Algonquin – Manitou Lake

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

72 thoughts on “Algonquin – Manitou Lake

  1. kagould17 says:

    That looks like quite the adventure. It is bad enough toting all your gear with you, but adding the canoe must have been a challenge. Looks like the end campsite was well worth it though. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Despite having done this for a few years, we still haven’t found the best way to optimize our packing. It usually takes us two trips to carry the canoe and all our gear over. And I swear, every year we manage to bring more stuff. Having to pack up to switch sites definitely was a lot of work, but it was worth it. Thankfully we didn’t have to canoe far as I don’t think my arms were fully recovered from the previous day on our paddle in. Thanks for reading. Linda

  2. Darlene says:

    Amazing! Bravo to you for attempting this. I visited Algonquin Park and Manitou Lake many years ago. I recall it was beautiful. We slept in our friend’s parents cabin. Not as brave as you.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! This definitely takes camping to the next level! I’ve seen a few lakes in Algonquin that still have private cottages on them and have always been envious that they have this little slice of paradise to enjoy.

  3. pam@ichoosethis says:

    This looks like a great adventure even with a few unfortunate moments. That second camp spot on the beach looks amazing. It’s on my bucket list to canoe/camp. Some day soon, I hope. Thanks for sharing the experience.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Algonquin is the perfect place to explore the backcountry, especially up in the north where it tends to be a lot quieter. Even though it was a lot of work to pack up to switch sites, it was so worth it. Besides, we didn’t have a lot of paddling to do, which was great as my arms (and nerves) weren’t fully recovered from the paddle in the day before. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Manitou has been one of the nicest lakes we’ve camped on, but it was definitely a challenge to get to. It’s funny how the portages weren’t so much of an issue, but rather paddling in the wind and waves. I think next year we’re going to try to stick to a route with smaller lakes and streams. Hopefully this way we can finally spot a moose in the park!

      • Monkey's Tale says:

        Ya, I get that. Our friends took us out on Georgian Bay one of the days and twice just on its edge. I preferred the calm rivers and canals to the big waves and wind.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I have yet to brave canoeing in Georgian Bay. That seems a bit too risky as so much of it depends on the weather (or rather the wind). The smaller river systems are much more protected and I find you get to see a lot more. It also doesn’t feel like you’re not moving anywhere, which can sometimes be an issue when paddling in a bigger lake. That being said, the shoreline around Georgian Bay is quite scenic with all those rocky outcrops and windswept pines.

  4. coloradochelsea says:

    That second campsite is amazing. It was a good idea to switch! I have never gone on a paddling trip before, and I can’t even begin to imagine how tough the portages are. But it looks like it was worth the effort to spend a few days in such a beautiful place.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I think if it was our last day in Algonquin we probably wouldn’t have gone through all that effort to switch sites, but since we were still there for another two days, we figured it was worth the effort. And it was. We do a lot of hiking during the year, but canoeing and portaging is a great way to shake things up while still having an adventure. It’s nice to get away from the crowds and just be surrounded by nature.

  5. John says:

    You’ve had quite the adventure! You guys must be in great physical condition to do all the portaging and set up, break down of camp. Lovely photos too!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always an adventure when we venture into the backcountry in Algonquin. It’s a lot of work to get to our campsite and it doesn’t help that we are terrible packers. Even though we’ve done this several times, I swear, each year we manage to take more stuff with us. But it’s all worth it for the solitude and being completely surrounded by the wilderness.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The canoe ride back was amazing as we had the wind behind us the entire time and it helped push us forward. The paddle in on the other hand was a bit of a struggle once we reached Manitou Lake. It’s never fun paddling in the wind on a big lake, especially when it’s so windy that there are waves. My arm has never been so sore from having to paddle on the same side for what felt like an hour. But hey, at least it wasn’t raining.

  6. leightontravels says:

    Sounded quite dramatic at times. The second campsite with that amazing sunset was well worth the effort. I don’t think I’ll ever do a multi-day paddling trip, but kudos to you for being so adventurous.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I swear, every year we pick a harder route! And here we thought the long portage was going to be an issue, but it turned out it was the paddling because of how windy it was. I can’t even begin to imagine what we would have done if the site we came across wasn’t free. Switching sites the next day was a lot of work, but it was well worth the effort. Thankfully we didn’t have far to get to as I don’t think my arms (and nerves) had fully recovered at that point.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s amazing how many lakes, rivers and streams are in Algonquin. We’ve been coming here every summer for the past few years and always pick a new route. We’ve already starting planning our trip for next summer.

