Highland Backpacking Trail, Algonquin Park – Solo Trek through the wilderness

I recently came back from an incredible journey, completing my **First Solo Backpacking Trek**  in Algonquin Park and want to share about my adventures in the GREAT OUTDOORS!  For me, this was a first experience backpacking ALL BY MYSELF and also a first experience on the Highland Backpacking Trail (which was absolutely breathtaking); needless to say I was not left disappointed!  I learned a  little about tips and ideas to try in order to improve on overall experience and comfort the next time I attempt a multi-day backpacking trail, and learned a little about my personal strengths and limitations, and the amazing ability to overcome physical and mental challenges!  I LOVED absolutely EVERY MINUTE of this beautiful hike, and made decisions about how far I would hike, how much I would allow myself to endure and amazed myself at how much I was capable of carrying over the course of this two day, 30 km, solo backpacking trek!



My adventure started out at the trail head to the Highland Backpacking Trail, beside Mew Lake Campground.  I wanted to get an early start, but stopped for breakfast first at Lake of Two Rivers Restaurant and filled up on a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes and coffee!  By 9:30am I was ready to hit the trail and began my hiking adventure.  The first section on the trail was relatively mild and easy going!  And there was a great look-out spot along the way… I was excited to partake on this adventure and was in high spirits as I hiked along!  There were a couple trail crossings (bicycle paths) and I passed by a few other people on bikes and relaxing in the shallow water near a bridge… I continued on. Then I reached the spot that I will call the “real” trail head!  It was uphill, rocky, narrow and steep!  It was so steep in fact that I actually asked if I was still on the right path?  It was correct!  This start to the trail felt like a sort of check in balance, as if to give the optimistic hiker a small glimpse of what is to come… there was a sign warning potential “day” hikers to seriously consider turning back (I was in it for the long haul, so I just walked right on by and continued along the path up the steep hill lol!)



After a couple hours hiking, I found myself rather enjoying the peacefulness of the trail, the quiet calmness surrounding me, and the beauty of the forest, rock, and trees.  The trail continued on, and I eventually made my way up to what would be the highest point of my hike.  There was an amazing rock face where I enjoyed a quick lunch and rested for a few minutes before continuing along the trail, heading down now towards the water.   I was hoping to get to Head Lake by mid-afternoon to have an opportunity to enjoy a swim… the sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the bugs were almost non-existent!  It turned out to be an incredible afternoon!  After my break at Head Lake, I started once again along the trail towards Harness Lake, where I had reserved a campsite for my first night.


I set up tent and enjoyed a brief dip in the lake, then tried out my stove for the first time!  It was peaceful and turned out to be a beautiful evening as I sat by the water, watching the sun slowly set on the quiet lake… I could hear a pair of loons on the water, and fell asleep to this wonderful sound.


In the morning I packed up and got started on my second day hiking the Highland Trail.  The trail on this day led me through low marshy areas… this was the only place along the entire 30km trail where I felt the need to apply mosquito repellent (after all, I was hiking past Mosquito Lake!)  I passed a few other hikers along this section of the trail, and although I was not travelling at a particularly fast pace, I did not meet up with them again.  It was beginning to get warm, humidity was setting in, and I was starting to notice the weight of my pack on my back – which I can only imagine must be fairly common on the second or third day for a new hiker? – I had just finished taking a short break for a snack (and to give my shoulders a moment of rest), had started back along the trail and completed a climb up a steep hill, when suddenly I began to feel a few rain drops.  Those light drops quickly turned into heavy drops of rain and I found myself caught in a torrential downpour!  Thankful that I brought some garbage bags with me, I wrapped my pack and sleeping bag with the plastic bags and then decided I might as well just keep on going 🙂

And so I continued on in the pouring rain… it was actually kind of a welcome relief from the heat I was feeling!  After an hour or so the rain started to lessen, and I soon found myself reaching the point on the trail where the two loops come together.  I decided to take the wider route along the East side of Provoking Lake (I had a campsite booked there, but was not sure yet if I would use it).  The trail around Provoking Lake was higher ground, and not nearly as marshy as the area I had just come from, and it was actually a lot of fun hiking this area of the trail!  This section of the trail was much busier and I passed several people along the path, and also passed several campsites which were already taken.  I eventually found a campsite that was available… It was an amazing site!  The only campsite on the point – it was huge!  I set up tent and took a short nap.


The sky was looking pretty bleak, and the wind had picked up… I checked my trail map and discovered that I only had another 6km (approximately) to go to exit the Highland Trail and I decided I would pack it up and head out (it was only about 2:00 in the afternoon at this time).


