This past August was dominated by trips with family. It started with my son and an awesome overnight to Tepee Lake in early August. It continued mid-month with my annual in-law gathering on Opeongo’s north shore. And it ended in late August with a two night, three day, four hammock trip to Booth Lake with my wife, kids and some family friends. In other words, August was a family camping trilogy in the tradition of all the other great trilogies out there (Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Bill & Ted).
Unlike some trilogies I can but won’t name (cough The Matrix cough) the final installment of my August FamCampAthon saga was just as good as the ones that came before. Among other things, it gave us a visit with the mice currently in control of the Tattler Lake cabin, an afternoon filled with the three S’s of camping (Sun, Swimming, Snakes) and a chance to play a fun game of Find The Open Campsite On Booth as afternoon faded into evening and the kids grew increasingly unimpressed with our comprehensive tour of the lake. Turns out Booth is a busy spot on a Saturday in late August, who knew?
(Everyone, Drew. Everyone knew).
The plan was for this to be a joint trip with my buddy Gordon and his family (you might recognize Gordon from many, many, many previous trips). Unfortunately, Gordon injured his knee about a week before we were meant to leave. While Gordon’s family was still up for the trip, Gordon himself was going to have to give it a pass. In his place, we were joined by our friend Amanda and her son (who was the MVP wood collector of the trip). Roster set, we agreed to meet at the Shall Lake access where we’d set off for Booth Lake for two nights before heading back the same way.
For those who haven’t been, Booth is a large lake on the Park’s east side. It’s about 25 kilometers north of Highway 60, above the town of Madawaska and not all that far from Annie’s Bay off of Opeongo. It’s accessible out of the Shall Lake access point (access point #17) and is an ideal spot for family trips. I’d been once before, with some work buddies back in 2019, and my main impression from that trip was that I wanted to bring the kids there some day (and that I wanted that day to be significantly less windy than the 2019 trip).
The road into the Shall Lake access point is a long and semi-winding gravel road. As you head north you pass through a hydro cut dominated by huge towers. Every time I drive through here I flash back to my May 2017 trip that ended with me portaging out from McKaskill Lake along that hydro cut in the swirling snow and freezing rain. Fortunately, this particular trip was happening in August and the chances of either snow or freezing rain were pretty low (but not impossible, this is Ontario).
As we drove towards the access point we came across a moose in the road ahead of us. It watched us approach for a couple of seconds. It stood there just long enough for me to wonder if I was about to play chicken with 1,000 pounds of forest tank, before it darted into the woods and crashed out of sight. I took the sighting as a good omen. We weren’t even in the canoe and we’d already seen something cool. Who knew how many more moose were waiting for us to track them down over the next three days? (as it turns out, none).
Once we arrived at the access point (which is actually on the Opeongo River, sandwiched in between Farm Lake and Crotch Lake and not on Shall Lake at all), all moose related thoughts disappeared as I turned my attention to finding a parking spot. The lot was jammed. This had me slightly worried as it didn’t bode well for our chances of getting one of the sites I’d been hoping to snag on Booth. This worry was confirmed when I went into the permit office and the permit officer there told me that Booth was completely booked, and that most people had already arrived. There wasn’t much to be done about that (apart from maybe not arriving at noon on a Saturday during the busiest time of the camping year). All we could do was load up the canoes and hope we arrived when someone else was leaving.
For the past few years we’ve been cramming all five of us, plus our gear, into our 17.5 foot Swift Winisk. While that’s a great plan when your kids are small, the thing about kids is that they keep growing despite your best efforts to keep them middle of the canoe sized forever. Last year I realized that we were probably past the point of getting all of us into the same canoe again. Which is why this year we pushed off from the access point with … all of us in the same canoe, again.
I can’t really explain it. The folks at Swift must be doing something magical with their boat construction, because that canoe is basically a bottomless bag of holding. We somehow got all of us into the boat, along with two trip packs, two day packs, a freezer bag and assorted odds and ends, and the gunnels were still well above water (by well above water I mean that someone in the boat could sneeze without fear of swamping us. Maybe). Our friends were similarly loaded down; between our two canoes we had 10 people, but we made it work. Before long we were (I want to say paddling here but honestly with the amount of water we were pushing in front of us the best word is) plowing down the short river that leads from the access point put-in to Farm Lake proper.
