Welcome to part two of the 7th (!) annual Golden Moose Awards. In part one we handed out smaller awards like Best Portage, Best Sunset and Thunderiest Thunderbox. The appetizer awards, if you will. Now it’s time for the main course. Part Two covers the Best Campsite, Best Lake and Best Route of the year. But before we get to those, let’s start with a category that was new to these awards last year, but is already a fan favourite (I am the fan for whom it is a favourite, FYI).
There are so many great moments in a summer of canoe tripping. Whether it’s watching the sun go down over Dickson Lake, finding a secret campsite (or two) off the beaten track or arriving at Manitou Lake’s eastern beach after the first real portage of the season, it can be hard to pick just one moment out of all the awesome moments that happen.
The operative word in that previous paragraph is can. It can be hard to pick a best moment, but this year it is not.
Red Rock Lake, here we come.
On the second day of my August Opeongo Base Camp family trip, my brother-in-law and I packed my son and two of my nephews into the canoe and set off on a day trip up to Red Rock Lake. It was a bit of a trek getting there, it turns out that on an uphill P1880 with three kids under 8 you might end up carrying more than just a canoe, but it was well worth the effort.
We stopped for lunch on a point site right in the middle of Red Rock, just before the massive island that dominates the western part of the lake. This was an awesome site. Huge, with tons of space, great views and not one but two sets of log benches. The first set was around the rather impressively large fire pit, and the second was set up closer to the shoreline, with a nice view out to the water and well situated to get some afternoon sun (this is important).
My brother-in-law had gone to the effort of carrying a cast iron frying pan up from Opeongo for the sole purpose of frying up some salami for lunch. This was a great decision and worth the extra 700 lbs of metal in our pack. There is nothing better than a fried salami for lunch on trip. Nothing.
After lunch, the boys ran around the site looking for new and exciting ways to add dirt to the very few parts of them that weren’t already covered in dirt. At one point, I looked over and the three of them were muscling one of those standing grills (that weigh a ton) to the corner of the site so they could start a competing salami frying business. While they were running around, my brother-in-law and I each staked out a stretch of the lakeside bench complex for a break.
And this was it. The best moment of 2022. Lying on that bench, with the sun on my face and the sounds of the kids having the times of their lives in my ears, was the most relaxed I felt all summer. Heck, it was probably the most relaxed I felt all year. It was one of those rare moments when the world stops and the only thing you know, the only thing that exists, is the moment you’re in and the people you’re with. Even now I can still hear the kids laughing. I can feel the bench under my back and the sun on my face. I remember dragging the tips of my fingers through the dirt below me and wondering how hard it would be to convince my wife to move to Red Rock Lake permanently.
These moments, these are the ones you bank and hold onto for when it’s 10 below and you’ve just shoveled your driveway for the third time in four hours. They’re the ones that keep me coming back to Algonquin year after year and this one, in particular, was 2022’s best moment.
This is my second time writing this section. There’s a universe out there, right beside the one where Spock has a goatee and everyone is kind of a jerk, where you’d be about to read 500 or so words on why Big Crow – Site 3 was the best campsite I stayed on last year. In fact, you can transport through the ion storm right now to read it if you want (and we now have a new champion in the Nerdiest Thing I’ve Ever Written category. Also, if that reference means nothing to you, then there hasn’t been enough Star Trek in your life). The problem is, that while Big Crow – Site 3 certainly was a great campsite, it wasn’t the best one I stayed on last year. Somehow, in thinking about and writing about all my favourite sites of last year, I completely forgot the best site of them all, this universe’s 2022 winner of the Best Campsite Award category: Manitou Lake – Site 43a.
In my defense, it’s going on eight months since I set foot on the (gorgeous, wide) beach in front of Site 43a. Back when I was sleeping on Manitou Lake, the Leafs still had a shot at the Stanley Cup. The 2022 Stanley Cup. Still, I don’t know how I could have forgotten about this site the first time around, it’s awesome.
