Algonquin Park: The Happy Camper’s Top Canoe Routes

By Kevin Callan

  Kevin (aka The Happy Camper) is the author of 19 books; his latest being Another Bend in the River: The Happy Camper’s Memoir. He is an award winning writer and a keynote speaker at outdoor events across North America. Kevin is also a regular guest on several television morning shows and CBC Radio. He has won several film awards, writes a column for Paddling Magazine and Explore Magazine. Kevin was listed one of the top 100 modern day explorers by the Canadian Geographical Society. He was also made Patron Paddler for Paddle Canada. Check out his web site at and YouTube channel KCHappyCamper.


Algonquin Park

Since its creation (1893), Algonquin has more than doubled in size, from 3,797 square-kilometres to 7,630 square-kilometres; its changed names from Algonquin National Park to Algonquin Provincial Park (becoming Ontarios first provincial park); and altered its borders eight times.
People literally worship this place. The devotion fans give to the park far exceed the loyalty others would give to their favourite rock band, hockey team, grade-school teacher or even lover. Songs have been written, art created, books published, poems scribbled, theatre performed, films produced, a symphony established, clubs gathered and websites generated.

Algonquin Park is world-renowned. Everyone seems to know about it. If you mention most other larger and wilder places in Canada, you wont get the same response, the same fidelity that Algonquinites give to their park.
Simply put, this remnant piece of semi-wilderness, a mere two hour drive from Torontos International Airport, wouldnt be here if so many people didnt love it - especially exploring the unlimited backcountry canoe routes.
Here are some of my all time favourite canoe routes in Algonquin; ten to be exact, ranging from a quick weekend jaunt to a two week paddle across the entire park.


1. Opeongo Lake

Opeongo Lake


Access Point: # 11 Opeongo Lake
Time: 4-5 days
Portages: 0
Distance: 149 km
Moderate canoe tripping is needed, but heavy wind and waves can be dangerous.


Ive taken the boat shuttle across Algonquins biggest Lake—Opeongo—countless times. Its a quick and painless way to reach the more remote sections of the park. Each time Ive sped across it, however, I felt like I was missing out on something special.

Opeongo is one big piece of water, covering a shoreline of 149 kilometres. The lake stretches 15 kilometres north-to-south and 14 kilometres east-to-west. Its a perfect weeklong paddle—a massive lake with tranquil scenery, unlimited campsites and amazing sunsets.

I prefer to paddle around the lake clockwise, making sure to spend extra time in my favourite parts of Opeongo to pitch a tent and watch amazing sunsets: the small cluster of islands in the Northwest Arm, the hidden bay on the northern section, and Annie Bay where big motor boats dont seem to gather.


2. Oxtongue River 

Oxtongue River


Access: # 5 Canoe Lake
Time: 2-3 days
Portage: 8
Distance: 38 km
Some knowledge of running rapids is required.

The Oxtongue River runs along the north side of Highway 60 and flows out of Algonquins southwest boundary. Over a hundred years ago this river was a busy place. In 1826 Lieutenant Henry Briscoe became the first recorded explorer to travel it. He searched for a military route between Lake Huron and the Ottawa River because the government of Canada was growing concerned over Americans threatening the shipping areas along the southern border.

Government surveyors Alexander Shirreff and David Thompson also traveled the Oxtongue in 1829 and 1837, respectively, to map the waterway as a possible navigational canal. They were followed in 1853 by Alexander Murray, the first chief ranger of Algonquin, and the well-known artist Tom Thomson, who camped along the Oxtongue during his first visit to Algonquin in 1912.

The Oxtongue was definitely a main canoe route, but at present you will be hard-pressed to spot another paddler traveling the river, especially the lower half that exits the parks southwest corner and forms a separate water- way park. Im not sure why; the lack of use may have something to do with the rivers proximity to Highway 60 (traffic can be faintly heard but not seen along some sections) or the assumption by some canoeists and kayakers that Algonquin Provincial Park has more to offer. Consequently, the rivers relative quiet-ness makes it a perfect weekend retreat for the avid paddler.

There are various access points to begin and end your trip. The favorite, however, is to put in at Algonquins familiar Canoe Lake access and take out at the Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake. Youll need to shuttle a vehicle first. Algonquin Outfitters provides a shuttle service, dropping you off at the access point so your vehicle waiting for you at the take-out.


3. The Brent Run

The Brent Run


Access: #5 Canoe Lake
Time: 8-10 days
Portages: 46
Distance: 160 km
The route is long and has some significant portages and some large lakes to paddle across.


