Welcome to the August 2023 issue of The Thunderbox. The Thunderbox is a monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. This month includes a spotlight on Little Doe Lake, campsite reviews, a trip down memory lane and more (the gear review is MIA this month, but will be back with a vengeance in September!).
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July was a light month from a canoe tripping perspective, but that didn’t stop me from doing some Algonquin related activities. To start with, and to directly contradict my previous sentence, I got out on a two night base-camping trip with my wife’s extended family mid-month. We picked the east arm of Opeongo this year, and took over a string of sites near the Wright Lake portage that are tailor made for large groups. I hesitate to call this one a canoe trip, we used the water taxi to get up there although we did do some short day trips in the area and over to Wright Lake. Regardless of what you call it, it was great to be back in a tent (although, I wasn’t feeling as excited about the prospect at about 2 am when a massive thunderstorm blew threw and did it’s best to turn my aerial tent into an airborne tent).
While the Opeongo trip was the extent of my camping for the month, I did get a couple more Algonquin related activities in. My wife and I took an afternoon to paddle over to the Joe Lake cliffs for some swimming and jumping towards the end of the month, and I got to clear out the cobwebs on the Bat Lake Trail during some early morning trail runs (if you’re a runner I highly recommend the Bat Lake trail. It’s just under 6 KMs, has some decent climbing and offers a great view at the halfway point).
I also got a chance to revisit the Hardwood Lookout Trail, located at KM 13, just before the Canoe Lake access point. My oldest daughter was heading into her two week session at Camp Wapomeo that day (my son had started his own two week session at Camp Pathfinder a couple days previous), and she wanted to do a hike before she took off. That’s a nice little trail. It’s less than 1 KM for the full loop, but it is actually a bit technical thanks to some serious uphill, and the view across to Smoke Lake is quite nice.
That was about it for Algonquin related activity in July. Well, actually, that’s not true. There was one more (pretty fun) bit of Algonquin excitement, but if you want to know about that one you’ll have to check out the links section further down. Until then, let’s talk about Little Doe Lake.
Little Doe Lake is one of the handful of lakes just north of Canoe Lake that are among the easiest backcountry lakes to access. Between Little Doe and the Canoe Lake access point (access # 5) is exactly one 300 meter portage and about 10 KM of easy paddling. Little Doe can be reached by heading north from Canoe Lake, crossing the Joe Lake portage into, appropriately enough, Joe Lake, then paddling up through Tepee and Fawn Lakes and a stretch of the Little Oxtongue River. It’s the last lake you pass through before turning off to Tom Thomson Lake and, to be honest, I usually keep on going when I get to Little Doe as I’d rather be staying on Tom Thomson. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Little Doe! In fact, it’s a great lake in its own right. It just happens to be next to one of my favourite lakes in the Park. That said, Little Doe has a lot going for it, so let’s take a look.
Little Doe is split into three side by side segments. This makes for an interesting layout as you end up with three mini-lakes to pick from when choosing where you’re going to stay. This can give you a sense of privacy, particularly if you end up staying at the bottom (south end) of the middle segment. Little Doe has at least 13 campsites on it (and 12 available permits). For a mid-sized lake, that might feel crowded if every campsite was in view of each other, but Little Doe’s layout makes seeing the entire lake from any one spot impossible. That said, this is still a very popular lake with a lot of campsites on it. If you’re going to stay here, particularly if you’re staying here on a summer weekend, be prepared for some neighbours and some passers-through. The canoe routes that go through Little Doe are quite popular, and you’re likely to see trips coming and going at a steady pace.
Another wrinkle when it comes to Little Doe is that it’s one of the few lakes in the Park where I don’t 100% trust any of the maps when it comes to campsite placement. Depending on the map you look at, you’ll see anywhere from 13 to 15 campsites marked. The last time I was through Little Doe, I couldn’t find two of those sites (marked with the ? on this map). Cody, over at Algonquin & Beyond, did find the ? site between site 2 and 3 on this map (marked as 2a on the maps we’re both using now for these reports), but maybe it’s not obvious from the water (or maybe I’m just not very observant). On top of the missing sites, some of the sites I could find aren’t where the map shows them to be. It’s not the end of the world, but particularly in the middle bay, the GPS tracks I took at those sites did not match up with the map.
All of that said, Little Doe has some great sites to pick from! I was a particular fan of Site 2 and Site 6. Site 2 is one of the first sites you see as you come into Little Doe from the Little Oxtongue River. It’s a large, uneven site set on a small hill that rises up from the lake. Flat, tent-worthy terrain is at a bit of a premium, but not impossible to find. And, once you find it, the rest of the site is great. The fire pit area was well situated, with a nice view out to Little Doe, and the swimming was awesome. Site 6 was also pretty decent, but in a different way. Located at the bottom of Little Doe’s middle segment, this is a relatively enclosed, medium-sized site. The site doesn’t look like much from the water, but once you’re on it you’ll find plenty of room to set up shop. It’s got a really nice view north on Little Doe and, being at the bottom of the bay, feels much more secluded than most other sites on the lake.
