The last kilometer of the road into Basin Lake isn’t so much a road as it is two trenches cut out of the forest. There’s a sign at the start that says something to the effect of “use at your own risk” but it would be a more useful warning if it said “you’re about to find out what it feels like to be popcorn”. The ruts are uneven, overgrown and littered with roots and rocks. I swear I could hear my suspension crying as I bounced it across the last few hundred meters to the access point.
The parking lot, when you finally arrive, is about what you’d expect after the jackhammer impersonation you just lived through. It looks a bit like they’ve just widened the ruts and maybe cleared out a couple of trees as well, but it’s got enough room to park a few cars and, really, that’s all you need.
Basin Lake is towards the east end of Algonquin. It’s north of highway 60, well to the east of the East Gate. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive there from Ottawa and would take much longer coming from Toronto. As far as access points go, it’s not exactly a bustling hub of activity. The only thing you can access at the Basin Lake access point is Basin Lake itself (and, apparently, Algonquin’s only do it yourself roller coaster experience).
Basin is a small lake. It takes about twenty-five minutes to paddle around the entire perimeter. I know, because this is exactly what I did once I arrived, but we’ll get there. There are six sites on Basin, four of which can be booked at any given time. Of course, there’s only a couple of sites that you’d actually want to book, but we’ll get there as well. For now, let’s go back to the parking lot.
This was my first overnight trip of the 2021 camping season. I’d picked Basin Lake for a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted to see it at some point, so why not now? 2) I have a habit of booking stupidly hard trips for my first trip of the season thanks to a shaky understanding of my physical fitness that diverges further from reality with every passing day of the long winter. The nice thing about Basin Lake is that it is physically impossible to book a stupidly hard trip there. Once you take your canoe off the roof of your car and put in the water you’ve done your portaging for the weekend. I suppose if you wanted to up the difficulty level you could swim to your campsite, but other than that it’s a pretty low key destination.
I had arrived at Basin just before noon. I had hoped to be the only one there, but that hope was dashed by the two trucks already in the parking lot. Thanks to an extremely thorough trip report by Peek over at Tour Du Park, I already knew which site I wanted. The island site at the north end of the lake seemed to be the best option, by far. I also knew that the rest of the sites on the lake weren’t spectacular, so I figured I was pretty much SOL once I saw the other two vehicles. Still, there was no point in moping. Maybe those trucks belonged to day trippers? I carried my canoe down to the water, loaded up and set off.
One of the great things about a no portage trip is that you can bring so. much. stuff. I had my canoe pack, my day pack, another day pack and, the best addition of all, a cooler full of ice with a bunch of snacks and cold drinks in it (another idea I lifted from Peek’s report). I looked like I was getting ready to settle in for a week, not an overnight.
Despite the heavy load, my boat moved quickly through the water towards the other end of the lake. It was a beautiful morning. Sun shining, a touch of wind at my back. There were a couple of people fishing from kayaks near the boat launch who told me that they were just in for the day. Apart from that I had the lake to myself.
It didn’t take long to paddle to the other end of Basin. Maybe fifteen minutes, tops. It was just long enough for me to talk myself into the idea that maybe the kayak fishermen were the source of both trucks and I’d get that island site after all. Then I rounded the north end of the island and saw another guy fishing from the shallows in front of the site while his partner put the finishing touches on their tent set up.
Ok, Plan B.
There’s one other site at Basin’s north end. I decided to check it out, as it was the one site not included in Peek’s report. Maybe it was a hidden gem? A small slice of paradise hidden away in the Basin wilderness? Maybe it would be even better than that island site and I could spend long hours talking loudly about how great the site was so that my voice would carry across the water and make the island site people jealous?
It was none of these things.
The best thing this site has going for it is that it’s got a nice sandy beachfront. Once you get past that, it’s nothing special. The site is built on a hill, meaning there isn’t a ton of flat space. It’s also extremely enclosed. The foliage along the shoreline is thick in pretty much every direction. You’ve got a partially obstructed view out to a marshy area, but that’s about it.
I decided to move on.
I got back in my canoe and beelined for my second choice site. This site was on the east side of Basin’s south end. I’d seen it in Peek’s report as well and I knew that it would be a pretty decent option. It’s a good sized spot. The terrain is flat and dotted with tall pines. It’s got a nice view of the water and plenty of spaces to hang a hammock. All things considered, it didn’t seem like a bad fallback option.