The Brent Run Canoe Race was initiated after rumors that, during the early 1930s, the Stringer boys paddled their cedar-strip canoe from Canoe Lake to Brent and back again in twenty-four hours. The best recorded time to date is twenty-three hours, held by past members of Camp Ahmek, Chuck Beamish and Bob Anglin.

I recommend that you take a bit more time to complete the trip. Eight days is perfect. Canoe Lake is the starting line. From there, head north into Burnt Island Lake and either spend your first night here or portage 790 m into Little Otterslide and Otterslide Lakes. As Burnt Island is overused, I prefer going the extra stretch.
From the northwest corner of Otterslide, the route continues north into Big Trout by way of Otterslide Creek. Big Trout is a large lake, and if winds come up it may be difficult to paddle across to the northern end.

Longer Lake is next. There is a beautiful campsite, located at the mouth of the creek that flows in from Big Trout. I usually push on to Burntroot and camp on one of the island sites.

From Burntroot, the route heads east down the Petawawa River to Cedar Lake. You should arrive on Cedar Lake by late afternoon on your fourth day and still have time to go for a soda and ice cream at the Brent store before making camp.

To return, simply backtrack to Canoe Lake. But when you reach the finish line back at the Portage Store, dont expect a crowd cheering you on from the docks. After all, youve just completed the Brent Run in the worst time in the history of the race. Of course, its not whether you win or lose, its what you see along the way that counts!


4. Algonquin's Kingscote Lake

Kingscote Lake


Access: #15 Kingscote
Time: 2 days
Portages: 0
Distance: 22 km
This is a very easy canoe trip.


Kingscote is a relatively new access point for Algonquin Park. Historically, there was a cottage housed here, but in 1999–2000, under the Living Legacy Program, the Nature

Conservancy of Canada helped Ontario Parks purchase and develop a mini campground at the south end of Kingscote. Ive stayed at the campground and quite enjoyed the less crowded drive-in or walk-in sites. The area boasts some incredible mountain-bike trails and a prime hiking trail along the York River.

However, I much prefer paddling farther north on Kingscote and pitching a tent on one of its backcountry sites. And theres a chance of catching the legendary Kingscote silver” lake trout. The trout differ from the common lake trout found throughout Algonquin by their uniform body color devoid of the common white spots or vermiculations.


5. Algonquin's Wendigo to Radiant Lake 

Radiant Lake


Access: #25 Wendigo Lake
Time: 3 days
Portages: 18
Distance: 32 km
Some canoe tripping skills are required.

Ive paddled from the Wendigo access point through to Radiant Lake a couple of times on the way to begin a trip down the notable Petawawa River. Problem was, my mind was on the whitewater awaiting me on the river section that starts after Radiant, not on the series of lakes leading up to it. So I decided to return to the area and paddle from Wendigo and Radiant, and back, to see all what I had missed along the way. By doing so I discovered one of the best quick and easy trips Algonquins east end has to offer.

Its an easy jaunt from Wendigo down to Radiant by way of a series of portages linking small lakes and the North River. Youre almost guaranteed to see a moose here.

The North River flowing into Radiant Lake, and this is one captivating lake. Its a big, round, shallow lake, with massive beach fronts all along the shoreline - making for perfect campsites.

A memorial plague at the southwest corner of the lake marks a nearby grave and states In this enclosure are buried the bodies of more than twenty rivermen drowned in the nearby waters before 1916 when the railway was completed.” 

The return trip is the same route backwards


6. Nippissing / Roseberry Loop 



Access: #2 Tim Lake 
Time: 3-4 days
Portages: 15
Distance: 30 km
Moderate to hard depending on water levels on the Nippissing and Loontail Creek.


Some paddlers despise Algonquin Parks upper Nipissing River for its mosquito population, log jams, and endless entanglement of alder along the river bank. Others cherish it for its solitude, tan-coloured water, towering old-growth white pine, and healthy population of brook trout.

Im with the latter. The upper Nipissing is one of my all-time favourite paddles in the park, and the best time to paddle it is early spring, just as the black flies -- and the brook trout -- are beginning to feed.

The route starts at the Tim Lake access along the western boundary of Algonquin and follows the upper Nipissing River before looping back to Tim Lake via Loontail Creek, Roseberry Lake, and the Tim River. It makes a perfect four- to five-day jaunt.

