This report is about a short, muddy and solo trip in South Algonquin. This trip covers 24 km but do not underestimate it! It is a beautiful and less travelled part of the park, plus there is some big lake exposure at the start.
Trip Completed: October 2021
Starting Point: Algonquin Park access point 15 (Kingscote L.)
Ending Point: Algonquin Park access point 15 (Kingscote L.)
Total Distance: 24.2km
Duration: 3 days plus + 1 rest day (could be done in 3 days but could also be stretched out into 5 days).
Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate, but there are some long muddy portages so some canoe tripping experience is recommended.
South Algonquin; the closest town would be Harcourt, Ontario.
Traditional Territory: This route in Algonquin Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario by Kevin Callan
Campsite Reservations & Permits: Reservations can be made through the Ontario Parks reservation portal. Reserving a campsite on the lake (online or by phone) means one of the sites on that lake is reserved for you. You may not reserve a specific site. First come, first serve. Print your permit at home, there is no office to pick up a copy or check-in at this access point.
Although most trip reports in this area say that Algonquin permits can be picked up from Pine Grove Point Campground Inc., that is apparently not true (according to Deep Routes Adventure). I’d suggest printing 2 copies of your online booking. One for the dashboard of your car, which you can park at the Kingscote lake put-in and one permit to take with you on the trip.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: I rented gear from Deep Roots Adventure, which is located at the turn-off to Kingscote Lake Road. They have pretty much all the gear you’ll need.
Shuttle: A shuttle is not needed as the route starts and ends at the same place. It is possible to arrange a shuttle with Deep Roots Adventure and to modify the route to end at Deep Routes Adventures dock (or Pine Grove Point, access point 15a) by following the York River south from Byers Lake on your way out.
Day 1: Kingscote Parking Lot to Kingscote Lake (3.7 km)
As it’s relatively close to Toronto I had a lazy start to the morning and was on the water by 1 pm. There is a waterfall (High Falls) near the access point, the trail for which starts close to the parking lot for Deep Roots Adventure. Apparently, (based on 3 separate accounts) it’s worth the walk to take a look. I suggest doing that if you arrive with time to spare and are staying on Kingscote Lake as I did on the first night. (I didn’t know about this before I set off and so, can’t comment on the hike).
Once on the water, I paddled for about an hour to reach the furthest campsite on the lake. As per Callan’s guidebook, most of the campsites on Kingscote Lake are not great. I checked out one on the way, and it was mostly surrounded by bush and trees, with no view of the water or easy access.
The last Northern-most campsite on the lake is the best apparently (also from Callan’s book). Sadly this is common knowledge (as this is written in the book and a couple of other trip reports I read) and so the spot was taken when I arrived. I checked out the Western campsite and it was not a good spot. There was a stream running through the fire pit (as it turns out, this is an omen for the rest of the trip, lots of mud and quite wet) and not many spots for a tent.
Campsite: The Northernmost campsite of the three spots on the Eastern side of the lake is where I ended up. It has a decent view of the water and a nice walk along the lake edge to a big rock which I used as a lookout.
The privy was up a steep rock face set back from the fire pit (so be aware it’s almost a scramble to get up). It’s a new privy and decent enough. The fire pit was nice and I had no trouble collecting wood. The downside of this campsite is the tent spots, I only found one, and it was small (my two-person tent fit in but I doubt much more would have).
There was another, a larger site close to the water, but it was flooded, it looked like spring came up in the middle of it. Later on, I spotted the water dripping down the rock behind it, another stream I suppose.
Day 2: Kingscote to Scorch Lake (8.4km with 3km of portaging)
The next morning I was on the water at 9 am, headed for the 1470m portage which is quite close to the last campsite on the lake, after a quick and easy paddle I was at the start of the portage, which was easy to find.
Jeff’s map has a note on it that this portage is prone to flooding… I decided to double carry it because I wanted to enjoy the trail rather than have my head in a canoe all day. It was muddy, very muddy. I made it to the end with dry feet with just a pack on my back but decided it would be easier to change into water shoes and just go through the mud. There are a couple of detours around the worst of it that I suggest taking. Oh and make sure to keep right at the fork early on, otherwise, you’ll end up at a dead-end lake.
On the way back I was figuring out the best way through the mud and sunk in up to my knee (note to self, keep away from the water/stream/lakeside of a muddy path). Round trip and back again with the canoe, took about 1hr 20min. The portage is not that technical but it does require some skill to avoid all the mud and water.
