Basin Lake is a lake unto itself. Literally. Located at Access Point #19, Basin Lake is both the namesake lake for that access point, and the only lake at that access point. Once you park your car at the Basin Lake parking
lot clearing and put your boat in the water, the only decision you have to make is which of Basin’s six campsites you want to stay on, because you’re not going anywhere else. (To save someone the time and effort of drafting an “Um, actually” email, there are other lakes linked to the Basin Lake access point, but those are all accessible by road a few kilometers past Basin Lake. There are no other lakes you can reach by official canoe route once you are on Basin Lake).
The good news is that as the only game in town, a visit to Basin Lake gives you a chance to get very familiar with what it has to offer, and that’s why Basin is this month’s spotlight lake.
Located on the east side of the Park, Basin is about a 2.5 hour drive from Ottawa and a 4.5 hour drive from Toronto. The access point is north of Barry’s Bay on Highway 60, and is going to introduce you to a few backroads as you find your way there. Those are just a warm up for the last kilometer into the access point, which takes you down a forest “road” that invites you to experience life as a paint can shaker.
Once you arrive on Basin you’re greeted with a small parking lot, a parking lot adjacent campsite and, if you turn around, another campsite about 100 meters down a short path to the south. Don’t let this campsite’s proximity to the parking lot fool you, it’s the second best site on the lake, but we’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.
Basin is a medium sized lake, at best. It took me about 25 minutes to paddle around it, and that included some stops to check out a couple of sites from the water. As I mentioned at the top, there are six campsites on Basin, and four permits available at any given time. That’s fine, because of the six campsites, there are only four you’d probably want to consider for your home base for the night.
My first choice site on the lake is the island site at Basin’s north end (Site 1). It’s north facing, and fairly sheltered from the rest of the lake. It’s a big enough site, with plenty of room for your tent, and your hammock as well!
Number two on my list is actually the site just south of the parking lot (site 4). While proximity to car doors slamming is not usually something I’m looking for in a campsite, the parking lot access is actually very convenient. It’s a short walk from the lot to the site, making it easy to set up and take down. And the site itself is pretty nice. It’s big, level and dotted with pine trees that are the absolute perfect spacing to hang a hammock or a bug tent (I was there in June). Being close to the lot is also a nice perk if you decide to explore down Basin Lake road a bit further, which I recommend (we’ll get to that in a couple of minutes).
Sites 1 and 4 are probably my top tier sites on Basin. The next tier would be sites 2 and 5. Site 2 is on the north shore, and site 5 is across the bay from the parking area. Both of them are basic but functional. Site 2 is hilly, Site 5 isn’t hilly per se, but it is uneven. In both cases, while there’s usable space, I wouldn’t call them the most comfortable sites. On the plus side, Site 2 does have a nice beach front and Site 5 has a cool sunken fire pit area, so there’s something that sets each of them a little above the most generic of Algonquin campsites. I’d say they’re both very reasonable fallback options if the top tier sites are taken, but I wouldn’t necessarily make them my first priority.
At the bottom of the campsite rankings are Site 3 and Site 6. Site 3 is the parking lot site. Like, it is literally part of the parking lot. I’m not entirely sure were the lot ends and the site begins, but no matter where that magic line is, I’m not wild about a backcountry campsite where the primary view is of my car’s grille. Site 6, on the other hand, seems at first blush like it might be a decent option. It’s nicely secluded from the rest of the lake in a small bay on the western shore, so no worries about someone’s high beams waking you up at three a.m. here. What you might be worried about, however, is the fact that the site gives off a very distinctive “someone probably got murdered here at some point” vibe. I have no idea what it was, but something about that site felt wrong. Objectively speaking, it’s probably not all that different in what it offers from Sites 2 and 5, but as soon as I set foot on the site I got a feeling that something was off. Not a very scientific explanation for why it’s at the bottom of my rankings, I know, but there it is. (there’s also a forest access road just over the top of the hill beside the site, so my comment about not being woken up by someone’s high beams here could also be proven wrong).
Once you’ve explored around Basin for a bit, you may find yourself with some time on your hands. That’s not a bad thing! The area around Basin Lake is actually pretty cool to explore as well, starting with the Park’s oldest still standing structure, the Basin Lake Cabin, which you can find back where Basin Lake road meets the turnoff to the access point road. Once you’ve checked that out, you can head north on Basin Road by car to check out Little Norway and Buck Lakes. Little Norway is basically just a glorified swamp, but Buck Lake is actually kind of scenic. Both are directly beside Basin Lake Road, and both have a single campsite, although I couldn’t actually see the Little Norway site from the road to confirm its existence. Regardless, if you had a choice between Buck Lake and Little Norway I’d suggest taking Buck Lake every time.
And that’s about it for Basin Lake. This is a great destination if you’re looking for some quasi-car camping, with a bit of backcountry flavour. I used it as a first trip a couple of years back to force myself to ease into the season (pretty hard to plan a trip with stupidly long portages if there are no portages in the area) and it was a great start to the year. The lake is a pretty paddle, and the points of interest along Basin Lake Road are, well, they’re interesting. I’d recommend this area to anyone looking for a low key spot to enjoy being in Algonquin, but where they can also bring along a cooler filled with ice and beverages without worrying about how they’re going to get them over the portage if they’re so inclined.
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.