Algonquin Provincial Park: Rock Lake to Clydegale Lake (3 days / 30 km)

Clydegale Lake is one of the most popular canoe routes in Algonquin that isn’t located on a main access point like Canoe Lake or Opeongo Lake. And the popularity is for good reason! Clydegale Lake offers a feeling of remoteness & prime moose-spotting potential with just two relatively easy portages. 

Our trip to Clydegale Lake was a 3-day in and out trip through Rock Lake and Pen Lake during an unusually hot weekend in June. We were blessed with smooth waters on the way in and tailwinds on our return – we were incredibly grateful to surf back to Rock Lake! And our total moose spotting was five (two adult females and three baby calves).

Trip Completed: June 2020

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Rock Lake (Access Point 9)

Ending Point: Rock Lake (Access Point 9)

Total Distance: 32 km through 3 lakes

Duration: 3 Days, 2 nights

Difficulty: Beginner, with some paddling & camping experience (2 portages but ~15k paddle one way) 

Location

This route is located in Algonquin Provincial Park, specifically in the Algonquin Highlands. Unlike many of the more popular routes, this one is south of Highway 60.

Traditional Territory: This route in Algonquin Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

MapJeff’s Maps or BRMP Algonquin

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. Rock Lake).

Camping Permits: Camping permits must be picked up from Opeongo Lake before starting your canoe trip.

Outfitters & Shuttles

We used Algonquin Outfitters – Opeongo. The bonus of using these outfitters is that your canoe is delivered to the access point! This is super useful when you don’t have your own canoe and saves a lot of time for load in/load out. We still had to go into the Outfitters before going to the Access Point to grab our paddles, sign our waivers, and get our campsite permits.

Trip Report

Day 1: Rock Lake to Clydegale Lake via Pen Lake (13 km)

It was unusually hot for mid-June (35 degrees) and that made the paddle slightly more challenging. Rock Lake was calm, but we know it can get choppy as we witnessed on the way back (although we had a tailwind, lucky for us). Rock Lake is lined with a bunch of private cabins and slowly transitions to campsites and towering rock cliffs (no surprise it’s named Rock Lake). 

As you paddle in be sure to stick to your right both to avoid navigational errors (highlighted in “Reflections” Below) and to spot Aboriginal Pictographs. You can find them on the rock face in what is labelled as “Picto Bay” on Jeff’s Maps. 

Portage from Rock Lake to Pen Lake (375 m): The first portage between Rock Lake and Pen Lake is fairly easy at 375 m with a nice dock to launch into Pen. There are petroglyphs somewhere near this portage (as indicated on Jeff’s Maps) but I can’t speak to this as we didn’t attempt to find them.

As you get into Pen Lake you may feel the urge to navigate straight ahead but keep left – there are big rocks to navigate if you choose to go between the islands. 

Portage from Pen Lake to Clydegale Lake (275 m): It could have just been the time of year, but this portage is notoriously buggy – make sure you have your bug spray or nets handy! Otherwise, it is a pretty painless 275 m portage, and has some pretty falls to look at (if you could stay still long enough with the bug situation).

Campsite: We settled on what is labelled “Campsite 2” on some maps, an elevated spot with beautiful west-facing views and a solid rock face. This site would have been incredible had it not been for the relentless mosquitos and black flies, but again it was June. What I loved about this site was the “workstation” set up with epic views of the lake and there was also a solid grill for the fire. I know there are mixed thoughts around whether these break “pack in pack out” protocol but personally I appreciated not having to break my back on an unsteady log to food prep.

Overall, the site was in excellent condition, not far from the portage, so easier paddling access timewise and offered many campsite perks.

Day 2: Clydegale Lake, Campsite 2 to Campsite 6 – “Clydegale Island” (3 km)

We actually wanted to stay on Clydegale Island (Campsite 6″ for the entire trip but as it is super popular, on Day 1 we gave it up to some faster paddlers. On their way out, they passed our campsite and kindly let us know they were leaving. We quickly packed up and were on our way to get to the site!

The paddle from Campsite 2 to the coveted Campsite 6 took us about 50 minutes, although in fairness it was a VERY leisurely paddle. Something to consider if you are planning on staying on that side of the lake on Day 1. 

Campsite: We got to the infamous Campsite #6, otherwise known as Clydegale Island. It is coveted for a reason – maximum privacy (no sites in view of the island), a prep table, fire grill, and your own beach! Not to mention you have a whole island to explore.

To the south of the island, there are views across the lake to a shallow bog area. This is where we saw a moose with her baby calves come out both at dusk and dawn.

I 100% recommend this campsite, but keep in mind getting a permit on the lake doesn’t guarantee you a specific campsite. And it would add additional paddle time should the site be taken since you would have to double back. 

Day 3: Clydegale Lake to Pen Lake to Rock Lake (16 km)

On Sunday morning, we packed up and headed back to Rock Lake. Along the way, we caught a glimpse of another moose with her calf. And we were so lucky to have a tailwind. The wind actually cut 30 minutes off our paddle time.

The total paddle and portage time was 3 hours and 48 minutes with the nice tailwind at our backs. It took us less time to get back than to get in even with the further campsite! 

Though we were so grateful for the tailwind, it was hard to watch canoeists face the harsh choppiness of Rock Lake – something to keep in mind because you’re never guaranteed ideal conditions.

Reflections

As mentioned, on Day 1 we had some navigational difficulties which I 100% blame on my husband. According to the outfitter, this is a common mistake – remember to stick right when on Rock Lake. We ended up veering left and having to circle back around the islands on Rock Lake, adding an additional ~20 minutes to our paddle.

I have never seen as many moose in one trip as we did at Clydegale Lake. It could have something to do with the spring/early timing, but I also think moose spotting conditions are favourable here. There are quiet bogs and not a lot of “through traffic”, as the adjacent lakes having undesirably long portages.

Gallery


Author Bio

Polish the Paddle is an Ontario-based blog run by Natalia (Nat) Kot, an amateur outdoor enthusiast eager to make the backcountry a little less intimidating for everyone – if she can do it, so can you! Nat shares her and her husband’s outdoor cooking, hiking, camping, and backcountry adventures on her blog and on her Instagram. 

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