For the past few years my wife’s extended family has been getting together for a weekend of base camping somewhere in the Park. The tradition started back in 2020 on Burnt Island, right after some of the COVID restrictions on gatherings were relaxed, and it was a nice way to see everyone again after a fairly unusual (and unpleasant) few months. In 2021 we took our talents to Tom Thomson Lake, where we mixed it up with the local turtle landlord and found a great little set of jumping cliffs just behind our campsite. Last year we colonized Opeongo’s North Arm, making liberal use of Algonquin Outfitter’s water taxi and, among other things, helping me cross off my 300th new lake in the Park (Hi Baldwin Lake!). It was a great trip. With its wide, flat sites and ease of access, Opeongo ended up being an ideal destination for such a large group. In fact, it was so ideal that this year we decided to run it back, with the slight wrinkle that instead of taking over Opeongo’s North Arm, we set our sights on the East Arm, because … well, why not?
In case you haven’t read my trip report from last year (why haven’t you read my trip report from last year?) and are wondering what all this “arm” talk is about, it’s in reference to the fact that Opeongo is such a massive body of water the Park has divided it into three segments (the north, east and south arms) for campsite reservations and navigation. It makes sense when you look at the map. Opeongo narrows at around its midpoint, before breaking off to the north and east. Each arm would be a good sized lake in its own right, and combined all together you’ve got the largest body of water in the Park, by far.
As with the year before, we decided to make use of Algonquin Outfitter’s water taxi service to get from the access point to the top of the east arm. Also as with the year before, not being constrained to what we could jam into a canoe meant we brought enough gear to sink the Titanic.
After checking out a few options along the way, we ended up at the portage over to Wright Lake (which I’d visited last year as part of my Crow River Loop) and the string of campsites that line that shore. These sites, (sites 17-19 in the campsite reviews sections), were absolutely perfect for us. Sites 17, 18 and 19 all sit on a wide, flat strip of shoreline between the Wright Lake portage to the south and the Opeongo-Dickson cart trail to the north. Any of these sites on their own, particularly if the others were taken by people you didn’t know, wouldn’t be that great. They’re set up in close proximity to each other, and the pine studded forest, while pretty, doesn’t do much to break up the sightlines between the sites. However, if you happen to have a massive group and three permits? Then this is an ideal spot.
(I’ll take a moment here to apologize to the trip from Camp Pathfinder who had been heading towards these sites in their red canoes and were passed by us with about 200 meters to go. They very graciously agreed to let us have the three contiguous sites to the north of the Wright portage, and took the first site to the south instead. The more I see Pathfinder in action, and the more I learn about their camp, the more impressed I am).
Once we’d staked our claim, we got ourselves set up. And here’s where the small to mid-sized outfitter shop’s worth of gear came in handy. The weather that day was uncertain at best. Which is another way of saying that it was only a matter of time before the heavens opened on us. Fortunately, my father-in-law (Russ) had brought along some truly massive tarps, and my older brother-in-law (who is also named Drew because confusion is fun) has a viable second career in front of him as a tarp structure engineer. By the time the two of them were finished we had enough square footage of shelter to hold a wedding. My contribution was the setting up of my trusty Eureka CT11 NoBugZone which a: came in extremely handy and b: I actually set up properly the first time for once.
With the tents and tarps in place, we did a little bit of exploring around the sites. My son and I walked the P285 over to Wright Lake, then ran the P285 back from Wright Lake as the hordes of mosquitoes that had been patiently waiting our arrival over there said hi. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the hammocks set up, then testing them extensively to make sure they had been set up properly.
The rain that had been threatening through most of Day One did eventually arrive that evening, but by the next morning it had blown itself through and left us with a beautiful day to explore. I started the day by ferrying my wife and youngest daughter back to the access point (using my father-in-law’s boat, fortunately. A 30 KM round trip paddle would have eaten into my free time for the day). My daughter had a birthday party to get to for a good friend of hers, and my wife had added to her Best Mom in the World credentials by agreeing to drive her to Ottawa and back that day.
Once they were safely on the road, my oldest daughter and I decided to paddle around our end of Opeongo and check out some of the nearby campsites. If I’ve done anything right in the past few years, it’s somehow convincing my daughter that canoe tripping is awesome. She loves being out in the canoe, and we had a great time hopping from site to site. In the end, it was about a five kilometer round trip, and we were able to explore five new sites along the way. Of those sites, my favourite by far was the western site on Pine Island (Site 8 in the campsite inventory).
This is a nice little spot. It’s not the biggest site ever, and flat ground is at a premium, but it’s got a fantastic view and a rugged, rocky vibe that makes it feel tailor made for long afternoons swimming and hanging out by the water. My daughter found a spot just back of the site with a nice wide bit of exposed rock and made herself at home for a few minutes, watching the water through a hole in the trees. If I were solo, or sharing a tent with someone, I’d be happy to come back to this site.
Once we’d finished our paddle, we headed back to the site for some lunch (grilled cheese and grilled salami courtesy of my brother-in-law Clark who has never met a salami he couldn’t make 10x better with the help of a fry pan).