Set on a long, curving beach near the tip of a point just down from the Fasset Creek portage, this site feels like your own private slice of Algonquin. While there are a couple of other campsites that share this point, both of them are around the corner and out of sight/out of mind. The view across Manitou from here is impressive, and helps add to that feeling of seclusion. Despite there being 45 other campsites on Manitou, you can’t see any of them from the beach (or, if you can, they’re far enough away that you can pretend they aren’t there). So you’re left with a view of the immensity that is Manitou, and not much else.
The site itself is nicely laid out. There’s a small rise from the beach to the fire pit area, but nothing to get too excited about. The fire pit has an awesome view out to the water. A few steps away from the pit is a nice flat area that sits about 8 feet above the water level. It’s got a great view out to Manitou and was a perfect spot for our bug tent. Assuming it’s not bug season, this seemed like a prime tent spot as well.
Even with the bug tent taking up the best real estate on the site, there was still plenty of room for my aerial tent and my buddy’s non-aerial tent (otherwise known as a tent). Firewood might be an issue later in the season, it’s a narrow point that you’re sharing with two other sites, but it wasn’t a problem when we were there. Worst comes to worst you can paddle up the bay leading to the Fassett Creek portage and collect some wood along the shoreline.
The site is also nicely located in that there’s lots to explore around this part of Manitou. Just around the point is a creek you can paddle down that seems tailor made for animal sightings. If you don’t feel like creek paddling, Manitou is huge. You could spend a couple of days paddling in and out of its various nooks and crannies and probably still not see everything.
Probably the only downside to the site is that there are some damp spots around it, which means that in mid-May there are also some bugs around it. That’s nothing a bug tent and a Thermacell can’t fix, and it’s well worth the minor aggravation if you happen to be camping during bug season.
So, congratulations Manitou Lake – Site 43a. You’re this year’s Best Campsite and the first Moosies winner to knock the runner up all the way into a parallel universe.
Unlike the Best Campsite category, there was absolutely no agonizing over this one. The P200 campsite along the Upper Nipissing River was easily the worst site I stayed on or visited this year. Leaving aside my middle of the night brush with the Ravaging Terrorbear (or Curious Porcupine), this site had absolutely nothing going for it.
It’s a basic site in a small clearing, just past the start of the portage (p200) heading east. It’s separated from the river by about 30 feet of hill and a whole lot of forest. The result is a small, enclosed space with views of absolutely nothing. To access the water you have to head back down the hill, and as picturesque as the Nipissing can be, this isn’t the most postcard worthy part of the river to begin with. There was room for one tent, a small fire pit and … well, that’s about it. You’re probably not going to be swimming in the river here, unless you want to try some 19th century leech therapy, so your options for passing the time once you’re set up are limited. Basically, you want to hope you brought a good book or maybe it’s time to get really good at throwing rocks at other rocks. Other than that, I’m not sure what you’d do here. Wait for the Terrorbear, I guess.
Anyways, yeah, congrats on winning this year’s Worst Campsite, P200 Site 2. It wasn’t even close.
The race for Best Lake was tight this time around. I visited around 50 lakes this year, 34 of which were brand new for me. Of those 50 lakes, I’ve whittled it down to three finalists: Booth Lake, Dickson Lake and Manitou Lake. Each of the finalists is deserving, but as a wise man once said, “there can be only one” (pretty sure I’ve used this reference before. Might be time to hang up the old typewriter if I’m down to reusing Highlander references in these posts). So let’s see who’s going to take home the prize and who’s going to disappear in a swirl of 80s CGI.
Our first finalist is Booth Lake. My late August trip to Booth with my family was the second time I’d visited. For my first trip, back in 2019, we arrived at our site about the same time the wind and rain did. Turns out, the weather liked our company so much it decided to stick around the entire time we were there. As a result, I didn’t get much exploring done around Booth on that trip, although I got to know my campsite extremely well. This time around, the weather was fantastic. Beautiful sun, calm water; perfect conditions for paddling around and checking things out.
