View topic - Just how crowded are the big 4 canoeing areas?

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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 7:38 am 
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As someone who is new to canoe tripping but has done mostly back country hiking I am used to not encountering many people over a 5-7 day period.

Even in Algonquin once on the Western Uplands Trail I went 72 hours without seeing another person during the August civic holiday.

Ottawa-Temiskaming Trail - 6 days saw one solo hiker and three guys who were fishing at one spot

Heaven's-gate trail last year - 6 days not one other person. During the labour day weekend.

But it seems to me that canoe routes Algonquin/Temagami/Quetico/Killarney are quite crowded . I think in one of Kevin Callan's books he talks about seeing 100 people at a portage???

Just how bad does it get?? Are people fighting over camping spots? I know that most of the parks do reservations, what happens if people get windbound? Does the whole reservation system go to hell? Are people dicks about it???

Interested in getting your perspective....


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 9:16 am 
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Not sure about those other places but Algonquin back country you cannot reserve specific sites only "a site on lake X". And they tend to book it to the max so if you are late coming in, and on a big lake, it could take hours to find a free spot. I've read more than a few reports from close friends and youtubers of this being a major problem. I even had one friend recently tell me that it was so bad one time with him and his family he started to ask people to prove they had a booking.

The way I see talked about most often to solve that issue is try to book on small lakes that only have a couple of sites. And start out on a Thursday and base camp so you can leave early Friday morning to get a good site on one of the larger lakes before you go deeper in in the following days.


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 9:53 am 
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Re: Algonquin - it all very much depend on your timing. In shoulder season it's much more open than in July, and August is the worst. Midweek is obviously better than weekend. Some lakes don't fill to capacity even on long weekends and some rivers are mostly untraveled etc, etc... Book early and choose your route strategically to fit your purposes. If one of them is to avoid crowds go to Algonquin in June or September. If you want avoid people altogether go to Temagami. Go to Temagami in June and you won't even see yourself.


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 10:50 am 
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Eddy Turn wrote:
If you want avoid people altogether go to Temagami. Go to Temagami in June and you won't even see yourself.


For some reason I thought Temagami had a lot of motor boat traffic as well i.e. "rumble lakes"??


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 11:08 am 
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To add to what has already been said, Algonquin isn't that bad once you get a lake or two away from the most popular back country accesses. Kevin Callan was probably referencing the Joe Lake portage out of Canoe Lake on Friday of a summer long weekend...Many "back country campers" get one lake in and "camp" for the weekend.
As already noted, Parks staff limit number of groups camping on any lake in the interior so you need to plan ahead before reserving.
My favourite time in Algonquin has always been September: the temperatures are still nice, water is warm enough for swimming, the bugs are gone, the "tourists" have left and the trees are turning!
Beautiful time of the year to see the interior.
Bruce


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 11:46 am 
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ameaney wrote:
For some reason I thought Temagami had a lot of motor boat traffic as well i.e. "rumble lakes"??

There is a lot to Temagami besides these few lakes. Sometimes one might see a motor boat on any of crown land lakes outside of 5 or 6 provincial parks that together constitute Temagami area. But even on some popular access lakes, like Matagamasi in Chiniguchi, motor traffic is very limited and almost non-existent on weekdays. Go any further away and there's a good chance you won't see a soul - motorized or not - for 5-7 or more days. When I traveled Chiniguchi and the Sturgeon river in the end of this June it felt like I was the first one there since the last fall.


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 12:00 pm 
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I pretty much avoid Algonquin in July and Aug, and if not I am way out of the way on portages no one wants to travel on so I do not see the crowds or I go during the week, but mostly I am a September traveler when I go to Algonquin for the very reasons mentioned by Pook. Killarny same thing, busy, busy during summer. Tamagami wont be so busy, anything greater than a 3 hr drive from the GTA tends to be absent from crowds. Yes, some lakes in Tamagami area will have motor traffic, but so do all the bigger ones in Algonquin as well. Stick to the black or green portages and a few lakes in (3 or more) and you wont see anyone most times, this is my practice anyhow and have been lucky thus far.

