Algonquin Provincial Park: Tim River to Magnetawan Lake (4 days / 66 km)

This four-day almost loop is a moderately challenging route that shows off quite a bit of what the Park has to offer. Starting with the twists and turns of the Tim River, moving on to a string of smaller to mid-sized lakes and ending on the lake that Ralph Bice called his favourite in the Park, this route is worthwhile for anyone looking to experience the different sides of Algonquin and who doesn’t mind a bit of work.

Trip Completed: July 2018

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Tim River Access Point (Access Point #2)

Ending Point: Magnetawan Lake Access Point (Access Point #3)

Total Distance: 66 km

Elevation Gain: Varied. Biggest portage climb is 47 meters over 1.3KM, Rain Lake to Casey Lake.

Duration: 4 Days.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

This route is located in Algonquin Provincial Park and begins at access point # 2 (Tim River). Both starting and ending access points (Tim River and Magnetawan) are on the western border of the Park, east of Kearney and Highway 11.

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

Map: Jeff’s Algonquin Map

Please note: at this time Jeff’s Maps should not be purchased as the current owner of the business has not been fulfilling orders. Jeff will be coming out with an Algonquin map through his new map company, Unlostify, in the future. In the meantime, both the Park’s Official Canoe Routes Map and Backroads Mapbook’s Waterproof Algonquin Map are viable alternatives.

Campsite Reservations: Reservations are required for the lake you wish to camp on. Campsites on that lake are first come first served.

Permits: The Park is now allowing trippers to print their permits at home. Permits may still be picked up at the office serving the access point (in this case, the Kearney office).

Outfitters & Shuttles

We did not use an outfitter for this trip. There are two outfitters in Kearney, Algonquin Basecamp and Canoe Algonquin. I have used Canoe Algonquin for a boat rental on another trip and found them helpful and professional. Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville also services these access points and has assisted me on multiple trips over the years. 

Trip Report

Day 1: Tim Access Point to Longbow Lake (15.5 KM)

We arrived at the access point mid-morning under cloudy skies. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we realized almost as soon as my wife had pulled out of the parking lot that we had forgotten our sunscreen. We did, however, have tons of bug spray, so at least we were well prepared for my last trip. We loaded our boat and started off on the high-stakes, fast-water, white-knuckle adventure that is the Tim River.

Um …

So, I don’t know if there’s a word between Creek and River (Criver? Riveek?) but if there is that would be a pretty good description of the Tim River (at least the parts we paddled). It’s not a creek, although at times it feels narrow enough to be one, and it’s not quite a river in the way I think of a river (the Petawawa would be a good example of an Officially Approved River According to Drew™). Whatever it is, it’s a sedate paddle, with lots of winding back and forth in spots. It is also a very pretty paddle. The scenery is constantly changing, while also sticking to the general theme of “Hey! Beavers Live Here!”. But more on that in a minute.

We arrived at Tim Lake at about the same time that the rain did. It wasn’t a hard rain or even an unwelcome one. Remember, we had forgotten our sunscreen, so I had about as much interest in seeing the sun as a vampire with a hangover. Tim Lake looks like it would be a nice place to camp if you’re looking for a spot to take young kids, or just want something with close proximity to an access point but without the crush of people, you’ll find along the highway 60 corridor. We paddled across Tim through the intermittent rain, passing to the south of the large island that dominates the middle of the lake, before turning slightly north to meet up with where the Tim River continues eastward.

Leaving Tim Lake, the river is a decent paddle. The waterway is fairly wide and there is a lot to see despite the stubborn refusal of Algonquin’s moose population to make themselves available for my viewing pleasure. We paddled through a wide bay area choked with lily pads on route to our only portage for the day, a 120m carry that takes you from the Tim River to, well, the Tim River. But a much narrower version of the Tim River than the one you just left. We’ll call it the Skinny Tim.

