Canoe Camping: What to Expect?

By Patricia Tomaszewski

Instead of hiking to a backcountry campsite, you can pack up a canoe and glide over to a campsite on the shore of one of Ontario’s many lakes. These sites which are only accessible by water, offer another way to enjoy our beautiful parks.

Here are a few things to expect when embarking on your first canoe camping trip:

A unique adventure

Canoe camping is an adventure like no other. It is a great way to access areas which are isolated and mainly untouched by human activity. You also might be able to go further than if you were hiking. Instead of sticking to a marked trail, canoeing allows you to explore freely. Imagine sitting in your canoe on a pristine pond or lake beside water lilies and birds flying overhead

Canoe camping might also be a good option for people who want to get out into the backcountry but cannot hike or carry packs for long distances

Portaging

Depending on where your campsite is situated, you might have to portage. Portaging is carrying the canoe and its contents along land from one point of water access to another, e.g. from one lake to another. The distance you will need to portage varies as does the terrain. To make portaging easier, make sure everything is packed compactly and loose objects are tucked away. You don’t want to lose anything along the way so make sure everything is secured.

Portaging around Blueberry Falls, Algonquin
Portaging around Blueberry Falls (Jim Baird)

Sore arms

I think many of us have paddled before whether it was a canoe, kayak, SUP, or other watercraft. You don’t have to be an expert canoeist to go canoe camping. However, if you aren’t a frequent paddler, expect some muscle soreness in the arms and upper body

For longer canoe trips, it is important to use the right technique where you twist at your core, letting your larger muscles such as abdominal and back muscles do most of the work. If you paddle using just your arms and shoulders, expect some very sore arms. If you are new to paddling, I would recommend going canoeing before your trip in order to practice paddling and steering.

Changing weather

The weather is always an important factor to consider when spending time outdoors. It becomes even more important when out on open water. High winds can make water rougher, especially in large bodies of water. In general, big lakes tend to be very choppy in the middle, particularly if motorized boats are present. Rain and storms are also something to be wary of. If the forecast calls for heavy rain, and thunderstorms, then paddle to shore immediately when you see it approaching. Being struck by lightning is a real risk. Do not undertake a major crossing if bad weather is predicted.

Getting wet

The truth is you will get wet. It is advised to have your belongings in a dry bag, especially a change of dry clothes, in case the canoe tips and you fall in the water. To avoid tipping, you want to keep your center of gravity low. Both people shouldn’t lean over to the same side. Gear and packs should also be distributed evenly in the canoe. Tipping is common when you are getting into or out of the canoe. The best way to go about doing this is having three points of contact i.e. two hands and one foot placed at the center of the canoe floor. But of course, getting wet is part of the fun!

Ontario, abundant with lakes and rivers, can be called a canoeist’s paradise. Algonquin Provincial Park is one of many popular canoe camping destinations in the province. You can find a complete list of all the Ontario Parks that offer canoe camping here, including reservation type and skill level. As a beginner, you will want to have basic paddling, map reading, and compass skills, and be prepared for short portages.

Overall, you can expect a unique experience exploring lakes, rivers, and isolated areas teeming with wildlife along with some challenges like portaging, sore muscles, weather factors, and getting wet. Canoe camping is a lot of fun and I highly recommend it if you haven’t tried it yet. Happy canoe camping, folks!

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