On the water again for another short paddle on Big Rock lake, which is a well-named lake. Keep to the left-hand shore after getting on the water and follow the shore to get to the portage to Byers lake.
The 660m portage from Big Rock to Byers was the shortest portage for the day. More mud. Luckily I had kept my water shoes on and was expecting it, but hoping it wouldn’t be there. The portage is mostly downhill (yay, for when we need to go uphill on the way back).
Onto Byers Lake and finally time to actually paddle for a bit today. Headed off from the portage and kept to the left again. There are some campsites on Byers Lake but I was looking for the York River. The river is wide and lazy. I was heading upstream and the wind was pushing me upstream faster than the river could push me down (and it was not that windy).
After meandering along the river, while having lunch on the water at some point, the river ended, and I was waiting for it. I could hear the water going over some rapids/falls and knew I was close. The portage is around the corner on the right, along with a campsite. It’s a decent enough spot but has no view. It had just started drizzling.
The portage from Byers Lake to Scorch Lake is 990m and it felt long. More of the same, very wet and muddy. Not technical. At the end of the portage is Scorch Lake, but it’s more like a stream at this point…
The water was relatively low but not as bad as I’ve heard it could be. Had to walk the boat along once or twice when I got stuck. Otherwise not too bad. Then onto the lake.
There are four campsites on this lake and I was heading for the last campsite again. As I got to the second campsite it started raining, so I turned towards the campsite to check it out (and wait for the rain to end). It’s got a nice large beach, the fire pit is a bit of a climb uphill but had a nice view too. I’d say about 2 tent spots, maybe another near to the fire pit.
I was leaving to head to the last campsite and noticed another canoe there, darn it. As I was on the water I headed to the third campsite to see what it was offering. The beach isn’t as nice, but the firepit was cozier and there was a more obvious tent spot or two. I settled in. And it rained. I was in bed as soon as it got too dark to see. Hopefully, tomorrow brings sunshine.
Campsite: Second last campsite (or the third one on the Northern shore). It has a cozy firepit with 2 new wood benches and is protected from the rain by some tall pine trees. There are 2 smallish tent spots under the trees and set back from the lake.
The privy is up a trail on the northern side of the spot and is a nice distance from the site. It’s new and has a good view of the beech trees. There’s a beach but it’s not the best for swimming. There’s an animal trail that follows the shoreline to the East and there were Moose tracks along the path.
Day 3: Stayed on Scorch Lake (0km)
Wishful thinking. I woke up to drizzle, after a night of rain. Luckily I had a rest day planned with the only goal being to climb the Scorch Lake Trail up the mountain. There is also a trail to the old Bruton farm that I had initially planned on checking out, but due to the muddy state of all the portages and all the rain, I decided against it.
By 11 am it had stopped raining and after a lunch of hot dogs there was enough of a dry spell for me to venture out of camp. As the group from the last campsite had left that morning I went to check out the campsite on my way to the trail. It’s a good campsite, probably the best on the lake, a very large tent spot or 3 and a nice firepit with a view of the hill. I think the firepit was a bit exposed for the weather, but it would be a great spot for fewer rainy days (and I probably would have stayed here if it wasn’t taken when I arrived).
I did see another boat come past from east to west earlier that morning (not really sure where they came from), but I had the whole lake to myself at the moment.
I continued east towards the start of the trail which is marked by a small blue diamond and (as I had suspected) started off very muddy/boggy (see one of the photos).
There were a couple of wet spots along the trail, one point where I had to walk along a fallen tree to cross a puddle and more mud. There are a lot of blown-down trees along this trail, please be careful. The trail was fairly well marked with blue triangles (despite all the blowdown making it hard to keep the trail maintained) and had signs to the “lookout” when there was a fork in the trail. The trail heads around the back of the hill and then mostly straight up it.
On the top, it’s flat for a bit and then heads to a moss-covered rock clearing that looks over the lake and the last 2 campsites. It’s beautiful and well worth the time and energy to climb. I’d highly recommend adding this to your trip. My GPS measured 0.84 km and it took me 40 min to get down while taking my time (I didn’t track it but I’d guess 30 min on the way up).
After getting back into the canoe I headed back to my campsite right as the clouds were lifting and there was finally blue sky again. There was a beaver dam around the corner from my campsite that blocked off the northern part of the lake and raised it a good foot or two from the rest of the lake.
