Algoma Highlands: Flack Lake Loop (5 days / 40 km)

This 3-5 day trip in the Algoma Highlands is an incredibly scenic trip for those looking to enjoy a beautiful flatwater paddle on stunning lakes without the crowds of the more accessible provincial parks in southern Ontario. The route begins on Flack Lake just west of Mississagi Provincial Park, ascends through crown land to the eastern section of Blind River Provincial Park, dabbles in some cottage country territory on Ten-Mile Lake and returns through some stunningly beautiful crown land on its return to Flack Lake.

On the way, paddlers can expect to enjoy crystal clear deepwater lakes in the rugged splendor of the Canadian shield, fantastic trout fishing, and some challenging portages. It is a highly recommended trip for those who enjoy the beauty of places like Algonquin and Killarney but don’t mind travelling a little further from southern Ontario to escape the crowds.

Trip Completed: July 2021


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Flack Lake – parking and launching can be done from either Laurentian Lodge or at the Mississagi Provincial Park office on the east end of the lake. Both locations charge a fee to park. Contact Melanie at Laurentian Lodge to arrange. (705) 848-0423. 

Ending Point: As it is a circuit route, the trip ends again on Flack Lake. It can be done in either direction. Whether paddlers choose clockwise or a counter-clockwise direction, there will be long portages at the beginning with fully loaded packs.

Total Distance: 40 km

Duration: Without a rest day, the trip can be done comfortably in 4 days. It can be done in 3 days without the side trip to Upper Mace Lake, though the side trip was the highlight of the trip. 

Difficulty: Intermediate. There are some difficult portages outside of the provincial parks that are not regularly maintained. 

Location

This route is located in the Penokean Hills in the Algoma Highlands, north of the city of Elliot Lake. Refer to the map below for starting point, portage and route information. 

Traditional Territory: This route is on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki and Mississauga. (Native-Land.ca)

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Kevin Callan’s A Paddlers Guide to Lost Canoe Routes of Ontario. This is a variation of Kevin’s Dunlop Lake Loop.

Map: Regional Topographic Maps, Chrismar Maps (Mississagi Provincial Park & Area (AM0850) – Chrismar.com

Campsite Reservations: N/A – All sites are first come, first serve.

Permits: Permits are required within the Mississagi Provincial Park boundaries – for this route, only on Flack Lake is within the boundaries. If you are planning to stay at the sites on Flack Lake, permits can be purchased from and reserved online through the Ontario Parks Reservation System (select “Backcountry”, and then select “Mississagi” for the park and “Mississagi Backcountry”). Alternatively, permits can be purchased at the park office at the east end of Flack Lake if arriving during operation hours. 

Permits are not required within Blind River Provincial Park as it is a non-operating park. All other areas fall within Crown Land camping regulations. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

No shuttle is required as this is a circuit loop. This route has no whitewater and some difficult portages. Therefore, a lightweight Kevlar tripping canoe is recommended. 

Contact the following for canoe rentals:

  1. Laurentian Lodge (Activities)
  2. White Squall (Rentals- kayak, canoe, SUP | White Squall)
  3. Widgawa Lodge
  4. Algonquin Outfitters  (Huntsville – Algonquin Outfitters – Outdoor Adventure Store)

Trip Report

With the pandemic still raging in the spring of 2021, I decided to plan my summer trips further north to avoid the crowds. The Algoma Highlands was on my bucket list for its beauty, remoteness, and fantastic fishing. It was there that I did my first summer trip of the year. 

I had a 7-hour drive ahead of me on Canada Day. The early departure was a necessity; the roads would most likely be busy and I was hoping to reach Ezma Lake for the first night.

The drive was uneventful and, indeed, Highway 17 west of Sudbury was laden with traffic. I made fairly good time, however, and was pulling into Laurentian Lodge on Flack Lake shortly after noon. I had contacted Melanie, the owner, earlier in the week and had arranged to park my car and launch from the resort for a marginal fee. The same thing could have been done from the Mississagi Provincial Park office on the east end of the lake, but for a similar price, I felt my vehicle would be in better hands under the watchful eye of a resort owner. The resort itself was beautiful; a waterfall goes right through the middle of it! Melanie was great! She jotted down my itinerary so that she would know to send in the cavalry in the event that my car was still there after I was supposed to have returned. She directed me where to launch and where to park my car. She even drove up to the canoe launch in her ATV to wave me off as I was paddling out into the lake.

