Algonquin Provincial Park: Rock Lake to Clydegale Lake Loop (4 days / 35 km)
I’ve always thought I’d enjoy canoe tripping and found it surprising to me that I’d never actually done it. Winter during a global pandemic proved to be a great time to go down the research rabbit hole and plan a trip.
The journey, I think, started with a YouTube search for outdoor/camping meals, yielding many awesome videos and channels related to backpacking and then eventually led to two of my favourites – Chris Prouse’s channel (amazing Algonquin videos) and Shug (for all things hammocking). And then I was into all kinds of resources, including Voyageur Tripper.
Come early spring, I’d decided I was going to make the leap and plan a trip for the end of the summer. I chose the Rock-Pen-Clydegale-Pen-Galeairy-Rock loop based on a few factors; accessibility is probably top of the list. Turns out I was right, I did really enjoy canoe tripping, and particularly the solitude of a solo trip.
Trip Completed: September 2021
Starting Point: Rock Lake Access Point 9
Ending Point: Rock Lake Access Point 9
Total Distance: 35 km (Jeff’s Map), 55 km total paddled including side trips (Google). 2,785 m total portages (all double carried, 8.4 km total walked on portage trails) plus a 275 m portage hiked (Pen to Galipo River, 550 m total)
Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
This route is located in Algonquin Provincial Park, south of Highway 60.
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin), Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: A Paddler’s Guide to Algonquin Park, Kevin Callan; 3rd edition
- Jeff’s Maps, Algonquin
- Adventure Map Algonquin 3 Corridor South
- Official Canoe Routes Map of Algonquin Park.
Campsite Reservations: Reserved are required in Algonquin. When reserving backcountry campsites in Algonquin, you book a lake to camp on. Sites on that lake are then first come first served (normally with fewer permit holders than the lake has sites, depending on the size of lake / number of sites). You can book through the Ontario Parks Reservation Portal.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: I rented a Swift Keewaydin 15 from Algonquin Outfitters at Opeongo Lake.
Shuttle: This route starts and ends at the same place, so a shuttle is not required.
Day 1: Rock to Pen (11 km)
I got up early, hoping to be on the lake by 9:00 am, and I wanted to stop at Opeongo Outfitters in Whitney on the way to buy a new paddle. I knew they opened at 7:00 am, so I was on the road at 5:15 and got to Whitney at 7:02. After grabbing my new paddle, and a canister of fuel (and another coffee!), I was off to Algonquin Outfitters on Opeongo Lake to pick up my rental canoe (just outside the East Gate, I was welcomed by a massive snapping turtle crossing Highway 60).
I own a 16’ Evergreen Prospector but it’s in need of some hull repairs and I was keen to try out a solo canoe. AO hooked me up with a great Swift Keewaydin 15 in Kevlar Fusion (~32 lbs I think). I loaded it up on the roof of my truck and headed off to Rock Lake Road, the access point is down the dusty dirt road to the Rock Lake Campground. Before loading up the boat with my gear, I gave it a short test paddle from the launch point – turning right up the Madawaska River. Once satisfied I wasn’t immediately going to tip, I headed back to the docks to grab my pack. It was about 8:30 am and I was feeling nervous, excited, happy and thankful that my long-awaited trip was getting started!
There was one other solo paddler starting a trip when I launched, but otherwise, the area around the access point was pretty quiet. I enjoyed the calm, tranquil paddle down the river (head left from the docks towards Rock Lake), past a small group of mergansers and into Rock Lake. I’d done Booth’s Rock trail day hike earlier in the month with the family; it was neat to see the lake from high above at the lookout of the trail then and now be down below and see the tall cliffs to the east from the water.
I stayed relatively close to the western shoreline as I paddled south, and the wind from the north picked up as I went. There are a handful of small cottages/cabins along the shore, and a couple of friendly dogs lept off their dock to say hello as I paddled past. I lingered around the rock faces of Picto Bay taking a few first photos of my trip, and trying to find the aboriginal pictographs (found some info on the site here).
