Canoeing in Algonquin Park is one of the most quintessential adventures Ontario has to offer. Travellers from around the world arrive in the park every year to experience the unique solitude that only an Algonquin canoe trip can offer. With more than 2000 kms of canoe routes and portages it’s important to research the different routes to find the right one for your experience level, fitness level and how much time you have. Paddle season runs from early spring, when the lakes are free of ice until late fall when the ice returns. With the absence of bugs, early spring and late fall are some of the best times to be in the park but water temperatures can be extremely cold and dangerous. Inexperienced paddlers should avoid these times.
Most canoe trips include paddling and portaging. The portages in Algonquin Park are well marked trails but can be rugged, rocky, wet and muddy. Portages can range from about 100 m to over 5 km. (the longest in the park is the Dickson to Bonfield portage 5.4 km) Long portages mean you’ll be carrying your gear over land as well as water. You want to carry as little gear as possible. There are also a couple of paddle-in sites that don’t require portaging if you’re new to canoe tripping or have kids along.
Algonquin Park was established in 1893 and there have been outfitters supplying gear to travellers for decades. This means you can literally rent or buy everything you need for a canoe trip in the park. I have been going to Algonquin Park year round since 1985. Here is my advice on what you need to bring or consider for your canoe trip.
Canoe - Some things to consider. A lightweight quality kevlar canoe can cost $3000-$5000 Cdn. This same canoe can be rented at the park for anywhere between $35-$45 a day. If your trip has a lot of portages you will definitely want to have a lightweight canoe.
Algonquin Park paddling map in a waterproof map case. If you can purchase a "Jeff's Map" online it will be your best option. They are waterproof and float.
One canoe paddle per person plus one extra for each canoe. Also, don't be afraid to try or take a kayak paddle with you for your canoe trip especially if you are new to canoeing. I have a bad right shoulder and take a kayak paddle on all of my trips even when paddling my 16 foot Prospector canoe. Some traditionalist will scoff at the idea but a kayak paddle will be more comfortable for most people.
PFD (Personal Flotation Device or Life Jacket) – 1 per person. Things to consider to carry in/on your PFD. Sunscreen, Map, Compass, GPS (tethered to your PDF) , Waterproof matches/lighter, Leatherman https://amzn.to/34uhtYi multi tool/ or knife, sunglasses, bugspray, bug net, and lip balm.
Mandatory safety gear for a canoe: Whistle on your PDF, pump or bailer and heaving line. These will come with a rental canoe but don't forget to attach it to your canoe. The most common device is a all-in-one bag containing the rope. The bag doubles as a bailer and the buckle is a whistle. See it here.
Choosing what pack to bring is personal preference. Here are some things to consider. First, your hiking backpack will probably be fine for a canoe trip. If you plan on using it make sure to store items in waterproof "dry" bags first and then store them in your pack. Some high volume backpacks rise high above the hikers head. This can be a problem if you plan on portaging your canoe while wearing your backpack. Waterproof blue 60 litre barrels are popular for canoe trips but are not the most comfortable to carry. See them here
Shelters and Sleeping Gear
A lightweight free standing tent with rain fly is your best bet. The park campsites have plenty of flat spots for setting up tents. A tent footprint is always a good idea to protect your tent. See the tent that I use here.
Tarps can be used for shelters but not when the bugs are out.
Hammocks - every campsite has plenty of trees for setting up a hammock.
Sleeping bag - it is worth the money to invest in a quality lightweight down filled sleeping bag that will compress down very small. If you can only get one, invest in a 0 to -2 degree Celsius bag which will cover the majority of the canoeing seasons.
A quality Sleeping pad is certainly worthwhile. There is a wide variety of lightweight inflatable pads that will compress down to the size of a water bottle. I use an Exped Synmat
Lightweight packable pillow. It takes up no space and will prevent you from having to stuff your clothes in a shirt to make a pillow for yourself. I got one a few years ago and can't believe it took me that long to figure it out. My Sea to Summit pillow
Extra tarp for sitting under in the rain.
Water filter / water treatment system. There are too many options to cover here but I will tell you what I use. I carry two Katadyn BeFree 1 litre filter systems. Basically a collapsible water bottle with a filter attached to the drinking hole. I also use a 6 litre Katdyn gravity filter when setting up a basecamp. Katadyn water filter
Food – I usually pack oatmeal for breakfast, and a variety of meals for dinner. I do not plan a lunch meal but just pack snacks such as trail mix, pepperonis, dried fruit etc, to snack on throughout the day. For dinners I will bring in frozen meats to grill within the first day or so. After that I have dehydrated meal recipes that you can use.