  7. Little Miss Traveller says:

    What a wonderful location for a canoe trip, you must both be super fit to have the stamina to paddle for so long. The sunset is beautiful at the campsite you moved on to and it must have felt so relaxing there after a long day.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Algonquin is one of our favourite places in Ontario to just enjoy the outdoors. Backcountry camping is a great way to avoid the crowds as it feels like you have a little slice of nature all to yourself. It’s a lot of work, but we always manage to have a good time. We know we made the right decision to switch sites when we saw the sunset. We would have missed that entirely on our first site. It was a nice reward for our efforts.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment! The pandemic has given us a good excuse to explore more of what’s in our own backyard. Turns out we have some pretty great trails, beaches, and parks. Backcountry camping is always a great way to avoid the crowds and just enjoy nature.

      • michellecj333 says:

        Exactly right. And yes, we have seen more in our close proximity through the pandemic also. I’m grateful for truly loving to be in nature – sooo many of our friends and family don’t understand it and we say they’re missing out! Big hug!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        If it weren’t for spending time in nature during the pandemic (and in general), I’d probably go crazy. It’s such a good way to destress and just focus on the moment. I find that people who don’t spend time outdoors just can’t relate. They are definitely missing out!!

  8. Lookoom says:

    This is a beautiful story of a summer weekend, where it seems that the effort of paddling and portaging dominates the memories. There must also be some good times on the beach by the lake, away from civilization. I’m glad you can have that kind of weekend near where you live, big city and back country at hand.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. As much as I complain about the portages and paddling in the wind, it’s always worth the effort to get away from civilization and the crowds and to just enjoy the natural beauty around us. It was lovely having our own private sandy beach and that’s where we spent most of our day when we were at our campsite. This has been one of the nicest sites we’ve stayed at in Algonquin.

  9. Ab says:

    That looked and sounded like such a great adventure. I’ve always thought about and want to do a real camping trip, portage, canoe, and all that. But it just seems so intense with all the paddling and having to carry your gear. No washrooms etc. But it must feel so gratifying to complete that long adventure.

    Canoeing and paddling amongst those intense windy waves must’ve been exhausting. That’s what I dread the most. But the campsite and the views on Manitou Lake are so lovely.

    And yum yum to campfire s’mores!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s always a lot of work to backcountry camp and it requires much more planning and preparation. But it’s so rewarding. It’s a great way to connect with nature and avoid the crowds. The nice thing about Algonquin is that there are hundreds of different canoe route options depending on your skill level or how long you want to spend in the backcountry. I went a few years ago with my sister for one night and we didn’t do any portages and just paddled to our site.

      Next year we’re going to stick with a smaller lake system. Thinking about paddling in those winds and waves still gives me anxiety!

      • Ab says:

        I can only imagine the preparation required. Wanting to make sure you have enough but not overdoing it cuz you have to carry everything. I would love to do this with T one day when he’s older.

        A smaller lake system would like a good plan. I’m terrible at canoeing and would definitely die in high waves and windy conditions. 😊

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Yes, not to mention getting the proper gear as well, such as a lightweight tent, a sleeping bag that can condense down in size and a multi-day backpack. None of that stuff comes cheap. And you can really tell the difference between the good stuff versus the not so good camping gear when you have to carry it all on your back and when the weather isn’t ideal! It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding. Even though we’ve had some pretty terrible weather while camping in Algonquin, we’ve never had a bad trip, just great stories to tell afterwards.

      • Ab says:

        I find trip planning surprisingly fun so I can imagine the logistics you have think through as you said. 😊 Bad weather, not so much. But definitely great stories to tell afterwards!

  10. jmankowsky says:

    Holy Moly! What an experience! You folks must have nerves of steel. The lake looks ab fab though. Your beach was amazing. Just wondering..does a cell phone work at any point on these trips? (Sorry if that’s a silly question. ) Just worried about safety!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Backcountry camping in Algonquin is always such an adventure and experience. It’s a lot of work, but the scenery is simply stunning. It’s the perfect place to enjoy Ontario’s wilderness and reconnect with nature. There is no cell reception, which can be both good and bad. Thankfully we’ve never had any issues with injuries or the wildlife, and let’s hope it stays that way! The same group of six of us has been going every summer for the past few years, so it’s nice to have some safety in numbers.

  11. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    Wow! Quite an adventure! Years ago we had a terrible canoe trip. It rained and blew (it was really quite a bad storm) and everything we had was wet. Fighting against the wind in the canoe was awful, and we also had a portage, so I understand your consternation. At least your second campsite was gorgeous!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ugh, that sounds brutal. That’s one of my biggest fears while backcountry camping in Algonquin, that and the bears. Canoeing in the wind and rain is never fun. I line my pack with a double layer of garbage bags and keep my sleeping bag and an extra pair of clothes in a dry sack just in case. We also take tarps with us to hang over the firepit and tent area just in case. We’ve learned from past mistakes and just try to become more prepared next year.