At this point, the wind was already fairly strong and I wasn’t totally sure what the day had in store for me, so I didn’t stay too long and did not find the pictographs. I paddled past the 3000 m portage that leads to Lake Louisa, the solo paddler who launched just ahead of me was headed that way but otherwise, there were no other canoes around.
I’d considered doing the loop from Rock to Louisa and down to Welcome and back up Pen as my first trip, but when I reserved I couldn’t get the dates and lake availability to match up. In hindsight, it was probably for the better as I’m not sure how a double carry-on a 3 km portage would have gone as my first real portage experience! But that loop is now on my list of options for my next trip for sure.
The south bay of Rock Lake leading to the portage to Pen Lake was nice and uneventful. I arrived at the start of the 375 m portage to Pen Lake just as a group was starting their final trip back down the trail. I was somewhat relieved to have the takeout to myself to get organized and figure out how I’d tackle my first portage. I knew I’d be double carrying, so I set all my gear and canoe off to the side, took the obligatory photo of the portage sign, swapped the Keens for hiking shoes (bum ankle), heaved my pack onto my back and headed into the unknown.
The portage is a bit rocky and has some boardwalk parts over mucky areas, but overall just a really nice walk in the woods with the sound of falls and rapids to soothe. I’d packed a sandwich lunch from home that morning, and on my return trip, empty-handed, I took the side trail from the portage down to the falls (the trail is marked) and sat and ate an early lunch in solitude by the falls. Probably a neat swimming spot in the rapids, but being alone I didn’t get that adventurous.
After grabbing some pictures and videos of the falls, I was keen to quickly get back and throw the Keewaydin over my head for the first time. But not before I filled up my water bottle at the spring near the Rock end of the portage (on the right coming from Rock, look for the black pipe). Once back for the canoe there were a couple of other groups coming into the trail, families with younger kids that made me wonder what my girls back home were up to.
But those thoughts didn’t linger as I nearly wiped out shortly after raising the canoe overhead and stepping over the first few slippery rocks – happy I was cautious in changing out my footwear earlier. I had no further issues with the canoe carry trip down the trail, until getting to the takeout at Pen which was now crowded with folks heading north, presumably at the end of their trips. The stress of the previous night’s storms was evident on a few campers; apparently, it had been a doozie and I was sure glad I had avoided that weather on this trip. I managed to squeeze in amongst the traffic, and get myself launched onto Pen Lake, cognizant of getting in front of the families behind me to avoid chasing after the same campsites on Pen for the night.
I’d stared at my route on various maps so much beforehand that I felt like I knew the lakes before getting out onto them. The island and shallow rocky narrows between the campsites at the north end of Pen almost seemed familiar to me and I took the route east as noted on Jeff’s Map. I then crossed over to the west side of the lake as I headed south, comfortably riding the now moderate to heavy northwest wind. I passed a few groups headed north, and was glad I wasn’t them fighting the headwind…but then I quickly remembered; in three days that might well be me in the headwind!
I’d heard the west side of Pen Lake was a decent chance to spot a moose, but no such luck on this day. I did see many mallards, a few more mergansers and a pair of loons. About two-thirds of the way down the lake, I crossed over to the east side and started looking for a campsite. I had 2 or 3 sites in mind from reading reviews, but these were all occupied. By now it was early afternoon and the wind was extremely strong. I ultimately ended up getting blown into a campsite, unable to fight against the wind to choose another. After fighting the wind and rocks to secure my canoe and gear, the feeling of thrill and excitement had gone. I was feeling trapped and stressed by the wind. But I did some exploring around my (involuntary) campsite, set up my tent and hammock, and got the food hang ready. There was a branch on the path up from the lake with a few old cut strands of rope clinging to it; so I thought, this must be the place! I think I landed my rope on the second throw – not bad for a newbie! I then took a dip in the lake.