And there’s a lot to check out!
Booth is a big lake, and it’s interestingly shaped. There are two main parts connected by a narrower section in the middle. The north half runs east/west and the south half runs mostly north/south before doglegging east again. It makes sense once you realize that Booth is really just a (really wide) widening of the Opeongo River. There are quite a few campsites to pick from on Booth, and quite a few of those are pretty nice. My favourite is Site 6, a beautiful spot about halfway up the eastern shore with a long, curving beach out front and great views across Booth. If Site 6 is full, you can’t go wrong with Site 3 or 5 or 9 or 10, or 15, or … you get the picture. In fact, the only subpar site I’ve found on Booth (which was, of course, the one we spent two nights on this year because every other site was taken) was site 2.
Once you’re done picking your site, there’s more to do on Booth. The Tattler cabin, technically on Tattler lake but we’re not going to let technicalities get in the way of this narrative, is an easy day trip from anywhere on Booth and very much worth checking out. On top of the cabin, there’s plenty of history in the area (my favourite so far is the remains of an old bridge at Booth’s far west end). Finally, with five possible routes to exit the lake, and a not very difficult journey in from the access point, Booth works well as both a starting point for a longer trip or as a destination lake with some day trips built in (which makes it perfect for kids).
Actually, you know what? I just talked myself into Booth as this year’s winner. The other two finalists, Dickson and Manitou, both have a lot going for them, but Booth has everything going for it. Good campsites, accessible, kid friendly, lots to explore … I literally could not ask for anything more (well, except maybe not having to stay on site 2 ever again).
This category is a two horse race this year. On the one side, we’ve got my five day Fassett Lake Loop from back in May, and on the other side is the four day Crow River Almost Loop from September. It makes sense that it would come down to these two as our finalists. They were the only longer trips I completed this year. The rest were either day trips, base camps, out-and-backs, or complete disasters. As my only multi-day loop trips of the summer, both trips had a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of cramming in as much canoe tripping awesomeness as possible. Fortunately, they were up to the task. I really enjoyed both of these routes, and while I’ve got a favourite between the two, it’s kind of like picking between chocolate ice cream and blueberry pie. I know which one I prefer (ice cream, obvs) but I’m more than happy with either (or both!).
To start with, these routes are kind of similar. They each involve a mix of lake and river travel, they each pass through larger and smaller sized lakes and they each throw at least a couple of longer and more challenging portages at you. The scenery along both routes is very pretty, and there were lots of great campsites to choose from each night. That said, if I were going to choose one route to do again, it would be the Crow River Loop.
I really liked this route. It starts out of the Opeongo Access Point (#11), which means you get to start and end your trip on the Park’s biggest
inland sea lake. You can paddle Opeongo if you want, but you can also take a water taxi and save yourself a couple hours (or more if the wind is up!) of paddling. We went with the water taxi, which is a choice I will happily make again.
The route we followed (after the water taxi) starts with Proulx Lake. From there, we paddled north to Big Crow for our first night. Along the way, we passed through part of the Crow River and Little Crow Lake. I really like the Crow River along this stretch. It’s wide and meandering, without being too meandering. There are just enough twists and turns to keep you engaged (both mentally and physically. We had three guys and all our gear in one boat. Navigating that thing around turns was like trying to maneuver a cast iron bathtub with a plunger).
After the Crow River and Little Crow, you arrive at Big Crow by way of a short narrows. I’ve already written about how much I liked our site that night (or, more accurately, parallel universe me has), but Big Crow itself is a really nice destination, regardless of the site. The cliffs along the southern shore just after the narrows are awesome, and there’s a lot to explore in the area, including the Big Crow ranger cabin in the southern bay. Having a west facing campsite was the cherry on top of the day, as the sunset view from our beach was spectacular.