Sat around the fire watching the moon, clouds and stars before heading to bed with the plan to get up early and head all the way back to the access point.
Campsite: N/A the same spot as day 2.
Day 4: Scorch Lake to Kingscote Access point (12.1km)
(Into the Wind should be the chapter heading for the return journey). I planned to get up early but when I woke at 5.20 I wasn’t successful at getting up. Luckily I didn’t because by 6.10 it was raining again and I got up resigned to a wet day and started packing my sleep gear. Thankfully it stopped raining after about 20min and was done for the day!
I was on the water by 8 am headed back to the shallow stream of Scorch Lake’s portage site. I was able to manoeuvre my way there without needing to get out and push the boat over rocks, so either I got better at charting a course or the lake was a little higher thanks to all the rain.
The portage was muddy as expected and I didn’t make it out with dry shoes. The plan was to just have wet muddy shoes all day. The paddle down the York river was grey and quiet. It was also into the wind most of the way. Towards the middle of the trip, I finally caught a glimpse of the beavers that occupy one of the many hutches I saw along the river. They were not happy with my presence and buffed at me to move along, which I did.
The wind was mild but into my face most of the way along the river. On the way in it had been blowing in the same direction, so take note of this on your way in. Even though there seemed to be very little wind on Scorch lake this river seems to be a warning for Kingscote lake later in the day.
The portage from Byers Lake to Big Rock Lake was mildly uneventful, it was muddy and there was quite the steep uphill. I had noted it on the other way through but had not realized how steep or long it was until I was trudging up it with muddy feet, all my gear and a tired body.
I paddled right up to the big rock on Big Rock Lake and had a snack to rest and get some energy for the longest portage of the day. The paddle on this lake is straight and along the Northern edge, but it is worth heading South a bit to check out the rocks near the island, you could also head all the way South and see what’s at the far end of this lake. I didn’t feel like spending too much time here as I was aiming to get back to Toronto at a reasonable hour.
The portage to Kingscote Lake felt quite long and there are a lot of places where there is a boardwalk over muddy or wet terrain, please always be careful on these boardwalks when they are wet (i.e. after even a little bit of rain) they are slightly moss-covered and become very slippery when wet. (This warning is probably best followed for all boardwalks in the park.) I ended up slipping off and luckily didn’t hurt myself, get too wet or break anything. I did need to put the boat down, get off the boardwalk and then pick everything up again. The end of the portage was a welcome sight as all that was left was the nice long paddle back to the put-in.
As I was right at the northern end of the lake and near the “best” campsite I thought I’d check it out if it was empty. It’s definitely the best campsite (on this end of the lake). The firepit and kitchen counter are great, with an amazing view. There are 2 large tent spots set back from the rocks and a short trip to the privy. Getting the boat out of the water is a little harder than the site I stayed on for the first night, but nothing too difficult to pull it up. As it was noon I decided to eat some lunch here before making the paddle back.
It was windy, stronger than the wind up the river, perhaps twice as strong, and blowing all the way up the lake. And it was blowing directly into my face for almost all of the paddle back. Not strong enough to produce any whitecaps or worry me about flipping the boat, but enough to make the paddle back very tough on a solo paddler with a traditional paddle. I made it after about 1.5 hrs of paddling.
Arriving at the put-in was a rude awakening or reintroduction to society. It was Thanksgiving Monday and the place was very busy. It looked like all the walk-in sites were full of people there for Picnics (I didn’t see any tents from the water) and even more kept arriving. (Highway 60 had reached its quota for the weekend, so it could have been overflow from that). Nonetheless, I was not prepared for people again after only seeing one other person on the first portage on day 1 and a handful of canoes at a distance all weekend.
I loaded my gear, drove 16 min back to Deep Roots Adventure to drop off the boat and was on my way back to Toronto by 2.45 pm.
South Algonquin was not a place that I had visited before. Neither had I done a solo trip before. So why not, I thought.
I’ll definitely be back to South Algonquin. It’s a quick and easy access point, which (for most of the trip) was void of people.
Sheldon is a relatively new canoer but an experienced camper. He likes doing anything outside, hiking, camping or rock climbing (the more remote the better) and has a newfound love for canoe tripping (the longer the better). Sheldon is based in Toronto, Ontario and is originally from South Africa.