A Night on Tepee Lake

My son is the most determined person I know. He wants to try everything, and when he decides he’s going to do something he doesn’t stop until it’s done. He taught himself to ride his bike at the start of the pandemic through sheer force of will and a high tolerance for scrapes and bruises. He taught himself how to swim by repeatedly jumping into any body of water he could find that was bigger than a bathtub. He went from barely keeping his nose above the waterline to swimming further than I can (with less complaining about how cold it is, too) in the course of a couple of months. This determination is why, when he looked at the map of a solo trip I had planned that was meant to take me through the heart of the Park over seven days and told me he wanted to come, my first thought was “maybe?”.

Given how poorly that trip ended for me, it’s a good thing that that “maybe” was followed quickly by “maybe we’ll save the week long river slog for next year and ease into things with an overnight”. He thought that was a reasonable idea, which is how we came to find ourselves on Tepee Lake last week, watching the sun set and eating our body weights in marshmallows.

Looking north up the Little Oxtongue

The Route

This trip was a bit of a last minute decision, so Tepee was the only lake we could book that was anywhere near Canoe Lake. That’s fine. Tepee is a great option for an overnight with younger kids. Just north of Joe Lake, which in turn is a short P300 north of Canoe Lake, Tepee is close enough that you feel like you can get out pretty easily if you have to, but far enough that it feels like an adventure for your kids (and maybe you too!). We booked our permit, packed our bags and crossed our fingers for some decent weather (and maybe some s’mores).

Day One

Assuming the wind isn’t being unhelpful, it takes about 45 minutes to get from the Canoe Lake access point to the Joe Lake portage. Another half an hour after that and you’re on Tepee Lake. In other words, it doesn’t take very long to get from your car to your campsite if you’re camping on Tepee. With that in mind, I wasn’t in a huge rush to get moving the day of this overnight. We were going in on a Saturday, so I figured that we wouldn’t have much in the way of choice when it came to sites after the Friday rush. My plan was to have a nice, leisurely mid afternoon paddle up to Tepee and then get set up on whatever site had been left to us by all the people who had come in Friday night and Saturday morning.

We loaded up around mid afternoon, filling our boat with a surprising amount of gear for what was effectively an 18 hour trip. It turns out that “a surprising amount of gear” does not equal “the right amount of gear” though, as I realized about halfway across Canoe Lake that I had forgotten to add our food barrel to the mix. Pro tip: You want to bring food on a canoe trip. Fortunately, my wife caught up to us in the narrows just after the Potter Creek/Joe Lake fork with the barrel. I’m sure she was feeling confident in my ability to take care of her son in the woods by this point, but she let us go anyway and before long we had ground up on the beach that starts the Joe Lake portage. 

Joe Lake

The Joe Lake portage is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, carries in the Park. On any given summer day, and especially on a weekend, you can expect to cross paths with a few trips both coming and going. That was true this time around, as there was a large group of guided day trippers just finishing their portage as we arrived. 

Joe Lake after the portage

At 300 metres, the portage is basically just a chance to stretch your legs in between long periods of paddling (the next portages heading north are both at least an hour’s paddle away, if not more). We decided to tackle this carry in two parts. I carried the boat across on the first trip, while my son got the paddles and life jackets. Then I brought the canoe pack across on the second trip while he carried the smaller day pack.  I say the day pack was smaller, but it still took up about 3/4 of his body. He carried it like a champ though, and rewarded himself with some well deserved rock hunting at the Joe Lake end of the portage.

Once the boat was packed and the shallows sufficiently inspected for interesting rocks, we set off for Tepee, making sure to tap our paddles on the underside of the bridge that crosses the portage bay as we left.

Joe was a nice paddle. There was a slight wind, but it was behind us and made for easy going. We paddled past the Joe Lake cliffs, which were the number one destination on my son’s trip wish list for the next day. The cliffs were empty, and were lit up nicely by the afternoon sun. If ever there was a picture for the ‘gram, it was those cliffs at that moment. Sadly for my career as a social media influencer, I apparently didn’t bother fishing my camera out as we passed by, so here’s a really bad one I took of the cliffs back in 2020 instead!

