Algonquin Park: Canoe Trip On Little Joe Lake

June 13-15, 2016

Camp-iversarry Time!

Alex & I decided to do something fun together instead of exchanging gifts for our one year anniversary, here’s some info & pics of our 3 days (2 nights) on Little Joe Lake. Happy Camp-iversarry!

What To Pack

Okay, first things first, you’re going camping for 3 days in an area with no electricity/gas/cell phone signal… how do you pack? Well, for starters, you’ve got to make sure that whatever you bring can fit inside a canoe (if you’re portaging to your site), and that most/all of it is in waterproof bags/containers, just incase of capsize. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll have friends & family who have gone camping loads of times before and can lend you their equipment, but if not, be prepared to spend a bit of money on some of the must-have items on our list (Canadian Tire, Mountain Equipment Co-op & Walmart should all have a lot of these things).

Here’s our full list of everything we packed for 3 days & 2 nights of camping:

  • Tent: We brought a 4 person tent, very big, because we were worried it was going to rain, and decided we’d stay and play games inside if it happened, rather than go home… If you’re tight for space, just pack a tiny 1 or 2 person tent for sleeping.
  • Map: No matter what you do, make sure you bring an actual paper map, with your route drawn out. Your phone signal will likely be lost in Algonquin Park, and even the offline GPS might not work. If you’re going for a long time, you may want to invest in a professional satellite GPS, but if it’s only for a few days like us, just be careful with your directions and use a paper map (and make sure it’s in a Ziploc bag!)
  • Bear Spray & Whistle: Make sure that you have a whistle handy at all times on the lake. It is good in case you get lost, injured, and also for scaring away animals. It is also a good idea to bring a can of bear spray. We purchased one at Canadian Tire for $50, which is a bit pricey, but worth it in case of emergency.
  • Air Mattress: Depending on where you’re camping, it can save you the back breaking pain of sleeping on a rock or tree roots with nothing but a sleeping bag under you.
  • Bear Barrel: These barrels are great for storing all food/toiletries/scented items. To keep bears away from your site, hoist the barrel so that it is hanging at least 10 feet in the air from a tree, away from your site (not super far, but maybe 50-100m). They trap all scents inside, and are very difficult to open for bears & raccoons.
  • Hammock: If you have a small one, bring it! We didn’t use ours but they’re great for a lie down & to hang out with a book by the water.
  • Stove & Fuel: If you’re willing to only eat foods that can be cooked over a fire, or foods that don’t require cooking, no need for a stove, but if you’re like us, you may want a stove to give you more options for meals. It’s also a good back up plan incase it is too rainy to get a fire going with wet wood. (Don’t forget a couple containers of fuel!)
  • Hatchet: I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH: BRING A HATCHET/AXE. You will not be allowed to bring wood from outside the park, and purchasing wood is expensive. Also, you might do something dumb like us and purchase a pack of wood since you’re only gone for a couple nights, but forget the wood at the store before you leave… a hatchet will be essential if you need to go out looking for firewood like we did!
  • Tarp: For under/over your stuff if it’s wet.
  • Rope: To tie up the bear barrel.
  • Headlamps/Flashlights: Headlamps are best because they allow you freedom with your hands to look for stuff in your bag, make meals, set up camp, or anything else in the dark. Make sure they’re fully charged & bring batteries!
  • Bug Jackets: Depending on when you go, you may want a bug jacket, or at least bring lots of bug spray & tiger balm!
  • Dry Bags: We brought 2 large, and 2 small dry bags, that are completely waterproof. They’re ideal for packing all of your clothes & sleeping gear, just incase your canoe tips or you get caught in the rain.
  • Dishes/Tools: We brought scissors, cutlery, plates, bowls, mugs, skewers, a pan, a pot, a spatula, a can opener, a sharp knife, and an oven glove for cooking with. We also brought water tablets and a pump incase we ran out of water. Make sure you bring a bucket to wash your dishes in, cloths, towels & biodegradable soap (and always dump it far from the site so you don’t attract critters!)
  • Matches: Bring a ton of matches (waterproof if you can), lighters, and newspaper/cardboard for starting fires.
  • Water Bottles: We packed our own water for the few days, and made sure to pack extra for cooking, but if you’re going for longer you may want to invest in a good water filtration pump or tablets.
  • First Aid Kit: Always have some of the essentials! Superglue, duct tape, bandages, polysporin, pepto (incase you get real sick) & advil (for fevers).
  • Toilet Paper: Unless you’re comfortable using leaves…
  • Purell: Better than soap for camping since you don’t have to rinse it off.
  • Sunscreen: I’ve had 2nd degree burn on my chest… please trust me when I say it can happen to anyone & it’s not fun.
  • Lawn Chairs: Only if you want them. There will be rocks near the fire to sit on, but they’re really not comfortable when you just want to relax, so if you have room, bring some folding chairs.
  • Towels: Pack small, quick drying travel towels for swimming.
  • Sleeping Bags: It gets a lot colder than you’d think at night, always bring a warm sleeping bag. It is better to bring too much than too little!
  • Pillows: Try to bring smaller ones, but make sure you’ll be comfortable.
  • Books & Cards/Games: Always bring a deck of cards or cribbage/board games that are small and easy to pull out on a rainy day or lazy afternoon!
  • Camera: I rarely leave on any adventure without my GoPro, ideal for travel and with a waterproof house, it’s perfect in every situation. If you’re not portaging though, bring a DSLR or other camera if you like!
  • Phone Chargers: Invest in a portable charger. I got one on amazon that was under $50 and has solar panels to recharge (charges 2-3 times when full). great for anything that plugs in with USB cables (phone/camera etc.)
  • Medical Supplies: If you’re a problem child like me, always remember to prepare for the worst case scenario! Keep medical essentials close at all times, in ziploc waterproof bags, and always pack extras of whatever you can!
  • Clothes/Shoes: Whatever you like, but make sure to bring some warm clothes & hats for at night, it really does get cold depending on what time of year you go. For shoes, runners & flip flops should have you covered, but bring hiking boots if you’re looking to go on a serious mission through the woods or up hills.
  • Cooler & Ice Pack: Pack as little food as possible that will go bad, and plan on eating it in the first day or so. Bring a small cooler with ice packs for the stuff you need to keep the coldest, but if you pull out chicken that feels warm by the time you get to it, don’t eat it. It’s better to have some back-up bread & peanut butter, or soup, rather than risk getting food poisoning while camping.