I put my headphones in to help with motivation (I certainly was tired by this time, and my pack was feeling heavy!)  I followed the trail around the lake, and eventually made my way back to the steep (this time downhill!) trail heading back towards the trail head.  I kept going and decided not to stop until I made it to the parking lot!  By about 5:00pm I reached the very end of the trail, and made it out to my car!  I was overcome with such emotion:  Joy; Happiness; Excitement; and an overwhelming sense of Accomplishment!  This journey was so incredible, it is almost beyond words.  I loved having the opportunity to spend so much time alone with nature, and loved that I was able to accomplish this 30km hike on my own!  Carrying my heavy pack, hiking up numerous steep hills, over rocks and along trails, setting up my camping gear, cooking meals, improvising when necessary, and overall being at peace with myself and with nature – truly feeling a sense of awe and wonder at this incredible world we live in.

My first solo backpacking trek in Algonquin Park was a memorable experience, and one that I will not soon forget!

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Algonquin Canoe Camping – October Wilderness Adventure

Algonquin Park – Ontario, CanadaIMG_0445

We planned a four-day canoe adventure into magnificent Algonquin Park… for my first experience canoeing we decided to keep the trip relatively short and we chose a route that was recommended for newbies as it plans for only 4-5 travel hours per day.  I think for my first time canoeing it was the perfect length, although I must admit I was a little reluctant to have to head back in after the four days were finished!!  With more experience it would be amazing to spend a week – or longer – in the park to have a chance to really explore the area!

Algonquin Park is incredibly stunning!  The park encompasses an expansive wilderness area that is full of small lakes, creeks, and waterways – making it ideal for canoeing, backpacking, and exploring the natural beauty without crowds, noise, light pollution and cellular data!

Sunday October 15th, 2017- DAY ONE:

We started out our canoeing adventure in CANOE LAKE and launched beside the Portage Store.  It was a windy morning with rain clouds heading our way, but we were optimistic and prepared for adventure and so we headed onto the lake despite the weather forecast!  We started making great progress as the wind was at our backs and helping to push us along… my sister-in-law told me that her mom says whenever paddling on CANOE LAKE you can expect to have the wind pushing against you no matter which direction you are headed – coming in or going out – and I felt that we were pretty fortunate to have the wind at our backs on this morning!


BUT…. the wind continued to get stronger, the waves continued to grow larger and we got caught down an inlet where we did not want to be!  After only an hour of paddling we were beginning to consider docking and waiting out the wind for a while.  We attempted to get out of the inlet and around the point several times – now the wind was pushing against us and each time the canoe would get caught by the wind gusts and we’d get turned back around… we decided we did not have the skills to continue (and really did not want to end up capsized!) so we found a dock close by and pulled ashore to wait out the storm.  We docked just in time to get our gear covered before the heavy rain started and took shelter under an overhang of someone’s cabin.

To pass the time we decided to explore the land, and we found an old abandoned cabin!  This cabin provided great shelter from the wind and we had decided if the weather did not cooperate we would be okay bunking out there for the night if necessary…


I remembered reading about the Tom Thomson Cairn and saw on our map that it was not far from where we had docked so I went in search of the Cairn.  I found it – and also met a couple people who were stranded just on the other side of the point where we had docked our canoe!  Their canoe had tipped due to the waves and they went in the water, swam to shore and now had a small fire going to try and warm up.  Sometimes life happens in mysterious ways, and I was thankful that I stumbled upon them and was able to offer some assistance to help them call for rescue … it also made me realize that we had made a very good choice to pull off the water when we did!

Once their rescue boat arrived, I headed back to the other side where our canoe was and the cabin where we were seeking shelter.  It started to downpour once again, so we made the decision at that time, that we would just lay out our tarp on the floor of the cabin and bunk there for night.  As the rain began to slow, we headed back towards the canoe and our gear with the intention of bringing our gear up to the cabin, when we looked out at the lake and discovered that the water had calmed, the wind had died down, and the lake appeared as still as glass!!!  We were so excited!  Back on the water we went, and we were able to continue to the end of CANOE LAKE to the portage point across the dam.

We headed into JOE LAKE, but by this time, it was late afternoon and the rain started up again.  We decided we had better find a campsite and get set up for the night.  We went to the first site available and found one on the island in JOE LAKE.  My sister-in-law started the fire – very impressive as it was both windy and rainy – while I set up the tent.  By the time we had our water boiled for dinner it was starting to get dark.  We ate as quickly as we could, and then went into the tent for the night.  This would be the coldest night of our trip!  NOTE TO FUTURE SELF:   invest in a good tent!  (the tent that I have – and brought for this trip – has a great venting system which is amazing in the summer… not so amazing in the cold weather as the vents cannot be closed to help retain heat!)


Monday October 16th, 2017 – DAY TWO:

JOE LAKE:  we prepared breakfast at our campsite and started to pack up to continue along on our trip.  It was very cold on this morning… I even saw a few snowflakes while we were packing up!  Everything took us a little longer, as we’d have to stop to put our gloves on for a few minutes in between packing things up… but as the morning continued, the sun slowly began to come out and it started to warm up.