Day 1: Flack Lake to Astonish Lake (8 km)

Unfortunately, Flack Lake was not in a happy mood that day. It had rained most of the morning and by afternoon the wind wanted to join the party, as well. Luckily for me, the wind was coming from the northeast which meant that it was at my back. Travelling solo on this large, round lake against a strong headwind would not have been fun. I made it to the portage at the west end of the lake in good time. The massive quartzite rock face known as Old Baldy watched over my take-out.

While researching this trip, I had read that I had three tough portages ahead of me to get into Astonish Lake. I’m not going to lie — those portages kicked me in the you-know-what. Later at my campsite that evening, I named them Bad, Worse, and Worst in consecutive order.

What made the first one bad was that it was a solid uphill climb. Other than that, it wasn’t too nasty given that it was under 500m.

Emerging from the woods at the put-in on Bruce Lake, I was happy to see the sun trying to poke its nose from behind the clouds. At that moment, it happened to be shining on the carcass of a canoe that had seen better days. I always wonder about the story behind a canoe rotting away at the end of a portage.

Putting in and moving around a point, I could get a better vantage point of that rock face on the south side of Old Baldy.

A few minutes later, I was unloading the canoe and soon humping it up Portage Worse — an 845-meter steep incline to Olympus Lake. This one seemed to veer slightly north and up onto the slopes of Old Baldy itself before veering southwest again down through a swampy area just before the put-in. I did not dillydally at the far end as I frantically loaded my canoe in a cloud of mosquitoes.

Happy to be out on the lake with the sun trying to make its presence known and out of the clutches of the mosquito plague, I loaded up a trout spoon and eagerly cast out into the lake. My joy immediately dissipated as somehow my line tangled in and around my reel so horribly that I had to paddle next to a log on shore to take the whole darn thing apart. This process took the better part of 20 minutes to untangle. Yikes!

Not wanting to tempt fate after solving the issue without cutting my line nor wasting any more valuable time without rain, I abandoned my fishing efforts on Olympus Lake and decided to get the bad, nasty Portage Worst out of the way.

That son-of-a-gun was 1100m long and went like this: a couple of large downfalls to negotiate in the first 100m, a steep rise over a bluff, a 90-degree turn and descent into a valley, a very steep incline over a cliff that overlooks a massive swamp, an equally steep decline with several ledges off of which I bounced the back of my canoe, and best of all, a 200m section toward the end, where the portage miraculously turned into a knee-deep creek that one must wade through. Fun for the whole family!

These were not the worst portages I’ve ever done, but by the end of all three, I certainly was feeling it. I think it was because I was travelling alone, double-tripping them and they came at me in quick succession with almost no paddling in between. In addition, this trip was only my second overnighter of the year and I had some extra lockdown pounds to take along. This was certainly one way of dealing with that!

Though I had wanted to make it to Ezma Lake, I immediately unloaded on the peninsula site on Astonish Lake after seeing the familiar orange campsite indicator (Astonish Lake is officially in the Blind River Provincial Park boundaries, and sites there are marked). It was a great site on a gorgeous lake and I was exhausted.

I set up camp, got a fire going, and enjoyed a very pleasant evening watching the sunset over this beautiful northern lake that I had entirely to myself. Amazing! Those horrible portages were worth it!

Day 2: Astonish Lake to Upper Mace Lake (7 km)

The rain stayed away for the rest of the night and when I poked my head out of the hammock, it looked like I was going to have a great day.

I got up and went fishing for a while before having breakfast and coffee. The fishing yielded no results, but it was lovely being alone on the water and later listening to the birds chirp as I sipped on my coffee.

Soon after, my canoe was loaded and I was paddling through the narrows into the southern pond at the south end of Astonish. I did notice another campsite on the western shore of the narrows that I didn’t know existed from my trip research.

As I approached the 605m portage into Ezma Lake, I doubted my eyeballs for a second when I saw aluminum fishing boats floating amongst the trees. I suppose tacking them up amongst the branches is certainly one way of ‘winterizing’ a boat.

The trail into Ezma Lake was much better than the ones from the previous day. It goes to show what a little maintenance by the Ontario Parks people can do. Fresh blowdowns had been neatly chainsawed and the trail avoided any horrible, swampy bits. I made a mental note to hug a park warden the next time I saw one. (Glad I didn’t follow through on that. It was a few weeks later in the Kawartha Highlands when a pair of young wardens came to our site to check our permits. They might have unloaded bear spray on me had I attempted to move in for the hug.)

Ezma Lake was also very nice — a fairly large body of water sporting a beautiful shoreline of tall coniferous trees.

I had a gentle, but steady, breeze coming from the northwest that pushed me down the lake to the second of two portages into Swamp Lake. I took my time and trolled along the way.