By late afternoon I felt restless like I was waiting for evening to come and the winds to die down enough to have a safe fire and cook dinner. I went on a mission in the backwoods to find some firewood (had to go quite a ways, it was well picked over) and explore the south side of the peninsula the site is on. I’d have loved to have gone for an evening paddle, but it was still too windy to get far. At this point, dejected from my fight with the wind and uncertain if I’d be able to have a fire for cooking and comfort, I wasn’t feeling the best. I’m sure some purists will scorn, but I flipped my phone out of airplane mode and to my surprise had one bar of cell signal. I got a text out to my wife letting her know I’d had a good day and asked her to say goodnight to our three girls for me. I got the winky kissy emoji in return and this definitely perked my spirits.
With the sun low in the sky, the winds were still up but I made a very small fire since I’d brought a steak for dinner for my first night and wasn’t sure how well it’d hold up another day. It was tough to get enough heat from the small fire, but I eventually had a nice sunset meal of steak and asparagus. Oh, and I dipped into my ration of red wine. The winds eventually calmed some (though it was still a windy night) and I sat for a while by the fire and then out on the rock point to stargaze a bit before calling it a day….my first day in the backcountry. I read for a while in my tent, and then had no trouble falling asleep to the sound of the wind and waves.
Campsite: Unable to fight against the intense wind I got blown into the second to last site on the SE shore with a very rocky and steep landing. In calmer conditions, I would have kept scouting. This site is rather small, with a steep incline (both at the water up to the firepit and behind the site). There are only a couple of tent spots and nothing I’d call flat. Behind the site is a small cliff that at first provided an unwelcome eerie feeling at the site. After climbing up, exploring the top and enjoying the view, I felt better about it though. The thunderbox is marked by a sign and flags on trees, it’s up a hill aways. And at the time of my stay, the thunderbox was brand new (in fact remnants of the old thunderbox were by the firepit, providing a bit of extra firewood!). The site did have a great sunset view.
Day 2: Pen Lake to Clyldegale Lake (2 km)
After feeling trapped by the wind the night before, I was keen to get up early and do some exploring. I woke up around 7:00 am and immediately made coffee, grabbed a pocket breakfast (Kellog’s bar) and carried the canoe down to the lake. I wanted to check out the outlet of the Galipo River (again looking for moose, again no luck), which was directly across the lake from my campsite. In fact, when the winds did calm at times during the night, I could hear the sound of the falls from my tent (though I wasn’t 100% sure what it was I was hearing at the time). I paddled past a beaver lodge and was surprised to actually hear the large critters grunting and snorting within. A few moments later, I was startled by the slap of a beaver tail just a few meters off my bow. The feeling of adventure I’d lost the afternoon before was definitely returning.
I found the mouth of the river, and paddled up and around the bends – lifting over one small dam – to the start of the 275 m portage. I sat on the rocks in the cool shade and finished my coffee before setting off to explore the trail. I really enjoyed this short hike, the small falls cutting through some high rocks in the shadows of tall trees provided some much-needed feelings of calming mystery. At the top of the trail, the low-lying boggy area of the Galipo River was largely silent – save for a few birds chirping. I enjoyed the pleasant walk back down the trail, and the paddle out the river and back across the (already choppy) lake to my site. I spotted a couple of loons along the way.
I packed up camp and gladly said goodbye to that site. I paddled the short distance down to the bottom of Pen Lake and the 275 m portage to Clydegale Lake. This portage was similar to the one from Rock into Pen: a bit rocky, with some mud and uneven ground but overall another really pleasant walk in the woods; also alongside a pleasant stream. A couple of mergansers were wading at the end of the gentle rapids as two large ospreys flew overhead. I spotted a small painted turtle sunning itself on a log a short paddle from the portage, but again, sadly no moose amongst the weedy shallows.
I immediately thought Clydegale was a beautiful lake and had only seen one other canoe all morning. I was really enjoying the solitude. I got to my campsite right at noon and made toasted bacon tomato sandwiches for lunch in a frying pan over my MSR pocket rocket stove and then set up my tent and hammock before having a nice swim off the rock outcrop in front of the site.
