It’s obscure lake month here at All of Algonquin. Tonakela Lake probably isn’t on anyone’s list of top 100 lakes they want to visit. It’s a small lake nestled in the Ahmek District, just west of Canoe Lake. The Ahmek district is a collection of small to slightly less small lakes connected by long, low maintenance portages. It’s probably better known by Algonquin’s hiking community, as the Western Uplands trail visits (and has campsites on) quite a few of the lakes in the area. That said, you shouldn’t discount this part of the Park as a paddling destination as well. While the portages can be a bit of a challenge, the lakes are fun to explore, the scenery is beautiful and you’ve got a good chance at getting yourself a private lake if you head up this way for a night.
Tonakela is the fifth lake in from Canoe Lake. While it does take a bit of hiking with boats to get there, Tonakela is certainly accessible from the access point as a night one destination. To get to Tonakela, you pass through Sam, Gill, Drummer and Little Drummer. Getting through Sam and Gill isn’t much of a challenge. Both of these lakes are basically glorified puddles. There’s a p455 up from Canoe Lake and a P100 in between Sam and Gill, neither of which are particularly challenging (although the p455 can be wet in early season). Getting from Gill to Drummer is a bit more of an adventure. There’s a P1850 in between the two, and a good chunk of it is uphill. Not Tarn to St. Andrew’s uphill, but uphill nonetheless. Drummer and Little Drummer are connected by a short narrows and after that it’s a relatively easy p540 to Tonakela, just in time to catch the sunset over the western narrows.
But, do you want to catch that sunset? Would you want Tonakela to be your night one destination? Let’s find out.
Arriving at Tonakela from the Drummer direction you’re greeted with a 50 meter stretch that, depending on the time of year is either very soggy wetland or just kind of spongy mudland. Basically, the portage trail ends before Tonakela begins, and in between is a creek area that you have to navigate. As you can see from the picture above, the Park has put a small boardwalk in to get across the worst, but that dry looking ground at the other end of the boardwalk can be anything but dry in the right conditions. Whether or not you’re still sporting the dry boot look by the end of this section will depend on how nimble you are and the time of year.
Once you’re through the ankle bath, you’ve got a choice to make: set up shop for the night, or continue on to Thunder Lake. If you continue on to Thunder, you’re not going to be spending too much time in the canoe. Tonakela is a small lake. Small to mid-size if you squint. It takes about 10 minutes to paddle Tonakela’s length, if that. If you decide to stick around for the night, your choices are somewhat limited. By which I mean they are completely limited.
Tonakela is home to one campsite. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it means that if you book Tonakela, you know you’re going to get the lake to yourself (which is pretty cool!). It’s bad because one campsite means you don’t have a lot of options if that campsite turns out to be a lemon. You get what you get and you don’t get upset (thank you to my kids’ preschool teachers for getting that one stuck in my head for the past 8 years or so).
So, where does Tonakela’s campsite fall on the spectrum between Furrow Lake – Site 2 and Lake Louisa – Site 17 (Under All of Algonquin’s Patented Campsite Rating Scale, Furrow Lake is shorthand for a dumpster fire in the middle of the fungus zombie apocalypse. Louisa – Site 17 is whatever is the opposite of fungus zombie dumpster fire)? Truthfully, probably closer to the Furrow end, but not by too much. It’s a basic site. The terrain is a bit uneven (in my campsite review I described it as being like a waterbed that someone kicked then flash froze). Despite the uneven-ness, it’s a decent sized site and you could get a few tents on it pretty easily. It’s located on the north side of the Drummer Lake portage bay. The site itself doesn’t offer much in the way of views, the far shore is not very far looking directly out, but if you walk a minute or two through the woods you come to the tip of a small point with a nice western view across Tonakela and towards Thunder.
Tonakela is split into two parts in my mind. There’s the lake proper, where you arrive coming from Drummer and where the campsite is located, and then there’s the western tail. The western tail is a shallow inlet dotted with smooth rocks that narrows towards the Thunder Lake portage. I’ve only ever paddled this part of Tonakela in the early morning, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a very pretty stretch to paddle as the sun pokes over the trees behind you and burns away the morning mist. It’s very peaceful. Peaceful, that is, until you ground your canoe in about a half inch of water a good 10 meters from where the portage to Thunder is supposed to start. Then it’s not so much peaceful as it is aggravating (and damp) as those boots you tried to keep dry on the way in from Drummer end up getting wet anyways.
And that’s more or less it for our tour of Tonakela. In the amount of time it took you to read this section you could probably have paddled from one end to the other. So, now that we know everything there is to know about Tonakela, here’s the question: do we want to stay there?
I can make arguments both ways on this one. Truthfully, there are better sites on nearby Drummer Lake. If I was going in for a couple of nights and base camping, I’d probably want to stay there instead. On the other hand, if I was looking for a place to spend the night before pushing further into the Ahmek District, Tonakela would be a decent option. Tonakela is a good first day’s work out from the Canoe Lake access point, without being either too easy or too hard. It gets you one portage further in, you get the lake to yourself and the campsite is basic but decent. But you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Tonakela’s right there waiting for you to check it out. And when you do, you can tell me if you think it’s more of a Furrow or a Louisa.
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.