The 200m carry was straight, clear, and easy. Swamp Lake, a glorified lily pad pond, yielded no smallmouth bass despite Fish On-Line’s declaration that they exist there.

At the very south end of the lake, I found the 265m trail to Upper Mace Lake between two swamps through a grove of poplar and birch. I made quick work of this one in an attempt to lose as little blood as possible. The rains from the previous day did much to help the local mosquito population.

Paddling west through the shallow east end of Upper Mace Lake, I smiled. Upper Mace was my primary goal on this trip. Other online trip reports that I had read discussed the lake’s beauty, the awesome campsites, and the great splake/lake trout fishing. 

When I emerged into the central bay of the lake, my smile widened. It truly was gorgeous. The lake was dotted with rocky islands, the water was incredibly deep and clear, and best of all, I had it all to myself! Not a soul as far as the eye could see.

I paddled among the islands for a bit and found an incredible campsite on a large island at the south end of the lake. It had views looking toward all of the main parts of the lake, and, best of all, west toward the sunset and the beach at that end of the lake. It also sported an incredible rocky front porch that seemed to drop off into clear deep water. I knew I would spend a couple of nights on that one.

The weather clouded up again by late afternoon and it started spitting. I put up my tarp over the firepit in case it really wanted to come down. Luckily, the rain was short-lived and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing, swimming, and fishing.

Day 3: Rest Day on Upper Mace Lake 

When I woke up, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the lake was like glass. I immediately made my way to my ‘front porch’ and went for a swim to wake up. 

Following that, I climbed down the rock face near my firepit, picked some blueberries, and enjoyed them in some pancakes with a coffee for breakfast. Yum!

My goal for the day was to land some trout for a meal and take a day trip to Lower Mace Lake and back. The evening prior I had fished the western area of the lake but had no luck. I paddled to the beach to take a gander and saw that there was a site there, as well. As enticing as that beach was, on this new day, I would take my time and fish other areas of the lake using a variety of strategies.

It wasn’t long after before I hooked into a large lake trout. I enjoyed a fantastic battle, got him to the boat, and lost him as I reached for my landing net. Grrrr! I didn’t have my net within easy reach in the canoe and I inadvertently gave the line too much slack while I was reaching for it. That specimen was probably a good 6lbs or more. Grrr, again!

Hanging my head in shame, I paddled to the southeast corner of the lake to start my day trip to Lower Mace Lake. The 215m portage went down a huge rock slab to the left of a remarkably long water chute.

When I was putting in at the bottom, I took a swig out of my full 1.5L Nalgene water bottle. It slipped out of my hand and crashed onto the hard slab of rock next to the canoe. It shattered at the bottom and all my water for the day ran out. Stupidly, I didn’t pack my water filter thinking I would have enough until I got back to camp. Grrr, yet again! It looked like my day trip would be considerably shorter than I had planned. It was a hot, sunny day and it would not have been a great thing to attempt the trip without any water. (I would spend the remainder of the trip drinking out of my orange bail bucket!) Besides, my mind was on that laker that got away, so I wanted to head back to Upper Mace for another try!

So I paddled the length of the small lake immediately to the south of Upper Mace just to have a gander. I noticed a small cabin there on the western shore. I got to the portage into Lillypad Lake before turning around. I was already getting thirsty!

After climbing back up the portage, I fished a little more and was getting hits in the same area where I caught “the one that got away”. I had found my spot it seemed!

After that, I made my way back to camp, whipped up some wraps for lunch, and retired to the hammock for a glorious mid-afternoon nap. After waking up, I went back out for a little more fishing, but the wind was blowing strong in my honey spot where I was getting hits earlier and I was having a little trouble negotiating an empty canoe alone. So, I decided to try an area on the leeward side of an island and managed to land a lovely eating-sized splake — a perfect meal for one. I enjoyed a nice fish fry that evening.

To cap off an eventful and amazing day, Upper Mace Lake graced me with fantastic vistas as the sun retired.

Day 4: Upper Mace Lake to Bobowash Lake (15 km)

The lake continued offering me fantastic sights when I awoke. The temperature was cool in the night and had created a lovely mist over the lake when I awoke just after sunrise. It was so serene.

I was glad to have awoken early. My aim for the day was to make it to Bobowash Lake, another lake of reputed beauty, and I had a decent chunk of Ten Mile Lake to paddle, a large body of water known for its wind. The earlier I got there, the better.

