I love Booth Lake. Let’s get that out of the way right off the top. If you’re reading this hoping for an impartial review of J.R. Booth‘s namesake lake, you’re out of luck. Booth is an awesome spot whether you’re a seasoned tripper or out for your first backcountry overnight. It’s a great lake to bring co-workers (which I’ve done) and kids (which I’ve also done). It’s also a great spot for a first night if you’re looking for a longer trip up into lakes like Dickson and Lavielle to the north, or Opeongo and beyond to the northwest.
But what makes it so great? Let’s dicuss.
Booth is accessible from the Shall Lake access point (#17), about 25 kilometers north of the town of Madawaska. If we’re thinking driving times, Shall Lake is on the eastern side of the Park, about 3 hours from Ottawa and 4 hours from Toronto (the Toronto time is from Google Maps, and seems a bit light to me, but who am I to argue with Google?). Once you’ve left the access point (which has a decent sized parking lot, and an even more decent sized upper parking lot for overflow), it’s only about 7.5 km before you’re on Booth. Along the way, you paddle through Farm and Kitty Lakes, and along a short stretch of the Opeongo River. There are a couple of portages, a p90 that is fairly skippable coming downriver, and a p645 that is not skippable no matter which direction you’re coming from. Fortunately, the p645 is a pretty decent carry, which makes getting to Booth a relatively pleasant, and easy, trip.
Booth is a big lake. It’s got two main parts (a north basin and a south basin), connected to each other by a short narrows. Basically, it kind of looks like Booth is wearing a belt. Both the north and south ends would be good sized lakes in their own right, which is what makes the campsite layout on Booth kind of interesting. Pretty much all the campsites on Booth are concentrated in the south end. Of the 18 campsites, 16 on them are in the south end. The other two (sites 9 & 10 in the campsite archive), are just above the belt into the north end. That leaves a huge chunk of water in between the eastern shore where sites 9 and 10 lie and Tattler Lake, the next lake to the west of Booth. I’m not sure why there aren’t any campsites on Booth’s north part, but it means that once you’ve arrived at Booth you’re pretty much immediately into campsite hunting mode.
And, depending on when you’re arriving on Booth, this can be a tough mode to be in.
See, Booth is a very popular lake. On any given summer weekend it’s quite possible that it will be fully booked. This can leave you hunting around the shorelines of the still quite large south part of Booth, looking for that one empty site. I’ve been in that position a couple of times now. Once, I got lucky, and ended up on one of Booth’s nicest sites. The next time wasn’t so lucky, and we ended up circumnavigating most of the south end of the lake before ending up on Site 2. You don’t want to end up on Site 2.
Let me explain.
Booth Lake, site 2, is where dreams go to die. Or, more accurately, it’s where they go to not happen since you won’t be getting much sleep thanks to the uneven ground and faint “a murder could have happened here” vibe. It’s an enclosed site, barely visible from the water and guarded by one of the more unforgiving approaches I’ve seen in front of a campsite in the Park. If the minefield of half submerged rocks don’t deter you, the dank interior and uneven terrain will try their hardest to pick up the slack. As the only option left on the lake, it’s fine. Barely. Under pretty much any other circumstances it’s a hard pass. This is important to keep in mind, since it’s the first site you see as you’re coming from the Kitty Lake portage (site 1 being all but impossible to find). Keep going. As long as you can find another open campsite, I can pretty much guarantee it will be a better spot.
So, now that we know that we don’t want to stop at our first option once we get to Booth, where should we be headed instead?
Anywhere! The good news is that there are plenty of decent sites scattered around Booth. My personal favourites run along the eastern shore up towards the north part of the lake. Site 6, which is about halfway up Booth, is fronted by an awesome, curving beach and has great western views. Despite its central location, it still feels private thanks to the curve of the shoreline that keeps sites 5 and 7 out of eyeshot (for the most part. Site 7 is at the very top of that curve). It’s got plenty of room for tents and an awesome fire pit area. Can’t really ask for much more.
If Site 6 is taken (and I feel like it will probably be taken), heading up to sites 9 & 10 is a good alternative. These are less likely to be taken as they’re the furthest options from the access point, but they’re both worth checking out. These sites sit on a beach that lines Booth’s northeast shore. The site area for site 10 is perched about 20 feet above the water, at the top of a relatively steep set of steps. Site 9 is more or less at water level. Both sites are nice and flat with plenty of room for tents and decent fire pit setups. They also offer more privacy than a lot of the sites further south on Booth (although, fair warning, Site 10 sits at the start of the Booth to Chipmunk Lake portage, so anyone heading up that way is going to be unloading about 20 meters down the beach from you).
I haven’t yet had a chance to actually get out of my canoe and explore Booth’s island sites, they’ve all been taken each time I was there, but for the most part they look pretty decent from the water. The site I’m most interested in revisiting is site 14 on the southernmost island. It looked like a nice enough spot, and would be off the beaten track as well.
Once you’ve found a spot on Booth you can start exploring. There’s a lot to see and do in the area. McCarthy’s Creek, which exits Booth’s southern half to the west, would offer a chance to see some wildlife if you’re checking it out at the beginning or end of the day. If you paddle it at the beginning, it can be the start of a day trip loop up through Mole, Godda and Rumley Lakes. This is a low maintenance route that’s been on my radar for a while now. I had hoped to check it out last year, but instead opted for the much more kid friendly day trip up to Tattler Lake (which was 100% the correct decision).
Tattler is a fun day trip. It’s a bit of a paddle from the south end of Booth, somewhere between 10-11 km round trip. However, there are exactly zero portages to deal with on the route as Tattler connects to Booth by way of a short narrows (otherwise known as the Opeongo River, which is the river that feeds both Tattler and Booth).
Tattler Lake itself isn’t all that impressive, it looks like, and is, just a widening of the Opeongo River. However, what Tattler Lake does have going for it is that it is home to the Tattler Lake Ranger Cabin, which is a pretty cool spot. The cabin sits on a grassy chunk of Tattler’s western shore. It’s got a nice view north and east and is home to my son’s new favourite book. The cabin is one of the half-dozen or so backcountry ranger cabins that can be booked for a night (there are another half-dozen or so cabins on or near access points). We stopped there for lunch, and it made for a perfect destination for a day trip with kids. It’s not too far from Booth that people start to get cranky, but it’s far enough away that getting there feels like an adventure.
And that’s about it for Booth Lake. I could go on for another thousand words about how much I like it there, but it’s probably better if you just check it out yourself (just stay away from Site 2!).
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