I was relieved when I arrived and found that it was still free. I unloaded my gear, then took a quick walk around, running through my internal checklist of things I look for in a site: a decent fire pit (useless given there was a fire ban on at the time, but still worth checking out)? Yup. Lots of tent spaces? Yup. Useful campsite amenities? Yup. A non disgusting thunderbox? Yup. My car? Yup.
The thing about this site is that it’s about a one minute stroll from the Basin Lake parking lot. Interestingly enough, it’s not the closest site to the lot. That honour goes to the site that is actually built in the lot. Seriously. It’s hard to say where the parking ends and that site begins. I have no idea why anyone would ever want to stay there, but I suppose it’s hard to knock the convenience. I guess it’s nice to know you’ve got a spare tire handy if you ever want to throw one on the fire (don’t throw spare tires on the fire).
In a busier time my site’s proximity to the parking lot would be a deal breaker for me. The last thing you want is to have the quiet of your wilderness weekend broken up by the periodic sound of car doors slamming, horns honking and people loading/unloading. However, I knew that there were only two bookings for Basin for the night, and we were both already there. I was fairly certain that that, coupled with the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of a road leading to the lot, would keep the through traffic to a minimum.
I spent the next hour getting my site set up. It took me a bit longer than usual because I was setting up different gear than usual.
I’ve been interested in the idea of a hammock tent for a few years. I love the idea of being able to set up a tent anywhere there are two trees close enough together and not have to worry about roots, rocks or the flatness of the ground. However, I don’t love the idea of what sleeping in a hammock will do to my back, so I’ve never invested in one. That changed last year when I found out about a new aerial tent that lets you sleep flat (or mostly flat). It’s called the Opeongo Aerial A1 and I decided to throw caution to the winds and order one. It arrived last fall and I’ve been looking forward to trying it out ever since.
I’ve also been mildly terrified that I would set it up wrong and end up crashing to the ground in the middle of the night for about the same length of time.
The good news is that it’s really easy to set up! (I feel like at this point I need to say that I’m not in any way affiliated with the Opeongo guys, because this is going to sound like an ad). I found a couple of decent trees about 10-12 feet apart and before long I had the tent’s base suspended about four feet above the ground. After a few second’s thought that involved some vivid mental images of the entire thing coming apart in the middle of the night, I lowered that to about two feet off the ground. From there it was just a matter of getting the poles set up, the fly on and the gear hammock attached and voila! Take that gravity! No more ground sleeping for this guy.
With my tent set up I turned to the other piece of gear that I’d never used before: my Big Box Mosquito Shelter. I bought this three years ago, after my last June
mauling trip. (Things I also had with me on this trip that I didn’t have on that first one: bug spray, bug jacket, long pants, Thermacell, common sense, apparently). This was also really easy to set up and before long I had a nice, mostly bug-free, space to escape to when I needed it (which was good, because my usual spot for relaxing on a site, my hammock, was definitely not bug free).
At this point, however, I did not need the bug tent. With camp set up and a beautiful afternoon stretching in front of me, I decided to hop back in the canoe and check out the remaining two sites on the western side of the lake.
The first site was directly across from where I was camped. It’s on a small bump in the shoreline that I suppose you could call a point but really is more of a nub. This site, like the one in the northwest corner, was fine, but uninspiring. The terrain is uneven and there’s an okay amount of useable space. It’s got a cool sunken fire pit, so I guess it has that going for it. It’s also got an ever present background hum that you might think is a high tension power line nearby but is actually just the hordes of mosquitoes that had already staked their claim to this spot.
I moved on pretty quickly.
The next site was a bit further north on the western shore. I had a tough time finding the landing area. The campsite sign, which I know was there as recently as last fall, had disappeared. I ended up pulling up on shore near where my map said it should be and clomping through the woods until I found the clearing.
I shouldn’t have bothered.
This site was basic, buggy and beside a road (seriously, it’s like 20 steps over a small rise from the fire pit to a road). It looked like it hadn’t been used in 30 years, and the last time someone did it was to commit a murder.
Satisfied that I definitely had the second best site on the lake I got back in my canoe and finished my paddle.
