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Trip Reports, Campsite Reviews & More

Trip Reports, Campsites & More

Drummer Lake

July 2022 - spotlight lake
Drummer Lake from the end of the Sam/Drummer portage

Just west of Canoe lake is a string of small to midsized lakes that I’ve always known as the Ahmek District. The story goes that the canoe routes through the area were established by campers and staff from Camp Ahmek (an all boys camp that sprawls along the northeast shore of nearby Canoe Lake) back in the mid 1940s and 50s. That sounds reasonable enough to me, so let’s stick with it. It’s a surprisingly rugged spot to trip given its proximity to Canoe Lake, but it’s also well worth the effort. Our inaugural spotlight section focuses on the lake that I think of as the gateway to the Ahmek District: Drummer Lake.

Drummer Lake is about five kilometers from the Canoe Lake access point. Here’s a list of other lakes that are also about five kilometers from Canoe Lake: Looking north, we’ve got Joe Lake, Tepee Lake, Little Joe (but actually Little Joe is further than five kilometers) and Potter Lake (also a bit further). Heading south we’ve got Ragged Lake and Parkside Bay (also part of Ragged, but you book it separately). What each of these lakes have in common, particularly on weekends and during the busiest parts of the summer, is that they can be as crowded as a Best Buy on Black Friday.

Drummer Lake
Little Drummer Lake

Drummer, for all its proximity to the busiest access point in the park, isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, you probably won’t be able to get a spot up there last minute on Labour Day, but there’s a good chance you’ll find something many other weekends. And if Drummer isn’t free, I’d bet you Tonakela or Thunder, the next two lakes along the way into the Ahmek District, are. Why is this? Because unlike Joe, Tepee, Little Joe and all the other hotspots we just listed (which are separated from Canoe Lake by a single, short portage regardless of which direction you’re headed), Drummer is 2.2 KM of uphill, low maintenance portaging away from Canoe Lake.

It turns out that many people looking at the map of spots around Canoe Lake look at the low maintenance lines meandering westward up to Drummer and beyond and say no thanks. Which is a shame for them, because that area just west of Canoe Lake is a cool place to visit. I head up to Drummer frequently and it’s very rare that I cross paths with anyone coming the other way.

Drummer is the first lake you can camp on heading west from Canoe Lake. (There are two lakes in between Drummer and Canoe Lake, Sam and Gill, but they’re both very small and don’t have any campsites). Coming from Canoe Lake, you arrive at Drummer’s east end. Drummer is longer east/west than it is north/south and it’s an easy paddle over to the next set of portages heading deeper into the Park. It’s not a particularly deep lake. As you’re paddling west, through what feels like it should be the deepest part of the lake, you look down and realize there are large rocks looking back at you from maybe five feet below the surface.

Paddling on Drummer Lake
View from Drummer Lake - Site 4

The three sites on Drummer itself are varying degrees of good. By far the coolest is the one that sits at the top of the P1,860 linking Drummer Lake to Gill Lake. You stumble out of the woods, panting and sweating from almost two KM of mostly uphill portage, and find yourself walking past a very solidly constructed lean-to that sits at the top of a rocky hill to your right. Not only that, you’re also staring straight ahead at a rope swing hanging out over the water like an engraved invitation to channel your inner American Ninja Warrior contestant (one of the ones who fails on the second obstacle, but a ninja nonetheless).

Looking up at the lean-to
The Drummer Lean-To

I love this spot.

I’ll daytrip up from Canoe Lake in the early morning a couple times a year for a cup of tea and a failed attempt at looking competent on the rope swing. Sometimes I paddle around, sometimes I just take it easy for a while and enjoy a quiet morning.

The other two Drummer sites are close to the portage as well. There’s one just across the water on the northeast corner of the lake and one about midway along Drummer on a small island. The island site is Drummer’s most private.  It’s the only site that doesn’t have people walking through it, paddling very close to it or looking straight at it from their own site. It’s flat, with a few decent tent spots and a nice view west towards the next lake over, Little Drummer. Can’t really ask for much more.

Drummer Lake - Site 2
Looking out at Drummer from mid site

The easternmost site is another decent option, just be prepared to get to know the people on the portage site across from you if anyone is staying there. The two sites are very visible to each other, and they’re not all that far away, either. Fishbowl characteristics aside, it’s a nice spot. There’s room for a couple of tents and the fire pit area is pretty cool. There’s a large, flat rock backing the pit which throws back a decent amount of heat and light.

Coming up on my favourite Drummer site (for now)
Looking through the site towards Little Drummer (eventually)

There’s one more site bookable under the Drummer Lake header, although it’s not actually on Drummer. It’s on Little Drummer, which connects to Drummer by way of a short narrows out of Drummer’s west end. Drummer’s not very big. It takes about ten minutes to get from the portage put-in over to Little Drummer, if that. Little Drummer, unsurprisingly, is smaller than Drummer. It’s a rough circle maybe 300 meters across. Maybe.

Little Drummer

The narrows between Drummer and Little Drummer are presided over by a small site on the south side of the passage. I really liked this site. It’s not a big site, or even a particularly convenient spot. It’s on a rising hump of rock and has room for maybe two tents if you squint. But it’s a great spot to stop for a swim and enjoy the view across Little Drummer. I’ve been told recently that the Park may have closed this site to camping to allow for site regeneration, but I haven’t been up to confirm yet. If it is indeed closed, I’ll be bummed. This was a favourite spot for me to stop for a snack and a swim on days when I was heading deeper into the Ahmek District.

And that’s Drummer (and Little Drummer!) in a nutshell. It’s a decent little lake that gives a nice feeling of seclusion despite being very close to one of the busiest access points in the Park. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, but still want to be able to zip out for a burger at the P-Store after you accidentally drop dinner into the fire, Drummer is well worth your consideration.

Gear reviews are featured in each issue of The Thunderbox. If you want to get my up to date thoughts on various pieces of gear, feel free to add your email in the box below. You’ll receive the monthly Thunderbox update and trip reports as they are published.

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