I went for a short mid-afternoon paddle to the west, again looking for moose in the back marshy bay on the north end of the lake. Struck out again. I lazed around for the rest of the afternoon; read in the hammock and was visited by several squirrels and chipmunks as well as many birds.
The strong winds continued (from the north) in the late afternoon and early evening, but I wanted to explore the middle sections of the lake and particularly the area around the South Madawaska River outlet. I was worried the wind would not calm down and I’d get stranded down there but decided to go for it. I skipped my planned dinner of naan pizza and packed a snack dinner and headed off riding the wind down the lake. I wandered in the weedy eastern bay for an hour or so and had my dinner from the canoe while tucked behind a point, out of the wind and late afternoon sun.
I later paddled over to where I thought the river entered the lake, but only found dead ends among the marshy weedy bays and almost headed back for camp but then finally did find the outlet of the river as the sun was setting; I don’t know how I’d missed the parted lilies and hyacinth (or is it arrowhead? Pickerel weed? I need to up my aquatic plant ID game). I really enjoyed the gentle paddle up the river in the twilight, lifting over a few beaver dams. I saw several beavers (or the same one several times?), with a few tail slaps. One beaver was so close it hit the canoe and gave me a good splash. No moose, but lots of beaver. I turned around shortly after the fork in the river and made my way back to the lake, the sun was now set and I enjoyed the paddle back up the lake to the campsite under a purple sky. I had a small fire and dipped into the wine again before retreating to read in my tent shortly before 11.
Campsite: I’d read good reviews on the first site on the right after entering Clydegale and it was open when I got there right about at noon – so I took it, and was pleased for sure. Nice beach landing and two-tiered site. The firepit is elevated, with a nice view south over the lake as well as east and west. Plenty of tent pad options on the lower level by the beach landing. I set up my tent on the west side of the site, overlooking the small island and bay. There is a bit of a shelf/table made from various steel grates/grills between 2 trees and a couple of (very uncomfortable!) bushcraft benches. I personally don’t like to see these, but I did make use of the shelf. The large outcrop in front of the site was accessible by a few stepping stones and provided a good swim spot and rock to lay back and relax, do some photography as well as stargazing. The thunderbox is behind the site, perhaps could be a bit further back but not bad.
Day 3: Clydegale Lake to Galeairy Lake (12 km)
I knew I wanted to head out early on this day and set an alarm the night before – so I was out of the tent a little after 6. It was a beautiful morning with heavy fog/mist blowing over the glass calm lake. I watched three otters play and swim past my site while I had my coffee, then packed up and paddled over to the 275 m portage back to Pen Lake. I thought this might be the best opportunity of my trip to see moose (early calm morning, no other people around) – but again, to no avail.
I paddled up the western shore of Pen, which I figured was my last decent chance of seeing a moose… guess what… nada. I crossed the lake in the increasing winds to find the longest portage of my trip. I was actually looking forward to it as the three portage trails I’d walked in the first days was each really enjoyable and beautiful scenery.
I misjudged a bay on the eastern side of Pen Lake where I thought the trail was, but then found the last campsite before the trail (which looks like a great site with a beach) and knew the portage was just ahead to the northeast. The takeout is a lovely beach landing. I got organized and psyched myself up for the mission ahead and headed off down the trail with no sign of any other campers.
The 1680 m portage from Pen Lake to Night Lake was long and a bit hilly, but not overly difficult. I met a couple coming to the other direction about half coming to the other direction, my engineering ring gave away my profession and this sparked up a nice conversation in the middle of the bush. After crossing an old logging road, the trail eventually reveals the blue water ahead of small Night Lake but the portage continues through some overgrown willows along a small boardwalk. There is a small dock at Night Lake, useful in lower water levels. The return trip empty-handed was uneventful, I did spot a garter snake sliding through the trail. When I got back to the beach on Pen where my canoe was waiting, I wished I’d changed into my swim shorts to have a dip off the beach. Oh well. I grabbed the canoe and headed off. There are two canoe rests along the trail (roughly ⅓ and ⅔ the way), but I pushed through without a stop, thankful for the ultralight canoe. I did lament not getting a yoke pad though – I found the removable yoke dug into my shoulders. All told, the 3 trips (5.1 km) took me 90 minutes.
