Algonquin Provincial Park: Wendigo Lake to Radiant Lake (5 days / 37 km)
A Global Pandemic means changed wedding & honeymoon plans… we searched and searched for cute cabins or local glamping options but couldn’t find anything that felt like “us”. That’s how we ended up doing a “radiant” backcountry honeymoon in Algonquin Provincial Park. It was mostly the name of the lake that inspired our decision, but we also had a bit more time than we usually do for a trip and so decided to go further North and tackle a longer route.
Our trip to Radiant Lake was a 5-day in and out trip with a one-night stop at North Depot on the way in and a one-night stop at Clamshell Lake on the way back. As is often the case in Algonquin in August, the weather was a mixed bag with rolling storms and full-on rain on our return. Though the paddle wasn’t particularly difficult the MANY portages made for an interesting challenge.
Trip Completed: August 2020
Starting Point: Access Point 25, Wendigo Lake. There is parking available on-site however limited. Had to pick up permits at Cedar Lake – Brent Access Point.
Ending Point: Access Point 25, Wendigo Lake
Total Distance: Approximately 37 km total through 6 lakes & one river
Duration: 5 Days, 4 nights
Difficulty: Beginner / Intermediate (lots of portages)
This route is located in northern Algonquin Provincial Park.
Traditional Territory: This route in Algonquin Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: Jeff’s Map of Algonquin or Algonquin Park Canoe Routes (digital) – The paper copy can be purchased at Algonquin Outfitters
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. Clamshell Lake). Camping permits must be picked up before starting your canoe trip.
Outfitters & Shuttles
We used Algonquin North Outfitters in Mattawa. There is also Algonquin Outfitters in Brent, which is quite a bit closer to the put in.
Day 1: Wendigo Lake to North Depot
Start time 12:41 PM End time 3:27 PM Total Time: 2h40 min
The trip into Access Point #25 has many potholes and dirt roads along the way – don’t say I didn’t warn you! The car lot at Wendigo is small, not a problem for our Wednesday launch but was definitely busy packing out on Sunday.
We launched at Wendigo Lake and veered straight ahead as per Jeff’s Maps and erred to the right, please note STAY LEFT for the portage into Allan Lake! The paddle on Allan Lake is relatively short and before you know it, you’re on the portage into North Depot which can be skipped. North Depot, on the other hand, feels like it stretches on forever – we passed by the first island which has two campsites but opted for the private island further down the lake to settle on for the night.
Portage from Wendigo to Allan Lake: The portage is 180M but elevated and rocky/rooty.
Portage from Allan Lake to North Depot Lake (255 m): The portage into North Depot by foot is 255 m but it can also be skipped which Martin decided on with the canoe and our gear while I hunkered through more elevation, rocks and roots (just to see how it was).
Campsite: We passed by the first island site on North Depot (the one that has two campsites) and boy was it nice, or at least the west-facing site was. We carried on in hopes of getting the private island site. This paddle to the end of North Depot felt a lot longer but we got to the site and thankfully it was available. On Jeff’s Maps, this would be the second last site before the portage!
There was no great place to put in on this elevated site and other than being an island site, it had no real “perks”. Thankfully we had our Trekology chairs because there was no seating here, even of the log variety. The thunderbox was crappy, pun intended. Very rickety, albeit with a nice view.
Overall, I’d say this site was just okay – the “private” island aspect being the main thing it had going for it.
Day 2: North Depot Lake to Radiant Lake
Start time 12:12 PM End time 5:27 PM Total Time: 5h14 min
We took our time packing up, had a friendly couple and their dog pull up to check out our site and set out on our way for Radiant Lake, really underestimating what lied ahead.
We finished up the paddle on North Depot and carried on to our longest portage of 770 m into the North River.
Portage from North Depot to North River (770 m): This was our longest portage, and at 770 m, no big deal, right? We’ve done portages of longer than this before. But not like this:
Brutal elevation, slick rocks and roots, up and down and up and down with the combination of the summer heat. Not to mention the culmination of this portage is into a rocky launch point with a river cutting through. The only thing that made up for it was the gorgeous rapid falls. Nothing about this was easy, including the launch but we did it and set out on the North River. Prepare for a balancing act or get your feet wet trying!
Paddling on The North River: The North River gives you beautiful bends, vistas, and lily pads… before you know it, you’re at the next portage into North River South. If you have the time to stop and take in the views or even go for a swim, this portage has another path that leads to a beautiful rapid/waterfall, but don’t accidentally walk down that path with all your gear as we did!
Portage from North River to North River South (390 m): This portage is labelled signed as 230m (lies!) and was something else. We got on, followed the “path”, launched and realized we were caught between rapids and bog. Discovering our misstep, the “path” we took had clearly been made by people setting out to enjoy the rapids/waterfalls, but it was not the signed portage path. Don’t make this mistake!
Portage from North River South to more North River (230 m): This portage to continue on the North River was another back and ankle breaker with up and down elevation, but at least it was short.
