The Western Uplands Backpacking Trail is an overnight backpacking trail with multiple campsites that spans roughly 88 kilometers if you intend to complete the entire loop. It includes plenty of lake view campsites that are very well maintained and well-spaced apart providing a good level of privacy amongst campers. Beginner backpackers can experience the trail by hiking a single section of it.
The full trail trail can be accessed via 2 access points: West Gate and Rain Lake. It is considered an intermediate to advanced difficulty, depending on how far you decide to venture into the trail from the access point.
This trip report details an option for a 2 day / 1 night route.
Trip Completed: July 2020
Starting Point: West Gate Access Point
Ending Point: West Gate Access Point
Total Distance: 11.6 km
Elevation Gain: 326 m
Duration: 2 Days
We started from the West Gate Access Point which is located at KM 3 of Highway 60.
Traditional Territory: The Highland Backpacking Trail is located on the traditional territory of the Algonquin, Huron-Wendat and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Campsite Reservation: Reservations must be made through Ontario Parks Online Reservation.In previous seasons, you’d book for a campsite on a specific lake, not for a specific campsite. For the 2022 season, you must reserve a specific campsite.
Outfitters & Shuttles
We didn’t need an outfitter for this trip, as we had all of our backpacking gear. If you need any gear, Algonquin Outfitters is nearby and can supply you with just about anything.
A shuttle wasn’t necessary either, as the trail starts and ends at the same parking lot.
Day 1: Trailhead to Maple Leaf Lake North (6 km)
We left Etobicoke at 6:55 AM and were in Algonquin Provincial Park by 8:30 AM. When we first arrived, we visited the West Gate park store/information center to check in.
Note: Due to COVID, the store was not actually open and instead of having a park staff register us in for our reserved campsite, there was a manual sign in sheet that we had to fill out and also place a copy on the dash of our vehicle.
After we signed in, we made sure we took advantage of the comfort station nearby the park store and let our dog explore the surrounding for a bit. Once we were done, we drove down to the parking lot to access the West Gate access point to the Western Uplands trail.
The parking lot had a small picnic area which we used to account for all of our gear and made sure we had everything we needed.
Trailhead to the First Fork: The first section of the trail is fairly easy, the only thing that made things a little more unpleasant was the number of mosquitos we encountered as soon as we set off. The first section of the trail passes through a small creek/river and the trail was very damp and the surrounding area was very marshy. Roughly 0.5 km in, right before the fork, we had to travel across a muddy pit which had a wooden beam to avoid getting muddy and dirty. At this point, we decided to put on a jacket to avoid getting stung by more mosquitos (make sure you bring mosquito repellant!).
At the fork, we headed east of the fork to head towards Maple Leaf Lake. If you head West at the fork, you’d be going towards the Guskewau as your first campsite location.
Trailhead to Maple Leaf Lake: Right after the fork, we were relieved that we no longer had to travel on narrow wooden beams. They are quite difficult to manage when you have a dog leashed to your waist, along with a 35 lbs backpack. That joy was short lived, as we came across another stretch of the trail in which we had to trek on the narrow wooden beam surrounded by mud and mosquitos.
The terrain for the next 2 km was very well groomed and had minor ups and downs but nothing too difficult to handle. The rest of the trail all the way to Maple Leaf Lake was all uphill from there. Some parts of the climb were quite difficult with the wet and slippery rocks and roots. But when we were roughly halfway to our destination, there was a beautiful creek we had to cross which we took a short snack break at.
At the end of the climb, we were welcomed by the Maple Leaf Lake sign and headed off into the side trail into the campsites at the lake. Besides the constant uphill for 5 – 6 km, it was not a very technical terrain and we reached our campsite in 1.5 hours.
Campsite: We stayed on the last campsite at Maple Leaf Lake North. We would have stayed on the first few campsites we came across, but they were all occupied. The second campsite looked like it would have been the best campsite because of its level ground and an easy access to the lake for water but unfortunately it was already taken.
The campsite we decided to stay on was also gorgeous, with a beautiful unobstructed view of the lake, but it was quite difficult to find level ground to set up our tent. We were very thankful that the site, being so close to the lake, meant that we didn’t even have to worry about mosquitos because of how windy it was.
Day 2: Maple Leaf Lake North to Trailhead (6 km)
We were only able to get a reservation for one night, so we started packing up early in the morning after enjoying a quiet breakfast and coffee by the lake. We left camp at around 9:45 AM and we knew that this would be a much easier hike since we’d be going downhill most of the way.
The mosquitos were still out in full force, but at least it was an easier hike down; the trail was drier without any rain from the day before. We were looking forward to having an easy hike back to our vehicle since we’d be driving home after too.
We didn’t stop anywhere for a snack break this time because it was a much easier hike back, so we used this opportunity to take plenty of photos to capture our memories there. When we reached the fork, we knew that we were getting close to our vehicle, but we also knew that it meant we had to walk on narrow wooden balancing beams again.
The overnight camping and hiking experience in Algonquin were amazing, despite being pestered by mosquitos most of the time, the overall experience was very enjoyable. We actually enjoyed it so much we came back again later when we knew it wouldn’t be as buggy and did a day hike into Maple Leaf Lake and back.
Overall, we thought that the trip went very well. I think that we packed just the right amount of food and gear which helped optimize how much weight we were carrying around.
What Went Well
Well Distributed Weight: We distributed the gear very well, to ensure that the weight was well distributed between the two of us. This was important since there were parts of the trail which was quite uneven and would be bad if either of us took a tumble down.
Beautiful Campsite: The campsite we stayed on was beautiful. There was plenty of deadwood around which meant that all we really needed was our saw, and also meant that we had no problems with having a campfire. Even though the other campsites were occupied, it was still very quiet throughout the day and night.
Bug Spray and Thermacell: By far our most appreciated item that we brought on our trip. We learned our lesson when we didn’t bring enough bug spray on another backpacking trip and this time, we made sure we packed extra. We still had battle wounds from the mosquitos, but I think it would have been much worst without it.
What Could Have Gone Better
Proper Hiking Shoes/Boots: I should have gotten shoes more suited for hiking (I had regular boots on which didn’t have the best traction), so on some parts of the trail where it was quite steep, I actually slipped a few times, whereas my wife didn’t slip once because she had proper hiking boots on.
Appropriate Backpacking Tent: During this time, we also had an older tent which weighed 12 lbs and added a significant amount of weight, so if we could do it again, we’d probably bring a lighter tent.
Note: You can rent ultralight backpacking tents from most of the outfitters in Algonquin.
Bring Hiking Poles: We weren’t expecting such steep climbs in some parts of the trail, we knew based on prior research that it’d be an uphill battle to the campsite, but knowing what we know now, we would definitely bring hiking poles to help us with stability during the hike. Would have made it much easier.
Bug Mesh Hat/Jacket: The mosquitos were relentless. We both hiked in our rain jackets to avoid getting bitten the entire hike. Being that it was June, it was actually a pretty hot day, and we were sweating buckets having to keep the rain jacket on to avoid getting bit. Next time we’ll invest in some bug mesh headwear or jacket.
Too Much Food and Clothes: We overpacked when it comes to food and clothes. We overestimated how much food we would need and the spare clothes we brought with us. This would have helped us in reducing the weight of our backpacks further.
We are a couple situated in Southern Ontario that are avid campers, hikers and backpackers documenting our journeys as they occur. We are passionate about exploring crown land, Provincial and National parks across Ontario.