Closest Access Point: Canoe Lake (Access Point #5 )
Distance To Access Point: 6 KM (1.5 – 2 hours)
Difficulty of Travel From Access Point: Medium/Hard.
Maintenance Level: Low
Date of Visit: Spring, 2021
This is the only campsite on Tonakela Lake, which is part of the string of small and mid sized lakes just west of Canoe Lake that comprise the Ahmek District. While Tonakela is barely further away from the access point at Canoe Lake than Little Joe or Tepee, it’s a hell of a lot harder to get to. There’s over 2.5 KM of low maintenance portage between Canoe Lake and Tonakela, and the good news is that a large chunk of that portage distance is uphill. Wait, that’s not good news.
Anyways, this site is pretty much what you’d expect from a site on a small lake on a low maintenance route. If you’re looking for seclusion, it’s got that in spades. If you’re looking for amenities … well, you might not want to have picked the Ahmek District as your tripping destination.
Terrain: There’s a slight uphill from the water to the site proper. Ground cover is dead pine needles and dirt. It kind of feels like the entire site is in the middle of a very mild earthquake. The terrain dips and rolls and you want to be careful if you’re backing up to, I dunno, take a picture of the fire pit, to make sure there aren’t any rocks sticking out of the dirt waiting to trip you up.
Canoe Landing: The shoreline in front of the campsite, much like the shoreline from the end of the portage onwards, is a narrow strip of rock very rocky ground. I’d hesitate to call it a beach, that does a disservice to beaches everywhere, but you could certainly beach your canoe on this strip and unload from it without much trouble. The underwater approach is fine, but the water gets shallow gradually which means you may find yourself hitting bottom sooner than you expect as you pull up.
Fire Pit: Really nice! Someone has put a ton of effort into building up the walls of this pit. It’s an amphitheater shape, with the high walls facing the water. You probably wouldn’t be dealing with a lot of wind on this site anyways, but on the office chance that it is a windy night your fire is going to be nicely protected.
Swimability: Tonakela is a pretty shallow lake. You can see bottom pretty much everywhere. That bottom is a mix of sand an muck and as far as I’m concerned is probably home to every leech that ever lived. I don’t know this for sure, but I don’t know how wild I’d be about testing that theory. LIttle Drummer and Drummer, which are a 500 meter portage away, are much deeper and nicer lakes as far as swimming goes.
Tent Sites: Despite everything I said in the terrain section, there’s actually a fair amount of room to pitch a tent. I wouldn’t necessarily say the tent spots are the most level I’ve ever seen, in places it looks like someone laid down a water bed, kicked it, then flash froze it, but it’s nothing a sleeping pad won’t cure. You could probably get three tents on this site fairly comfortably.
Thunderbox: It’s there, I think. I actually wasn’t able to track it down this trip but I know I’ve seen it on past trips. Regardless, my guess is it doesn’t get a ton of use, so hopefully it’ll be in good shape when you visit.
Accessories: There’s a sturdy log bench by the fire pit with a nice view down to the water. Other than that, and a stand up grill that would be much better used as a table than as something to actually cook on, there’s not much else.
Views: There are intermittent trees along the shoreline leading into Tonakela proper. They’re not enough to exactly block the view, but they do give you a small sense of privacy. The view out to Tonakela is nice enough. It’s a small lake, so you’re not exactly getting the panoramic views you might get on Louisa or Hogan or another of the big lakes. There is, however, a nice sunset view if you hike to the tip of the point where the site is located and look west down Tonakela towards the portage to Thunder.
Notes: I’ve got mixed feelings on this site. I’ve visited it quite a few times and most times I come away feeling pretty underwhelmed. As far as I’m concerned, Tonakela is a pass through lake. I’d much rather stay on Drummer or Little Drummer. That being said, the improved fire pit goes a long way towards making the site palatable for a night. If there wasn’t anything available on Drummer I would at least consider this one as an option, but not for an extended stay.