What To Eat

Plan each meal to the wire, and don’t forget condiments or cooking oils! Here’s how we planned our meals:

  • Day 1:
    • Lunch: Grilled cheese (4 slices bread, 2 cheese, ketchup), + 1 can soup to share.
    • Dinner: Stir fry (pre-made: mixed chopped beans, peppers, onion, garlic. Separate container with frozen sliced chicken.) + oil + teriyaki sauce + rice (1 cup to share)
  • Day 2:
    • Breakfast: 2 pieces toast each + 2 eggs each + 1 mango
    • Lunch: Mac & cheese (home-made ahead) + ketchup
    • Dinner: Hot dogs  (5x dogs + 5x buns) + mustard/condiments
  • Day 3:
    • Breakfast: 2 pieces toast each + 2 apples + peanut butter
    • Lunch: Tuna sandwiches, 2 pieces bread each + 1 can tuna + mayo, cut carrots on the side.
    • Dinner: On the way home at rest stop.
  • Snacks & Water:
    • 2L/person/day = 12L (1 case of 500ml water bottles), more than enough for drinking & cooking.
    • Liquor/Beer: If you want. We didn’t want to carry beer/glass so we brought a bottle of hard liquor to share & a mini baileys for hot chocolate!
    • Granola Bars: always a good idea. We brought 8.
    • Apples: easy snack. We brought 4.
    • Trail mix: grab something yummy to snack from the Bulk Barn!
    • S’mores Stuff: 1 chocolate bar + 1 sleeve graham crackers + marshmallows

How Much Is This Gonna Cost Me?

Not much, if you’re smart about it!

If you can, borrow as much equipment from friends & family as possible. You can even rent equipment from certain stores, or buy it used from Kijiji! Camping equipment itself is much more expensive than the sites and canoe rental, and unless you’re planning on doing this multiple times a year, it’s not worth investing hundreds (easily thousands) of dollars in top of the line supplies. Whatever you DO need, check to see if Walmart has it, or look on Amazon. They usually have the best deals.

Here’s a breakdown of what our costs were for our 3 days (2 nights) at Algonquin:

  • $61.00 Campsite (for 2 people, 2 nights)
  • $157.47 For 3 Days Kevlar Canoe & 2x Lifejacket rental ($40/day+tax for Canoe, $3.25/day +tax per Lifejacket)
  • $6.22 For 1 medium sized bundle of wood at the park entrance. Make sure you actually GET the wood before you leave, so you don’t end up on a canoe mission to chop down trees with a hatchet like we did.

In Total, that’s $224.69 for 3 days, 2 nights, 2 people, for a total of $112.35 each… not too shabby for a weekend away and anniversary gift! More nights & more people of course cost more, and some sites and different times of year can be more expensive too.

Booking: When & How

Make sure you call in advance and book a site (and pay a deposit) so that you know you’ll for sure be able to find a place once you get there.

Click HERE for more info & booking information for backcountry campsites at Algonquin.

We went in June, so it was pretty chilly still and still black fly & mosquito season (we were actually fine, loaded up on deet), so it was no problem to book, but at certain times of year, the sites book up pretty quickly so you’ll want to plan ahead if possible. Once you book & pay, you will have a guaranteed spot in that area (each lake usually), so once you arrive at the lake you just paddle around until you find a place without any other campers or that you like.