The put ins/launch outs along this entire route aren’t super intuitive (lots of wet feet) but we were on our way to yet another portage to the last portion of the North River. Another short paddle to the following portage into Clamshell Lake. You can see the campsite on Clamshell from the portage and it made us super excited for our stay later in the trip!
Portage from North River to Clamshell Lake (330 m): The portage into Clamshell Lake was 330m (signed 235m) and just like the rest of them brutal elevation and rockiness.
Another short paddle through Clamshell and you’re at yet another portage.
Portage from Clamshell Lake to Shoal Lake (135 m): This one is short and leads you into a very reedy Shoal Lake, we were lucky enough to spot (more like hear) a beaver diving into the water for a swim.
Shortly after launching in Shoal Lake, we were at our final portage (a very short & sometimes avoidable 20m) into Radiant Lake.
Portage from Shoal to Radiant Lake (20 m): Paddled through the very reedy Shoal and thought we could maybe avoid the 20m portage at Sandy Bay but with the rocks the way they were, we had to unload and reload.
By this point, my Apple Watch had kindly informed me I had burned ~1900 calories and my stomach was letting me know! Radiant Lake itself is quite large and although it’s relatively shallow in spots it can get quite wavy. We veered left and searched for our campsite for two nights on Radiant.
Campsite: Every site on the northern shore was occupied until we finally found a spot just past the coveted beach site we renamed the “5 star resort”. If you’re looking at Jeff’s Map that coveted site is the 3rd one on the North East side of the lake.
While we didn’t end up with the “resort” we still had a small private beach and a relatively awesome site (4th on the North East side) – I say relatively awesome because of two minor annoyances:
- The thunderbox was flipped over. Martin went to unflip it, thankfully, but the massive bite-mark of missing wood and claw marks on the lid were far from reassuring.
- The motorboats. I saw this complaint come up in other Radiant Lake blogs and forums and man, was it annoying. Back and forth and back and forth – not quite the serene “backcountry” I had envisioned.
Nonetheless, we set up camp here for two nights and made the most of it. Radiant Lake is shallow and warm, no leeches in sight, made for great swimming!
Day 3: Rest Day (+ short paddle to Squirrel Rapids)
We paddled out to Squirrel Rapids for fun, and the old bridge along the way made for great pictures. I can definitely see how in low-water season you’d end up having to drag the canoe endlessly across Radiant Lake – it’s so shallow on this end!
We could have opted to do another day paddle as Radiant Lake is also home to a cemetery on the south shore to honour loggers who lost their lives here, amongst other remains of the park’s logging history (as per Jeff’s Maps), but it was our honeymoon.
Day 4: Radiant Lake to Shoal to Clamshell Lake
Start time 12:10 PM End time 1:50 PM Total Time: 1h40 min
We woke up leisurely on Saturday morning, packed up our site and hit the road back to Clamshell Lake. Knowing we only had two short portages made the whole trip more enjoyable, and luckily when we arrived at the campsite it was already vacant.
Portages: No commentary here except we found a way to avoid the 20m portage between Radiant and Shoal this time, just PADDLE REAL HARD & bum scooch.
Campsite: Clamshell is so special! There is only one campsite on the entire lake, and although the portage is in sight of the campsite, not a single soul came in or out while we were there, so we had an abundance of privacy.
The site has plenty of rocks for sunbathing, the campfire area is in a lovely tree canopy, the thunderbox is in good condition and far enough from the site. When at the campsite, you get the sounds of the rapids to the right while still being on a calm lake. Plus, you have your very own swing!
The lake is deep and super refreshing – we can vouch for it given the numerous swings into the lake by Martin and jumps into the lake from me. This was a honeymoon highlight. The rocks by the water make for perfect cuddle sessions while dunking your feet. I swear I have never seen a campsite more romantic!
Day 5: Clamshell Lake to Wendigo Lake
Start time 7:30 AM End Time 12:00 PM Total Time: 4h30 min
I’m not going to say much about the journey home except this. Elevated portages that are hard in dry weather are excruciating when slick. We had to take micro-steps to avoid falling down slippery rocks and roots with our gear and simply put it was brutal. On our longest portage between the North River and North Depot that river running through rocks was even worse and Martin had to drop the canoe halfway and go back.
Note: The portages from North Depot into Allan, and Allan into Wendigo, can get quite busy on the weekend as they are easy weekend trips.
Looking back – I would have skipped Radiant Lake and spent more time at the site on Clamshell Lake. There is something to be said about being the only site on a lake, having a deep lake to jump or swing into, and the sound of rapids at your back while sitting around a fire.
Radiant Lake does have ideal beaches but just didn’t feel “backcountry” with the motorboat. It may not be worth the 8 portages from Wendigo, however, Radiant Lake can also be accessed with 3 portages from Cedar Lake.
@polishthepaddle 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.
Website: Polish the Paddle