Canoe tripping among the 2,400 lakes of the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada

Portage (por-TAHSZ) - A French-Canadian curse word describing the feeling of putting a 65-pound canoe on your head, 90-pound pack on your back, and hiking through the mosquito-infested swamps and leech-filled ponds of Ontario's back woods.

Canoe tripping in the Algonquin Provincial Park

A few weeks ago, I spent six days tracing a rough circle of about 50 miles across 32 lakes and 21 portages (ranging from 130 yards to 1.25 miles) through the backwoods of the Great White North, which in late June might be more accurately described as the Great Buggy North.

My buddy Stew referred to the experience as "taking our canoes for a hike." (Canoes we rented from the excellent Algonquin Outfitters;

We were paddling some of the 2,955-square-mile Algonquin Provincial Park of Ontario, Canada (, a heavily timbered wilderness bigger than the state of Delaware, roaming with moose and black bear and home to more than 2,400 lakes, 745 miles of rivers and streams, and a goodly proportion of the world's biting insects.

Actually, the black flies had mercifully pretty much run their spring course by the time we got there, and old Algonquin hands assured me that the downright biblical swarms of mosquitoes—which harried our unprotected arms as we portaged canoes and descended in dense clouds to cover our tents each evening—would diminish to a dull background whine in a week or two.

Not that this helped us. We gave up trying to count the bites on a single arm after they overtopped 100.

I armored myself: long pants tucked into socks, long sleeved shirt, fingerless gloves, and a mosquito net over my head. I looked ridiculous—and probably sweated off three pounds—but at least this reduced my bitable areas to just the last two knuckles of my fingers and the wrist gaps between sleeve and glove. And yes, the mosquitoes found those unprotected bit of flesh quite easily.

Oh, it was still all great fun—and fabulous exercise. Alternating between the upper body workout of paddling and the full-body ordeal of hiking through swamps under an obscene load wile balancing a canoe on your head made for a kind of extreme backcountry cross-training.

Why it was worth it

On Day 4, I got up at sunrise and started a fire. I left some cedar sprigs in a pot of water to boil while I took a bracing dawn swim in the lake.

I sipped my tea while sitting on the worn stone ripples of the island campsite's lichen-spotted promontory, its deeper crevices filled with springy moss, small ferns rooted in the pine needle loam clinging to the rock's shady flanks.

I read. I wrote. I examined the bright orange flowers on a ledge below, each blossom attended by a tiny native bee.

A frantic applause announced a nearby loon's efforts to take off, its undersized wings working furiously to haul its oversized body from the water. He eventually gave up and settled back onto the lake with un uncharacteristically quiet "hoot" of relief.

Off to the east, not too far, an Eastern wolf howled in a mournful alto. The forest respectfully fell silent until he was done.

Soon, woodpeckers were back to knocking against wood and playing their raucous game of tag in the higher trees. Songbirds twittered. Butterflied flitted. An occasional fly droned past.

I waved at a group of early canoers—first we had seen in days—as they glided along the far side of the lake. Sound carries over water, and I could hear the hissing zip of their canoes' kevlar being drawn through the water, the thump of their paddles bumping against the sides. One waved back.

Fish jumped for low-flying insects and fell back with gentle splashes. Distant loons cackled and hee-hawed and trumpeted. Dragonflies helicoptered. The sun slowly warmed my rock as I whittled a spork out of impossibly fragrant cedar (one of our friends had forgotten his utensils).

Eventually, tents rustled, doors unzipped, and the breakfast babble of camp began, but for two hours or so it had felt as if I had the unfathomably vast Canadian wilderness all to myself.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

Related Articles



This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.