Burnt Island Lake is one of the most popular destinations in Algonquin Provincial Park and a classic basecamp from which to explore the many surrounding lakes. The route conveniently begins at Canoe Lake off of Highway 60 and requires paddlers to make three portages before ultimately reaching Burnt Island Lake.
The route is well traversed and suitable for novices, with plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife and stargaze.
Trip Completed: June – July 2019
Starting Point: Canoe Lake (Access Point #5)
Ending Point: Canoe Lake (Access Point #5)
Total Distance: 38 km
Duration: 3 Days / 2 Nights
The route to Burnt Island Lake begins at the Canoe Lake parking lot off of Highway 60 in Algonquin Provincial Park.
Traditional Territory: Canoe Lake and Burnt Island Lake are located on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Campsite Reservations: Campsite reservations are required through the Ontario Parks Reservation Portal. Reservations are for a campsite on A specific lake, not a specific campsite (i.e. Canoe Lake).
Camping Permits: Camping permits must be picked up from Canoe Lake Access Point before starting your canoe trip.
Outfitters & Shuttles
We rented gear from the Portage Store located at the Canoe Lake Access point. Specifically, we rented kevlar canoes, paddles, life jackets, and a canoe barrel.
As this trip is a loop, no shuttle was necessary for this trip.
Day 1: Canoe Lake to Burnt Island Lake (12 km)
Driving to the access point: Three of the four of us, myself included, left Ottawa at 4:40 am and arrived at the Canoe Lake access point shortly after 8 am. The other member of our party, Brandon, drove from Toronto and met us perfectly on time.
We checked in at the Canoe Lake Access Point Office, attained our permits and made our way over to the Portage Store to pick up our rental gear. The Portage Store has an extensive array of supplies, gear, snacks and other miscellaneous goods. As is my custom, I picked up a sticker for my Nalgene bottle.
Canoe Lake Access Point to Burnt Island Lake: With Daniel and I in one canoe, and John and Brandon in the other, we set off. The early going took us through a channel between Gilmour, Wapomeo, and Cook Islands. Continuing north to the top of Canoe Lake we soon came across our first portage, the portage from Canoe Lake to Joe Lake (295 m).
From Joe Lake we paddled north and then east, passing the Arowhon Pines Resort before reaching a junction. We had the option here of portaging or following a shallow creek around the portage route towards Baby Joe Lake. We opted for the shallow creek, which was well worth it.
At a certain point, however, I did have to disembark to lessen the load on the canoe and ended up dragging Daniel and our canoe to Baby Joe. Following a short paddle on the glass-like waters of Baby Joe Lake, we arrived at the last portage, the portage between Baby Joe Lake and Burnt Island Lake (200 m).
Burnt Island Lake to Campsite: A short paddle took us to our eventual campsite. It truly was love at first site (pun intended). This particular island is situated in the far southwest end of Burnt Island Lake. Two of us were more than content to set up camp on the island, while the other two were not convinced.
As such, Daniel and I remained on the island, while John and Brandon ventured further in search of a more “ideal” site. Ultimately, John and Brandon came back and agreed that we had somehow landed an amazing site.
Site #37 was west-facing, perched on a relatively high cliff above the lake below, though also had easy water access on its other sides. The island itself is quite large but houses just one other site, providing ample privacy for all of its visitors. We truly lucked out and immediately began to set up camp as the mosquitos were unrelenting (I was wearing a head-toe bug jacket which proved to be a prudent decision as goofy as I may have looked).
Campsite: Burnt Island Lake Campsite #37
Day 2: Vanishing Pond Loop (13 km)
Our second day entailed paddling a classic circuit that took us from Burnt Island Lake to Sunbeam Lake via a series of short portages and then down to Blue Jay lake via the infamous Vanishing Pond.
We got the day started relatively late in the morning and set off northeast over choppy waters. It was beyond our little island where Daniel and I (who had stayed behind the day prior) were able to see just how massive Burnt Island Lake is.
Fortunately, we had a much-welcomed reprieve from the mosquitos and could finally breathe without inhaling them. At a certain point, we passed Caroline Island and began to head northwest towards the day’s first portage.
The Four Portages: This series of portages took us through Jay and Treefrog Lakes, as well as an unnamed lake in a hurried frenzy, before making the final (and hilly) portage into Sunbeam Lake.
The sequence was as follows:
- Burnt Island Lake to Jay Lake: 540 m
- Jay Lake to Unnamed Lake: 495 m
- Unnamed Lake to Treefrog Lake: 110 m
- Treefrog Lake to Sunbeam Lake: 390 m
Upon arriving on Sunbeam we promptly rushed to a small channel of islands, which in reality were rocks that just barely pierced the surface of the lake. We stopped for lunch and took our time, again revelling in our respite from the bugs.
Following the well-deserved break, we paddled south towards the felicitously named Vanishing Pond and portaged 120 m into its shallow waters.