Skinny Tim is where the fun really started (and the rain stopped). Low water can be a problem on the Tim between Tim Lake and Rosebary Lake, particularly if you happen to be paddling through the area in the middle of a dry spell bad enough to put the Park into a total fire ban, as we were. Water levels weren’t low enough to make the route impassable, which I imagine is a potential worst case scenario later in the season, but they were low enough that several beaver dams that would probably otherwise be covered with just enough water to paddle over were sticking up out of the river like nature’s answer to the speed bump.

We hit the first of the dams not long after we left the portage. As far as dams go, it wasn’t exactly Hooveresque (that was dam #3) but it was enough to make us stop, make disparaging comments about beavers, climb out of the canoe, climb onto the dam, make more disparaging comments about beavers, pick up the canoe, lift it over the dam, make downright hurtful comments about beavers, put the canoe down, get back in the canoe, push back off while making further disparaging comments about beavers and wondering if that was the last beaver dam we’d see that day.

We repeated this process a lot.

The good news is that, apart from the beaver dams, the Skinny Tim was fine. There was only one spot where we got hung up in some shallow muck (just after beaver dam #4) and it wasn’t too long until we’d emerged into Little Butt Lake, which is a wonderfully named widening of the river about 75% of the way to Rosebary.

Between Little Butt and Rosebary the river goes through a slow change. It starts with more of the same; a winding, narrow paddle route bracketed on both sides by tall grasses that make it difficult to see anything but the water right in front of you. Gradually things widen out until you reach the large, shallow bay leading into Rosebary.

Rosebary is a welcome change after a couple of hours on the Tim. It’s a big, round-ish lake with a few campsites, but not enough that it seems at all crowded. I know there’s at least one site on a nice beach, but our route didn’t take us in that direction. Instead, we set off towards Longbow, paddling into a surprisingly strong sidewind that had sprung up as we worked our way through the relative shelter of the river.

Longbow is connected to Rosebary by a short narrows. We made our way to the easternmost site on Longbow which, on the map, looked like the best spot on the lake. This turned out to be true in real life as well. Of the other two sites, one is on a portage and is basically a museum of rusted-out metal torture devices and the other looks like it was hacked out of the brush by someone who forgot what they were doing halfway through. Nice thunderbox though. We quickly set up camp and got ourselves settled in for the night.

Campsite: Longbow Lake – Campsite # 3 – I visited all three sites on Longbow on this trip and this one was far and away my favourite. It’s got a nice location, good views, lots of space and a bumper crop of bunchberries if you feel like eating things that look poisonous but actually aren’t. It also is the only site that isn’t within shouting distance of the portage back onto the Tim River, which means a greater sense of seclusion and fewer chances of unexpected visitors.

Day 2: Longbow Lake to Moccasin Lake (16.8 km)

The sun was out as we left Longbow. Normally I’m happy to see the sun, but in this case, I would have preferred it to stay away just a bit longer. The sunscreen gnomes hadn’t visited us overnight, so we were relying on carefully draped t-shirts and life jackets to keep our legs from burning. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Resigned to the fact that skinny jeans were about to become extremely uncomfortable to wear for the next week, we paddled across Longbow to the portage that would take us back onto the Tim.

It’s a short, easy 230 meter carry from Longbow back onto the river. We stopped along the way to check out the campsite on the portage at the Longbow end of the carry. As I mentioned above, it’s a weird site. The fire pit is just kinda sitting there in the middle of a big open space. Pretty much every other site I’ve seen in Algonquin will have at least a log nearby to sit on, but on this site, the only things nearby are a bunch of rusted metal relics from the Park’s earlier days. Basically, this is a good site to stay on if you’re looking for easy access to tetanus and really want to have people walking past your site all day. If that’s not your bag, I suggest giving this one a miss.

By the time we were over the portage and pushing off onto the Tim, the last of the clouds had disappeared and the sun was out in full force. The river between Longbow and Queer is, depending on your mood, a really nice and scenic paddle through one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll find in Algonquin, or an annoying obstacle course of beaver dams, blowdowns and imminent sunstroke. For me, over the course of the next two hours, it was both of these things and pretty much everything in-between as well.