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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 12:39 pm 
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Captaincanadian wrote:
. Stick to the black or green portages and a few lakes in (3 or more) and you wont see anyone most times, this is my practice anyhow and have been lucky thus far.


Are these "black and green" portages referring to Algonquin or Temagami? I have the big temagami wall map and all the portages are marked in red. Is there a different map I should be looking at? My other maps (Jeff's and Algonquin canoe routes) don't show those either.

Sorry if I've missed something obvious....


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 1:58 pm 
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Hi ameaney,

I am referring to Jeffs maps when I say black and green, the provincial maps all show in red, some like LSPP show black for un-maintained as well (LSPP if your willing to travel, will be crowd free as well). If you have a Jeffs maps they should show in black and green for the un-maintained (black) and unofficial portage (green). Just be aware that you need to do a little clearing yourself to get by the blow-downs sometimes since these portages are not maintained by park staff, only people like myself who venture them. But this is why you will see no one once you get in to that trout filled lake :D

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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 4:10 pm 
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I tend to trip on crown land. We saw more people on one port in Algon than we saw in a week or more on crown land. Algon has better wildlife though, I'll grant you that.

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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 6:16 pm 
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I think we're all in agreement here about the general strategy, but sometimes the big 4/peak season are all that's possible to consider due to various other constraints that life brings to us. I too would like to hear about that grey area with fully booked backcountry areas. How do people handle squatting and claim-jumping? In my limited experience it is never about bad weather, or injury, or the moose stepped in my canoe and holed it below the waterline. So you either call the bluff, or go cut a new site somewhere. But my experience is so limited as to be quite anecdotal.


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 7:06 pm 
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jbishop2112 wrote:
I too would like to hear about that grey area with fully booked backcountry areas. How do people handle squatting and claim-jumping? In my limited experience it is never about bad weather, or injury, or the moose stepped in my canoe and holed it below the waterline. So you either call the bluff, or go cut a new site somewhere. But my experience is so limited as to be quite anecdotal.


Exactly. This was part of my reason for posting. I hope some veterans can chime in on this.

My experience backpacking is that people have been very friendly and accommodating on the trail. I once took a wrong turn on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney and ended up at a different site than I had booked. There was a lovely couple there from Oakville who allowed me to stay without any hesitancy. Of course the fact that it was pouring rain and my dog an I looked like drowned rats probably helped.

Also I have had people come stumbling up to my site in the dark in Algonquin because they totally underestimated the distance and I was fine with them staying with me. Of course I am usually alone but I don't mind the odd bit of conversation around the fire.

The only time I ran into a "claim jumper" while hiking was once on the Western Uplands trail in Algonquin where this guy showed up and asked if he could squat on our site. He seemed a little sketchy and my wife (who was with me on that trip) gave me one of those side-looks that told me to have the guy move on. So I told him there was another site just down the trail (which was true) and he went there.

The thing was he didn't have a reservation and said that he "self-checked himself in" at some access point where there wasn't a ranger station. I have no idea if he was telling the truth or not but it sounded off to me
considering Algonquin has fairly strict reservation system for the back-country trails as well as the canoe routes. I don't think you can just show up and walk in. But that's what this guy did.


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PostPosted: July 16th, 2019, 7:45 pm 
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jbishop2112 wrote:
I think we're all in agreement here about the general strategy, but sometimes the big 4/peak season are all that's possible to consider due to various other constraints that life brings to us. I too would like to hear about that grey area with fully booked backcountry areas. How do people handle squatting and claim-jumping? In my limited experience it is never about bad weather, or injury, or the moose stepped in my canoe and holed it below the waterline. So you either call the bluff, or go cut a new site somewhere. But my experience is so limited as to be quite anecdotal.



One very important thing that I don't think I saw mentioned yet is that Algonquin doesn't actually fully book lakes (well, usually not), they often leave buffer sites. For example Lake Louisa has 20+ sites but only issues 17 permits. Many smaller lakes are similar, Phipps and Kirkwood have 2 sites but only issue 1 permit each, Linda has 4 but issues 3, Maple in the north has 9 but only issues 7... and then there are some like Kenneth that have 3 lakes and issue 3 permits. I don't think there's an exact science to it, but it's basically done in a way to help avoid people getting stranded due to other campsite squatters. For example if you look at Louisa, it's a huge lake with offshoots to many different routes, so it has high traffic, strong winds, and will take a long time to circumnavigate looking for a campsite... so they add in more buffer sites. Whereas Kenneth is a dead-end lake, no one is passing through unless you're camping there or doing a day trip, so why leave any buffer sites? I'm sure you'll find exceptions to my examples, but you get the gist of it.