The next few hours passed at a deliciously slow pace. This was the first time in months I’d been able to just sit and enjoy the feeling of having nothing to do, nowhere to be and no one to answer to. I went for a swim, read, explored the site and swam some more.
By about four o’clock I was feeling swimmed and booked out and was starting to get a bit antsy. I decided to brave Paint Can Shaker Road one more time to check out a couple of the lakes further north along Basin Lake Road.
My first stop was where the access point ruts meet back up with the actual road. There’s an old cabin standing at this intersection. In fact, it’s the oldest building still standing in the Park. It’s unlocked, so you can check out the inside and sign the guestbook. It’s a cool building. Kind of crazy to think about all the things that it’s seen over the years. Currently, judging by the smell, it is seeing a lot of animal bathroom breaks, but it’s still a really neat relic of the Park’s past.
Next I drove up to Buck Lake. Buck is about 15 minutes north and has a small, roadside campsite. It’s actually a decent enough site as far as roadside sits go. Nice and flat with a good view of the lake. Can’t really ask for much more.
After checking out Buck I turned around and headed south again. Along the way I stopped at Little Norway Lake, which is apparently a place where you can book a campsite according to the reservation map. Two things about that: 1) I couldn’t see any sign of a campsite and 2) Little Norway is a swamp. I cannot think of any circumstances where I would want to stay in that mess. But who knows? Maybe there’s a cross country skiing, swamp loving tripper out there who can’t wait to give it a shot.
Sightseeing done for the day, I headed back to Basin and made dinner. Along with the drinks and snacks, my cooler also had a couple of premade beef kebobs waiting for me. I topped those off with about a metric ton of chocolate, then headed out onto the perfectly flat water for an evening paddle.
Man, that was nice. The day, which had been hot but not uncomfortably so, had cooled down just a touch. There wasn’t a ripple in the water as I paddled down Basin’s south end and onto the creek that, eventually, leads back to the road. I didn’t go very far down that way because the bugs were also enjoying a pleasant evening along the creek, but it felt really good to be out on the lake with the sun setting to the west and the water flat under my canoe.
I finished the night with a traditional campsite activity: watching a Gerard Butler end of the world action flick on my phone from the safety of my mosquito shelter. I know watching a movie isn’t everyone’s ideal campsite activity, but when you’ve got the chance to watch the third greatest action movie star of 2014 running away from falling space rocks, how can you say no?
The only downside of my movie choice is that it turns out a story about the world ending at the hands of a rogue comet is not an ideal way to calm any first night jitters that may be brewing. By the time the movie had ended I was convinced that I was going to be flattened at some point in the night. I fell asleep wondering how the roof of my new tent had rated against molten space rock. Given how my imagination took that movie’s premise and ran with it, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t go with my first choice when I was picking what to watch.
I slept well. Really well. The tent didn’t collapse in the middle of the night and my back felt great the next morning. Those are basically the only two things I need to have happen to consider a night a success, so congrats Opeongo Aerial A1, you passed your first test.
I’d seen about all I needed to see of Basin Lake the day before, so after a quick breakfast I broke camp and packed up my car. My last stop on my way out of the Park was at the Whispering Pines Lookout, otherwise known as Egg Rock Trail (which is the far superior name). This is a short hike up from the road just past the Park boundary. And I do mean up. Every single step feels higher than the one before. But it’s worth it. The view from the lookout is spectacular. You’ve got a panoramic view north and west, including two nearby lakes and a ridgeline in the distance that seems to surround the area. That ridgeline got me wondering if the local topography was maybe the result of an ancient meteor strike. I’ll have to DM Gerard Butler and ask.
And that was it. The first overnight of 2021 is now in the books. It was a really nice way to ease back into tripping for the season. I don’t know that I need to visit Basin Lake again, but I’m not upset about my time there either. It’s a pleasant little lake that felt nice and secluded given that it’s also an access point. It’s a great spot if you want to do some quasi-car camping in a backcountry setting, or if you want to experience the fun of turbulence without ever leaving the ground.
Next up is a three night loop out of the Rain Lake access at the end of the month. Can’t wait.
245 down, 287 to go.
New Lakes: 3
Total Lakes: 3
Total Portages: 0
Total Portage Distance: 0 KM
Total Travel Distance: 3 KM