I had a quick snack lunch of dried mango and pepperoni sticks on the dock and then set off onto the vast expanse that is Night Lake. Ok, Night Lake is little more than a large pond but the high winds made it feel much larger. Once across, I debated trying to single carry the short portage from Night Lake into Galeairy Lake (80 m) just to see how it’d go with all my gear – but I couldn’t be bothered and I ended up carrying the canoe just on my shoulder over the short, somewhat steep, rocky trail.
The small bay exiting the portage is quite picturesque and I gently paddled on, entering Forest Bay and the picturesque scenery continued. After passing the campsite at the bottom of Forest Bay I had to fight the headwind north, only to find my targeted campsites occupied. I was, prior to my trip, a bit worried about this on Galeairy Lake but in the end, the longer-than-expected paddle on this lake was just fine by me.
The lake has a different “feel” for sure, and despite no restrictions on boats I only saw one motorboat in all my time on the lake. Perhaps it is busier with cottagers and weekend warriors mid-summer. My map printout I had with me pretty much ended at the narrows, so I checked the copy of Jeff’s map I had on my phone to see what other campsite locations there might be. Eventually, I came to find the site on the northern side of the island in the narrows was open, so that was home for the night.
I enjoyed some hangtime in the hammock (did I mention I made my own hammock last fall…and then made 3 more for my kids this past winter!) while reading my book (Artemis by Andy Weir). I also enjoyed a plate of Algonquin Charcuterie (summer sausage, pepperoni sticks, some smoked cheddar and aged white cheddar).
I studied Jeff’s Map a bit more on my phone and debated heading south for an evening paddle to check out Farm Bay. Supposedly the remains of an “alligator” can be found there – an amphibious vehicle used for hauling logs decades past (if you’ve never been to Algonquin Park, a must-do on your first visit is the Algonquin Logging Museum Trail – awesome outdoor exhibits telling the history of logging in the Park) as well as a short hiking trail to Farm Bay falls.
But I decided to leave Farm Bay for an optional detour in the morning and just circumnavigated the island my site was on, saying hello to my neighbours as I paddled around the southern side of the island and then along the remnants of the abandoned bed of the historic Ottawa, Arnprior, and Parry Sound Railway which forms a perfect radius around the northeastern side of the island.
Once back at camp, I had the Pad Thai with Chicken from Backpackers Pantry for dinner, my first try of a modern prepackaged dehydrated meal. I liked it. The included powdered lime and chilli additions make this complete for sure. It comes in a 2 portion size pouch, and I’d heard/seen on YouTube most eat a whole package for one person but I couldn’t eat it all. Nice to eat right out of the pouch too, minimal clean up required.
Previous campers had left a decent stock of firewood (unfortunately though others had also taken down a considerable amount of live limbs and maybe a complete green cedar tree as well as girdled a birch), so I enjoyed a nice roaring campfire on my last night and finished off my wine – at this point regretting not filling and packing in a second Nalgene full of red. I played with my camera phone and GoPro, getting a timelapse of the sunset and then trying to capture the pine tree silhouette in front of the starry sky. I read for a while in my tent, perched up on a rocky ledge looking up at the stars – and looking forward to my last day of paddling but also thinking I would have enjoyed one or two more nights in the Park.
Campsite: I paddled past the campsite immediately after the short portage over from Night Lake, and regretted it (for a while at least). It looks like a decent site and is secluded from the busier areas of this large and populated lake. I was aiming for one of the sites on the west side of Galeairy but unfortunately, they were all occupied. That plan being foiled, I headed east towards the narrows, and after thinking I was going to end up all the way in Whitney, I found the last site on the southern shore before the narrows are vacant.