Do not bring in cans or bottles.
Stove - Here is my suggestion. Get a Jet Boil or similar style canister stove. When the weather is good anyone can cook over a campfire or use a twig stove but when you've been paddling all day in a cold windy rain you're not going to want to start a fire when you get to camp. Getting to camp and setting up in the rain is going to happen to you eventually. Do yourself a favour and bring a fuel stove and eliminate this stress from your trip.
Fuel for stove. Bring an extra canister.
Lighter or waterproof matches and fire starter
Pot set, plates, bowls
Spoons or sporks. Buy a long handled spoon for dehydrated meals so you can eat them out of the bag instead of doing dishes.
Biodegradable soap - This soap is not meant to be used in the lake! Wash your dishes away from your campsite but also away from the water's edge if you're using soap to wash them.
Dishcloth and dish scraper
Garbage bags - Leave no trace. Do NOT leave anything behind at your campsite.
Lightweight dry bags for hanging food and garbage at night. Always hang your food at night and if you leave your campsite.
Lightweight rope or cord, plus a carabiner for hanging food
Folding camp saw or ax. My suggestion, bring a folding saw. Saw injury equals a band Aid or worst case scenario a stitch or two. An ax injury equals an air rescue.
Clothing and Footwear
During warm trips I will wear thin synthetic hiking pants, a long sleeve shirt and a wide brimmed hat. Stick to synthetic materials or merino wool, leave the cotton at home. A long sleeve shirt will protect your from the sun, bugs, and even keep you cooler when it's hot. The blue shirt I am wearing in this photo is my favourite. It's an Arc'teryx Elaho. When the weather is cooler I wear as much merino wool as I can. It's my favourite material for base layers and shirts. It gets softer the longer you have it and will keep you warm even when it's wet.
Hiking socks (synthetic or wool-blend) DarnTuff is the best brand in my opinion.
Dedicated pair of socks to wear in camp
If you have room an extra pair of footwear for camp is a nice to have. Crocs are actually great for this.
Synthetic, quick-drying underwear
T-shirts. No cotton.
Quick-drying pants and shorts / bathing suit
Lightweight base layers (bottom and top)
Fleece jacket, lightweight puffy jacket or wool sweater
Toque and/or a merino wool Buff. Trust me, get one, you're welcome.
Lightweight wide-brimmed sun hat.
Hiking boots or hiking shoes for portaging. I've gotten away from wearing hiking boots on my canoe trips. First, your feet will get wet during a trip. Gortex hiking boots do not dry quickly. I've been using Salomon Trail shoes for a few years now and find they are rugged enough for the portages and also easy to slip under the canoe seat while paddling in a kneeling position. If I want to got very light I will take those as my only footwear and wear waterproof socks in them at camp.
Stuff sacks and small dry bags to organize your gear
Toilet paper. In double ziploc bags or other dry bag. In Algonquin Park every campsite has a "Thunder Box" which is a wood box with a hole cut in it and a lid. They are more comfortable than they sound but do not but food or baby wipes down into them.
Quick-drying towel or face cloth
Power bank or spare batteries for electronic devices
PLB - Personal locator beacon or some form of communication such as a SPOT system. A PLB does not require a subscription and simply activates a distress call that search and rescue can track. A SPOT or Garmin InReach communicate with people but require a monthly service fee. You can rent a SPOT at an outfitter in the park. I suggest you have one as there is no cell service in the park interior.
Earplugs because I snore and I can't be the only one.
If you wear glasses buy some dollar store cheaters and hide them in your lifejacket and anywhere else. You do not want to loose your only pair of prescription glasses.
Small daypack or waist pack to access essentials easily
Gloves for paddling
Hammock or lightweight camp chair. Not necessary but a nice to have.
Fishing rod and small amount of tackle. No live bait. The fishing in Algonquin Park is excellent.
Playing cards or portable camp games
Headlamp with extra batteries. Keep the batteries OUT of the headlamp until you need it.
First aid kit
Bear spray / bear bangers. Really not necessary but if it makes you feel better bring it. If you do you might as well try it out first so you know how to use it.
Bug spray and bug jacket. A head net is all you really need.
Repair kits for sleeping pads, tents and stoves; include duct tape and repair tape. Pro tip: wrap a good quantity of duct tape around the yoke of your canoe (not the part your neck contacts) It will always be there in case you need it.
If you follow this guide you will more than prepared for your trip. You can always email me with questions firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you.