5 portaging trips in Algonquin Park for the adventure-seeker

As one of the most popular, storied areas in Ontario, Algonquin Park is a tried-and-true launching point for adventure. With its endless interconnected waterways and serene islands, one of the best ways to visit is by boat—and portaging, of course. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran with a canoe, Algonquin Park has countless trip options. We’ve rounded up five portaging trips everyone should try. 

Like any kind of backcountry trip, it’s crucial to be prepared and think of safety first. You’ll need the right gear, including proper-fitting lifejackets, bear spray, maps, and enough food for the length of your trip. Research your trip in advance, and check in at the park office to see if there are any important notices for visitors. Numerous outdoor outfitters around the park rent gear and can offer helpful advice.

Canoe Lake to Burnt Island Lake

Itching for a backcountry trip but only have the weekend for your trek? The Canoe Lake route’s length, difficulty, and logistics make it a great fit for a couple of days and for a group with novice or beginner portagers. Burnt Island Lake is a coveted spot in Algonquin Park and can easily be reached by the Canoe Lake access point. There are two short portages, leaving you with more than enough time to relish in the beauty of this serene spot. Many people like to make this trip in three days to leave enough time for relaxation, but it can technically be done in two if you’re shorter on time.

Barron Canyon

Barron Canyon trail is one of the most popular, easy day hikes in Algonquin Park, offering stunning panoramic views. It also happens to be part of a bucket-list portaging route, usually best fit for novice and intermediate travellers. There are many ways to do this trip, depending on where you’d like to start, but for a 2-3 day route, many people take the Grand Lake/Squirrel Rapids circuit. For this one, you’ll drop your canoe at Grand Lake and paddle to Stratton Lake, where you’ll spend the night (depending on how far you go, you can also spend it at St. Andrews Lake). Day two brings beautiful Opalescent Lake and eventually through to the Barron River, which is where you’ll catch stunning views of a canyon, with over 100 feet of rock towering above you. If you have time and energy, check out High Falls, a nearby collection of natural pools, which is a popular (and often busy) destination but well worth the extra effort.

Note: this trip usually starts on the west side of the park—it’s less accessible than routes that start off of Highway 60, it’s a bit quieter, and it’s further for those coming from the GTA.

Big Trout Lake Loop

With endless waterways and islands that you can camp on, Big Trout Lake Loop is quintessential Algonquin Park. Many trips here can be made shorter or longer, more difficult or easier—it depends on what you’d like to get out of the experience. Such is the case with this trek, another popular portaging trip that can be up to five days or longer and takes you along some well-trodden, but no less breathtaking spots in the park. Starting from accessible (and aptly named) Canoe Lake off of Highway 60, this route will take you through campsites and portaging routes on and around Otterslide, MacIntosh, and of course, Big Trout Lake. If you have the time, many folks recommend staying at either of those sites for more than one night, so you can relax, recover, and also try some fishing, which is popular in this part of the park.

Tim River to Rosebary Lake

This three-day trip offers some of the most pristine backcountry areas in the park for those willing to put in a little extra effort. It’s a little off the beaten track (at least, further off of Highway 60) and also on the north side of the park. Some things to note about Tim River: be mindful of the water levels; if they’re too high or too low, you might have to accommodate and paddle around it, although it’s not usually too much of a detour. Either way, there’s a bonus—Tim River is a common area for spotting moose. At Rosebary, if you haven’t seen any wildlife yet and are itching to (safely and from a distance), you can continue down Tim River, or go east to Longbow Lake, where moose are also sometimes seen.

Wendigo Lake to Radiant Lake

Though the number of portages involved in this five-day trip may be a deterrent to some, the paddling level is still welcome to beginner and novice folks, so keep it in mind if you’re ready to take the plunge into a classic Algonquin Park portaging trip. Kicking off in the northern part, you’ll weave through Allan Lake and North Depot Lake, finally reaching Clamshell Lake. As with many portage trips, this trek can be made shorter or longer, depending on how much water (and ground) you’re able to cover in a day. Be sure to leave time to savour Radiant Lake, and try to score the campsite on Clamshell Lake that has a rope swing into the water.

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