Vanishing Pond to Blue Jay Lake and Burnt Island Lake: You never quite know what conditions you will encounter at the Vanishing Pond. At times, notices are disseminated by park staff cautioning against travelling through the pond as living up to its namesake, it becomes devoid of water. Or at least enough water to actually paddle.
On this particular weekend, we received yet another stroke of luck as the water was abundant and the conditions were beautiful. The once cloudy and ominous look skies had subsided, giving way to friendlier and sunnier blue skies. We took our time, with John, having paddled here before, clearly enjoying another nostalgic tour of the pond.
After a while spent meandering through the pond and its many twists and turns, we eventually reached the portage to Blue Jay Lake (405 m). Our time at Blue Jay Lake was eventful as we spotted a cow moose and its calf wading and grazing at the shore.
Following this sighting, we continued to veer southwest until we reached our penultimate portage of the day, which was also the longest portage at 1140 m. By now it was a sweltering late afternoon and the mosquitos were particularly nastier during this last stretch. Wasting no time, we covered the kilometre relatively quickly and soon arrived at Baby Joe Lake and our final portage (200 m).
Campsite: Night two at Burnt Island Lake Campsite #37.
Night Two: We were treated to clear skies and a moonless night, favourable conditions for what would become one of the most memorable nights (and Milky Way viewings) of my life. Throw in the reoccurring and hauntingly lovely calls of the loons and it truly was ethereal.
Day 3: Burnt Island Lake to Canoe Lake (12 km)
It was Canada Day 2019. And here we were doing one of the most quintessentially Canadian things you could do – backcountry camping and paddling through Algonquin Park. We packed up, said goodbye to our beloved campsite and the beautiful island it was situated on and took the exact same route back to Canoe Island.
On our way back, we came across several young paddlers embarking on their own trips, singing Oh Canada at the tops of their lungs while waving their flags. We arrived back at the Canoe Lake Access Point in less than half the time it took for us to get to our campsite.
Despite the soreness and the copious amounts of bug bites, the morale was at an all-time high and we were definitely feeling great by that third day.
What Went Well?
Our preparation. Our party comprised four experienced men who were no strangers to adventures in the outdoors. We meticulously prepared well in advance and knew our own strengths and weaknesses and how to complement each other accordingly.
The bug jacket was indispensable. I was the only one of the four that had brought a bug jacket and it was a prudent decision, as I had ended up with the least amount of bites by the end of the weekend.
We did not capsize. Admittedly, given my lack of extensive paddling experience, I was concerned about capsizing as I had a ton of my camera equipment with me and was unsure of how effective my dry bag would actually be. At that point, despite not having paddled for a few years, it all came right back to me.
The weather. Well, for the most part. We were subjected to a pretty harsh storm on our first night, which seemingly came out of nowhere, as it had previously been a bluebird day. BUT, the rest of our time there was gorgeous, with nothing but blue skies and still water. It was made even more special when the sun had set, and the stars began to put on a show.
Wildlife Spotting. We were treated to sightings of moose (I still contend that the plural of moose should be meese!), frogs, snapping turtles, loons, herons, and beavers!
What Could Have Gone Better?
The Bugs. We were at their mercy the whole weekend. At a certain point in time, we were all actually pretty down because of it. In an attempt to combat them, we wore myriad layers and our rain jackets, but that just made us overheat, especially while portaging.
Bring a bug jacket!! Who cares if it looks goofy or silly or doesn’t meet a certain aesthetic tailored towards being an Instagram influencer. They’re practical and they work.
Obviously, however, we recognized that it was beyond our control and shifted our mindsets to make the best of the situation.
Food storage. On our first night, we were caught in a downpour that seemingly came out of nowhere. Seeing the storm on the horizon, we scrambled to hang our food away from our site but to no avail. We eventually resolved to tying our canoe barrel to a dead tree and letting it float just off of the shore quite far from our site. It wasn’t pretty, nor ideal, and a curious snapping turtle even took a crack at it, but it was better than nothing.
Food. I eat A LOT. I ate well on the trip but definitely could have used more snack foods for when my energy levels got low. The vegan Backcountry Wok that I did have for my dinners, however, was delicious.
Sleep. I’ll preface by saying that I’m not referring to sleep during the trip but before the trip, particularly the night before. I did not get a single hour of sleep the night before the trip, for many reasons, but notably, because I packed way too late and knew that I did not have enough food going in. So yes, we did prepare, but there was definitely room for improvement. I mention sleeping here though because I was exhausted going into the first day’s paddle. I managed to sleep intermittently throughout the 3.5-hour drive to the park, but that was no substitute. In fact, the first thing I did when we got to our campsite was set up shop and proceed to have probably the best nap of my life.
A writer, photographer, runner, and musician, among many other things, quite simply put, Steven likes being outside. It’s no surprise that he much prefers doing all of those things while outside. He calls Ottawa, ON home though very much considers any place with mountains as being home too.