This was an awesome route that traversed super varied terrain: everything from massive lakes to winding rivers, no long portages. All without another soul in sight. If you don’t mind long days of paddling this route, which is accessed from the south end of Algonquin Park, is a perfect long weekend route.
Trip Completed: July 2020
Starting Point: Lake Opeongo
Ending Point: Lake Opeongo
Total Distance: 93km
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights
Lake Opeongo is right in the middle of Algonquin Provincial Park and is accessed from the south of the park. The launch point is a 3.5 hour drive from Toronto.
Traditional Territory: This route in Algonquin Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: There are a few maps that cover this route. We used a map that covered the whole park. The Adventure Map Algonquin 1 – Corridor North works.
Permits and Campsite Reservations: When you book your trip to Algonquin you will need permits for multi-day backcountry access. When you purchase your permits you will also need to reserve your campsites using the online booking system.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Lake Opeongo is a major launch point and Algonquin Outfitters has a location right at launch, which is the easiest option for rentals. If Algonquin Outfitters doesn’t have availability, then the Portage Store (and several other operators) located on Canoe Lake can also arrange a pickup and dropoff for a fee. Make sure to book Kevlar canoes: with the long portages, the lighter weight will be worth the higher cost.
Day 1: Lake Opeongo Docks to Big Crow Lake (28 km)
This route starts off with a massive day. Once launching, you will need to cross the mighty Opeongo. Lake Opeongo is one of the largest lakes in the park, which makes it susceptible to weather. Be sure to check the conditions forecast before you head off into the bush. You start off traveling all the way up the South Arm before veering slightly west towards the North Arm. When you enter the North Arm, you’ll feel like you’ve made it, but it is probably another hour to your first portage at the end of the Arm. The crossing took roughly three and a half hours for paddlers of moderate strength. We were lucky and our 15km traverse of the South and North Arms was relatively free of waves and wind.
Finally we arrived at the P1390 portage to Proulx Lake. The portage was in an inlet, and was our first and probably our worst encounter with mosquitos. The area around the portage is a little boggy, so layer up on the deet before you get to shore! Once through the portage, you arrive on Proulx Lake, a splendid little lake surrounded by hills. With Opeongo being so large, you feel deep in the backcountry as soon as you get on Proulx. (We only saw one other canoe between now and our return to Opeongo!). You will make quick work of Proulx and arrive on the winding Crow River. The Crow River is wide, winding, and free of rapids. It makes for a leisurely paddle full of J-Strokes, Lily Pads, and in our case: a moose standing in the river for a snack.
The river winds and winds until your calluses have formed and finally, you are spit out onto Little Crow Lake. After emerging on Little Crow you are almost done for the day and are under thirty minutes away from your camp on Big Crow Lake.
There are several campsites on Big Crow; however, we were exhausted and grabbed the first one we saw on the south bank. Frankly, the camp was fine but nothing special. There were good tent sites but not much of a view. If you have the energy – make the push to the east side of the lake for beautiful sunset views.
Campsite: We camped on the first site on the south shore of Big Crow. It had a thunderbox, campfire seating, and a smooth beach landing. It was a fine site, but nothing to write home about.
Day 2: Big Crow Lake to Crow Bay (22 km)
Day 2 is really what makes this route something special. A quick crossing of Big Crow brings you back to the Crow River: a long river with seven portages and some of the most unique landscapes I’ve seen in Algonquin. Before you embark on the trip, check with the rangers and rental shops on water levels. We went in late July, and the river was quite low in many places. Our kevlar canoes were up to the task, but there was certainly exposed rock in many places, which required quick pries by the bow. It’s also worth noting that this river does not have any real rapids. It is generally slow-moving and does not require any whitewater experience to navigate.
The river starts slow and meandering. This first stretch of the river is the most narrow and features cool boulders along the river. Some of the launches post-portage were a little finicky so I recommend good water shoes. It is not long before you arrive at your first portage, a quick P240 around a set of rapids. Once back in the water you continue down a relatively narrow stretch of river before arriving at another quick P155. After no time at all, you arrive at your third, and hardest portage of the day: a P1220. Once beyond the leg workout for the day, you have a long and rewarding stretch of river. The valley opens up and the river becomes slow and winding; the wide banks let the sunbeam in. This stretch of river was so rich with reeds and lily pads. After a while, we started to notice splashes in the river and realized that there were endless frogs on the lilies! Playing with the frogs made the time fly and eventually, we passed a campsite on the north side of the river and decided to stop there for lunch. It would have been an interesting campsite, as it was the only one on the entire river, but we had ground to cover so kept moving.
After lunch we kept moving until we arrived at the next set of four successive portages: a P385, a P170, a P205, and a P110. In this stretch of the river, the portages did not seem to cross rapids but beaver dams. We walked the P385, but after that, we decided to stay on the river and we fought our way through the next three portages on the river. The river was once again full of submerged rocks so our spotter had to be at the ready, while the stern pushed forward. We successfully ran several of the beaver dams, pushing right overtop. For the P205, I hopped out of our boat and pushed it over the dam, then pulled the boat behind us through the dam. It was a hot day and I was happy to cool down in the river, which was only about waist deep. Finally, the P110 was shallow enough that we could just walk our canoes down the trickle of the stream.
Once the portages were done we still had to finish off the Crow River and cross Crow Bay to get to our campsite on the inlet to Lake Lavielle. By this time it was getting late in the day and the wind was picking up. We fashioned a sail and glided across Crow Bay. As soon as we crossed through the narrows at the far east end of Crow Bay, we spotted our dream campsite perched atop small cliffs and bee-lined for the picturesque west-facing site.