The initial portages to the Nipissing are typical of Algonquin: long and uphill. But not bad overall. The worst section of the route is the upper reached of the Nippissing River. There’s a stretch of meandering waterway clogged where you have to snake your way through a labyrinth of alders growing out from the narrow riverbank.

My all time best trip on this route I landed 35 brookies, each averaging a couple of pounds. We kept a few each day for shore lunch and nightly fry-ups. How incredible to catch so many fish -- proof that a few nasty portages, log jams, and tangled alder is an effective way to keep a wilderness area wild and the brook trout biting.

7. Lower Crow River

Access: #25 Wendigo Lake
Time: 7-8 days
Portages: 54
Distance: 72 km
Moderate tripping skills are required but this is a tough trip with lots of portages.


Ive paddled and fished a lot of Algonquin. Since boyhood, I've made an annual pilgrimage, casting for brookies in the deep pools of rivers like the Nippissing and the Tim, and trolling for lakers in the depths of Merchant, Happy Isle, Burntroot and Hogan. But one place I had never cast a line or paddled a canoe in was the lower Crow River.

This legendary stretch of water, between Lake Lavielle and the Petewawa River, had been placed on my wish list every since I read the classic book The Incomplete Angler” by John D. Robins. It tells of two anglers on a canoe/fishing trip in Algonquin in 1943, and it was the lower Crow where they caught most of their fish.
I finally paddled - and fished - the lower Crow a few years back; and I returned a few times after. The brook trout fishing was incredible, and the solitude was immense.

I didnt expect the angling to equal that of Robins book. Ive come to realize over the years that the fishing in the park has declined somewhat. But there, it hadn't. Every hole held a trophy trout. During one memorable lunch stop I cast nine times from an interior campsite and caught eight brook trout, all well over two pounds. Amazing!

So why is the Crow still teeming with fish? Simple. It still holds that one thing that keeps trout populations healthy -- its extremely difficult for anglers to get to.
Theres a few options on how to reach the Crow. Take note, however, that all of them require at least 7 to 8 days of paddling and portaging.

Most paddlers go with the current by starting at Lake Opeongo and paddle and portage to Crow Lake-upper Crow River-Lake Lavielle, and then do a side trip for a day or two on the lower Crow before heading home from Lake Lavielle. Its a relatively easy trip to Lake Lavielle, and Lake Lavielle is another true Algonquin gem. However, your return route is not so easy. It takes way to much effort to paddle back up the upper Crow, which means you have to portage south into Dickson Lake and then complete the dreaded 5,982 yard (5,470 meter) Dickson/Bonfield portage to complete your journey back to Opeongo Lake.

My choice to reach the lower Crow is starting at the east side of the park at the put-in at Windigo Lake. From there you paddle to Radiant Lake (see Windigo to Radiant Lake chapter for details). From Radiant Lake you paddle down the Petawawa River to where the Crow flushes over Blueberry Falls, and then paddle upstream.

This route is definitely challenging. The payback, however, is dreamlike. You get to paddle a remote stretch of accessible south-central Ontario wilderness that has changed little over the years. Its a trip made up of solitude, incredible scenery and a good chance to go back in time and hook into a trophy brook trout from the days of the book The Incomplete Angler. You couldnt ask for anything better.


8. Mackaskill Lake 


Access: #17 Shall Lake
Time: 4 days
Portages: 10
Distance: (24 km
Moderate canoe tripping is needed. There are some long portages.

Algonquins Mackaskill Lake is an absolute gem. Each island is capped with stout white pine, the water is sparkling turquoise, theres legendary brook trout to be caught, and an added bonus is an historic log cabin to rent if so desired.
Be warned, however. Its a lot of work to get there. And since its a linear trip, you have to repeat the punishment on the way back.

Some paddlers access the lake by placing their canoes on carts and pull all the way in. Its a long way (5 miles [8 kilometres] - but seems longer). The cart trail starts where the Basin Lake road ends at the hydro line. At this point, the road is closed to unauthorized vehicles. From here you park on the side of the road and cart your canoe and gear, following the hydro line road. Theres a few hills and some twists and turns before you reach a fairly steep downward hill to cross the Mckaskill-Aylen River portage. The hydro road then turns to the right. Youll see a sign for the "cabin" at a side road branching off to the right. The cabin, and MacKaskill Lake, are less than a kilometer from there. If you start going uphill on the road, then you've missed the way to the lake.

Ive used the cart trail but I much prefer to paddle and portage my way in from the Farm Lake/Crotch Lake Access Point #17.

