Last summer I took my daughter on her first canoe trip to Ragged Lake. She loved it. She ate her body weight in marshmallows, smuggled kool-aid mix into the tent and generally rocked the whole tripping experience. This year she couldn’t wait to go out again, and this time she wanted to bring her two year old brother along with her. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to keep track of a jet propelled two year old in Algonquin, but it’s kind of terrifying. So I enlisted the help of my sister and brother-in-law, who graciously made the drive from Toronto for the trip.
We decided to give Sec Lake a try. It’s on the eastern side of the park and, importantly when you’re chauffeuring two small children, requires zero portaging to get from the parking lot to your campsite. The lake has 18 paddle in sites, all within easy reach of the access point parking lot. This makes it kind of ideal for introducing small children to camping, but not as ideal if you’re hoping to have an Algonquin experience free of the majestic call of the wild car alarm.
We arrived at the access point mid morning. The road leading into Sec Lake is kind of narrow and, at least right now, flooded out in a couple of spots. It was kind of cool having water spraying up on either side of our vehicle in a “welcome to Jurassic Park” kind of way, but I wouldn’t want to be going through there with a low riding car right now. Fortunately, we made it to the loading area without either of our vehicles floating away and were able to quickly load up our boats and head off.
My daughter was with my sister and brother-in-law in one of the canoes, and my son paddled with me in the front of my solo boat. I’m using the term “paddled” loosely here. A more accurate term would be “threw his paddle into the water every thirty seconds, then when I took the paddle away threw his hat and one sandal into the water instead and called me a pooh pooh butt.” But that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as “paddled” so paddled it is.
Fortunately for everyone involved, we quickly found a site that checked off all the boxes on the “can I sleep here?” Checklist (camping version. There’s a “can I sleep here checklist” for pretty much every event possible, up to and including weddings, sporting events and drainage ditches on the side of Australian highways (the Australian highway one is heavy on snake related questions)). The site was relatively open, had a couple of ok spots to pitch a tent and, most importantly as far as the kids were concerned, had an awesome rocky point for swimming and throwing things in the water.
We set up camp, had a quick lunch, then pushed off in the canoes for some exploring. Once again the Czernik men were sharing a canoe, and once again the smaller of the Czernik men had zero interest in using his paddle as it was originally intended. Fortunately, Sec Lake isn’t that big, so paddling a wildly unhelpful two year old around it isn’t a big deal, even if you are battling a bit of a headwind as we were that day.
We paddled around a bit, then headed over to the Wet Lake portage. My hope was that we’d be able to complete the small loop from Sec to Wet Lake to Norm’s Lake and back to Sec before the kids completely rebelled. It started off pretty well. My daughter was excited to carry her paddle across the portage and we’d brought a kid carrier backpack so that someone could portage my son and have their ears pulled on at random intervals. That someone was my sister on this portage, so I left her with the kids and ran ahead with the canoe.
The portage between Sec Lake and Wet Lake is about 800m and pretty decent. There are a couple of interesting obstacles towards the Wet Lake end, but by and large it’s a clear, flat walk through the bugs/woods. I made it to Wet Lake pretty quickly, dropped my boat, and headed back to walk with my daughter. That didn’t happen, mainly because my daughter, being far smarter than I am, had managed to convince her aunt to carry both her and her brother across the entire portage. So, about 100 metres from the end of the trail I found my sister with one kid on her front and the other on her back, clambering up one of those obstacles I mentioned earlier and looking like she wished she’d just taken a canoe.
Wet Lake is a nice little lake. The Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee really knocked it out of the ballpark when they named it. Wet is a perfectly accurate description of the contents of the lake, something I can attest to since my son was once again throwing everything not nailed down overboard and I was constantly proving and reproving that water is wet by dipping my hands into it to fish things out. There’s only one campsite on Wet Lake, and it also happens to be the start of the portage to Norm’s Lake. It actually looks like a decent little site if you’re looking for a private lake for the night. True, it’s on a portage, but as I soon learned, the Norm to Wet Lake portage isn’t exactly a high traffic trail.
Starting off along the Wet to Norm Portage (marked at 750m on Jeff’s Map) is great for the first 100 or so metres. Then you come to a place where the portage meets an old logging road and you have to decide if you should go left or right. There are exactly zero helpful markings or arrows or flashing neon signs at this intersection, so you kind of have to guess. We took the right hand option, which, spoiler, was the wrong option. (FYI, the left hand option is also wrong. There’s a third option that is really, really hard to see about 50m down the road that cuts back into the forest. The sign is all but invisible coming from the direction of Wet Lake and the trail is completely overgrown. I guess Norm doesn’t want anyone visiting his lake).
Back to the crossroads, the right hand option takes you along an almost 2k portage back to Sec Lake which, at least, is super flat and easy to follow. So easy that you can get really far down it before you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. Apparently this is going to be the summer of portaging random Algonquin back roads. By the time we realized our mistake we were already close to Sec, and the kids were rapidly losing their enthusiasm for being chewed on by every mosquito in Eastern Ontario, so we decided to slightly change our plans. My sister and brother-in-law headed back to the campsite with the kids while I made a slight detour up to Norm’s Lake from Sec.
The portage from Sec to Norm is much easier to follow than the one from Wet to Norm. It’s just over 1km of gradual uphill, but the trail is clear enough despite being marked as unmaintained on Jeff’s Map. Norm’s Lake itself is a decent reward for the hike. It’s small, with a few lily pads at the portage put in and one extremely disinterested loon. I paddled around a bit while the loon made a show of ignoring me, had a snack, then headed back down to Sec Lake and the campsite.
My plan for the rest of the trip was to duck over to Mallard (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) after dinner and then do an early morning run down to Little Sec and Log Canoe the next day. My son’s plan, however, was to stumble around like newly legal frosh during the first week of college, fall and bang various parts of his body on various things on the ground. This led to our discovery of a rather large and golf ball sized bump on his temple just as we were getting ready for bed. This was kind of strange, none of us had seen him bang his head, but the lump was pretty hard to ignore.
I’m fairly blasé about most things, but head trauma scares the crap out of me. Despite the fact that he seemed perfectly normal and wasn’t complaining at all, I decided I didn’t want to keep him out overnight so far from any kind of medical help. So, we packed up the site in record time and I drove back to Ottawa with the kids. We arrived back at 11pm and I took my son in to see my wife before heading over to CHEO. She took one look at him, sighed, wondered what she’d been on when she agreed to marry me, and said “that’s a bug bite”. So, yeah, moral of this story: come paddling with me and I will evacuate you for a bug bite (but slice your hand open and I’ll rub a pine cone on it and tell you to suck it up).
All in all, despite the unexpected change of plans, it was a very nice day in Algonquin and a good way to get back on the water after a couple months off. My feelings about Sec Lake are kind of mixed. I think it’s a perfect place to take young kids for a taste of tripping, but I don’t think I’d make it a destination if I was looking for a true backcountry experience. It’s more like car camping with a touch of paddling thrown into the mix. While the offshoot lakes do give you some opportunities to stretch your portaging legs, if I wanted a canoe trip I’d probably head a bit further down the road to the Achray Access Point and check out the (absolutely gorgeous) Barron Canyon and its surrounding lakes. However, if I wanted a great spot to introduce someone to camping, or to just relax and enjoy a beautiful slice of Algonquin, Sec Lake fits the bill. Just watch out for the bugs.
New Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Portages: 3
Total Portage Distance: 4.63 KM
Total Travel Distance: 8 KM