Campsite: This campsite was the dream. It had five-foot cliffs you could jump off into deep water, it had a great fire and cooking area, a thunderbox, and the best hammock perches with views around. We would have happily stayed here two nights.
Day 3: Lake Lavieille to Lake Opeongo East Arm (21km)
On Day 3 we unfortunately had to leave our glorious campsite and start the paddle back to Opeongo. We kicked off our paddle with a beautiful sunrise and started making our way south on Lavieille. Lavielle is a large lake, but the sun was out and the paddling was smooth. Before long, we arrived at Hardy Bay and headed towards our first short portage of the day: a 90m hop over a small hill into Dickson Lake. The portage had docks at both ends and we sat and had lunch on one of the docks. We then set off on Dickson heading towards the dreaded P5305 that we had been joking about for the last few days.
I highly recommend you fill your water bottles before you head to shore for this portage. Both Dickson Lake and Hardy Bay have had algae blooms in the past, so the park does not recommend drinking from these lakes, nor is camping permitted (at least it wasn’t in 2020.) Now this is not an endorsement to drink the water from these lakes, but I can tell you that we did with no issues. If you are going to, then it is certainly smarter to fill up your bottles in the middle of the lake where the water is cleaner. We made the mistake of getting to shore only to realize we couldn’t fill up there and got ready for the portage with half-full bottles.
Now this portage is tough, there’s no getting around that. It’s long, hilly, and frankly quite buggy. It was also beautiful, as it traverses lots of varied terrain; though I’m not sure anyone in the group was looking at the landscape. The best thing you can do is to keep moving and to try to take as few breaks as possible to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes. I had saved my phone battery specifically for this moment and played some of my favourite pump-up tunes to keep my feet moving. After about an hour and a half of pain, you are greeted by the beautiful sight of a long boardwalk that brings you out to the water – and just like that it’s done!
From here, a quick trip across Bonfield Lake brings you to a P260 that feels like a breeze after what you’ve just gone through. Next is the slightly larger Wright Lake. Both of these lakes were interesting; the water must be more acidic as they have a slightly dreary feeling with deadheads around the edges. Finally you arrive at another P285 that kicks you out to Opeongo.
When we launched on Opeongo we had to battle the wind to get offshore and land at our campsite for the night. After being so deep in the woods, you will be shocked to all of a sudden be back in civilization with lots of weekend trippers on the shores. Some of the campsites have rocky landings here, so be careful with the wind: one of our buddies got a soaker trying to get out of the canoe. After a battle of a day, a nice meal and a swim in the lake were the perfect medicine.
Campsite: We camped on a point in the east arm of Opeongo. It was a fine site, with a thunderbox and several good tent sites. There are so many campsites to choose from on Opeongo you can’t go wrong.
Day 4: Lake Opeongo East Arm to Lake Opeongo Docks (22km)
Waking up on Day 4 we just had to make our way back across Opeongo. The winds were picking up, so we set off relatively early to make progress before they got too heavy. We set off from the end of the arm and tried to head straight across the lake, aiming for the narrows, straight into a headwind. As a result of the winds, traversing the arm was a bit of a battle, but sure enough we were approaching the narrows before too long. We sought some quick shelter in the mouth of a bay for a snack and some water before turning south down the main body of Opeongo.
As we turned south and crossed through the East Narrows, the sky started to darken. After a few minutes of paddling, we saw a lightning strike and heard thunder. And again. The crossing ahead of us was at least 2km, so we decided to turn to shore and wait it out. 15 minutes passed without another strike, which gave us enough comfort to get in our boats and get moving. There was no way to play it safe, and we effectively had to aim straight across the vast bay and paddle hard, hoping to not get caught in a storm. We were making great progress and were within a kilometer of the shore when all of a sudden the lightning and thunder started crashing down. We were too far along to turn back, when a sudden vicious side wind blasted the canoe, carrying rolling waves into the side of our boat. Then the heavens opened up and some of the largest raindrops I’ve come across started falling all around. All we could do was drop a knee to the hull and keep paddling. Our friends ahead of us disappeared into the rain, and we could feel our canoe getting blown. After 10 minutes of fighting and one near the tip, we were sheltered by our target island. The wind had blown us several hundred meters past our intended waypoint, so we followed the shoreline until we found the other canoe in our group. The four of us sought refuge with a family camped on the island, who had seen us trying to cross. They were thrilled we had made it.
The sudden storm was a true reminder that anything can happen, and the best thing to do was to stay calm. We were elated to have survived, and once the weather subsided the paddle back to the launch at the south end of Opeongo felt quick and easy.
This route is an absolute grind by virtue of the sheer distance you cover, but the beauty of the deep backcountry makes it completely worthwhile. We paddled through so many different landscapes and saw only one other canoe the entire time we were beyond Opeongo. We were treated to moose, frogs, birds, and beautiful nature.
In hindsight an extra day would have been a great addition, it could have been used either as a rest day or to split up the route into slightly more manageable chunks. If you are ever so lucky to paddle the Crow River, make sure to camp where we camped at the east end of Crow Bay, just through the narrows. It was truly a magical campsite.
We traveled with a novice paddler in each canoe, which made the distance extra difficult. This trip would be best undertaken by a group of strong and experienced paddlers.
A Vancouverite living in Ontario, who loves to get into the backcountry at least once a year.