Number of days: 4
Portages: 6 (round trip)
Access Point: #29 Kiosk Lake
Visited: August 2021
Every year we head into the interior of Algonquin Provincial Park by canoe to backcountry camp for a few days. Last year during one of the toughest portages on our route to Erables Lake, we met someone on the trail that recommended Manitou Lake. Sure, one of the portages is a grueling 1.4km in length, but the guy said it was relatively flat. With the promise that many of the sites on Manitou Lake are reputed to have their own private sandy beaches, we were in. So we decided to give it a whirl, long portage and all.
Day 1: From Kiosk to Manitou
We drove to North Bay Friday night and met up with P, K, E, and M. Similar to previous years, we stayed in a hotel the night before. We woke up super early at 6:30a.m to eat breakfast and finish organizing our packs. We then headed to Algonquin North Outfitters to pick up our paddles and life jackets. Our canoes would be waiting for us down by the water. From there it’s about an hour to get to our access point at Kioshkokwi (Kiosk) Lake.
We checked in at the Park Office to collect our backcountry permit and then headed down to the water to find our canoes. There’s a wide pebble beach along the shore which made loading our canoes pretty easy. We launched off from the shore just after 9:30a.m.
It was a little chilly outside (13°C) and it was a mix of sun and clouds. The skies even looked a bit hazy from all the recent wildfires in northwestern Ontario. The water was mostly calm so we had a smooth paddle across Kiosk Lake. There are three portage routes from Kiosk, one into Little Mink Lake, one into Maple Creek and the other into Amable du Fond River. The latter is where we were headed.
Once we made it past Wolf Bay we had to canoe around a series of obstacles in the form of huge logs of timber sticking out of the water. These were sometimes hard to spot as just the end of the log was poking out underneath the water.
It took just under an hour and a half to reach the first (of three) portages from Kiosk to Amable du Fond River (365m). The portage itself wasn’t too bad. The trail crosses a service road and there was a hill to climb, but overall it was pretty good.
The portage ends at a small beach with a steep drop off that can really only accommodate one, maybe two canoes at a time. There is also an alternative route which involves another portage (485m) that is often used when the water levels are low. We decided to try our luck on the water as we had a lengthy portage coming up and wanted to save our strength.
When we got in the water, we turned right, but it turns out that’s not the right way to go. We instead had to backtrack and kept to the left. The river was a bit shallow in certain spots and we had to get out to pull the canoe along at one point. We were back in the canoe for a short stretch before we reached the next portage by the rapids (300m). We could here the rapids before we saw them. The path had some muddy sections, but for the most part it was relatively straight forward.
We were back in our canoes in no time and continued along the Amable du Fond River. Shortly after starting along this stretch of the river, we passed a few large rocks and fast moving water. We had to quickly hop out of the canoe onto the large rocks that were partially submerged to get over this section as there was no way we could paddle through. Getting back into the canoe was a bit of a challenge because of the current. But we managed.
We then reached the final and longest portage of our route. And oh boy was it a doozy as it clocks in at 1.4km. The path itself is reasonably flat and quite scenic. It’s just really really long. The path winds through the forest and there’s a few boardwalk sections along the first stretch. The path comes out to a grassy field and from there we could see the shores of Manitou Lake. There’s a large sandy beach here which looked like a great spot to go for a swim. But we still had work to do, or rather portaging and paddling to do.
We contemplated taking a break at the beach, but decided to just go back and grab the rest of our gear to get the portage over and done with. Besides, the hike back gave us time to recover. Once we lugged the rest of our gear and canoes over we took off as some dark clouds were rolling in and it looked like rain was on the horizon.
At first it wasn’t that bad of a paddle, but as soon as we passed the first island (both sites were taken), the wind started to pick up considerably. And there were waves. I can only describe the next hour of paddling as intense. It felt like we were paddling for our lives. Water was coming in the front of the canoe and to make matters even more challenging, we both had to keep paddling on the one side of the canoe to keep from getting pushed into the waves. There was no opportunity to switch sides or take a break.
It took all of our effort to reach the next series of sites on the peninsula. And thank goodness the first one was free. P and E canoed around the point and noticed the other two sites were taken. I honestly couldn’t have cared less what our site looked like, I was just happy to be on solid ground. I have never been that afraid of capsizing in a canoe. Shortly after pulling onto shore, it started to lightly rain. I could only imagine just how much more miserable our paddle could have been if we were still out on the open water.
The site itself was pretty decent. There were a couple of flat spots underneath the trees by the shoreline for us to pitch our tents. The fire pit was located towards the back of the site and there was one decent log to sit on. The other log looked like someone had tried to burn it (why?).
We quickly set up our tents and tarps, including one for over the seating area. We then scavenged for firewood to get a fire going before the rain got worse. It steadily rained for the rest of the afternoon, but cleared up around dinner. We went to bed early that night.