Within the first twenty minutes of rejoining the Tim, we had dragged over a couple of beaver dams, paddled (just) under the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the river, and portaged along the bank around a second tree that had fallen a little further on. I’m not going to give a blow by blow of every obstacle we came across as we made our way down the Tim. That would get tedious and suffice it to say, there were a few. There were, however, also some pretty cool moments along the way as well.

About 45 minutes into our trip down the Tim we came round a corner and were greeted by a moose standing in the middle of the river and chowing down on some green stuff. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised to see the other, but the moose was definitely less thrilled about the whole thing. It took one look at us and bolted for the woods, so basically it was dating in high school all over again. The thing I love about moose is that they’re basically land walruses on stilts. I don’t understand how they can take even one step without breaking all four of their legs, let alone go galloping through the underbrush like it’s an empty parking lot and not a tangled mess of hidden roots and holes. But they do, and they do it with grace. By the time we reached the place where it had come out of the river, there was barely any indication that 800 lbs of wilderness tank had just come through. Moose: nature’s ninjas.

The moose sighting marked a turning point (both literally and figuratively) in our time on the Tim. After that, I don’t recall there being as many dams as there had been before. We ran across a nice couple paddling the other way not long after, who very graciously shared their sunscreen with us as well as the news that we were getting close to the Queer Lake portage. By then I was pretty much done with river paddling, so that was welcome news. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier about the prospect of a 1.4 km portage.

Portage from Tim River to Queer Lake (1.4 km): I probably shouldn’t have been so excited. The portage from the Tim River to Queer Lake is not awesome. On the plus side, it’s well-maintained, easy to follow and isn’t the Tim River. It does, however, throw a bit of uphill at you in the same way that a hurricane might throw a bit of rain at you. There’s a canoe rest about 1/3 of the way up the trail from the Tim that’s a welcome spot to grab a break and a breath. I just wish that rest had marked the end of the uphill, not just a (very short) break from it. One thing to know if you’re going this way, the sign on the Tim River doesn’t actually mention Queer. It just tells you that it’s a portage to another part of the Tim. There’s another sign about 50m down the path telling you to split off for Queer. There’s also, at the Queer end of the portage, a deceptively sturdy-looking patch of mud that tried its best to swallow Andrew whole when he went to put his pack in the canoe.

Unlike the Queer Lake portage, I quite liked Queer Lake itself. You start off in a bay that is surrounded by dead trees. It gives the place a kind of spooky, otherworldly vibe that’s nonetheless pretty cool. We decided to take a break for lunch despite the clear presence of ghost trees and pulled up on the point that separates the bay from the rest of Queer. This is a great spot to stop for a swim and to wash away any remaining tears from the Tim/Queer portage. There are also quite a few blueberry bushes that were, sadly, un-blueberried when we were there.

Portage from Queer Lake to Little Misty Lake (2.4 km): After one more swim, we set off down Queer for our next destination, the 2.4 km portage over to Little Misty. After the Tim/Queer portage I had some concerns over how many hills could be crammed into 2.4 km of trail. Fortunately, the Portage Gods were smiling on us and the portage out of Queer was much easier than the one coming into it. It was well marked, relatively flat and overall an easy enough carry. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is what looks like a rusted old sleigh runner at the Little Misty end of the portage. There’s also a nice grassy spot to sit down and watch the water while you catch your breath.

Little Misty Lake is basically just the Petawawa getting slightly wider. There’s one campsite on it that doesn’t look too appealing and that’s about it. We left Little Misty heading west on the Petawawa towards the portage down to Addison’s Lake.

This portion of the Petawawa is a nice, scenic paddle. Much wider than the Tim, this is what I want when I’m doing some river paddling. The canoe route winds between competing mats of lily pads that are lined up on their respective side of the river like two armies facing down across no man’s land. The portage to Addison’s Lake is marked as 805 meters and was further down the river from Little Misty than I expected. I was beginning to worry that we’d missed it when we came round a small bend and saw the sign sticking up out of the grass. The take-out is a muddy bank with a two plank bridge leading away from the river into the trees. We carried our gear across the bridge and got set up once we were on firmer ground. The portage isn’t terrible, the path is clear and easy to follow, but there is some uphill, which was basically the theme for our portages for this day.

