Algonquin Provincial Park: Source Lake Loop (5 days / 24 km)

This is a great beginner trip off Highway 60 in Algonquin Provincial Park. This loop was the first trip with only just the two of us. This route never takes you far from Highway 60 and the Canisbay Campground, which helps relive any fears related to a backcountry trip. However, it did also have a remoteness feel to the wilderness we passed through, which assisted in building our confidence camping on our own. We loved this loop, and even through we had 14 hours of rain on our rest day, we would not have changed a thing!

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Algonquin Park Access #7 Source Lake

Ending Point: Algonquin Park Access #7 Source Lake

Total Distance: Total 24 km. (Paddling 14.7 km, Portages 9.1 km)

Duration: 5 days, 4 nights

Difficulty: Beginner

Location

The Source Lake Loop begins at the Source Lake (Access Point 7) parking lot, right off of Highway 60 in Algonquin Provincial Park.

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

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

Map: Jeff’s Maps Algonquin – Version 5 (currently unavailable, Adventure Map – Algonquin Canoe Lake also works and you can see canoe routes on the Algonquin Park Digital Map)

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. Canisbay Lake).

Camping Permits: Camping permits can be picked up from West Gate before starting your canoe trip. You can also pay for a parking permit at this time.

Outfitters & Shuttles

We rented a Swift Prospector 16’, 42lbs Canoe in candy apple red from Algonquin Outfitters along with paddles for both of us and a lifejacket for Jess. By arranging the canoe rental in advance, we were able to have the canoe dropped off and waiting for us at Access #7 on Source Lake.

As this route is a loop, no shuttle was needed.

Trip Report

Day 1: Source Lake to Tanamakoon Lake (3 km)

Total Distance: 3.3 km (plus a 1 km unintentional detour)

Total Time: 2 hours

Total Portages: 3 = 895m, 195m, 515m

Getting to the Put In: Living in Southwest Ontario, our first day always starts with a long drive to Algonquin Park. The drive feels the same way as when you were going on vacation as a kid, full of excitement about what is to come and wanting to get there infinitely faster than speed limits will allow. We planned for a shorter travel day on Day 1 as we had to pick up our rental gear from Algonquin Outfitters. The outfitter is just a short drive away from the West Gate of Algonquin Park. Once at the West Gate Park office, we picked up our camping permit and a permit for our vehicle, and then excitedly got back onto Highway 60 until we reached kilometre marker 21 where our journey would begin at Source Lake.

After we parked our vehicle, we quickly located our gorgeous canoe stashed with a number of others not far from the water’s edge and took it down to the lake. We were anxious to get our first canoe trip just the two of us underway. After triple-checking our lists to make sure we had everything we needed, we hauled our gear down to the canoe and loaded it up.

We knew this trip was going to be very portage-heavy, so we scrutinized the weights of every item and determined if they were worth breaking our backs over. Even though we tried to pack as minimal as we could, we still wanted a few luxuries (such as a bag of wine and some tasty foods) while on our trip.

On this trip we had a MEC 80L Ibex pack and a 70L MEC Slogg drybag. The 80L pack carried our tent, food and gear, while the 70L pack carried the items we really don’t want to get wet such as our clothes, towels, sleeping bags and sleep pads. We found that this system works well for the two of us.

Placing the canoe in the water, stepping into the bottom of Prospector, we settled into our seats and set out for our first trip just the two of us in the backcountry. There is nothing quite like starting a trip and those first few paddle strokes to start you on your journey.

We had a very short paddle to our first 895 m portage, which took us from Source Lake to an unnamed lake north of Highway 60. Shortly after, we had a 195 m portage, which went across the highway and back in the water.

Next, we had another short paddle across a small unnamed body of water to our last portage.

Portage from unnamed lake to Tanamakoon Lake (515 m): We started down the 515 m portage that was to take us to Tanamakoon Lake. The portage was beautiful just like the two previous ones and as we walked over a small creek, there was a sign with “Tanamakoon” in big letters written on it.