The paddle through Farm Lake was quite pleasant. It was a beautiful day. Sun shining, blue skies, just enough of a breeze to keep it from being a scorcher. Farm is a medium sized lake. It takes about 15 minutes to get across, which is just enough time to really enjoy the surrounding scenery. This included a couple of patches along the shore where the leaves were starting to lose their colour in complete disregard for the fact that it was still August.
Coming out of Farm you join back up with the Opeongo River for a stretch, the first bit of which is actually quite shallow. There’s also a tricky little spot right at the start of the river where it looks like you can paddle between the tip of a grassy outcrop and a small, also grassy, island. You can’t. I actually already knew this from my 2019 trip, but decided to try again anyway. We got the boat up to what I can only call ramming speed and ended up beached on the mudflat lurking about two inches below the surface. After some shifting and pushing and I’m sure a quiet reexamination of my fitness as a tour guide and life partner by my wife, we were off the mud, around the island and back on our way.
It’s a relatively short paddle up the Opeongo to the first portage, a P90 that goes around a very pretty, but rocky, section in the river. This was our first chance to see how portaging our not inconsiderable amount of gear and people would go. And it went pretty well! The kids all did an awesome job getting their respective loads over the portage. My oldest daughter, who is a beast on portages, took our massive MEC duffle bag (with backpack straps) and got it across despite the fact that it was almost as tall as she was and probably just as heavy. My son carried a backpack and other assorted odds and ends and my youngest daughter took care of the dish bag and a couple of paddles. This still left us with a small outdoors goods store’s worth of stuff to get across, but it was great to have everyone pitching in.
The paddle across Kitty Lake went quickly. Kitty is a small spot, really just a widening of the river. The main excitement was as we approached the P645 over to Booth. The current here is reasonably swift, and you have to cut across it to get to the portage takeout. Fortunately, drawing on all my experience and skill, I was able to take a couple of strong strokes and ram us directly into the large boulder just before the wide, soft, sandy takeout. After some further reexamination of life choices, my wife was able to get us off the rock, and our second attempt at landing went better, in that we actually landed this time.
Kitty Lake Cabin
The Kitty Lake ranger cabin is at the end of the river coming from Farm Lake, just opposite the portage over to Kitty Lake. This is weird to me. Shouldn’t it be called the Farm Lake ranger cabin? Or maybe the Opeongo River Near Farm Lake Ranger Cabin? I mean, there’s a portage in between the Kitty Lake cabin and the lake the cabin is named for. That doesn’t seem right. The Tattler Cabin is on Tattler Lake. The McKaskill Cabin is on McKaskill Lake. Why is the Kitty Lake cabin on Farm Lake? Also, while we’re asking questions, my five year old wants to know where all the kitties were. She was supremely disappointed when she found out that there weren’t actually any kitties on Kitty Lake. (The Kitty Lake cabin does look very nice though!)
The portage in between Kitty and Booth is quite nice. It’s a clear path that takes you up and around a long, rocky stretch in the river. It’s also 645 meters, which is a decent hike for kids. However, as with the previous carry, the kids all nailed it. The two older girls made it across once again with their fairly substantial packs. The boys managed their own packs really well and my youngest daughter, showing an admirable talent for delegation and people management, realized about halfway across the portage that it would make much more sense for her mom to be carrying the dish bag.
Soon enough, we were on the other side of the portage and looking out at Booth. Booth is a beautiful lake. It’s big, it’s surrounded by great scenery and the east shore in particular is tailor made for kids thanks to a series of wide sites and convenient beach fronts. My hope was that we’d be able to grab one of the sites along that shore. Site 6, in particular, was at the top of my list having stayed there back in 2019 and thinking how great it would be for the kids at the time. But, really, any site would do. I knew we were getting in late on a Saturday and I knew that meant that open sites would be in short supply. I just didn’t realize how short that supply would be. Turns out you can add Booth Lake campsites to the long list of supply chain woes for 2022.
