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Our first family wilderness canoeing journey

Posted by on July 14th, 2009 1 Comment

This is the first in a series of 5 posts about our family vacation to the wilderness of Algonquin from July 4-11, 2009.

Canoe 150x150 Our first family wilderness canoeing journeyThis trip is a first for us: canoe camping in Ontario’s Algonquin park! We were all really excited for the change from biking, our usual form of camping transportation, but we weren’t really quite sure how to prepare for this trip, especially since Heidi was six months pregnant with our second child. The equipment required (besides the canoe, which we would be renting) is remarkably similar to that which we already had for biking and backpacking, so beyond picking up a few drybags for keeping our gear from getting wet, our pre-trip prep was mainly reading about canoeing and portaging techniques, as well as trying to imagine just how difficult carrying a canoe over a portage would be!


The drive to Algonquin from Hamilton is about 4 hours long.  Since we wanted to be in the water by 10am, we left super early, transferring our sleeping 2-year-old into the car from her crib. We stopped at Tim Horton’s in Huntsville for a quick breakfast and arrived at the permit office by 8:30am.  The ranger greeted us heartily and was very excited that we had a child along for the adventure.  To stay in Algonquin’s interior, you purchase permits for the specific lake you will be staying on.  Some lakes have 0-2 campsites, some larger lakes have 20.  We had made our reservation months ago.  One concern we had going into the trip, since we didn’t have much canoeing experience (last time either of us went canoe camping was in highschool), was how strict the permits were, and what to do  if we didn’t make it to the lake that we have reserved? The ranger graciously she told us that if we didn’t happen to make it as far as we have planned, that there would be plenty of room on lakes around us. Good thing we were entering the park through one of the quieter access points!  We were very thankful for this, when,  a few days later we realized that our route was FAR too ambitious.  I think there were only 2 nights in the weeklong trip that we stayed on the lakes we had permits for!

Our original route included camping on 7 lakes, with 27 portages totalling about 14km during our 8 days in the park. That morphed into camping on 6 lakes, with 15 portages totally 8km. About half of the portages, and about half of the canoeing distance we originally planned for. Thank goodness for flexibility!

original route 300x231 Our first family wilderness canoeing journey

Original (ambitious) route

new route 300x237 Our first family wilderness canoeing journey

Actual (realistic) route

Route planning for a new experience

Looking back, when Reuben planned the route, he had no idea what to expect.  I mean, he knew he would be hauling a considerable amount of gear plus a canoe several times over each portage.  He knew the portages were not cleared paved trails but rather studded with rocks, tree roots, mud, and bugs.  My job over the portages, being six months pregnant, was to carry a very small pack and walk with Eden over the terrain so before we left, Reuben was worried about the portages.  I, on the other hand was worried about the paddling — but I found out the paddling isn’t that hard at all!  We both found out that portages take a lot of time and effort, especially if you have to do them 3 times each if you only have one person to carry gear!   You never know until you get there and actually try it though!

I’ll talk more about the portages and our paddling in the next post.

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  1. kavita
    December 7, 2011 @ 7:44 am #

    hi family,
    this is kavita, the host at Gaviota state beach near santa barbara. it was great to have you all hang out for the night.
    i LOVE what your all about!
    i relate to your values.
    just a short note to say HAPPY TRAILS.

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