All of Algonquin

Trip Reports, Campsite Reviews & More

Trip Reports, Campsites & More

The Thunderbox

Volume 1 - July 2022

Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. Why’s it called the Thunderbox? Honestly, it was that or the Access Point and this way I get to use a picture of a thunderbox in the header, so there you have it.

This newsletter includes a spotlight lake, recent trip and campsite reports, reviews of any new gear I’ve been trying out (or maybe just old gear that I’m a huge fan of) and links to any relevant Algonquin content I’ve come across recently. Hope you enjoy (and feel free to subscribe if you do! You’ll get this roundup plus each trip report as it’s published). 

Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. Why’s it called the Thunderbox? Honestly, it was that or the Access Point and this way I get to use a picture of a thunderbox in the header, so there you have it.

This newsletter includes a spotlight lake, recent trip and campsite reports, reviews of any new gear I’ve been trying out (or maybe just old gear that I’m a huge fan of) and links to any relevant Algonquin content I’ve come across recently. Hope you enjoy (and feel free to subscribe if you do! You’ll get this roundup plus each trip report as it’s published). 

What's Going On?

It’s been a slow start to the paddling season for me. After my May long weekend loop up through Fassett Lake, I’ve been in a canoe exactly once: for a 45 minute paddle around Canoe Lake back in June. As anyone who’s been following along here for any length of time knows, that’s unusual for me. Usually by now I’ve got a couple of trips under my belt and at least one brush with disaster. What can I say? Life got busy.

On the plus side, August is shaping up to be a good chance to make up for lost time. I have a couple of weekend trips with my family in the works, a longer solo trip in early August through a part of the Park I’ve never seen before, and another four day trip with some buddies over Labour Day. All in all, I’m looking forward to cramming in some paddling time. Until then, let’s talk about Drummer Lake.

Spotlight Lake: Drummer Lake

Drummer Lake from the end of the Sam/Drummer portage

Just west of Canoe lake is a string of small to midsized lakes that I’ve always known as the Ahmek District. The story goes that the canoe routes through the area were established by campers and staff from Camp Ahmek (an all boys camp that sprawls along the northeast shore of nearby Canoe Lake) back in the mid 1940s and 50s. That sounds reasonable enough to me, so let’s stick with it. It’s a surprisingly rugged spot to trip given its proximity to Canoe Lake, but it’s also well worth the effort. Our inaugural spotlight section focuses on the lake that I think of as the gateway to the Ahmek District: Drummer Lake.

Drummer Lake is about five kilometers from the Canoe Lake access point. Here’s a list of other lakes that are also about five kilometers from Canoe Lake: Looking north, we’ve got Joe Lake, Tepee Lake, Little Joe (but actually Little Joe is further than five kilometers) and Potter Lake (also a bit further). Heading south we’ve got Ragged Lake and Parkside Bay (also part of Ragged, but you book it separately). What each of these lakes have in common, particularly on weekends and during the busiest parts of the summer, is that they can be as crowded as a Best Buy on Black Friday.

Drummer, for all its proximity to the busiest access point in the park, isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, you probably won’t be able to get a spot up there last minute on Labour Day, but there’s a good chance you’ll find something many other weekends. And if Drummer isn’t free, I’d bet you Tonakela or Thunder, the next two lakes along the way into the Ahmek District, are. Why is this? Because unlike Joe, Tepee, Little Joe and all the other hotspots we just listed (which are separated from Canoe Lake by a single, short portage regardless of which direction you’re headed), Drummer is 2.2 KM of uphill, low maintenance portaging away from Canoe Lake.

It turns out that many people looking at the map of spots around Canoe Lake look at the low maintenance lines meandering westward up to Drummer and beyond and say no thanks. Which is a shame for them, because that area just west of Canoe Lake is a cool place to visit. I head up to Drummer frequently and it’s very rare that I cross paths with anyone coming the other way.

Drummer is the first lake you can camp on heading west from Canoe Lake. (There are two lakes in between Drummer and Canoe Lake, Sam and Gill, but they’re both very small and don’t have any campsites). Coming from Canoe Lake, you arrive at Drummer’s east end. Drummer is longer east/west than it is north/south and it’s an easy paddle over to the next set of portages heading deeper into the Park. It’s not a particularly deep lake. As you’re paddling west, through what feels like it should be the deepest part of the lake, you look down and realize there are large rocks looking back at you from maybe five feet below the surface.

The three sites on Drummer itself are varying degrees of good. By far the coolest is the one that sits at the top of the P1,860 linking Drummer Lake to Gill Lake. You stumble out of the woods, panting and sweating from almost two KM of mostly uphill portage, and find yourself walking past a very solidly constructed lean-to that sits at the top of a rocky hill to your right. Not only that, you’re also staring straight ahead at a rope swing hanging out over the water like an engraved invitation to channel your inner American Ninja Warrior contestant (one of the ones who fails on the second obstacle, but a ninja nonetheless).

I love this spot.

I’ll daytrip up from Canoe Lake in the early morning a couple times a year for a cup of tea and a failed attempt at looking competent on the rope swing. Sometimes I paddle around, sometimes I just take it easy for a while and enjoy a quiet morning.

The other two Drummer sites are close to the portage as well. There’s one just across the water on the northeast corner of the lake and one about midway along Drummer on a small island. The island site is Drummer’s most private.  It’s the only site that doesn’t have people walking through it, paddling very close to it or looking straight at it from their own site. It’s flat, with a few decent tent spots and a nice view west towards the next lake over, Little Drummer. Can’t really ask for much more.