We started off heading up the east shore. Our route took us past site 2 (I’ve never been able to find site 1 on Booth), which was open. However, I’d checked site 2 out back in 2019 and, to quote 2019 Drew: “This is the second site you paddle past when entering Booth from Kitty Lake and, barring some kind of natural disaster or bathroom related mishap that forces you to stop at this site, it should remain the second site you paddle past as you head on to other, better spots”. In other words, it wasn’t great. We kept on paddling in the hopes of finding something, anything, that was better.
We did not find anything better.
The east shore was full. Every site was taken, including my beloved site 6. Once it became clear that the east side was out of the picture, we turned and paddled across the lake to the big island that dominates the southwest corner. There are a handful of sites on this island, and a few more on a nearby point, all of which were similarly occupied. This left us with two options. Paddle another twenty minutes (or longer) to the north end of the lake to see if the only two sites up there were free (and deal with another twenty minute paddle back if they weren’t) or bite the bullet and head for the site that 2019 Drew advised “don’t bother with this one unless you’re in a jam”.
Unfortunately, we were in a jam.
We arrived at the (thankfully still open) site 2 after our scenic tour of Booth ready to get the tents set up and dinner cooking. The dinner part was easy (for me). My wife is a great camp chef and she had steak, potatoes, peppers and bacon (because it’s always time for bacon) going in short order. The tent set up was a bit trickier. Let’s check in with 2019 Drew again to see what he says: “this is a pretty open site, so you’d think there would be a lot of tent spots. I guess there are, but none of them are that appealing”. See, the problem with this site is that flat ground is hard to come by. Of the two best spots to put a tent, one wasn’t big enough for either of our tents and one was too close to the fire pit. This left a couple of spots that, while big enough, weren’t exactly level. We ended up pitching our tent on a slope just above and behind the fire pit. It wasn’t a cliff or anything, but the grade was steep enough that all three kids ended up in a puddle of arms and legs at the bottom of the tent each night.
The one good thing I will say about this site is that it has plenty of room for hammocks. We had brought our three and Gordon’s family had one so we ended up with a little hammock city down near the water.
After dinner I went for a swim and realized that 2019 Drew was bang on when he said “I wouldn’t swim here. There’s no easy access to the water, the underwater terrain is designed to stub your toe and the water is kind of weedy”. All of this is accurate except, apparently, the part where I said I wouldn’t swim here. Oh well, even a kind of underwhelming and slimy swim is better than no swim at all.
The rest of the evening passed quickly. The kids roasted marshmallows and, after the sun had gone down, we watched the stars for a bit. Soon it was time to turn in. We crawled into our tents, made ourselves comfortable, then tried to make ourselves comfortable again ten minutes later after we’d all slid downhill a few inches.
Site 2, everyone.
The second day was just as bright and beautiful as the first. Our goal for the day was to (spend as little time on the site as possible) explore around Booth and Tattler Lake. Tattler is the next lake to the west coming out of Booth’s north end. It’s also an ideal destination for a low impact day trip from Booth since it’s connected by short narrows with no portages to be seen.
We set off on Booth and soon came across a recently vacated campsite. It looked like a great site from the water: decent landing and swimming area, nice wide living space at the top of a small hill, nicely located fire pit that was still giving off heavy plumes of smoke … oh.
I guess whoever had just left that site had had a morning fire before leaving. I’d say they did a half-assed job of putting it out, but that would be unfair to half-asses everywhere. The pit was still smoking, as were the plastic bottles they’d tried, and failed, to burn. Whoever they were had also left behind enough gear to outfit a small but well equipped trip. There were a couple of tarps, a knife, some toilet paper, a big coil of what looked like new rope and a couple other odds and ends. We doused the fire and made a note to pick up the garbage on our way back. In retrospect, I should have realized that there was no way that site would stay open until we got back. And it didn’t! The site was taken on our return trip. Hopefully whoever ended up there didn’t have too much cleaning up to do.
