Here is some helpful advice I wish I had when we were planning our Algonquin canoe trip.
- Pack like you would for a multi-day, backcountry hiking trip. Keep it light. Lots of small drybags are convenient for loading into a boat, but they’re a pain to carry. We spent almost as much time portaging as paddling. You’ll want most of your gear in as few backpacks as possible. (Christina says: “bring proper shoes for the portages”)
- The portages and campsites are all well marked with signs visible from a long distance away, but you’ll still need a map. We printed multiple copies of Jeff’s Algonquin Map (cropped to the area we were going) and put them in ziplock bags.
- Think about how far you want to travel each day. We were able to cover 10-12 km at a leisurely pace in 4-5 hours, but we never encountered a strong head wind. I know some groups like to cover more ground and will do 20 km in 8 hour days. The shorter days gave us lots of time to relax at the campsites (bring a deck of cards and a book). I found that my exhaustion level at the end of the day was more dependent on the portages than the paddling. Portages under 500 meters were easy and anything over 1 km was tiring. Having lots of little portages was never a bad thing (you get really good and getting gear in and out of the canoes quickly), but the bugs were often worst along the portage trails.
- In addition to the usual backcountry camping gear (tent, water filter, etc), I recommend packing a tarp, carabiners, ziplock bags, and lots of rope. A handy way to setup the tarp to prevent water pooling is to tie it low to the ground (waist height) and then use a paddle to prop up the middle.
- Learn how to setup a bear bag to keep your food safe overnight. What not to do:
- Don’t throw all of your rope into the tree. Hang on to one end.
- Don’t put lots of knots and your carabiner on the rope before throwing it over a branch. It will only get snagged. (There’s a reward for the rope and carabiner I left stuck in the tree on Big Porcupine.)
- Don’t pull your food bag too close to branches. You want it high enough to be out of the reach of bears but not too easily accessible to chipmunks. We had chipmunks chew holes in 3 dry bags.
- Campfires are allowed, assuming the forest fire risk isn’t high. Every campsite has a nice fire pit and you can scavenge deadwood. I’d recommend bringing extra paper to help get it lit. We only had a fire on two nights, but it was handy for drying clothing.
- Pack lots of toilet paper and keep it dry. No one likes to use leaves. There are box toilets at every campsite and outhouses along some of the portages. They’re rudimentary but better than digging a hole.
- For food, I like to eat fresh fruit and vegetables in the first few days, and rely on dehydrated meals at the end of the trip. Cans and bottles are prohibited in the backcountry, even if you plan on packing it out. This is in response to litter problems (likely beer bottles and beer cans). Most of our food was in ziplock bags and plastic containers, but our group did have a few contraband cans of beans. The wardens never checked when they visited our site. I’m guessing the rule is only enforced with troublemakers.
- You have to get away from the highway where the lakes have motorized boats before you have a chance of seeing wildlife. We saw two moose on our 3rd day, the midpoint of our trip, on Kirkwood Lake.
- Prepare for all kinds of weather. I was amazed by how quickly the weather changed from sunny and warm to a down-pouring thunderstorm. Bathing suits and a rain jacket are a must. A hat helps to keep the sun and rain out of your eyes. I also found biking gloves handy for paddling.
Enjoy your trip!