By this time, it was getting late in the day and we were both tired. We paddled south through Addison’s Lake, which is a nice enough body of water with no campsites, and grudgingly completed the 140 meter portage onto Moccasin Lake. Once we were loaded back up and paddling down Moccasin we realized that neither of us had any desire to do another portage. This was a problem as we were actually booked for Bandit Lake for the night. Given that it was already after 5 pm we decided we’d check out the two sites on Moccasin. If they were both free, we figured we could take one and cross our fingers that someone with an actual permit for Moccasin wouldn’t be coming along. Fortunately, both sites were open, so we grabbed the one on the north side of the narrows and settled in for the night.

Campsite: Moccasin Lake – Site # 1 – This is a nice, open site with good views and lots of room to spread out in if you need it. The main feature is a large southeastern facing rack face that is a bit of a trick to load/unload your canoe from but makes for great swimming and a nice place to watch the stars come out.

Moccasin’s other site is directly across the narrows on the southern shore. It is a much smaller and more enclosed feeling site, with similar, if not worse, accessibility concerns thanks to the steep slope down to the water.

Day 3: Moccasin Lake to Ralph Bice Lake (16.1 km)

Our plan for this day was to make our way up to Ralph Bice by way of Rain Lake. I knew that this would be a busier part of the Park than we’d experienced over the past couple of days, but I hadn’t quite realized just how many people we would see as we made our way to Rain. If the Canoe/Joe/Burnt corridor is Main Street Algonquin, then Rain/Sawyer/Misty is … uh … Main Avenue? The higher traffic did, however, give us a chance to chat with quite a few folks and, more importantly, get our very own tube of sunscreen from a kind woman on the Rain Lake portage.

We pushed off our site on Moccasin just before 10 in the morning. Moccasin is a cool shape. It’s a crossroads lake (with routes leading away in all four directions) that’s shaped sort of like an upside-down cross (if you close one eye and squint at the map until things go a bit fuzzy). Heading west you paddle through a small narrow, then into a kind of attached mini-lake before landing at the easy 185 m portage to Juan Lake.

Juan is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of lake. In fact, calling it a lake seems like a stretch. It’s more of a lakelet; you basically put your boat in at one portage, push off, then wash up on the next portage, a 450 m carry over to Jubilee, a few minutes later.

I liked Jubilee. It’s not that big, and there are quite a few campsites on it that are relatively close together, but it’s a cool shape and the scenery is nice. Jubilee’s shore is lined with Mountain Holly and there’s an impressive beaver dam at the start of the portage over to Sawyer. Finding that portage is a bit tricky, in so much as anything in this area can be considered tricky. The portage is at the end of a small bay that juts south just before you hit the western end of Jubilee. You can’t really see the portage sign until you’re close to the shore, so if you’re turning into the bay looking for that flash of yellow you might end up wondering if you’ve somehow gone the wrong way. Keep going, the massive beaver dam will come into view soon enough and with it the portage marker.

The 450 meter carry-over to Sawyer is another easy-to-follow, easy-to-travel trail. Putting in on the Sawyer end of the portage you’re greeted by a fantastic beach which makes for a great place to stop, filter some water and have a snack. I know this because that’s exactly what we did.

Sawyer is a nice, good-sized lake and seems very pretty, but man is it busy. We saw as many boats crossing Sawyer as we’d seen the entire rest of the trip.

We arrived at the 310 metre Sawyer/Rain portage (another beach takeout but not nearly as nice as the one we’d just left) and were quickly over to Rain Lake. Rain Lake was big, beautiful and busy. This makes sense, Rain Lake is an access point so you would expect people to be, uh, accessing the Park from it. And, on this day, they certainly were. We saw lots of other trippers, most of whom were going the opposite direction from us (and basically all of them were going to Misty Lake). We paddled about a third of the way back to the access point before turning off the Misty Lake Express and heading north towards Casey Lake.