Sleeping Dragon Lake
I’d never paddled the north half of Booth before. I’ve been missing out. It’s pretty up there. There are no campsites once you get past the Chipmunk Lake portage, which gives you a feeling of seclusion you might not expect on such a popular lake. As you turn into this part of the lake there’s a series of descending hills on the south shore that, if you look at it from a certain angle, looks like a massive sleeping dragon. It’s really cool! And it’s also why I will be officially referring to the top half of Booth as Sleeping Dragon Lake from now until the end of time. Or until the dragon wakes up.
The rest of the paddle through Sleeping Dragon Lake (told you I was going to do it) was uneventful. About an hour after we started out we were paddling into the narrows that separate Sleeping Dragon from Tattler. My map showed the remains of an old bridge somewhere across this part of the river, but we weren’t able to find it on our way in. Instead, we paddled into Tattler, which, much like Kitty Lake, is really just a widening of the Opeongo River, and found the Tattler Cabin.
The Tattler Cabin is one of a series of old ranger cabins that the Park rents out to trippers. There are only a handful throughout Algonquin, and certain ones can be tough to get if you don’t book well in advance, but they’re an awesome change of pace if you can snag one for a night.
As we approached the cabin we realized that there was a canoe pulled up on the beach and a couple of people sitting at the picnic table out front. Normally I don’t like bothering people on their sites, but to be honest I’d been really looking forward to checking out the cabin so we paddled up anyway, hoping the inhabitants wouldn’t mind a quick intrusion. The good news is that the people who were already there did not mind at all. Like us, they’d just come in for a visit and were actually staying on Booth. The even better news is that they didn’t mind being bombarded with a million questions about themselves, their dog, their lunch, really their everything, by a horde of very curious kids.
While the kids made friends, I checked out the cabin. It’s pretty standard, from what I can tell. Two bunk beds across the back wall, a wood stove and a table and not much more. What this one did have that, I assume, sets it apart from some of the other cabins was a light dusting of shredded toilet paper spread across the floor like the first snowflakes of winter. This decorating choice was accentuated by a not so light dusting of mouse droppings everywhere else. It looked like the last people to use the cabin must have left some toilet paper behind, and the mice had had a field day.
I suppose it’s a good thing that they had the toilet paper to work with. The only other source of paper in the cabin was book entitled “How To Shit In The Woods”. If they’d chewed that instead, my son wouldn’t have been able to find it and it wouldn’t have made his year, maybe even his decade.
Mouse welcome party aside, I really liked the cabin. I’d love to go back in the early spring or late fall. The view across Tattler is quite nice and there’s a wetland area nearby that looks like it’s tailor made for moose sightings. We ate lunch out front of the cabin and, after one more trip inside to browse the Tattler Lake Lending Library, headed back towards Booth (we found the remains of the old bridge this time as we passed through the narrows. there are a couple of old rock piles just below the surface as you enter from Booth. They were pretty neat!).
By this point the day had gotten warm. The paddle back through Sleeping Dragon was long, and we were all slightly overcooked as we approached the narrows that separates the south and north parts of the lake. A swim was a must, but it was also a must not for our site. Fortunately, the furthest north site on the lake, the one directly beside the portage up to Chipmunk Lake, was free. Even more fortunately, it had an awesome rocky beach running its length. Perfect for swimming, relaxing and skipping all manner of stones.
We spent a couple of hours on this site, letting the kids run wild while the adults relaxed. The kids had an awesome time. They swam, searched for rocks, piled rocks, threw rocks … basically, they found multiple uses for rocks. They also built a couple of forts and the two older girls spent some time getting as dirty as humanly possible by jumping in the water, running up a dirt embankment, sliding down that dirt embankment and then jumping in the water again before repeating the process.
As much fun as the rocks and dirt were, the real stars of the site were the pack of garter snakes living under the staircase leading from the beach up to the site (what do you call a group of snakes? I mean, besides a nightmare?). The kids took turns getting as close to the snakes as they dared (which is significantly closer than I would dare). The snakes, for their part, didn’t seem to notice.