This site was unappealing though, and I could see a site straight ahead that also looked unoccupied so I paddled up to it and immediately decided it was home for the night. I realized after I landed that I was on the island. It was worth the extra paddle, I quite liked this site. Great western exposure for sunset view off of the nice rocky area full of sparse windswept pines and then the firepit area is tucked just inside the trees. The site had a kitchen table (like a proper table!), maybe not really “backcountry-ish” but sure was handy. There was also really good seating around the firepit. Several tent spot options exist. I chose high up on the rocky ledge to enjoy the stars out my tent window. The trail to the thunderbox was easily found, with a pleasant view from the throne. It sort of looked like a trail from the south end of the island was marked to the thunderbox as well, but I don’t think it is shared with the site down there (or maybe it is, but it seemed like it was much closer to the northern site than the site on the bottom of the island).
Day 4: Galeairy Lake to Rock Lake (10 km)
It felt like the seasonal calendar had flipped on my final morning in the park. While the previous mornings had been chilly, this was a different air and definitely felt like fall. The skies were also darker though did not appear worrisome in terms of weather. I decided not to head south to Farm Bay and rather just have a leisurely paddle along the northern shore of the western part of Galeairy towards the short portage to Rock Lake.
The winds were again picking up from the north and I was getting nervous about the prospects of getting up Rock Lake and back to the access point. Along the way, passing by a small rock island covered in double-crested cormorants, there was a very brief period of light misty rain, the only precipitation encountered on my trip. I also found a convenient spot along the old railway to jump out of my canoe and explore the ponds on the other side (any moose? nope!).
After an hour or so, I made my only real navigational error of the trip. I paddled past the bay where the portage to Rock Lake is located thinking it was just a deep bay (and the island was a peninsula), and then I got confused when I reached the western shore of Galeairy Lake. I quickly sorted out my mistake and knew where I needed to go, spotting from a fair distance the dam between Rock Lake and Galeairy Lake that the portage goes around. The short 100 m portage from Rock Lake to Galeairy Lake was uneventful.
Shortly after putting in, I paddled past a heron perched on a stump before enjoying the rest of this small section of river before opening up into Rock Lake. Once crossing the bottom of Echo Bay, I knew I’d be in for a workout heading north on Rock Lake and found further confirmation when I came out past the point, with towering rock walls on the eastern shore. I was getting a bit nervous, with white caps close to breaking over the gear-loaded bow of my canoe. The wind felt mostly from the north but with a slight push east; so I paddled behind (south) Third, Jean, and Rose Islands thinking I could hide a bit from the wind going up the western shore.
No such luck, it was pretty much head-on when I got over there. I pushed hard, mostly head down – thinking of a burger and beer. For a while I repeated to myself with each paddle, “burger” (stroke), “fries” (stroke), “beer” (stroke) and eventually could see Rock Lake Campground in sight and made it back to the Madawaska River for the final 15 minutes or so of paddling. Once out of the wind, I had a smile stuck on my face and a large sense of accomplishment. I flopped onto my back once up on the dock at the access point and lay there for a few minutes taking it all in. I then loaded up the truck to return the canoe to AO on Opeongo.
On my way out of the park I stopped at the Mad Musher in Whitney and got that burger, fries and beer (highly recommended!).
I’d call this a successful first trip, and I’m already looking forward to my second. I think the route done is excellent for a beginner or first-time solo trip. I’m not sure what I’d change for next time, other than not packing so much food! I think my food bag still weighed close to 10 lbs when I got home. Even though I really enjoy outdoor cooking, I’ll stick to simple, limited prep meals for any future solo trips. A 3 p tent (El Cap) is rather large to haul for a solo trip, but it combines well with our 6 p tent for family car camping trips. Other than that I was pretty happy gear-wise, but I would for sure get a yoke pad for next time out!
I’m a 40-something husband, father of three girls, metallurgical engineer who spent summers as a kid “camping” in a developed tent and trailer park in Muskoka area of Ontario. I’m now lucky to live in the beautiful Kawarthas on the Trent Severn Waterway, with many opportunities to get out for short canoe or kayak adventures.