Saying all that, if you're going to Algonquin in peak season and you're able to plan early, your best bet is to choose lakes with few campsites. If that's not possible and you end up on big lakes, you should do your best to get there early, and regardless, be conscious of the fact that it's going to be busy... if you see a site available and it's late in the afternoon, it's probably not wise to paddle further down the lake hoping for something else. In non ideal situations, take what you can get.

If you know, or have a suspicion that someone is squatting, there's not much you can do about it. You can ask to see their permit, but you're not really entitled to verify, and even if they're squatting and refuse to move, you can't really force them. People might disagree with me on this, but if I know for a fact that someone is squatting (ie. they only issue 1 permit for the lake, and I have that permit), I'd gladly tell the squatter that I'm sharing the site with them and if they don't like it they can leave. Luckily this is yet to happen, and I often book sites with few permits.

But honestly, I'm yet to come across a single group in the backcountry that wasn't super friendly. Only once did I share a site with someone and it's because they offered (we were both travelling solo), and I had a long day on the water and the nearest site was about 30min-1hr backtracking, and the sun was really getting to me... so I took him up on his offer. The story is on Day 5 of this trip report: https://algonquinbeyond.com/trip-report ... x-islands/

But if I ever had to ask out of necessity, I'm confident I would get a "sure!" without hesitation from any group. I've personally offered to share my site with other people a handful of times when I saw them paddling late in the evening, but no one has taken me up on it yet. There's an interesting story related to this during Day 2 of this trip report: https://algonquinbeyond.com/trip-report ... ake-again/

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PostPosted: July 17th, 2019, 7:43 am 
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TrippyThings wrote:

One very important thing that I don't think I saw mentioned yet is that Algonquin doesn't actually fully book lakes (well, usually not), they often leave buffer sites. For example Lake Louisa has 20+ sites but only issues 17 permits.[...]

Saying all that, if you're going to Algonquin in peak season and you're able to plan early, your best bet is to choose lakes with few campsites.



This is good to know. I didn't realize they had "buffer sites" but it makes sense especially since weather can wreak havoc on canoe trips much more than on hiking.

Also thanks for posting the links to your trip report. Great reading.


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PostPosted: July 17th, 2019, 10:51 am 
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Yes, the overflow sites are for those trippers caught out in unforseen circumstances necessitating an emergency stop for the night, and let's face it, your emergency might not be mine. eg. A sudden case of illness, a broken piece of equipment, fatigue etc. Or maybe some just feel like altering their original route, or maybe are poor planners, who can say? I have been bumped from my reserved lake and have had to make a quick paddle dash to another, which meant I'd become an overflow camper. We did once alter our route one time and thereby became squatters. Not proud of it, and never repeated this. Parks have their hands full trying to accommodate the masses. I think they do a great job considering. Eventually we started booking our trips from Tuesdays to Tuesdays, planning weekends to be as far from entry points as possible. That and taking out by early afternoon each day to better find an empty campsite. Yes, 2 o'clock is rather early to finish the day but having a nice choice of sites is better than scrounging for an available site at 4 pm, or later. I wouldn't hesitate to ask to squeeze into a taken site anymore than I'd feel free to share. We have shared ours and asking no questions felt better for it. No judgement necessary. There are horror stories of assholes out there but I am convinced they're still in the minority, especially if you start the dialogue with some friendly banter. Defuse the situation. Or paddle on. We haven't tripped in a Park for years but I believe maintaining a friendly attitude is best even in the dourest of situations. If you encounter a jerk then just roll with it and save the bother, move on. I was always prepared to camp (lightly) at a portage if need be, it is allowed under dire circumstances. Never had to though. Even on "rumble lakes" you can get away from it all, you'd be pleasantly surprised. But any sized lake can fill up, both small and large.


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