I was able to break camp, load the canoe and start paddling by 8:30 am. Heading back to the portage to Swamp Lake, in the shallow eastern section of Upper Mace, I startled a large black bear as I rounded a point. It was sitting on a rocky slope with its nose in the air when I came around the bend. I’m guessing it had smelled me before it heard me. As I reached for my camera, it deftly darted into the bush before I could even raise my arm. It was quite an encounter; it was only about 20 feet away from my canoe on the shore. My heart was beating a little quicker than normal for the following few minutes, but I was thankful for the opportunity to have seen it.

By 9:30 am, I had retraced my steps into Swamp Lake and back into Ezma Lake, where I paddled to the eastern bay on the north shore to locate the “Eagle Pass” portage into Ten Mile Lake. The landing area at the portage had several boats and items belonging to Ten Mile Lodge, a sports lodge just on the other side of the portage. It was obvious to see how they got all those items to Ezma when I took the portage, which was a wide ATV trail that even included rubber tracking over a makeshift bridge.

I was glad to be moving downward on this portage as there was quite a steep section in the middle, giving the portage its nickname.

I couldn’t have asked for better paddling conditions on Ten Mile Lake, where I paddled past people doing work on the lodge and another fellow building a new structure at his cottage just down the lake. Further along, I chatted with a local fisherman for a while who was curious about where I had been and where I was going. He was a local on the lake who had been able to enjoy the trout on Ten Mile Lake for years. 

I was able to locate my portage north about halfway down the lake. It was next to a small waterfall that came off the northern slopes. The chute seemed to run right into the boulders that dotted the shoreline. Either I didn’t paddle far enough to see where the water emerged, or the waterfall went right under the rocks and into the lake below me.

The portage was only 200m but it was straight up at about a 45-degree angle for most of it. My reward at the put-in was the pretty western bay of Hyphen Lake that sported an amazingly large cliff on its western shore.

I traversed the small western section of this lake and lifted over a small beaver dam to get into its larger eastern section. As I rounded a bend while skirting the southern shore, I saw a black head moving across the narrow section of this lake. It was a bear cub frantically swimming to the northern shore. My second bear sighting of the morning! I took a video of the little guy emerging onshore, but in my haste, I didn’t check the focus and it turned out quite blurry, unfortunately. He scampered up the slope toward the direction of the portage that I was about to use only a few hundred meters away. What concerned me was that Baby Bear of this tiny size was most likely following Mama Bear that had already crossed the lake and into the woods before I had rounded the bend. I could hear him (or both?) crashing through the bush on the shore next to me as I paddled toward the port.

I found the portage into Dollyberry Lake at the very northeastern tip of the lake to the right of a large slab of rock face. I paused a bit and listened for any animal sounds in the woods at the top of the ridge. After a few minutes of not hearing anything, I was somewhat satisfied but apprehensive. I completed this short, but tremendously steep uphill portage in record time with both a bear banger and bear spray in my pocket as I went. For good measure, I loudly sang an off-key version of Springsteen’s Born to Run to make my presence known and to give me the incentive to do this one quickly.

Hey, judge me not! If I startled a Mama with Baby, who knew what kind of reaction she might have had. I was alone and I could smell it (them). It was a musty, pungent odour. I suspected that it (they) had passed through or near the portage just ahead of me.

I was able to put in and paddle into Dollyberry without any further encounters of the ursine nature. Dollyberry was quite a pretty lake, containing a rocky shoreline and large pines.

It didn’t take long to get to the take-out for the portage to Bobowash Lake at the end of a back bay on the northern shore. My jaw dropped when I saw the rock face that I immediately needed to climb at the take-out. As daunting as that looked, in reality, it wasn’t bad. The previous two portages were more difficult in terms of steepness.

Emerging out on Bobowash Lake, I was immediately happy to have made the decision to stay there. What a gorgeous lake! There was an empty site near the put-in, but I was aiming for the prime site on an island in the middle of the lake. 

 After a short paddle to the centre of the lake, I found the site and it was indeed vacant and I was not disappointed. After setting up camp, I cut some wood for the night’s fire, relaxed a bit, and went out to catch some fish for dinner. The wind was up, however, and it wasn’t easy to maneuver a light, empty canoe to the spots I was trying to find. I returned to my site fishless and rehydrated some chili and rice for dinner.

A group of three young ladies were camping on another site on the lake and had decided to have a picnic dinner on the island directly in front of my site. I had run into them earlier on the trip and it turned out that they would be the only other canoe trippers I would encounter enroute.  As they paddled past my island on their way back to their site, I invited them up for a chat next to my fire for a bit. They accepted and we had a nice conversation. It was my fourth night on a solo trip and I was happy to have the company. We chatted next to the fire and discussed canoe trips and camping gear. They paddled back to their site before sundown, and I enjoyed another lovely evening next to a nice fire.