Portage from Rain Lake to Casey Lake (1.3 km): The 1.3 km portage up to Casey is clear, easy to follow and fairly free of obstacles. But man, is it definitely up. It felt like I was climbing the entire time, which pretty much exactly what happened. Casey Lake is 30 metres above Rain and it wants you to know it. It’s relentless, but at least when you get to Casey, you’re greeted with a nice little spot to stop for a break, which we did.

Casey is a small lake with three campsites on it. It’s a pretty lake and at least two of the three sites look like great places to spend a night or two. There’s also some exploring to do in the area. I’ve heard that there are ruins on nearby Salvelinus Lake if you don’t mind working your way up a small creek to the west. If travelling a narrow creek that’s not on an official canoe route is not for you, there’s some history right there on Casey in the form of a fun little wheel and chain thing at the top of the Casey/Daisy portage that looks like a prop from 50 Shades of Algonquin.

Portage from Casey Lake to Daisy Lake (1.1 km): This one is a lot like the portage up from Rain. I wouldn’t want to be coming the other direction, but as far as downhill carries go it’s easy enough. There’s a bridge along the route that I have zero recollection of but that I apparently thought was worth writing down when I was making my notes that day, and that’s about it.

The stretch from Daisy to Ralph Bice is, like the stretch from Rain to Misty, heavily travelled. We ran into quite a few people at the beginning of the 420m portage up to Acme Lake and again on the 295 m portage from Hambone to Ralph Bice. You’ll notice I’ve glossed over Daisy, Acme and Hambone Lakes here because, to be honest, there isn’t much to tell. Daisy is the biggest of the three and is really just a widening of the Petawawa, which empties out of Daisy to the east. Acme is a small lake that isn’t even named on the official Park map and Hambone is one short portage away from an access point. 

Acme has no campsites on it and two very easy portages leading in and out of it. Hambone does have campsites, but in my mind would probably only be a destination if you were travelling with little kids and wanted to give them the experience of a portage but still be able to get back to your car in about half an hour. If I were picking between the three I would choose Daisy to stay on, but that isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement. I’d pick Ralph Bice or even Magnetawan over all three of these ones.

The 295 m portage from Hambone to Ralph Bice is another short and easy carry and we were soon paddling out of Ralph Bice’s western bay and into by far the biggest lake we visited this trip.

For those unfamiliar with the Park’s history, Ralph Bice Lake is named after a famous guide and woodsman from the Park’s early days. Before the lake was renamed it was called Butt Lake, and before that, it was called Eagle Lake, because of course the natural name to follow Eagle is Butt. Interestingly enough, Ralph Bice hated it when the Park changed lakes’ names and called what was then Butt Lake Eagle Lake for the rest of his life.

We paddled across Ralph Bice and soon found what turned out to be a very nice site about ¼ of the way towards Little Trout on the north side of the lake. We finished the day sitting by the water and watching the sunset. Not a bad way to spend our last night in the Park.

Campsite: Ralph Bice Lake – Site # 16 – This site has grown on me since I stayed on it. At the time, I wasn’t wild about it because it has a fair amount of grass, which I don’t love, and it wasn’t on a point, which is my preferred site location. However, the more I think about it the better I feel about the site. It’s on the north shore, about a quarter of the way down Ralph Bice heading towards Little Trout. It’s a big site, with room for quite a few tents, a decent fire pit and good southern exposure. It would be a great spot to take kids, as the gradual slope down to the water and relatively even, mostly sand, the bottom is perfect for wading (just keep an eye out for leeches!).

Day 4: Ralph Bice Lake to Magnetawan Lake (17.5 km)

The day dawned calm and clear. The water was flat as a pancake on Jupiter and the sun was warm without being scorching. While it was our last day, our ride wasn’t scheduled to pick us up from the Magnetawan access point until later in the afternoon. I decided to take advantage of the time to do a bit more exploring of the surrounding area and head over to Little Trout Lake.

