Tepee Lake is one of the cluster of easily accessible lakes just north of the Canoe Lake access point. There’s one portage, the P300 Joe Lake portage, and two lakes in between Tepee and the parking lot, which makes it a (theoretically) great destination for beginner trippers or young families. I say theoretically because, while Tepee is certainly a reasonable destination, it would probably be at the bottom of the my list when I’m looking at staying a night in the area. Why? Well, let’s turn up the spotlight and take a closer look at Tepee to find out.
Tepee is a medium sized lake, about an hour to an hour and a half north of access point #5. It connects to Joe Lake by a short narrows from the south, then opens up into a wide basin before exiting to the north through the Little Oxtongue River. On most lakes, you would likely find quite a few campsites around the basin area, but in Tepee’s case they’re all clustered to the north. Technically, I don’t think they’re even on Tepee but instead line both sides of the Little Oxtongue. (The only campsite that does face onto the basin is actually a Joe Lake permit). The reason there are no campsites around Tepee’s main basin is because Tepee’s western shore is dominated by a much bigger type of campsite, Camp Arowhon.
Camp Arowhon is one of the older camps in the Park. Founded in 1934, it is a co-ed camp that has been under the leadership of the Kates family since the start. I haven’t had any direct experiences with Arowhon, apart from running into their trips here or there, but I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who have. Every time I’ve paddled through Tepee while camp is in session the place has been a beehive of activity. On nice days the waterfront is usually teeming with sailboats, canoes and windsurfers. At meal times, you can hear the bells calling campers to the dining hall ringing out across the water. All in all, it looks like a lot of fun.
The thing is, all that fun is pretty hard to ignore. If you’re going to Tepee Lake looking for some backcountry solitude, you might be disappointed. A couple years back I did an overnight to Joe Lake with my daughter. Arowhon was having a camp dance that same night and we could hear the music from our campsite. I would imagine it would be that much more intrusive for anyone staying on Tepee. That said, there are positive aspects to the camp’s proximity as well, particularly for anyone who is feeling a bit nervous about their first backcountry experience. It can be comforting knowing that help, including a camp doctor during the summer months, is a short paddle away for anyone staying on Tepee or Joe (if you’re on Joe, Arowhon Pines, also owned by the Kates family, is located just to the east on the south shore of Little Joe Lake). In the end, I wouldn’t say that having Arowhon on Tepee is either good or bad, that depends on what kind of camping experience you’re looking for, but it is a factor you will want to consider when planning your trip.
Now, if you do decide to camp on Tepee, what should you expect? From a campsite perspective, not a whole lot. The sites on Tepee mostly fall in between average to below average. The majority of them are cut out of straight shoreline along the river. I typically find these kinds of hole in the forest site can feel a bit cramped. For example, Site 3 covers all the basics pretty well. It’s got enough of a footprint to handle a couple of tents, has easy access to the water and a nice fire pit. However, the view off the site is more or less restricted to the (not very) far shore and the swimming isn’t great (there’s a sandy bottom, but also lots of green stuff floating near the shore). It’s a site that works well if you’re using it as a home base to explore the area (maybe paddle down to the Joe Lake cliffs or paddle up to Little Doe and Tom Thomson) but it would get old fast if you were planning on hanging out around the site (or being forced to because of weather). Most of the sites along this stretch have the same vibe (one of the sites, Site 4, has the same vibe plus also a “this site may be haunted” bonus vibe).
If you are up for exploring, I highly recommend the paddle north to Little Doe and Tom Thomson. The Little Oxtongue heading north out of Tepee is quite pretty. It passes through Fawn Lake, which is really just a small bump in the river, but which I’ve found has also been a great spot for moose sightings in the past. Both Tom Thomson and Little Doe are decent sized lakes with lots to explore on a day trip. If you’re feeling really adventurous you could try a day loop that heads west from Tepee to Potter Creek along the P2020 just north of Camp Arowhon. From here you would head north through Potter, then east to Tom Thomson via Pathfinder Lake and Long Pond before coming back south along the Little Oxtongue. This would be a full day trip, and I wouldn’t want to try it in the later months because Long Pond can dry up to the point where calling it a pond is more wishful thinking than an accurate description (there are a couple of long portages along this loop, so I wouldn’t suggest it for a first trip).
To the south, Joe Lake offers one of my favourite day trip destinations in the Park, the Joe Lake cliffs. The cliffs are a short paddle from Tepee on Joe’s western side. There are ledges for all ages, from a kid friendly five footer to much less kid friendly higher levels. If you want to go a bit further, crossing back into Canoe Lake and taking a turn down Potter Creek offers some cool ruins from the Park’s earlier days, including the remains of an old bridge across the creek and the shell of the old Mowat lumber mill.
And that’s Tepee Lake. It’s a perfectly serviceable lake, and it’s extremely convenient for a first backcountry trip, but if you’re staying there I would suggest planning some day trips to visit the surrounding area as well.
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.