At the other end of the spectrum, Site 1 does not inspire. To quote Campsite Review Writer Drew:
“I would not put this campsite high on the list of places I’d want to spend a night. I wouldn’t even put it in the middle. Basically, it would be somewhere towards the bottom, above Furrow Lake, but below a recently washed dumpster.”
So what’s wrong with Site 1? Actually, it’s more of a question of what’s right with site 1, and the answer there is not much. It’s a small hole in the (weedy) shoreline at the top of the Little Oxtongue River as you enter Little Doe. The site doesn’t have much of a footprint, so you’re going to be getting very cozy with both your trip partners and the hordes of mosquitoes that love the grassy, marshy terrain that surrounds the site. Swimming here would be pleasant if you’re someone who likes swimming through thick mats of lily pads. If you’re not a frog, it may be kind of icky (icky is a scientific term which means “full of ick”). The shoreline growth is dense to either side of the site, so your view is restricted to the river directly in front of you. And while I hesitate to be critical of a view in Algonquin on the basis that an Algonquin view is still better than 99% of the views in the world (I’m not biased), this view gets as close to that other 99% as you’re going to find in the Park. I could go on, but I’ve already spent more words talking about how underwhelming Site 1 is than I did talking up Sites 2 or 6. Time to move on.
Now that you’re settled (anywhere but Site 1) on Little Doe, the question becomes, what are you going to do? The good news is that there are a ton of options in the area. Little Doe is a bit of a crossroads lake. You can exit it in every direction, going south to Tepee Lake, west to Tom Thomson Lake, north to Blue Jay Lake and Vanishing Creek and east to Burnt Island and Baby Joe. You’re not going to go wrong checking out any of these spots. If you’re looking for something a little more low key, the paddle over to Tom Thomson is short and Tom Thomson is a very nice lake to check out. If you want a little more adventure, you can head north through Bluejay Lake to Vanishing Creek. Depending on the time of year, it’s a fun gamble to see how well Vanishing Creek is earning its name at the moment. If there’s still enough water to get around, you can head up to Sunbeam Lake (about 5 KM north of Little Doe) for the day or check out the Boy Scouts log book on Baden Powell Lake, which is just east of the creek (about 2.5 KM north of Little Doe).
At over a kilometer long, the portage over to Burnt Island (and Baby Joe) looks a bit daunting. But as far as KM+ portages go, it’s a good one. The terrain is relatively flat, and there are boardwalks over the soft bits. Baby Joe isn’t that exciting of a destination, it’s a small lake with one “meh” campsite, but Burnt Island is a great spot with over 50 campsites to visit and tons of lake to explore.
Back on Little Doe, one of my favourite finds was a small feeder stream at the bottom of the middle bay. It’s not exactly a raging torrent, but you can hear the trickle of water rushing over rocks from a decent distance and it was very relaxing drifting in the canoe and listening to the stream run into the lake. If you’ve got a history buff in your group, Little Doe used to host a ranger cabin at the top of the first bay (so, the northernmost bay). I personally haven’t seen any ruins there, but who knows what you could find if you look around?
And that’s about all I’ve got for Little Doe. This is a nice lake that’s easily accessible for a first time backcountry tripper, or someone looking for a place to take smaller kids. As I said off the top, I’d probably pick Tom Thomson over Little Doe if I was looking at a multi-day base camping trip, but for a night or two, particularly if Tom Thomson is full? You could do a lot worse than Little Doe!
I added 5 new campsite reports in July. Well, technically I added two new campsite reports and three ranger cabin reports, but who’s keeping track? These reports are mostly from my spring trip out of Kiosk, but also include the Tattler Ranger Cabin, an awesome little spot just west of Booth Lake. If you get a chance, I highly recommend checking out one of the Park’s cabins, they’re a great change of pace and very welcome in the early spring or late fall when the temperatures are dropping (and so is the snow!).
No new Trip Reports this month. So, instead, let’s pull one from the archives. Here’s a trip from a couple years back, a three night, four day loop out of the Pinetree Access Point (#12). This was a fall trip, when the colours were just starting to pop and the weather was perfect. We stayed on Pinetree Lake, Echo Bay and Fork Lake and got to experience a little bit of everything Algonquin has to offer (including some absolutely breathtaking scenery on Pinetree Lake). Check it out here!