Little Trout is east of Ralph Bice, which means a nice, long paddle to get there. The water was perfectly smooth that morning, making for a very pleasant trip across Ralph Bice. The portage over to Little Trout (430 m) was pretty easy. It’s less than 500m of flat terrain and it doesn’t feel like any time at all before you’re putting in on the beach on the Little Trout side. 

Little Trout starts with a small bay that you paddle out of before you can appreciate what the lake has to offer. It’s nice enough, but for my money, it’s not as pretty as Ralph Bice or as interestingly laid out as Queer. I’d probably rather stay on one or the other before setting up stakes on Little Trout. One thing I noticed on the map is that there are quite a few campsites, so it might seem a bit crowded if you do decide to stay there.

After exploring Little Trout for a while, I turned around and headed back for the site on Ralph Bice. From there were packed up and set off for the (short) trip to Magnetawan Lake and the access point. The trip across Hambone was uneventful and the portage from Hambone to Magnetawan Lake (135 m) is possibly the easiest in the Park. At 135 m, it’s a nice casual stroll to end a trip. The paddle from the portage to the access point is also short and we arrived at the access point about an hour and a half before our ride was scheduled to pick us up. Realizing that we still had a bit of time, I decided to get one final paddle in and go check out Little Eagle Lake.

Little Eagle Lake is a dead-end lake just south of Magnetawan. I’m assuming its name comes from a time when Ralph Bice Lake was called Eagle Lake, and not because it’s home to a bunch of miniature eagles. Although that would be awesome. To get to the portage up to Eagle (and I do mean up) you must paddle through Magnetawan Lake. It turns out that Magnetawan is a lovely lake. There are some picturesque islands along the way, some exposed rock faces and at least a couple of nice campsites. I’ve kind of always assumed that if a lake is also an access point it probably isn’t that great to visit, but I could see spending a night or two on one of the paddle-in sites on Magnetawan.

The portage up to Little Eagle is short, only 340m, but it makes you work for every one of those metres. You basically spend half the portage climbing a steep hill, then the other half descending a steep hill. Since there’s only one way in and out of Little Eagle, this means that you’re guaranteed a mini-mountain climb both coming and going. Little Eagle, at least, is worth the effort. There’s only one site on the lake, so if you can snag it, you’ll get a private lake for the night.

My visit to Little Eagle in the books, I finished off the day by checking out one of the campsites close to the Magnetawan access point. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the site was. It had lots of space for tents, a good fire pit area, nice views and fantastic swimming rocks. I took advantage of those rocks, swimming for a bit then lying in the sun, before finally, reluctantly heading back to the access point to await our pickup.

Reflections

It was a fantastic four days. We had almost perfect weather, saw some cool things, stayed on some great campsites and didn’t burn to a crisp on the Tim River. Well, not a complete crisp.

I have a newfound respect for beavers, and their dam-building capabilities, which is matched only by my newfound all-consuming hatred for beavers and their dam-building capabilities.

I’d recommend this loop if you want to experience a little bit of everything the Park has to offer. Feel like some river paddling? Then this route’s for you. Feel like some big lake paddling? This route’s for you. Feel like seeing lots of rusted metal stuff and maybe sinking up to your waist in surprise end of portage muck? Guess what!? This route’s for you too.

Basically, this route’s for everyone, so come on down! (Unless you hate beaver dams. Because there’re definitely beaver dams).

Gallery


Author Bio

Drew runs the All of Algonquin website where he chronicles his experiences in Algonquin Park. He has been visiting Algonquin for over 20 years and in 2016 decided to make it a goal to paddle all of Algonquin’s canoe route accessible lakes. Turns out there are a lot of canoe route accessible lakes in Algonquin. You can follow along with his progress on his blog or through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Website: All of Algonquin

Facebook: @allofalgonquin

Instagram: @algonquinlakes

Twitter: @algonquin_lakes

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