Mackaskill is definitely worth the the gruelling portage. Its the headwater lake of the Bonnechere River, and was once called Bonnechere Lake. The water clarity and stout pine rooted on the scattering of islands is absolutely glorious. Ash and I set up camp on the larger central island. We based camped there for two nights and tried our luck for brook trout. It took us awhile to find them, but we were able to have a fish dinner both nights.

The ranger cabin you can rent is on the east shore. It was occupied by a group of anglers our second night out. They made use of the cart trail to get there.
This cabin was built in 1932. Rangers and timber technicians used it while patrolling the eastern portion of the park. Theres been many upgraded since. It originally contained a classic Findlay Norway cook stove, now replaced with a common wood stove. It got a new roof in 1939 and major repairs were done in 1993.

The Mackaskill route is a linear trip, meaning Ash and I had to redo the same portages to take us back to the access point. The 2645 yard (2420 meter) taking us out of Mackaskill seemed worse on the way out. Im not sure if there were more hills pointing up, or more mud formed. By the time we reached Crotch Lake both Ash and I were walking gingerly on blistered feet.


9. Big East River

Access: Williamsport Bridge
Time: 4 days
Portages: 5
Distance: 45 km
Moderate canoe tripping is needed and some whitewater paddling skills are required.

I swore Id never paddle up the Big East River again. I paddled, poled, lined and waded up it for four days while taking on Algonquins Meanest Link -- a 20 day trip that consisted of over 100 portages, totalling 42 miles (68 km). The route is the brainchild of the staff at Algonquin Outfitters as a way to motivate their staff to get more bush time.

It was an insane trip and Im not sure why my canoe mate, Andy Baxter, and I attempted it. It may have something to do with he and I approaching the 50 year mark, and we may have used it as an excuse to spend a good amount of time in one of our favorite parks before age began to slow us down.

The most difficult section of the route was our time going up the Big East River. So far Ive kept my promise to myself to never paddle up the Big East River again. However, Ive paddled down it a few times since. Its just too darn nice of a river to ignore.

The Big East River flushes out of the western border of Algonquin Park. Paddlers have navigated its upper portion where it flushes though the park - upstream of where McCraney Creek enters the watershed - but theres usually never enough water to bother. Its also way too much of a slog.

Theres a common two day outing on the Big East, from Distress Dam access to Williamsport Road bridge, and then from Williamsport Road to Huntsville. I find the Distress Lake access road a little bumpy to drive. Also, from where the river empties out into Lake Vernon to the town docks in Hunstville is a little over-developed for my liking.


My option is to take-out at Hutcheson Beach off Ravencliffe Road (Muskoka Road 2) or at the Silver Sands Tent and Trailer Park near the mouth of the river. I also like to extend the trip a few extra days by starting at Algonquins Rain Lake access, making use of two new portages built to link McCraney Lake to the Big East River. It makes for an exceptional trip.


10. Hogan Lake Loop


Access: #27 Brent (Cedar Lake)
Time: 5 days
Portages 20
Distance: 60 kilometres
Moderate route with one long portage.

if I had to choose just one favourite Algonquin canoe route it would definitely be the Hogan Lake Loop. It has it all - amazing scenery, countless wildlife sightings, amazing trout fishing, classic campsites, and in the total five day stretch there is only one nasty portage (a rarity in Algonquin).

The route begins at the Brent Access on Cedar Lake. You’ll have to drive a very bumpy 24 kilometre dirt road to get there. The ride in certainly keeps out the riffraff. So does crossing Cedar Lake. This lake can get extremely rough very quickly.
Once across Cedar, you paddle up the gorgeous Petawawa River and take on the longest portage of the trip - a 2,345 metre trail to the left of Stack Rapids. Unfortunately you have to do this portage again on your return.

The loop begins where the river flows out of Catfish Lake. From there it’s best to travel in a counterclockwise direction, connecting first to Burntroot Lake - which has amazing island campsites and an old logging alligator left behind from the lumber days. Next is scenic Lake la Muir, which has some nice sandy beach campsites, and then Hogan Lake, where peregrine falcons nest on the eastern cliff face.

To loop back to Cedar Lake you now take a series of portages (mostly downhill). From Cedar you trace your steps on the Petawawa River and across Cedar Lake.


Depuis le temps que vous en rêvez ! Remplissez notre formulaire et réservez votre canot Esquif dès aujourd'hui - des aventures inoubliables vous attendent !