So, is Bartlett Lake even a lake? Or is it the George Stark to Tom Thomson Lake’s Thad Beaumont, tacked on its eastern shore like a semi-absorbed twin?
(Editor’s Note: Uh. That’s a really weird and obscure way to start this thing. Try again.)
Bartlett Lake is a small lake just east of Tom Thomson. It connects to Tom Thomson by way of a very short narrows and, to be honest, I’m not sure why it gets to call itself its own lake when a spot like Whiskey Jack off of Canoe Lake is about the same size but doesn’t get to slap the word “Lake” onto the end of its name. Regardless, Bartlett Lake is an official Lake and it’s this month’s spotlight lake.
Canoe Lake (access #5) is the closest access point to Bartlett. You get to Bartlett by travelling north through Canoe, Joe, Tepee, Little Doe and Tom Thomson lakes. Despite the fact that you’re traversing five lakes, there’s only one portage along this route, the P300 between Canoe Lake and Joe Lake known as the Joe Lake portage. Once you’re over that portage (and are finished with the flashbacks to sitting in traffic on the 400 that this portage can induce during the busy season) there’s nothing but water (and one persistent beaver dam) between you and Bartlett.
Once you arrive on Bartlett you’ll find a smaller sized lake, particularly in comparison to the ones you’ve paddled through to get there. Bartlett only has four campsites spread around its shores, three of which are useable, one of which is a post-apocalyptic hellscape that even the survivors in the Last of Us would look at and go “man, that looks rough”. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. But it’s not great).
Campsite number one, the aforementioned post-apocalyptic hellscape, is immediately on your right (south shore) as you exit the narrows. It’s fronted by a very shallow, reed filled stretch of water and did not look like it had seen any use in quite some time the last time I was through. It’s a small site, completely overgrown, with room for a tent or two if you squint, and a fire pit area that seems like it would be a great spot to start a grass fire. I would imagine the bugs here are horrendous during bug season, and they probably hang on a lot longer in the tall grass and shallow muck than they would on other sites. Don’t stay here unless you have to.
Campsites two and four are better, if unspectacular options. Campsite two is a just a bit further along the south shore, and campsite four is on the other side of the lake and closer to the portage up to FML Pond. Both of these sites are up from the water. Site two is about 10 feet above water level and site four is maybe half again as much. They both have room for a few tents, decent fire pit set ups and mostly obstructed views out to the water. Each of them would be fine for a night, but neither are going to make your top ten campsites of all time list, unless that list is only nine campsites long to begin with.
The best looking site on Bartlett, site three, is taken every time I go through that way. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that. From the water, it looks like a nice enough spot. It’s on a small point and would have a nice view of most of Bartlett. There have always been a couple of canoes pulled up on it when I go by, which suggests there’s room for a few people (and their gear) at least. If I was going to stay on Bartlett, I’d target that site.
Once you’re on Bartlett, the lake itself doesn’t offer much to do. It only takes about 10 minutes to paddle around the entire thing, and the shoreline scenery is pretty uniform. What Bartlett would be good for would be as a base camp to explore the area, particularly on a busy weekend. If Tom Thomson and Little Doe are already full, there’s at least a chance you’ll be able to get some semi-privacy on Bartlett. And from Bartlett you can day trip to quite a few nearby locations. Tom Thomson and Little Doe are easy, portage-less paddles nearby and both offer lots of nooks and crannies to explore. If you feel like more of a challenge, you can head up to Sunbeam Lake, three portages and four (small) bodies of water to the north. If you do go that way, watch out for the first pond north of Bartlett. It’s only about 100 meters across, but depending on the time of year those hundred meters can give you a lifetime of muck and bugs. There’s a reason someone has updated the Park’s portage sign with a Sharpie so that the name of the pond now reads “FML Pond” instead of “Pond”.
So, after all this, what’s the final verdict on Bartlett? It’s fine. A resounding fine. It’s smaller and feels more secluded than some of its neighbours, and it would be a decent overflow option if you aren’t able to get a site on Tom Thomson or Little Doe. There are enough workable campsites that you won’t be uncomfortable, but no sites that are going to leave you wishing you could call dibs on them forever. In a perfect world, Bartlett would be the lake I explore from my basecamp on Tom Thomson, or the one I paddle through on my way up to Sunbeam. But in this imperfect world, I’d be fine with spending a night or two here if it was the best way for me to get a weekend in the Park.
Spotlight lakes are featured in each issue of The Thunderbox. If you want to get each month’s lake hot off the presses, feel free to add your email in the box below. You’ll receive the monthly Thunderbox update and trip reports as they are published.