We continued North along JOE LAKE up into Tepee and then into Fawn Lake.  Here is where we had a wonderful surprise!!!  We rounded a corner and spotted a large moose feeding among the lily pads!  Absolutely AMAZING!!!!  We stopped to watch the bull for several minutes… and took lots of pictures!  Even though we were almost a day behind on our schedule, we didn’t really mind – we might not have seen the moose if everything had gone as planned the day before!  It was truly memorable seeing this large creature, just living life in its natural environment!


We let the moose be, and continued paddling North into LITTLE DOE LAKE.  The sun was shining, the air had warmed, and it was turning into a beautiful day!  We leisurely paddled up the small waterway connecting LITTLE DOE to TOM THOMSON LAKE.  A beaver had been busy making a dam across the waterway and we assessed that we were not going to get across by canoeing, so we got out and lifted the canoe over the dam.  Once we arrived into TOM THOMSON we decided it was time to break for a late lunch.  We stopped at a campsite and prepared some water for our lunch.  Our feet were still wet from the morning (and the day before) and we spent an hour just soaking up the sun and drying out our shoes.  We had a look at our map, and decided that there was not enough time that day to get to the lake which was our ultimate destination for that day, so we decided we would spend the night in TOM THOMSON.


We found a great, South-facing campsite and set up our camp there.  Once again, my sister-in-law worked on the fire while I set up the tent, and we enjoyed our dinner with the warm sun still beating down – it was a beautiful evening.  It was quiet along the lake, and I am pretty sure we had the entire lake to ourselves that day!  That night I stole a glimpse of the night sky – the sky was clear and full of stars, and was absolutely breathtaking!!  You have never truly experienced a starry sky until you have witnessed one up North, and away from the light pollution of the cities!


Tuesday October 17th, 2017 – DAY THREE:

I woke up as the sun was starting to rise on this morning, and witnessed the beautiful sunrise over the water… it was a peaceful morning.  The wind started to pick up as we were having breakfast and packing up our gear, but calmed a little as we headed away from our campsite and back along TOM THOMSON LAKE.  We headed back over the beaver dam and into LITTLE DOE LAKE.  Since we were a day behind schedule, we changed our itinerary and decided we would head through LITTLE DOE and across the 1140 portage into BURNT ISLAND LAKE (instead of portaging up to SUNBEAM, and then portaging down to BURNT ISLAND) – it would be a longer portage, but less of them and ultimately would take us less time.


The paddle through LITTLE DOE LAKE was relatively calm, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful morning.  We arrived at our portage and decided we would walk our packs along first and then come back for the canoe.  It felt so good stretching out my legs; the hike was magnificent and I felt energized!  We took a break for a snack/lunch at the end of the portage route and decided we would find a campsite close by and get set up for the night.





Our campsite was on a small island in BURNT ISLAND LAKE and we had the entire island to ourselves!  After getting set up, we still had a couple hours before dark.  The sun was shining and when there were breaks from the wind, it was quite warm!  I spent some time exploring the island, enjoying the view, and reflecting on our experiences.  We were fortunate enough to enjoy a beautiful sunset that evening, and as the weather was warmer, we stayed up a little later playing cards in the tent.  It was another clear night, and I was able to catch another glimpse of the starry sky after the sun went down.


Wednesday October 18th, 2017 – DAY FOUR:

We woke up to a beautiful morning on BURNT ISLAND LAKE!!!  The weather was warm and the wind was calm… I started a fire for our breakfast and enjoyed the view of the morning fog gently lifting off the lake.


Once we were all packed up, we headed back in our canoe, and back to the portage point – this time we would just be covering the small portage section to BABY JOE and from there we would be travelling into LITTLE JOE, then to JOE LAKE and finally back to CANOE LAKE to head back inland.  We took our time across the portage from BABY JOE to LITTLE JOE and checked out a running stream while hiking the portage trail.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm!!!  We couldn’t have asked for better weather that morning.

As we headed into JOE LAKE, the wind started to pick up and the paddling became more challenging… we worked hard to get across that lake!  We reached the portage point to get to CANOE LAKE, and took a little break.  My arms were pretty tired from the paddling along JOE and welcomed the break!!!  I remembered what my sister-in-law’s mom had said about CANOE LAKE working against you both ways, and prepared myself for what I was pretty sure would be a tough paddle out!

We took the right shoreline along CANOE LAKE to try and avoid the centre of the lake (to keep out of the waves as much as possible) and thankfully the wind started to settle down a little!  It was still windy, however we managed to get across without too many gusts and turned out to be a little easier paddling that JOE LAKE, which I was very thankful for!  By the time we reached the shore at the Portage Store, I was exhausted from the days paddling, but felt amazing that we had accomplished everything!

Throughout the trip, we endured heavy winds and rainfall, strong wind gusts, cold temperatures (mostly above 0, but did get to -1 the second morning!), and carrying heavy gear… we also were blessed with amazing experiences!!!!  Being able to help fellow travellers, being witness to a moose grazing in the lily pads, enjoying the sunrise and sunset, catching a glimpse of the night sky, feeling the warm sun and experiencing the natural world as it is meant to be enjoyed – off the grid!!!

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