Tepee Lake

Tepee Lake is at the top of Joe’s western arm. You pass through a short narrows and then you’re out on Tepee proper. It’s a big lake. It’s not as large as Canoe or Joe, but the main part of the lake is plenty wide and deep. It’s dominated by Camp Arowhon, a coed camp that sprawls along the western shore. The water was a hive of activity as we paddled through. There were kids in sailboats and windsurfers zipping through the waves, shouting hello to us as we paddled past and generally looking like they were having the times of their lives. 

Tepee Lake

My son, who was at that point days away from his own first overnight camp experience with Camp Ahmek, was looking every which way, asking questions about the windsurfers and sailboats and seeming to be both excited about his upcoming chance to do what these kids were doing and very nervous about his upcoming chance to do what these kids were doing. Basically, he existed in a quantum state of camp anticipation where he was both looking forward to and terrified of going to camp at the same time.

Eventually we were through the hubbub and into the narrows leading out the north end of Tepee. This is the part where Tepee becomes the Little Oxtongue River and it’s also the part where all of Tepee’s campsites can be found.  I had been right in my earlier guess that we wouldn’t have much in the way of choice when it came to campsites. The first four sites we saw were taken. The fifth site we came across, which was what I would probably call a hole in the wall if I didn’t think it was unfair to drywall everywhere, was free. 

The site is on the east side of the river. The only part of the site visible from the water is the campsite sign. Beyond that, it’s mostly hidden by a slight rise and a wall of trees. Once you get up that slight rise and behind those trees, you’ve actually got a decently sized site. It’s not the most level one I’ve ever stayed on, but there was room for our tent and would have been room for a couple of others depending on how close you want to set your highly flammable fabric shelter up to the fire pit. Still, it suited our purposes perfectly so we unloaded and got ourselves set up.

Once the tent was up the first item on my son’s list was a swim. It was a hot day. There was no wind and the sun had been flexing its muscles all afternoon. We were both ready for a dip, and on the plus side our hole in the wall site had a really good entry/exit area for swimming. We cooled off in the water, then turned our attention to dinner.

Dinner was mac and cheese and “juice”. The mac and cheese was a hit, but the “juice” was not. See, I hadn’t brought juice crystals, which is a serious faux pas on any family trip. Instead I had Nuun electrolyte tablets, which I quite like but which apparently don’t cut it when you’re expecting liquid Fun Dip. My poor son had to wait 30 minutes for our water treatment tablet to dissolve, then another 10 for the electrolyte tablet to do it’s thing. He took one sip, looked about as disappointed as I’ve ever seen him look, and said “I can’t believe I waited 40 minutes for this.” Fortunately, my (lovely and thoughtful) wife was there in spirit to save the day. With marshmallows. All the marshmallows. She had sent us with enough s’mores materials to keep a kindergarten class bouncing off the walls and soon all thoughts of disappointing not actually juice juice were in the past.

Once the sugar high had started to fade, we went for another swim and sat by the water until the bugs came out (and boy did they come out. This was early August. I figured the mosquitoes would be long gone by then. I figured wrong). After that, we retreated to our tent where we played some makeshift Dungeons and Dragons until the sun went down and my son drifted off.

Sleep wasn’t as easy for me to come by. The sun might have gone to bed, but it had left behind some stifling heat to remember it by. With the fly on my little two man tent, our shelter had become a slow cooker. I ended up taking the fly off, then, at 4 am when it started to rain, frantically putting it back on again. The good news is that before the rain, having the fly off made a world of difference. The bad news is that it turns out that having the fly off when it’s raining also makes a world of difference (and it’s not a world I need to visit again any time soon).

Day Two

The rain was long gone by the time we woke up the next morning. The sky was clear and you could already feel the coming heat in the air. We ate some breakfast, cleaned up the site and soon were back on the water, heading south towards the Joe Lake cliffs.

Joe Lake Cliffs

There wasn’t a hint of wind as we started back, which didn’t bode well for the heat later on, but made for great paddling conditions. We stopped briefly to check out a (very recently) vacated site near the one we had stayed on, then set off across Tepee.

The paddle south through Tepee and back onto Joe went smoothly, and within about twenty minutes we were pulling up to the Joe Lake cliffs. 