After lunch, Clark, Russ and I took my son and two of Clark’s sons on a short day trip over to Wright Lake. We carried a couple of canoes across the portage (which was significantly less mosquito-fied this time around) and paddled lazily across Wright Lake. We’d originally thought we’d check out Wright’s sole campsite and have a snack there, but it was occupied, so instead we paddled up to the p260 to Bonfield, and took the kids across it so that they could see the start of the fabled Bonfield-Dickson portage on the other side. I’m not going to lie, they were much more interested in the Reese’s Pieces they got once we were done our short hike than they were their brush with Algonquin’s longest official portage, but it was still fun checking it out.
Once we’d had our fill of exploring we headed back to Opeongo and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming. The sites were fronted by an absolutely awesome beach, making it a perfect spot for the kids to splash and play. Soon enough it was time for dinner, and then I was back in the boat on my way to the access point to pick up my wife and youngest daughter, who had succeeded in their mission to get to Ottawa for some birthday cake. The ride up and down Opeongo was beautiful; calm waters and an empty lake. It was a hazy night, and dead calm. The sun was an orange ball behind the clouds, and the air felt heavy. It made me wonder if we might be due some weather overnight.
Turns out, we were due some weather overnight.
I woke at 2 am to the wind picking up and the sound of distant thunder. My tent swayed slightly in the rising wind. Thanks to a slipped disc at the end of June, I’d brought my solo Opeongo Aerial Tent to sleep in because it’s much easier on my back than sleeping on the ground. I lay in the Aerial watching the walls of the tent light up every few minutes and counting the time until the thunder followed. First it was 10 seconds, then it was 8, then it was 6. When it got to 4 the wind really started to pick up. I was more than mildly concerned that my Aerial tent was about to become an airborne tent, but it held up pretty well. The sides flexed inward, until they were sitting at about a 60 degree angle over me, but the base stayed solid. The next lighting flash brought an instant clap of thunder louder than anything I’ve ever heard before. I don’t know where that particular bolt of lighting struck, but I’m pretty sure if I had been outside of my tent I would have had front row seats to the event.
Fortunately, the storm passed on as quickly as it arrived, and that was the only pulse spiking moment. Other than that (and with the benefit of not having blown away hindsight) it was a cool experience. Not so much for our new puppy, Luna, who was in the Omega Tent with my wife and who, it turns out, is absolutely terrified of thunder. She managed to burrow into my son’s sleeping bag, while somehow pushing him out at the same time. (She also chewed a hole in the bottom of my best dry bag, so she didn’t exactly win her first camping trip).
By the time morning rolled around, the rain was long forgotten. It was still quite windy, but we were able to start dismantling the site without having to worry too much that we’d get hit with another storm as soon as we had the tarps down.
The rest of the morning was mostly about packing up. Around 11 a.m. a group that wanted to use our string of sites after us began to arrive. It started with a about 6-8 guys who pulled up with a couple of boats and a set up that made ours look like we were ultralight through-hikers. They had tables, chairs, massive tents, coolers and a bunch of other gear. That, of course, is the beauty of Opeongo. If you’re looking for a car camping experience in a backcountry setting, you can get it. The guys were friendly enough, and they asked if we’d mind if they unloaded on one of the sites since we were packing up. We said yes, but I’ve got to say, I wish we hadn’t.
Look, usually I’ve got absolutely no problem letting someone who wants to use the site after I’m done start to get set up while I’m still packing up (I’ve been on the other side of this and benefited from it in the past). The problem this time was that these guys weren’t the whole group, they were just the first wave. Over the next hour more and more boats and people arrived, and they weren’t so willing to stick to one site while we packed up. Without really knowing how it happened, we suddenly had people wandering through our sites with tables and pole tents while we were still trying to get our gear taken down. It added confusion to an already confusing process (packing up 17 people and a mountain of gear isn’t quite as straightforward as packing up a solo trip, unfortunately) and left a bit of a sour taste.
That bit of unpleasantness aside, what an awesome weekend! I don’t know if I can really call it a canoe trip, but it was a great camping trip! That string of sites at the end of Opeongo is perfect for large groups, and especially large groups with small children. The beach is perfect for swimming, and the terrain is open and easy to navigate. There’s more than enough room for tents and hammocks, and the fire pit area on Site 19 in particular is well suited to prepping meals for large groups thanks to a large and extremely sturdy bushcraft table near the pit. I had a blast exploring the area with the kids and I would happily head up that way again if I was looking for a nice spot to do some base camping.
Next up … well, that’s kind of up in the air. Truthfully, this has been a really light summer for tripping. My back being out of commission scuttled my only July trip, and I don’t have much planned between now and the end of August. I plan on getting in a couple of day trips this coming long weekend, but after that the paddles are going to stay on the shelves until the last weekend in August when we do a trip with some family friends to Shirley Lake (and, hopefully, a day trip to Mudville Lake because that’s the best name for a lake ever). Until then, have a great long weekend and a great start to August!
New Lakes Paddled: N/A
Total Lakes Paddled: 2
Total Portages: 1
Total Portage Distance: 570 M
Total Travel Distance: 10 KM