Unintended Detour: The path we had been on was not well marked, so we followed the sign as that path looked well worn. After hiking and hiking, we knew we went astray as the portage was to be merely 515 m and then we came across a surprise. We walked right into all girls’ camp! There were some campers where we entered the camp and we asked if we would be able to use their dock to continue on our way. They giggled and said this happens often. A counsellor showed us the way and as we were walking through the camp, all we could think of is how awesome this place is! We would have been thrilled to go to a camp like this when we were kids! Although this detour added almost a kilometre to our journey, it was a fun side trip.

After setting out from Camp Tanamakoon’s dock, we started scouting the shoreline looking for a vacant campsite. The first two we passed by on the northeast side of the lake already had people on them, but Scilly Island was unoccupied, so we pulled up our canoe to take a look. This was a great campsite with a small beach and great logs for seating around the fire pit. The only downside of this campsite is that it was very well used. There was garbage scattered around and toilet paper on the ground. The privy was in an outhouse, without a door, that neither of us was interested in using.

After a long drive, and an exciting first leg of our journey complete, we set up camp, got a fire going and roasted some Juicy Jumbo hot dogs over the open flame while enjoying a glass of red wine. This is our kind of night.

Campsite: Scilly Island East side of Tanamakoon Lake

Day 2: Tanamakoon Lake to Canisbay Lake (6 km)

Total Distance: 6.4 km

Total Time: 2 hours

Total Portages: 1 = 735m

Day two brought a very thick, damp fog that left all of our gear feeling damp. While our breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage was cooking, we tried our best to dry our gear before having to pack damp equipment in our backpacks. With our stomachs full, we set out down a gorgeous creek that looked like the perfect place to spot a moose. Unfortunately, we were not that lucky this morning, but with the sun slowly burning away the fog on the lake it was the perfect way to start the day.

The creek took us into Cache Lake, which is full of cottages and no actual campsites. We passed a number of motorboats as we made our way northeast, back towards highway 60 and our first and only portage of the day. Before we could make it there, we had to hop over two beaver dams and make our way up a tiny creek that we thought was going to eventually close in on us.

Portage from Cache Lake to Canisbay Lake (735 m): There were stairs built into the hill up to Highway 60 that got our hearts pumping right at the start of the portage. We had to wait a few minutes for a clearing before making the dash across the highway and found the trail on the other side was wide and smooth.

Canisbay Lake: We made our way up another creek towards Cranberry Marsh, basking in the rays of the sunshine. The creek eventually dumped us into Canisbay Lake, and we decided to paddle up the east side looking for campsites. The south end of this lake has a campground attached to it, so we wanted to paddle to the north end to find a campsite. However, due to the popularity of this lake and ease of access, our campsite selection was limited, and we ended up on the 5th campsite from the south end on the east side.

The campsite was great with an open beach area and a large clearing for several tent pads. The only downside was the lack of seating around the fire pit, but we used our canoe seats. After setting up camp we paddled up the lake to explore and stumbled upon a sandbar that looked very inviting, so we hopped in for a swim. Feeling refreshed we headed back to our site and rehydrated our first batch of DIY dehydrated chilli for dinner. Next time we will let it soak in some water a little longer as the beans were not fully rehydrated, but after a day outdoors it tasted delicious. After enjoying a small campfire we called it an early night and retreated to the tent.

Campsite: Canisbay, east side of the lake

Day 3: Canisbay Lake to Linda Lake (7 km)

Total Distance: 6.5 km

Total Time: 2 hour 45 mins

Total Portages: 2 = 2,600 m, 930 m

We set off around 9 am from our site on Canisbay Lake heading north towards our destination of Linda Lake. Right off the hop, we knew we had a 2,600 m portage to look forward to this morning. This was the longest portage that Jess has done and one of the longer ones that Alex has experienced.

Portage from Canisbay Lake to Polly Lake (2,600 m): We found this portage very manageable, with minimal incline and well-worn wide trails. As of 2018 this trail was very well maintained with lots of freshly-made boardwalks to help you across all the marshy areas. Approximately mid-way down the trail there was a branch fastened horizontally between two trees to rest the top of the canoe on as well. We decided to stop here for a rest to rehydrate our bodies and enjoy a quick snack before moving again towards the end of the portage. At the end of the portage, there is a fork in the trail that took us to a bridge over a small creek and our first view of Polly Lake.