Day 5: Bobowash Lake to Flack Lake (11 km)

The adage, “Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning!” came true on this day. As pretty as the view was just before 6 am, it was a harbinger of nasty weather later that day.

I had about 4 hours of canoe tripping and 7 hours of driving on the cards for the day, so I got up and at it early. I did pause to enjoy some more blueberry pancakes and coffee as the sun came over the horizon, however.

As I paddled away to start my last day of the trip, I turned to snap a shot of my island home on Bobowash Lake. I was sad to leave; it was a great site.

It was a quick paddle through Bobowash and equally quick through the short 25m portage to a small unnamed lake to the east.  Paddling to the end of that lake, I spotted an odd portage sign on a point on the eastern shore that consisted of one portage sign tacked to another. Since I was double tripping the portages, I felt this sign was rubbing it in a little, reminding me that I had to do each trip twice — one sign for each load.

Worse still, the sign wasn’t even in the right location! I alighted the canoe where the sign was and began unloading, only to find out that I wasn’t at the portage. The portage was actually a couple of hundred meters past the point at the end of the swamp. Sheesh!

I soon forgot about that mishap, however, when I came across a massive, lone, old-growth white pine on the carry. What a beauty! I snapped a shot of it, but photos never do justice to the size of large trees.

I paddled through Samreid Lake, another scenic body of water. The sites there didn’t look all that great though and I was glad to have decided to stay on Bobowash the previous night. On the northern shore, at the end of an ATV/logging road, was a large cache of fishing boats. 

Ten minutes later when I reached the 110m portage, I was getting pounded by rain. By the time I reached the end of the portage with my second load, the thunder and lightning began.

I would have liked to have waited out the storm there, but the put-in was basically in a swamp and the mosquitoes were atrocious — even in the heavy rain. So I made a mad dash up the northern shore of this unnamed lake and was able to take out at the base of a tree-clad rocky slope. There, I pulled the canoe ashore and I climbed up about 8′ off the water under some trees. Not ideal in a storm situation, but I didn’t want to chance being on the water any longer as the thunder and lightning were getting nearer. Besides, the rest of this pond was a mosquito-infested swamp. I rode out the storm there for about 45 minutes without incident before getting back into the canoe. The storm seemed to have passed for the moment.

The 140m portage to the next pond was a slippery descent next to a small chute. After all the rain it was terribly slick and I accomplished it at a snail’s pace. Slow and steady wins the day in those conditions.

The 1125m portage was better in terms of footing, but it seemed long. The path was clear to follow, however and was downhill most of the way. There were only a couple of tricky deadfalls to negotiate. The air in the deciduous forest on the carry was extremely close and humid though. By the time I had finished both trips, I was absolutely drenched to the bone in sweat under my rain jacket.

Back on Flack, I had a 4km paddle due north across that large round lake to get back to Laurentian Lodge. The storm looked like it had subsided, so I made a beeline straight across the lake. About halfway across, as luck would have it, dark clouds moved in very quickly from the southwest once again. Thunder and lightning soon followed. Boy, did I paddle those last two km quickly! I made it to the lodge about 20 minutes later just as streaks of lightning began lighting up the sky. About 20 minutes after that, the storm passed directly overhead as I was pulling out of the parking lot. Whew!

Reflections

Though the portages on this trip were demanding (especially for an out-of-shape, 50-year-old paddling solo!), it is highly recommended for its scenic beauty (it surpasses Algonquin in many respects in my humble opinion), excellent campsites, good fishing, wildlife, and remoteness. I encountered only one other group of canoeists and one fisherman in 5 days during the first week of July — at the tail end of a pandemic, a time when it seemed that everyone was heading out into the backcountry in a canoe. That’s saying something! Driving back to southern Ontario later that day, I told myself that this would not be my last trip into the Algoma Highlands.


About The Author

Steve writes the Canoe Daddy website where he shares his canoe trip reports in an effort both to encourage others to try the routes themselves so that interest in the routes may help protect them from industrial exploitation and to just simply remember what happens on them! He has been an outdoor and adventure travel enthusiast all of his life. Born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Steve spent nearly 20 of his adult years living abroad and has traveled much of the world. Upon returning to his hometown in 2014, Steve began avidly canoe-tripping and hopes to see all of Canada one lake and river at a time. You can read about his canoe trips on his blog (canoedaddy.com).

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