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The Algonquin Backcountry: Three People, One Canoe

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The clock flashed 7:15 am as I took a bite of my steaming fast food breakfast wrap. I hoped it would act as a final boost of calories, before the three of us would succumb to the rations of dried fruit and oatmeal backed away deep in our hiking bags. The three and a half hour drive from the GTA to Algonquin provincial park was brimmed with anticipation. I sprawled out our map across the back seat as I looked over our loop again and again, wondering which campsites we would be able to spend the night. In the Algonquin backcountry you reserve by the lake, so if you arrive at your first choice campsite and it is taken by someone else, you must continue your search.


As we reached the end of the gravel road the parking lot overflowed with car campers, day users, and backcountry adventurers alike. Sunshine pierced the warm waters of Kioshkokwi lake as I strapped the neon tarps to the side of my backpack. We had brought a second tarp, almost as an afterthought, which flopped over with the first like dog ears on both sides of my pack. The blue sky proved a source of optimism that our backcountry camping trip would not be met by the thunderstorms that loomed in the near forecast. As I heaved my pack into the canoe, I wondered how I would manage the weight of my pack and the canoe across the many portages of our loop.

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For anyone reading this interested in completing the Kioskokwi loop themselves, here are some of our numbers: 60 kilometres. 14 portages. 13 lakes. 7 days. 3 people. 1 canoe. We are by no means expert canoers, campers, or hikers, but have all been to the Algonquin backcountry before on slightly less challenging loops out of Tea Lake. So we knew what we were getting ourselves into and prepared as such. Below are the lakes we traveled from and stayed at each night, with estimates of the canoeing and portaging distance for the travel days:

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I appreciated the sheer size of Algonquin as each day brought us deeper into the park. No wonder many across the country think this area is a National Park, opposed to a Provincial one. The park spans over 7,500 km2 of wilderness and contains over 1000 lakes. The size of the park provides opportunity for every type of explorer, from day hikes, to ecolodges, to remote ranger cabins in the park interior. The park lies at a transition zone between the deciduous forest of the south, filled with maple and birch trees, to the coniferous forests of the north, filled with balsam fir and hemlock.

This region boasts an abundance of wildlife species. A food barrel is a must to protect supplies from the smallest mice to the largest of bears. A running joke emerged as we laughed if we would ever come across a site without a red squirrel as a next door neighbor.  It is critical to hang your food bag each night high enough that no animals can reach.  One night we hung the food bag a little too close to the trunk of a tree and woke to find a small hole chewed into the side.

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The most challenging aspect of this loop is the number and length of portages. Portaging is when you carry a canoe from one lake to the next. This can be done by a single person, or in a team of two. As you can see in the picture above, our three person rental canoe was heavy and awkward for one person alone. While at the start of our route we rotated with a single person carrying and made multiple trips, the second half we made a single trip with two people balancing the canoe on the top of their packs. Our trip occurred at the end of August, and the bugs were almost non-existent! This is a huge relief on long portages where we took a few small breaks in the woods.

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In the end, my arms slid into a trance as they paddled back across Kioshkokwi to finish the loop. They no longer felt the pain of paddling but rather an excitement at how far we had accomplished. We joked that this meant we could not call ourselves experienced paddlers - not really experts but enough that we could get the loop done. Anyone out there looking for a great local adventure should check out the Algonquin backcountry. You can create any trip you choose, weather that is into a single backcountry lake or into the heart of the wilderness. 

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Now is a great time to explore local areas and reconnect with nature, and ourselves. If you venture into the backcountry, remember to practice no trace camping: pack out everything you pack in. Looking at meal plans and don't know where to start? We highly recommend camp pizza. Baby bell cheese, a small can of tomato sauce, summer sausage, and pita is all you need, and they can be roasted over a campfire.

Have your own backcountry story you want to share? Venture to our submission form and leave us a message. We are always happy to share tales from our community!

Tales For Gaia

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