We set off on the other side of the portage into Polly Lake and knew we had just a short paddle until the next portage. We took our time here, trolling our fishing lines behind the canoe in hopes of catching a fish as we paddled. Alex’s rod bent first and he was able to reel in a little smallmouth bass. Jessica’s line got hit 15 minutes later and she reeled and reeled, fighting to get the fish to the canoe, and then whatever it was just let go of the hook! It would have been awesome to see the fish that gave her such a fight.

Portage from Polly Lake to Linda Lake (930 m): We could have paddled around fishing on Polly lake all afternoon, but decided to continue on to our last portage. Once again we were greeted with a fairly long portage, but an easy one.

When we got to our destination of Linda Lake, we scouted the various sites that were available. All the sites looked inviting, but we decided to stay on the island site at the north end of the lake. Much to our surprise, there was a picnic table on this site!

After some exploring, we discovered the southeast end of the island was a great spot for swimming. The shore was a stretch of shallow flat rock, but mind your step, as it is quite slick! The west side of the island had more of a rock cliff that proved to be an excellent fishing spot for us.

We spent the remainder of the day swimming, fishing and getting settled into our home for the next two nights. For dinner, we boiled up some water and poured it into a delicious store bought dehydrated meal made by AlpineAire and licked the bag clean.

The sky had clouded over by this point so we decided to put our tarp up over the picnic table to keep our seating area dry before having a small campfire. Our fire pit sat a few feet above the water, which allowed for a great view of the lake and what could have been a gorgeous sunset if it were not for the clouds. We sat out until our fire was just embers enjoying the peacefulness and quietness of our surroundings. Once the fire was successfully put out we retreated to our tent for the night.

Campsite: Island on the North West End of Linda Lake

Day 4: Linda Lake – Rest Day

Total Distance: N/A

Today we planned for a rest day to enjoy the campsite and get a little rest and relaxation while in the backcountry of Algonquin Park. We set off from our island site and paddled west into a bay, to see what we could find. Much to our surprise there was a newly constructed wooden footbridge stretched across the bay. One side was underwater so not crossable on foot.

We decided to get out the north side of the footbridge to see what we could find onshore. There was a well-worn path that we decided to follow for a short while and stretch our legs. We discovered an old outhouse that wasn’t too far from shore, possibly near what could have been an old campsite. We followed the path north and much to our surprise found no scat, prints, or any sign of animals in the area. Not so much as a squirrel! We hiked back to our canoe and decided to try a little fishing on our way back to our island home. Jess caught a nice size bass that we decided to have as a shore lunch of fresh fish and a pasta Knorr Sidekick. We were hoping for fish for dinner, but the weather looked like rain, so we hedged our bets and had a great fish lunch instead.

We betted correctly because the clouds opened up as we were finishing up lunch. We were so grateful that we set up our tarp ahead of time over the picnic table, so we had some refuge waiting out the storm. We got our rain gear on and tried our hand at fishing in the rain on the south and north sides of the island. Turns out the rain sure made the fish hungry!

Feeling quite damp after fishing in the rain, we decided to have a nap mid-day in hopes that the rain would stop before we woke up. Much to our disappointment, it was still raining when we awoke from our nap, so we lay in the tent reading until 5 pm. At this point, we started to get a little restless in the confines of our small tent and suited up in our rain gear for some more fishing and exploring our island. Around 7:30 pm we sat under our tarp and enjoyed a simple dinner of salami wraps that would have normally been a lunch meal. However, you can’t control when you catch a fish, so we swapped our lunch and dinner today. It was a gorgeous evening despite the rain and we sat out under our tarp enjoying the sound of the steady rain.