Day 2: Upgrading Sites
We woke up to a cold and chilly morning. The forecast was calling for some rain today, so since I was the first one up, I decided to gather some firewood to warm-up. They say that wood heats you up three times after all: when you collect it, cut it and burn it.
P and K got up next. We boiled some water for coffee and tea and started to make breakfast. Naturally that’s when the others got up. We got the fire going for warmth and continued collecting firewood throughout the morning. By the early afternoon the clouds were starting to clear and we even got a bit of sun. It was still quite windy though.
K, P and M went for a canoe ride around the peninsula while K and I walked along the shoreline of the peninsula. The second site was still occupied, but the third one was free and oh wow was it a gem. There’s a huge sandy beach and a great seating area around the firepit which overlooked the lake. And best of all, it wasn’t windy on this side of the peninsula. We made an executive decision to switch sites. We were a bit hesitant as it would be a lot of work to pack everything up, move it over, and set if all up again. But we were up for the challenge. Besides, it gave us something to do for the day.
M stayed behind to claim our site while the rest of us foraged through the forest to see if there was a path to connect the sites, which there kind of was with minimal bushwacking required. We took down all the tarps, packed everything up and made a few trips by canoe and on foot to carry everything over, including some of the firewood we gathered earlier in the morning.
It was well worth the effort. After setting everything back up again, we spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach. We then got a fire going, ate dinner and had some s’mores.
Day 3: Exploring Manitou Lake
We woke up to a beautiful day of blue skies and sun. This made it all worth it to switch sites as we were able to enjoy the views of the lake and sandy beach straight from our campsite. After eating a late breakfast, we went for a paddle around Manitou Lake.
There was a bit of a breeze, but this was nothing compared to the paddle in. We set off with a day-pack filled with some water and snacks and had a map in hand to check out the remaining sites on Manitou Lake. While the lake was fully booked on Friday night, it looked like most people had already moved on as were able to explore quite a few empty sites. Overall, there are about 50 sites on Manitou and we explored just over a fifth of them.
On the paddle back, we swung around to the opposite side of the lake and took a break at one of the sites along the water. There are actually two sites here, both of which had nice sandy stretches of beach, There weren’t many flat spots for tents though and the seating area was quite exposed. The general consensus was that our site was the best one on the lake. We ate some snacks and then paddled in the wind back to our site.
By the time we returned it was just after 3p.m. The wind had picked up and it was getting a little chilly. We brought our chairs down to the beach and sat in the sun to soak in some of its warmth. We hung out here until it was time to make dinner.
Day 4: From Manitou to Kiosk
I didn’t sleep much on account of the wind. I was worried about the paddle back, especially since we had not just one, but two, big lakes to cross: Manitou and Kiosk. But at least the weather was nice. We took our time to eat breakfast and leisurely pack up our stuff. By the time we headed out onto the water it was just past 10:30a.m.
The wind had picked up, but at least it was blowing in the right direction. It was a relatively smooth paddle (or rather sail) across Manitou Lake. It took us 35 minutes to reach the large beach area, which wasn’t bad considering it took us twice as long to reach our site on the paddle in. Since we were making great time, we decided to check out the site located at the one end of the beach. It was a bit underwhelming, but there was at least decent seating around the fire (even if the logs were a bit further back).
As with all our portages, it took us two trips back and forth to carry all our gear over. Thankfully our packs were noticeably lighter on the return trip as we had less food (and drinks). We hopped back in the canoe for a short stretch until we reached the next portage which links back with the Amable du Fond River.
It was a short paddle to reach our next portage, but it came with a bit of a challenge. There’s a small section with fast moving water right before the end of the portage. On the paddle in, we had to hop out of the canoe onto the rocks to push it through, all the while having to deal with the current. Thankfully K and M went first and managed to find an optimal path, so we just followed where they went and tried to do what they did. There were some tense moments, but we made it through. We passed the rapids only to find another pair of canoers that did not fare as well. They were going in the opposite direction and ended up tipping their canoe. They managed to retrieve their packs and get their dog over to the shore for safety, but they lost a paddle in the panic. There was no way to retrieve it as the next section of the river consisted of fast moving rapids.
As we walked along the portage, we tried to see if we could spot their paddle in the rapids. We couldn’t. It looked pretty treacherous down there.
We loaded our canoes one last time and launched into Kiosk Lake. Thankfully the wind was still blowing in the right direction and it was a relatively smooth paddle back to shore. We saw a few paddlers head in the opposite direction and all I can say was oh wow did they look miserable.
We arrived back at the access point shortly after 3p.m. We unloaded our gear and retrieved our cars. K and P went to go for a swim while the rest of us finished packing up the cars. By the time we left the park, it was just after 4:30p.m. The consensus was that for next summer we’re just going to stick to smaller lakes.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here