Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of everything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. 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 related reading I’ve come across recently. Hope you enjoy!
Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. 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).
September was a mostly quiet month for tripping for me. I got out with a couple of buddies over Labour Day weekend for four days that took us from Opeongo’s north arm to its east arm by way of the Crow River, Lakes Lavielle and Dickson and the longest official portage in the Park. This was an awesome trip. I’d been wanting to see Lavielle and Dickson in particular for a long time, and I’m happy to say neither disappointed (although if Lavielle could have brought just a touch less howling wind to the party I wouldn’t have minded).
I added five new lakes on that trip, my favourite of which would have to be Dickson. Man, that’s a beautiful spot. Dickson is home to a couple of old growth forests and, thanks to being closed to camping for the better part of the past decade, it’s got a really nice wild vibe that you don’t always get in the Park. For more on Dickson, check out my trip report Crow River Loop(ish).
Up next … well, that’s a tough one. I’d very much like to get one more trip in for the season, even if it’s just an overnight, but as I mentioned off the top, the calendar has a way of filling up. That said, even if I don’t get out on a trip, I know I’ve got 13 KM of portaging in my immediate future. This coming October 6th will mark my turn in this year’s Le Grand Portage. This is a charity event in support of Multiple Sclerosis research that I’ve been lucky enough to participate in over the past couple of years. I’ve got more on it below (if you only read one section of this month’s Thunderbox, make it this one). If you don’t make it down that far, but feel like donating to a good cause, my donation page is here: Le Grand Portage
Potter Lake is about 5.5 KM north of Canoe Lake. The most direct route is by way of Potter Creek. While water levels can sometimes be a challenge for stretches, Potter Creek is a relatively easy paddle with only a couple of portages to navigate. The longest, a P740 that leads into the south end of Potter Lake, follows the Arowhon road, and is about the easiest 740 meter portage I’ve ever done. It takes about half a day to get from the access point to Potter going this way and, once you’re there, well, you might wonder why you bothered.
Potter Lake isn’t so much a lake as it’s a widening of Potter Creek. It’s long, narrow and fairly shallow. Whether it’s a lake or a creek, it is a crossroads. You can pass through it going north/south or east/west. Both east and west, Potter’s immediate neighbours are smaller lakes on low maintenance routes without any campsites. The closest campable lake going west is Rainbow and the closest going east is Tom Thomson. I prefer both of these lakes to Potter. That said, there are easier ways to get to both than by going through Potter, so odds are if you’re up this way you’re probably choosing between Potter Lake and its neigbour to the immediate north, Brule Lake (and I’d 100% pick Brule over Potter).
If, however, you do end up on Potter, you’re going to have five sites to choose from. The sites here are fine, but not spectacular. I’ve visited sites 2, 3 and 4 and checked out 1 and 5 from the water. Of the five, my first choice would be site 3.
Site 3 is right in the middle of Potter Lake. It’s a small, south facing, point site sandwiched in between the portage over to Groundhog Lake to the east and Pathfinder Lake to the west. It’s up a small hill, but is nicely laid out with a nice fire pit area and room for a couple of tents at least.
Site 2 backs onto the road that runs up the entirety of Potter’s east shore. It’s a fairly enclosed site, although it does have a nice rocky beachfront. There’s nothing special about it, and the fact that you could have a truck drive within 20 feet of your tent is a bit of a drawback (lots of raspberry bushes near the road though!).
Site 4, just up the western shore from the Bear Lake portage, is a compact site on a nice, sandy beach. I didn’t mind this site. It’s small, but would work for a solo camper. And it would feel more secluded than some of the other sites on Potter.
To me, Potter Lake would be more of a waystation than a destination. If you were staying here, I would expect it would only be for a night before heading on to other (better) spots. If for some reason you decided to make a multi-day stay of it, it would be worthwhile paddling through some of the smaller lakes nearby on a day trip. There’s a small loop jutting off Potter that takes you through Bear, Hanes and Pathfinder Lakes. This is a low maintenance loop with no campsites to visit, but the scenery is quite pretty. Bear and Hanes in particular are nice little spots. You can also day trip up to Brule and check out the site of the old town of Brule. There’s not much there now, but you can see the clearing where the town used to sit on the north shore.
And that’s about it for Potter Lake. The longest paragraph in this piece is the one where I talk about reasons to leave Potter Lake and check out other spots, which pretty much sums up how I feel about Potter. It’s not a terrible spot by any means, it’s just not very good, either.
I wrote a blog post last year on the background of Le Grand Portage and why it matters to me. If you want a detailed outline, that’s a good place to start. In short, Le Grand Portage is the creation of an old camp friend of mine, Felix Jasmin. Felix was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years back, news that would set anyone back on their heels. Not Felix. In the space of a couple of years he has launched an incredibly successful fundraising campaign for Multiple Sclerosis research. In 2020, with about two months notice, he raised over $350,000.00. Last year, he raised over $600,000.00. His goal this year is to add another $300,000.00 to the cause, and my hope is to help him get there (and beyond).
This year, there are once again over 40 teams who will be taking turns portaging a canoe from Toronto to Montreal along the Trans Canada Trail. My segment will be on October 6th, walking from Upper Dwyer Hill Road into Stittsville here in Ottawa. This was the route we did last year, and it was a great trail. The entire stretch is wide, flat and easy to navigate (The Algonquin Park Portage Design Subcommittee could take some notes). We had a beautiful day for it and it was a lot of fun chatting with the people we passed about what we were doing and why were doing it.
The entire event, all 700 KM of it, felt like something special. It was awesome watching word spread and to see the visibility and awareness Felix was bringing to the cause. Felix himself carried the boat into Ottawa, and passed it off to the Prime Minister in front of Parliament (I missed it, but I’ve been told the PM’s portage form was still pretty decent). I don’t know how you top getting the leader of the country involved in your cause (maybe see if King Charles wants to take a turn?), but I’m sure Felix will find a way this year.
The portage kicks off on September 29. You can follow along on Instagram at @LeGrandPortage. My turn comes on October 6. I’ll be portaging with my wife and some friends from our camp days. If you are able to donate, my fundraising page is here.
I’ll be honest, this isn’t an all-star cast of sites we’re adding this month. Of the six, only the Rosebary and Tim Lake sites would be worth a return visit (although the Loontail Creek Junction site would be a fine option if you’re looking for a good spot to stay on your way up the Nip). By far the worst site was the P200 site I stayed on on my first night on the Nip. If you want to introduce someone to backcountry camping in a way that ensures they never want to do it again, I highly recommend this site. Otherwise, steer clear.
This report covers a two-nighter we did with my wife’s extended family. We went up to the north arm of Opeongo (my brother-in-law and I paddled while everyone else made good use of the water taxi service from Algonquin Oufitters) and set up a base camp for a few days. It was an awesome weekend: the weather was perfect, the site(s) were great and I got to visit my 300th Algonquin lake. Check it out here!
This report covers a two-nighter we took with the kids and some family friends. We managed to squeeze 10 of us, along with all our gear, into two canoes and no one sank. This was an awesome trip. The weather was perfect, we got a chance to check out the Tattler Lake cabin and, most importantly (according to the kids), we spent a good chunk of time swimming on one of Booth’s great beaches. Check it out here!
This report covers my annual September Buddies’ trip. This year we went over Labour Day and lucked out with an amazing weekend. Our route took us from Proulx Lake up to the Crow Lakes, then over to Lavielle by way of the Crow River. From there we headed south to Dickson and back across to Opeongo by way of the longest official portage in the Park. This trip had a bit of everything, including one of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a long time. Check it out here!