Eventually it was time to say goodbye to the snakes, pack up the canoes and head back to our own site. It was getting late in the afternoon and dinner wasn’t going to make itself.
Back on the site the kids kept playing while the adults got supper going. The two older boys spent a great deal of time building a very solid looking birch log fort against a nearby boulder. Amanda’s son, who had a real knack for finding firewood, directed me to a nearby log and monitored me while I cut a few rounds off of it with my saw. Soon we had enough wood to get a roaring fire going and before long the kids were once again toasting marshmallows as evening turned to night.
It was a great end to a great day, made even more memorable by a gorgeous sunset and, later, a sky filled with stars. I’ll say this for site two: it may not be the prettiest site, or the flattest, but the landing area is an awesome spot to watch the sky. Which is exactly what I did for a while before following everyone else to bed.
The weather forecast for our final day was less than ideal. Unless your ideal tripping weather includes thunderstorms and lots of rain, in which case it would be right up your alley. However, for those of us who prefer to keep our rain gear in the pack, the prospect of carting out a bunch of soaked gear (and people) was less appealing. With that in mind, we decided to break camp early in the hopes of outrunning the rain back to the parking lot.
The Return Trip
We were pretty efficient getting everything packed up, considering that we were trying put together the gear explosion that accompanies 10 people. We were fully loaded and on the water before 9, heading east under mostly blue skies (although you could see the clouds coming).
The portage back across to Kitty Lake went well. But for a lone paddle that had decided to take a break about halfway across, it would have been a single carry! Once again my oldest daughter carried our massive gear bag, and did it easily.
We decided to skip the second portage, the P90 between Kitty and Farm Lake. The river flows in that direction, and the way looked passable if you didn’t mind adding a few scrapes to the bottom of your canoe. We didn’t mind at all and, after dropping the kids at the start of the portage to walk across, my wife and I braved the roiling whitewater of Kitty Chute (it’s basically a couple of ripples and a whole lot of rocks). Guided skillfully by my wife, we managed to get through with only a couple of bumps. If I’d been on my own I’d probably still be hung up on the large rock lurking just below the surface at the start of the narrows.
With that feat of extreme paddling behind us, we picked up the kids for the homestretch.
The wind picked up as we came out onto Farm, and by the time we were across the main part of the lake the clouds were thick and grey. We made a quick pitstop on a campsite at the start of the river leading to the access point to pick up a call from nature that had to be answered immediately. While we were exploring the (not tremendously appealing) site, the rain started.
By this point we were only a couple hundred meters from the access point, and while it was raining there’d been no sign of thunder as of yet. So we decided to load up the boats and sprint for the finish line. Just in case there’s anyone from the National Mixed Doubles Overloaded Canoe Racing Team reading this, my wife and I are here for you. We made it to the access point in record time. Of course, credit also has to go to the kids who were extremely efficient at counting strokes and yelling at us to switch sides at remarkably unpredictable intervals.
And that was it. The rain was brief and had blown itself out by the time we pulled up to the access point. We beached the canoes, loaded the cars and enjoyed some well earned end of trip Doritos, a tradition that Gordon started on some of our previous camping trips and which I cannot imagine doing without at this point.
This was an awesome trip. The kids had a great time, Booth is a beautiful lake and I loved getting the chance to see Tattler and spend the afternoon swimming on one of Booth’s beaches. While our site wasn’t ideal, it gave us a place to pitch our tents and light a fire, and when it comes down to it that’s all you need. And the rest of the lake more than made up for the less than ideal site. Booth is an awesome spot to take kids. It’s accessible, it’s scenic, there’s lots to explore without having to cross too many portages. It’s got something to offer everyone and I’d do another Booth trip in a heartbeat. Although, next time, I’ll probably go in on a Thursday.
New Lakes Paddled: 1
Total Lakes Paddled: 4
Total Portages: 4
Total Portage Distance: 1.47 KM
Total Travel Distance: 30.55 KM