All of Algonquin

Trip Reports, Campsite Reviews & More

Trip Reports, Campsites & More

Tom Thomson Lake

February 2023 - Spotlight lake

Tom Thomson Lake is one of my favourite lakes in the Park. It’s one of the very first lakes I ever visited. I’m pretty sure my first overnight as a 17 year old Counsellor-In-Training with Camp Ahmek was to Tom Thomson. Leaving aside the fact that the group of six year olds I was ostensibly guiding on that trip all had more camping experience than I did, I remember really liking what I saw of Tom Thomson (and the lakes in between it and Canoe Lake as well!).

Tom Thomson is not ugly

And what’s not to like? Located 10 relatively easy kilometers north of Canoe Lake, it’s a perfect destination for beginner trippers, groups with younger kids or anyone who wants a nice spot to stop for their first night. The route up to Tom Thomson is about as easy as you can ask for. Aside from a single 300 meter portage between Canoe and Joe Lake (known universally if not imaginatively as the Joe Lake portage), the entire trip between the parking lot and Tom Thomson is by water.  Assuming you’re not paddling into a windstorm (and you probably shouldn’t be paddling into a windstorm), it’s a very pleasant half day (at most) to get up to your campsite. 

Once you arrive at Tom Thomson, crossing over the iconic beaver dam that has stood between Little Doe and Tom Thomson since the dinosaurs were booking their backcountry permits, you’re greeted with a gorgeous lake.  It’s not Opeongo or Lavielle sized, but it’s plenty big enough. It’s a two part lake, with a large south half and a slightly less large north half (here in the All of Algonquin universe halves can be different sizes from each other). These two parts are loosely separated by a brief narrowing point about 2/3 of the way up the lake. There are quite a few sites around its edges, and many of those are decent to good. The scenery is nice, particularly the rock wall that dominates the northeast side of the north half of the lake, and pretty much anywhere you choose to stay you’re going to have some great views.

Over the years I’ve visited many of the sites on Tom Thomson, and I can say that with few exceptions they all have something to offer. Some of my favourites include site 10, site 4 (with an asterisk), sites 5 & 6 and site 2. Why I didn’t list those in any kind of logical order I can’t say, but what’s done is done and I’m not going back to change it now.

Our site on Tom Thomson

Site 10 is a particular favourite of mine because it feels secluded, something that you might not expect to find on a lake with 17 campsites. The reason it feels so secluded is that it’s located at the top of the north half of the lake. There are fewer campsites up there to begin with, and the ones that are there are much more spread out than the ones in the south half. You could almost pretend that you’ve got the lake to yourself on Site 10, as the majority of Tom Thomson’s sites are around the corner and out of sight. Even the ones that are in eyeshot seem a bit better camouflaged than the sites in the south. It’s a smaller site, you probably wouldn’t want to have more than one tent here, but it’s got a nice layout, a small beach and great views. Can’t really ask for much more.

Site 4 is another favourite, although it does come with that asterisk I mentioned. It’s another small site. Built against a cool rock wall backdrop with really nice views south and west. On top of that, it’s got an awesome little set of jumping ledges a short walk back of the site towards Bartlett Lake and, at least when I was there, is home to the gnarliest looking turtle landlord I’ve ever seen. So what’s the problem? Well, Site 3, the next site east, is a close neighbour. Very close. Less a feel comfortable asking to borrow a cup of sugar close neighbour and more a barge into your bathroom and borrow your roll of toilet paper, while you’re using it type of close neighbour. In other words, if you don’t already know the people staying on site 3, you’re going to.  While that can be a pain if you’re looking for some privacy, it works extremely well if you’re a large group who needs two permits. 

Sites 5 and 6 are similar in that they don’t really have any special features, but they don’t have any specific drawbacks either. Located just across the Bartlett bay from Site 4, both sites offer plenty of room, great swimming and great views. You could put a few tents on either and still not feel tight for space. I’d probably give a slight edge to site 6 for the simple fact that site 5 sits at the start of the narrows leading over to Bartlett Lake, so anyone going that direction is going to be getting a front row seat to your skinny dip (which in my case would be more their problem than mine, but even if you’re not swimming naked it can get frustrating having people paddling right past your site all day).

The wall from far away

Once you’re settled into your campsite, there’s a lot to see around the lake. The north wall I mentioned earlier (which keeps the White Walkers at bay among other things) is well worth checking out. It’s a beautiful stretch of Canadian Shield rising up from the water 30 or 40 feet high. The forest rides the top of the wall, rising and falling in a gentle wave along with the ridge. From far way it looks impressive. From up close it’s even more so. Either way, it’s a must see destination on the Tom Thomson self-guided canoe tour.

There are also plenty of nooks and crannies to explore around Tom Thomson. There are a few small bays (and I do mean small) you can paddle into that offer at least a chance of seeing some wildlife. The portage bay leading over to Ink Lake in particular seems tailor made for a hungry moose in search of slimy green stuff to eat. It’s a small, shallow bay with lots of plant life floating on top of the water. The put-in coming over from Long Pond is similarly swampy, er nature-y, and could be a good spot to find some birds or smaller mammals. 

Along with all that there is to explore on the lake itself, one of my favourite things about Tom Thomson is that it’s a bit of a nexus point. There are four ways to get in and out of the lake, by way of Little Doe, Bartlett, Ink Lake and Long Pond. The Ink Lake and Long Pond portages are both on the long (and slightly frustrating) side, but Little Doe and Bartlett are connected by water only. If you get tired of exploring Tom Thomson you can easily branch out to these nearby lakes. From a tripping perspective, Tom Thomson is a great destination for an easier trip, and works just as well as a first night for trips heading up to Sunbeam (and beyond) or McIntosh. 

I could go on and on about Tom Thomson, but this is already bordering on gratuitous. Let’s just leave it at this: Tom Thomson Lake is a great spot. It’s worth checking out if you’ve never been before, and it’s worth checking out again if you already have.

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.

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