoe behind for a second trip. The reason was that the trail rose 65 meters in elevation in the first thousand meters of distance. That would be the equivalent of carrying my gear and canoe up 21 floors in height. To make matters worse, the trail was very slick because it was raining steadily.
All told, it took about an hour and twenty minutes to finish the portage, but it was worth it. Paddling in solitary silence under a gentle rain up Mink Creek was one of the highlights of the trip. It was gorgeous.
I paddled past the portage to Big Thunder Lake, because my map showed a falls further upstream that I wanted to check out. I couldn't get far though because the creek became choked and impassable, so I retreated back to the portage. It had a very mucky and gooey take-out where I narrowly managed to avoid sinking into the ooze. Though short, the rest of the portage wasn't much better; it was rocky and the rain made it very slick.
Big Thunder Lake was the high point of the trip in terms of elevation at 405m a.s.l. It was quite nice and it had one campsite only. I had tried to book it, but the system showed it was unavailable. The site was in a spruce grove on a point on the north shore.
I would have liked to stop and spend some time fishing on Big Thunder, but I was getting chilled. The temperature was only about 16 degrees and the rain kept coming. I felt that I had to keep moving to stay warm; the 1495m portage that I was about to embark on would help with that.
The portage wasn't easy. Despite it being well-groomed, it was undulating and had a number of twists and turns. The incessant rain created a lot of slick mud puddles. It seemed longer than the posted distance, but perhaps that was just my state of mind.
As I neared the end of it on my second load, I passed a pair of fellows heading in the opposite direction. I chatted for a minute with the older fellow and he told me that I looked familiar. He said he was from Georgetown, ON, to which I have no connection. I'm not even sure if I've ever been there. Maybe he has read some of my trip reports on this site and seen my photo?
It was noon when I put in at Erables at the campsite at the end of the portage.
I fished in the southern bay for a bit, but only ended up losing one of my favorite lures. Grrr.
After paddling west and getting out into the lake proper, the wind hit me in the face and it was a little tough going. At that point, I was chilled to the point of shivering. I was hungry and feeling miserable; I knew I had to get off the lake and put on some dry clothes. I was wearing good rain gear, but the sweating under it while portaging didn't help keep me dry.
I got out at a vacant campsite on a point at the south end of the lake, took off my soaked T-shirt, dug into my dry bag, and put on a dry fleece. That act alone was a game-changer; my spirits were instantly lifted. After downing a couple of peanut butter and honey wraps, all was good in the world again.
Erables Lake (French for Maple Lake) is large and quite beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great and paddling north on it against a headwind, it just wasn't giving me the warm fuzzies. I had to tack back and forth as I struggled northward against a steady wind. Most of the sites were oddly unoccupied for a long weekend. Eventually, the lake decided to be kind to me when the wind died off upon reaching the northern bay.
The 170-meter portage from Erables to Maple Lake was lovely. It followed to the right of Maple Creek and there were a couple of chutes along the way. The trail crossed the same logging road that I had previously encountered earlier in the day on the portage out of Mouse Lake. A metal bridge was built to cross the creek there.
It was a nice paddle on the creek between the put-in and Maple Lake. Emerging out on the lake, I spotted the pair of islands to my immediate left, each sporting a campsite. The southern one was occupied. I paddled out to the other one, but it was really close to the occupied one, and I was looking for something a little more secluded. So, I paddled up to the campsite on the island in the northwest part of the lake. It looked fine, but it was in a small bay facing the tree line, out of the wind, and was very buggy, so again I moved on. I got to the narrows of the northern outlet of the lake and saw that the island site there was also taken. Sigh...I was once again playing the Algonquin look-for-an-empty-campsite-at-the-end-of-the-day game. This is the reason I only paddle Algonquin in the shoulder seasons. In the summer months, the daily race to get a decent campsite can often negatively impact an otherwise amazing canoe trip. Moving on, I paddled southeast corner of the Lake to check out the two sites there. Thankfully, the island site was vacant.
The site was accessed by a steep set of wooden stairs built to negotiate the slope. It was in a grove of red pines and only had one decent tent pad, on which I set up my bug shelter over my hammock. The bugs were a little thick on this one, too.
It had been a long day of tripping in cold, wet, windy conditions. I had completed 3.5 km of portaging, double carrying on the vast majority. After begrudgingly taking a chilly dip in the lake to wash the grime off, I got into dry clothes and made a hearty chili dinner. Though small, the site was private. I was thankful and appreciative. The sun even came out to poke through the clouds somewhat.