*TIP* If you’re like us and don’t mind a bit chillier weather and wearing lots of bug spray, go early in the season, or a bit later. We also chose to go Monday-Wednesday rather than on the weekend so it’d be less busy. We only saw about 4 or 5 other groups in the whole time, and most of them were at the entry point where you pick up your canoe, we had out lake pretty much to ourselves the whole time. Bonus, it makes it even more likely you’ll see some wild life!

Our Route: Canoe Lake to Little Joe Lake

For our first canoe trip EVER (I’ve been before, but I was much younger and had friends’ parents who were professionals) we decided not to bite off more than we could chew, so we went with a fairly easy route as far as canoe trips go. If you’re not into canoeing, or portaging, there are also plenty of drive-up locations for camping as well, but if you really want to be OUT there and “get away from it all” I’d highly recommend canoeing.

We started at Canoe Lake (Access Point 5 from the highway, click for a peek on Google Maps) where we parked our car (parking price & sticker included in the campsite rental) and unloaded our stuff onto the docks down the road by the water. This is where we also purchased the wood (which we forgot to pick up), and picked up & paid for our lifejackets and canoe. We went with the Kevlar canoe, which is a bit more expensive, but far lighter than the metal ones, so easier for portaging.

We packed up our stuff, got our map ready & lifejackets on, and started paddling North up Canoe Lake. Our route had one portage that was 295m (portage is when you have to cross an area of land, with your canoe & belongings, to reach the next lake/river). 295m was not too far, but believe me when I say it feels much farther when you’re carrying as much of your stuff in one trip as humanly possible. We made 3 round trips total on the way there (about 1.5km, carrying a heavy load) in order to get our stuff, and our canoe, to the other side, and we were VERY sweaty by the end.

The portage trail lead us to Joe Lake, where we paddled up to East Arm, and then to Little Joe Lake. The total canoe trip was somewhere close to 7km by water, but here’s the route on Google Maps, where you can see the route on the road to the right of the lakes.

Don’t forget: when you zoom out on the map link above, you’ll see the HUGE green area, filled with lakes. It is ALL Algonquin Provincial Park. We chose a route that was highly recommended, and not too far of a drive away, or too challenging. If you’re looking for something more or less challenging than what we did, there are a ton of options, just look them up on Algonquin’s website or online.

Once we arrived at Little Joe Lake, we paddled around and chose a campsite, set up our tent and our bed, and got back in the canoe to explore the area, and find firewood, since we forgot to pick ours up… Alex did an amazing job of chopping up fallen trees nearby, and I did an even better job of not killing him when he passed me 6 foot long “logs” to put into the canoe and climb over to get to my seat. In the end, it wasn’t too bad and just made us feel like we were being badass survivors, which clearly, we are now…

The Site & The Wildlife

Our site was absolutely beautiful, and a perfect spot to watch the sunset over the lake. While we sat and watched, we even saw an otter swim right up beside us, not even 10 feet away. We also saw a weasel-type animal crawling around behind us at our site, and a bunch of loons diving down into the water and coming back up again. On our way to the site we saw a great blue heron flying overhead.

Aside from that, we were surrounded by nothing but the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees. We didn’t have any bear encounters luckily, or even raccoons. We had hoped to see a moose, but unfortunately it didn’t happen this time for us. The best part was that we only saw two, maybe three other canoes go by between the first and second days, and the people inside were headed to campsites so far from us that we couldn’t even hear them in the evening. We were completely alone, and it was beautiful.

Since we chose to go in June, the first night actually got very cold. It dropped down to 3 degrees Celsius, and we went to the tent pretty early where we bundled up in our hats, mittens and sweaters, and drank our hot chocolate & baileys while we played a few games of cribbage. We also brought a reusable water bottle full of a pre-mixed gin & Fresca, which when opened, exploded all over my face… We had a fun night playing cards & drinking, and eventually went to sleep, cuddled up closer than ever to keep warm.

*Make note, though; we definitely wished we brought warmer sleeping gear, and the cuddling was less romantic, and much more “omg please hug me I’m actually so cold I can’t feel my hands”… luckily we were both good sports about it and laughed as we desperately clung to each other, putting our frozen hands on each other’s backs to warm up and making each other scream. Please learn from our mistakes: if you’re camping early/late in the season, pack extra blankets. It is better to bring too much than too little.

On our second day we went for a paddle around the lake, chopped up more firewood, hung out in the sun reading our books, and enjoyed the peace & quiet. We left just after noon on our final day and headed back to the Portage Store on Canoe Lake. We picked up our firewood and headed home. It was definitely a fun, cheap, and relaxing way to celebrate our one year anniversary, and I hope that we can do something similar next year, and maybe even make it a tradition!

Happy 1 year anniversary my Alex, cheers to being adventurous together and always making the best of things. You always know how to make me laugh and I don’t know what I’d do without you. You make my world a sun-shinier place. xo