The next day was mostly river travel, as we navigated the twists and turns of the Crow River between Big Crow and Lavielle. I loved this part of the paddle (which is saying something, because I’m not usually a huge fan of this kind of river travel). The scenery along the Crow was gorgeous. On top of that, even though it was September, the water levels were relatively decent. Sure, we had to hop out and drag every once in a while, but it was nothing like the leg day from hell workout I’d experienced getting in and out of my boat on the Nipissing a month earlier.
Coming off the Crow River you pass through Crow Bay and into Lavielle. I liked Crow Bay. A lot. In fact, if I were to do the route again I’d strongly consider stopping on Crow Bay for night two. In particular, the first campsite to the south just after you leave the river seemed like a nice, private spot for a night.
We arrived at Lavielle while the weather gods were having a temper tantrum, so we had to navigate wind and rain as we made our way south. To be honest, Lavielle is not the kind of lake you want to be dealing with wind and rain on. It’s huge, and after my Kiosk 2020 debacle I get a bit nervous crossing big water with any hint of weather (and the weather on Lavielle was less a hint and more spelling the answer out in bright lights and fireworks at the front of the class). We managed to grab an island site about halfway down the west shore that, in warmer conditions, would have been great. Unfortunately, with the wind whipping through it all night it made for a pretty cold shelter. Still, even with the less than ideal conditions it was a fun night. My buddy Vince went exploring and found an unmarked campsite hidden away at the other end of the island.
Day three took us down to Dickson Lake, the next lake immediately south of Lavielle. It was an easy day, once we made it through the sidewind trying to blow us to the bottom of Thompson Bay. There’s only one short portage between Lavielle and Dickson, and both lakes are really nice paddles. I liked Dickson in particular. Up until last year, Dickson had been closed to camping since 2015 (I think) due to blue green algae. Maybe it’s because I knew it had been closed, or maybe it really was this way, but Dickson felt like it had been empty for a while. There were a couple of former campsites in the process of being reclaimed by the forest, and the trees grow thick and tall along the shore. My appreciation for Dickson was only enhanced by our (awesome) island site just across the portage over to Bonfield Lake and the best sunset I’ve seen in years.
Our last day gave us the longest official portage in the Park, the 5,470 meter Bonfield-Dickson portage (although I guess I should call it Dickson-Bonfield since that’s the direction we went). Is it weird that I loved this portage? For a 5KM+ carry it wasn’t that bad. There’s some elevation change, sure, but it’s relatively gradual, and the trail is in great shape. It turns out there’s lots to see over five kilometers, and I was actually a bit surprised at how quickly the put-in on Bonfield came.
The rest of the trip took us through Bonfield and Wright Lakes, then out to Opeongo’s east arm where our chariot (read: water taxi) was waiting. And that was it, the best route of 2022. It had a bit of everything, and not much of the things I don’t like. I love big lakes, and you don’t get much bigger than Opeongo, Lavielle and Dickson. I love nice campsites (who doesn’t?) and there were quite a few to be found along the way. I love interesting scenery, and the Crow River in particular has that in spades. Finally, I like a good challenge, and the Bonfield-Dickson portage was certainly that.
And that’s it for the 2022 Moosie Awards! Congratulations to all the winners. Losers, try harder next time. Winter is usually a slower time around these parts, I don’t do many canoe trips when the water is set to solid, but there will be a few things coming to tide us over to Spring. Next up, we’ll have February’s issue of the The Thunderbox with a spotlight on Tom Thomson Lake and my newest … pair of pants? What’s that all about? You’ll have to read to find out! (I’m also working my way through a backlog of campsite reviews from last summer. Hopefully I’ll have 2022’s reports squared away before I start adding some for 2023). Until the next Thunderbox drops, I hope everyone is having a great winter. 15 weeks until Opening Day!