I spent the rest of the evening drying out the wood I had cut and enjoying an amazing fire while finishing off my whiskey. The temperature dropped to about 5 degrees, but I was cozy next to the fire. The best part of the cool evening weather was that there were no bugs!
Day 4 - Maple Lake to Kioshkokwi Lake
The one bad thing about my campsite was the crows. Ohhh, the crows!
There was a tall tree on the north side of the island in which a murder of crows had decided to make their home. I now know why it's called a "murder" of crows, because I really did want to murder them after a while. Every so often, one of them, I'm guessing their extremely vocal and annoying leader, would start cawing. Then, the rest would follow suit, building to an ear-splitting crescendo. Let's just say that it lost its charm after the first time it happened. After the 50th time, well...
This was nature's alarm clock at first light around 5 am on my last day of the trip. They kept cawing, and cawing, and cawing. Perhaps, they were calling out to would-be listeners through the pea soup fog that had enveloped the lake.
Well, despite my best efforts, there was no way that I was falling back asleep in that din, so I got a very early start to the day. I fed myself, packed up, and was paddling north (away from the crows!) by 7:30 am. The sun was getting higher in the sky and burning off the fog, creating a lovely effect on the water.
A half-hour later, I was taking out at the portage into Maple Creek at the north end of the lake.
The 130-meter portage out of Maple was a nice walk next to the bubbling creek. If it hadn't been so rocky, it seemed like it could have been runnable.
The 805-meter portage that followed was a different story, however. The easiest part of the portage was the landing area, a large, flat slab of rock just to the right of some boney rapids.
At the beginning, the trail went through a dense forest of very large hemlocks, and with beams of the morning sun streaming through the trees, it was quite breathtaking. Then, it inclined for a bit as it went up a ridge that was high above the creek. I could hear and catch glimpses of the many dramatic drops in the creek below through the trees. One part of the trail had 50 feet of near-vertical descent into the gully below. I had to watch my footing and tread carefully there as many parts of the trail were still muddy and slick from the previous day's deluge.
When I returned for the canoe after the first load, a fellow canoeist was there unloading his boat. I had a chat with this intrepid retiree, who was in the midst of a 12-day solo trip. He shared a story of how a few nights earlier, a newborn bear cub that apparently had been abandoned was crying next to his campsite all night. What an unnerving experience that must have been! On one hand, one would probably have the urge to help the poor thing; on the other, one wouldn't dare get involved without knowing the full story of what happened to mama. Imagine mama returning to the scene to find a human messing around with her baby! Yikes.
After bringing my canoe down, I fished for a while at the base of the rapids to no avail.
From there, the creek went through some swampy wetlands and over a couple of swifts and beaver dams. There was supposed to be a campsite at the landing area for the 630-meter portage but I didn't really notice one there. I did turn around to snap a photo of the pretty wetlands from that spot though.
The portage was fairly flat and traveled a well-worn path through a deciduous forest. There was a huge old-growth pine at the end of the portage near a small waterfall.
After that, the creek flattened out somewhat and was basically a marshy wetlands for the majority of the way to Kiosk. There were two short portages on river-right that bypassed a couple of sets of boney rapids. The section between the latter of the two and the last 915-meter portage was a long section of winding creek that took a bit of time to get through.
The final 915m portage of the day was easy and straightforward. It descended gently over the last half and I was able to single-carry everything on that stretch.
When I got out onto the large expanse of Kiosk, the wind hit me, especially around the point that juts out in the southwestern corner of the lake where the four campsites are. I was concerned that my distance would be extended by having to hug the southern shoreline and that I would have to eventually make a crossing in possibly dangerous conditions. Things changed as I approached Gull Island, however; the weather shifted. The sky became overcast and the wind miraculously died off, so I made a beeline straight across that vast body of water, paddling quickly in case the wind arose again.
It was exactly 1 pm when I pulled up to the Kiosk campground and parking lot to unload. Looking at the site from the water, one would never guess that this location was once a thriving logging town with a rail station. The remaining residents were forced out as late as 1996.
Thus ended my first foray into Algonquin's northwest. Although I didn't have ideal weather over the weekend, the bugs weren't very bad, and the temperatures didn't get too cold. After all, it isn't unheard of to get snow as late as May in that neck of the woods. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and was able to find some much-needed solitude in a beautiful setting. I'm looking forward to exploring more of Algonquin's northwest.