The cliffs are one of my favourite features in this part of the Park. They’re on the western side of the large island that dominates Joe’s west arm. There are multiple levels to jump from, ranging from a kid friendly four to five foot ledge to a budding base jumper friendly 40-ish foot ledge. I’ve jumped that top ledge once and I can tell you that it is not something I will ever need to do again. 

Watch Your Step!

Getting to the jumping ledges by land requires crossing a narrow path along the cliff face. If you’re doing this with little kids make sure you’ve got a good hold on them here because the footing can be uncertain. Better yet, just swim around to the bottom. It’s easy to climb out of the water and there’s less chance of an unexpected Jack and Jill reenactment.

True to form, my son asked if he could jump from some of the higher ledges. I flashed forward to the conversation I’d have with my wife about how I’d let our 7 year old throw himself off a 20 foot cliff and once I stopped sweating I suggested we start with the lower levels.

He took that in stride, and before long was gleefully taking other strides from the lowest ledge. I wish I had some pictures from this part (my GoPro was, unfortunately, dead). The smile on his face as he jumped into the water again and again was amazing. His grin stretched from ear to ear and the only time he stopped laughing was when he was underwater (I think). 

Eventually we were both well and truly water logged and we decided to head for home. A slight breeze had begun to stir and I was worried about what that might mean for Canoe. That slight northward breeze on Joe can mean a howling headwind on Canoe if you’re unlucky. We crossed back over the Joe Lake portage using the same strategy we had before (two trips, lots of stops to examine various rocks) and were soon back on Canoe Lake.

Canoe Lake and The End

A couple of days before the overnight with my son, I’d been out for a morning paddle and run into a father with his two kids coming back from their own overnight on Joe. The wind was up that morning, and the headwind on Canoe was no joke. I had trouble enough making headway against it on my own, and this father was the sole engine moving three people and two canoes. I ended up giving them a tow back to the access point, and as my son and I paddled out onto Canoe that morning I was a bit concerned we might find ourselves in the same circumstances that family had.

Canoe Lake Headwinds

Wind on Canoe Lake is something to keep in mind as it can be a real challenge heading south at the end of a trip if the breeze is up. Given that this is one of the most popular access points for newer trippers, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got a strategy for dealing with a bad headwind, especially if you haven’t spent much time in a canoe. Stick to the shoreline even if it looks like it will make the trip longer, and if you’re really having trouble don’t hesitate to wave down a passing boat. More likely than not it will be a cottager who will be happy to help out with a tow or some advice.

Fortunately, while we did find a bit of a headwind on Canoe Lake proper, it wasn’t nearly as challenging as what that poor guy had been trying to push through. In fact, there was just enough of a wind to make the water ripple and sparkle in the sunlight and it made for a very pretty paddle back.

Starting on Canoe Lake

Canoe Lake was beginning to buzz as we paddled south. Both Camp Ahmek and Camp Wapomeo had multiple boats out on the water. Apart from the camp activity, there were plenty of trips coming and going from the Joe Lake portage. We chatted about our overnight as we paddled, and planned future trips both in the Park and outside of it (my son is a budding world traveler. He got a globe for Christmas and now knows more about geography than I ever will).

Before I knew it we were back at the dock, our whirlwind overnight in the books. This was a fun trip. I don’t know that I need to stay on Tepee again (there are so many better lake and campsite options nearby), but it was fun staying there with my son nonetheless. 

My son was a great tripping partner. He had lots of questions about what we were doing and seemed to be soaking everything in as we went along. We talked about trying out the Sunbeam Circuit next year, and he seemed to be pretty excited about the idea of a trip with multiple days and campsites (as am I).

Next up for this year is a family trip up to Opeongo’s north arm, followed by a trip with family friends to Booth Lake. As I write this, the Opeongo trip is already in the books and the Booth trip is fast approaching. I’ll have the Opeongo post up soon (complete with my 300th new lake visited!) and I’m looking forward to adding a few more new lakes over that weekend on Booth. Until then, hope everyone is having a great August. Hard to believe summer is already winding down, but that just means that the fall tripping season, AKA the best tripping season, is almost here!


Total Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Portages: 2
Total Portage Distance: 0.60 KM
Total Travel Distance: 11 KM

Map courtesy of Jeff’s Maps

1 thought on “A Night on Tepee Lake

  1. Awesome kid … and dad.

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