      The second campsite was amazing. It’s funny how even though it was a lot of work to move our stuff over, as soon as we were finished setting everything back up, everyone seemed to be in such a better mood. We all needed a win after the day before, and this site was a real gem.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was quite the adventure to reach our site. But once we did, we had a wonderful time backcountry camping and just enjoying our surroundings and each other’s company. It definitely is a great way to feel closer to nature. Thanks for reading. Linda

  12. wetanddustyroads says:

    We take our kayak often out on the lake here in our hometown … but it’s a small lake and nothing in comparison what you have done! And I know how strenuous it is to paddle into the wind – hard on the arms and scared of capsizing with waves coming from the ‘wrong’ side! But what an adventure and wow, just love your second camping spot!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We spend so much time hiking that it’s nice to shake things up once in awhile and do something different. But paddling can be a lot of work, especially when it’s windy and wavy. Thankfully we managed to get to shore and find a site before it started to rain. Otherwise that would have been just pure misery. That second site was fantastic. It’s funny how even though it was a lot of work to pack everything up only to set it back up again, everyone just seemed to be in such a better mood afterwards.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      And here we thought the 1.4km portage would be the real issue! The thing with big lakes is that the water can be rough when it’s windy and raining. Plus it feels like it takes foreverrrr to get somewhere. I’m just glad the site was fantastic and that we had our own private sandy beach. Next year we’re going to steer clear of the big lakes though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I know, it’s very Canadian, eh? We do a lot of hiking so it’s nice to shake things up once in awhile and do something different. I find it’s a great way to explore the backcountry and it’s much easier than hiking in with all your gear (assuming you’re not paddling against the wind on a big lake though). Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I much prefer to canoe through smaller lake and river systems as there is usually more of a variety in what you see and there’s the benefit of being more protected from the wind.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Roasting marshmallows and making s’mores is all part of the camping experience. I’m glad we switched sites as we were able to enjoy the fire while also looking out onto the lake. It was a lot of work to paddle in, but it was so worth it.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. Backcountry camping in Algonquin is such a unique experience, but it always feel so rewarding. There’s a good reason we come back every summer, but we typically try to plan a different canoe route each time to explore a new area in the park.

  13. rkrontheroad says:

    This trek was quite a challenge with all the portages. You must be in great shape after this one, if not sore (I would be)! Some lovely spots to camp and beautiful lake views.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Surprisingly the portages weren’t the main challenge along this canoe route, it was paddling in the wind on our first day. Since we couldn’t switch sides, I felt like my arm was going to fall off. I wouldn’t exactly say that we’re in great shape, just that we have a lot of determination! Despite the wind, we had such a lovely time in the backcountry.

  14. CommonSenseTom says:

    Tho it involved a six decades younger me enjoying a bygone family road trip thru the lower and upper Michigan peninsulas (en route to our Minnesota Iron Range destination), many of your photographed scenes and descriptions (inclusive of the gusty, chilly weather conditions) revive my distant, fond memories. Your travel-blog made living vicariously thru you / your companions a thrill. Thank-you for sharing your adventure.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’ve heard that Michigan and Minnesota have a similar landscape to Northern Ontario. I’d love to take a road trip around Lake Superior someday. I’ve visited the northern shores of Lake Superior a few times during the pandemic and fell in love with the landscape. Take care. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Haha, thanks. We typically do a lot of hiking and car camping, so it’s always nice to push ourselves and do something different. It was a lot of work and required much more planning and preparation, but it’s so rewarding. It’s a lovely feeling being completely surrounded by wilderness. It’s not something I would ever do on my own, but it’s great to do with a group.

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It’s great team building, that’s for sure!! We never could have done this alone the first time we visited Algonquin. Or if we had, we probably wouldn’t have made it out alive, haha. You never know what will happen in the backcountry in terms of the weather or wildlife, and there is no reception, so I always feel safer travelling in a group. We go with the same group every summer and it’s become an annual tradition for us. It’s easily one of my favourite camping trips every summer.

  15. BernieLynne says:

    I’ve only done two trips like this in my youth. Pretty sure that boat has now passed me by but it looks amazing. Kudos to you all for the strength and mental fortitude to get there and back.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We tend to do a lot of camping and hiking, but Algonquin takes it to the next level. It’s a lot of work to plan, pack and prepare, but it’s a great way to experience a different side of the province and escape the crowds. Despite the windy conditions, it was a great trip with amazing company. I’m looking forward to planning our route for next summer. Take care. Linda

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