The easternmost site is another decent option, just be prepared to get to know the people on the portage site across from you if anyone is staying there. The two sites are very visible to each other, and they’re not all that far away, either. Fishbowl characteristics aside, it’s a nice spot. There’s room for a couple of tents and the fire pit area is pretty cool. There’s a large, flat rock backing the pit which throws back a decent amount of heat and light.

There’s one more site bookable under the Drummer Lake header, although it’s not actually on Drummer. It’s on Little Drummer, which connects to Drummer by way of a short narrows out of Drummer’s west end. Drummer’s not very big. It takes about ten minutes to get from the portage put-in over to Little Drummer, if that. Little Drummer, unsurprisingly, is smaller than Drummer. It’s a rough circle maybe 300 meters across. Maybe.

Little Drummer in the mist.

The narrows between Drummer and Little Drummer are presided over by a small site on the south side of the passage. I really liked this site. It’s not a big site, or even a particularly convenient spot. It’s on a rising hump of rock and has room for maybe two tents if you squint. But it’s a great spot to stop for a swim and enjoy the view across Little Drummer. I’ve been told recently that the Park may have closed this site to camping to allow for site regeneration, but I haven’t been up to confirm yet. If it is indeed closed, I’ll be bummed. This was a favourite spot for me to stop for a snack and a swim on days when I was heading deeper into the Ahmek District.

And that’s Drummer (and Little Drummer!) in a nutshell. It’s a decent little lake that gives a nice feeling of seclusion despite being very close to one of the busiest access points in the Park. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, but still want to be able to zip out for a burger at the P-Store after you accidentally drop dinner into the fire, Drummer is well worth your consideration.

Gear Review - Eureka NoBugzone CT 11 bug tent

I picked up the Eureka NoBugZone CT 11 bug tent specifically for my May long weekend trip this year. I’ve had spring trips wrecked by bugs (read: my poor preparation for the bugs) in the past and I wasn’t interested in letting that happen this time around. Between my bug jacket, Thermacell and the NoBugZone the only way I could have been more prepared for the bugs this time around is if I’d brought a flame thrower (and, as it turns out, flame throwers are frowned upon in provincial parks).

The NoBugZone combines mesh walls with a water resistant fly, a nice improvement over my OnSite Big Box Mosquito Shelter which is just a big mesh box and doesn’t provide any protection from the rain. Having the combined fly and mosquito shelter meant I got to leave my usual tarp at home, which was a definite positive as the NoBugZone does take up a bit of space in your pack, so any regular gear you can drop is appreciated.

The setup of the NoBugZone is pretty simple. You can get it with poles or without. If you get it without poles, as I did to save weight, you’re going to be using guylines to string it between trees. This is relatively easy to do. At least, it should be relatively easy to do. Somehow my first and second attempts at setting the thing up ended up looking like someone had let the air out of the tent. I didn’t stake out the sides properly and as a result our (actually very spacious when done well) cube of sanity felt pretty cramped. We figured it out by night three, and thereafter had a great spot to escape the bugs when necessary. One thing that was key for us was using our own rope to create a ridge line that helped hold the tent up. You can still get a good set up with just the provided guylines, but a bit of extra rope went a long way for us.

My only real complaint about the NoBugZone is that I was constantly tripping on the mesh as I was entering and exiting the tent. The tent is tall, over 6 feet, but the entry/exit opening doesn’t go all the way down to the ground. So you need to step over this little lip of mesh to get in and out and more often than not this led to me performing some impromptu acrobatics as my foot snagged and I tried to keep my balance. Other than that, it was great. This was an awesome addition to my spring tripping kit. It was roomy, easy to set up and it worked as advertised. Once we had it up and properly staked out, the bugs stayed on one side of the mesh and we stayed on the other. Can’t really ask for much more from a product called the NoBugZone.

New Campsite Reports

I added 17 campsite reports in June. All of them were from my end of May Fassett Lake Loop. Some of them were awesome (looking at you Manitou Lake – Site 43a). Some of them were not (Ahem. Mattowacka Lake – Site 3). One of them was downright bugocalyptic (Shad Lake – Site 2).

New Trail Reports

I managed to squeeze in a couple of hikes in mid July: the Lookout Trail at KM 40 and the Big Pines Trail in between KM 40 and KM 41. The trailheads for each are about a kilometer apart on Highway 60, very close to Rock Lake Road. Of the two, I definitely preferred the Lookout Trail. As the name suggests, it’s got a great lookout. Big Pines Trail was interesting (the guidebook is a must bring if you do this trail) but the hike itself wasn’t anything special.  Links to my reviews of both trails are below.

Recent Trip Reports

This trip report covers my five day May long weekend trip up through the Park’s northwest corner. My buddy Mark and I started from Kiosk, then looped through Manitou, Lorne, Fassett Lake and a few others before heading down Fassett Creek and out by way of Manitou again. The weather cooperated (mostly), the bugs did too (mostly) and the route was gorgeous (mostly, looking at you Fassett Creek).  Check it out here!


  • Wendigo to Big Bissett Lake, Spring 2022 – Hands down one of the best trip logs I’ve read in a while. It covers a trip through Algonquin’s north east corner, one of the least travelled parts of the Park. The writing is excellent and the route sounds insane interesting. Worth a read.
  • Friends of Algonquin Advisory Page – Here’s where you can find all the recent advisories affecting Algonquin. For example, there is currently a boil water advisory listed for the Tea Lake campground (this advice is also useful when making tea).
  • Ontario Forest Fire Info Map – This map shows any ongoing fires in Algonquin (and the rest of Ontario). It also gives the option to turn on the forest fire danger rating for any specific area. At the moment, the danger rating for Algonquin is mixed. It’s high for the east side of the Park and moderate for the west side.
Forecast: Algonquin

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