There would be no campfire tonight, so we headed for bed around 9:30 pm. As soon as our headlights hit the interior of our tent we realized it was not how we had left it after our nap. There were puddles on top of our sleeping bags and around the perimeter or our air mattresses. Water was somehow seeping through the fly and dripping through the mesh wall of our tent onto our gear. Luckily they were slow drips and we were able to mop up the puddles with our towels, but it was still raining so we expected it to drip on us all night. The only solution we could come up with at the time was to slide our towels between the fly and the mesh of our tent. We were hopeful this would either collect the rain or divert the drips away from our faces.

Campsite: Island on Linda Lake

Day 5: Linda Lake to Source Lake (7 km)

Total Distance: 7.2 km

Total Time: 3 hours 15 mins

Total Portages: 4 – 1315m, 435m, 920m, 540m

We woke dry and excited to get on the water again! Our towel trick had worked and the rain had finally stopped sometime late in the night. After 14 hours of rain, we were hopeful that that sun would shine on us for our last day in the park. With the most amount of paddling and portaging ahead of us on this trip today, we took extra time and care packing our gear. We wanted to ensure our packs were very comfortable on our backs so we did not have to rearrange anything mid-trail in case of more rain. We had a short, windy paddle to the first portage of the day. It took an effort to keep the canoe straight with the waves splashing up the sides of the canoe, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle.

Portage from Linda Lake to Owl Lake (1315 m): The first portage was extremely muddy and slick from the 14 hours of rain we had yesterday. We could probably expect all the portages today to look very similar. Fortunately for us, there were boardwalks, which we were very grateful for. However, they were also very slick and it was not long before Jess slid down and off one like it was an ice rink! Luckily she was not injured, just a little bruised spirits.

Travelling through Owl Lake to Raven Lake (via a 435 m portage) and then into Bruce Lake (via a 920 m portage) were great portages and easy paddles, as we were slightly protected from the winds. We decided to spend some time on Bruce Lake to see if we could catch one last fish.

The wind began to pick up so we used it to our advantage to blow us down the lake while we trolled our fishing lines out behind us. As we neared the shore Alex hooked into something with a little bit of weight. The fish put up a good battle and stayed down deep, so we were hopeful that it was a type of trout. For comparison, bass will usually swim to the surface and leap in the air to try and spit the hook out of their mouths. As the fish got close to the surface we could see more of a pinkish body to the fish and we knew we had hooked either a brook trout or a splake. They can be quite difficult to tell apart, but based on the fish size and the time of year we assume that it was a splake that Alex caught. The colour of the fish was beautiful! This was our first trout caught together in Algonquin Park! Hopefully one of many more in the future.

A short 540 m portage had us back on the beautiful water of Source Lake. Just as we pushed off from our last portage into Source Lake the sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds and we stripped off our rain gear. After 24 hours with no sunshine, we were not ready to head home just yet – we had to soak up as much of the park as we could.

On the map we noticed a small island between us and our access point called Romance Island so we had to pay it a visit. It was the perfect place to have a bite to eat and celebrate the success of our first backcountry trip together. We paddled into a headwind towards our car with the sun shining brightly over us. We didn’t care about how slow we were progressing, as we were not ready to leave just yet. Both of us were smiling all the way to shore.

Once ashore we were greeted by a very nice couple just heading out on a trip of their own. We chatted for quite a while and all they wanted was to hear about our trip and we were excited about their planned adventure. It was a great way to end our trip and we can’t wait for our next one now. We spent our long drive home discussing possible canoe routes for future trips.

Trip Video

Watch the rest of the series:

Reflections

We absolutely loved this loop. It taught us that we are more capable than we thought camping alone in the backcountry. This trip was the catalyst to get us out on more adventures together.

Other than the 14 hours of rain and the leaky tent everything went great for us. We were able to get our pack weights down low enough to enable us to single carry across all the portages. We also successfully rehydrated and ate one of our own dehydrated meals and we caught our first splake together. It was an unforgettable canoe trip.

For anyone wanting to recreate our loop, we would suggest lightweight gear and fishing rods. That’s all you will need to have a great time.

Gallery


Author Bio

Hi, we’re Alex and Jess. A couple that loves being outside, and exploring the back country and all it has to offer. You can either find us outside or planning our next adventure.

Instagram: @tents.and.timber

YouTube: Tents and Timber

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