Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

North Tea To Manitou

by Preston
August 26, 2011

The Plan

“I want to go on a portage trip.”  Kristen has this very matter-of-factly way of stating what she wants, often out of nowhere. I know her well enough to know that when she does this, she is dead serious.  I think there has always been a bit of a left out feeling when I go off for 3-4 days into the woods with my friends to go canoe tripping, and she had finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.  She had some requirements for our route, however. First, it had to offer great scenery, but with limited portaging – understandable, as you want to ease new trippers into it a bit. It also had to have one of those great campsites she’s heard me talk about. And finally, she wanted to go somewhere where she wouldn’t see any people. These requests made for a bit of a challenge, however I decided North Tea Lake would fit what she wanted. Even in this popular area, with a large number of campsites (and so people), the way Ontario Parks lays out their campsites, the feeling of solitude would still be there. Once my wife agreed, we booked it, borrowed an extra pack (and a few other bits) from Preston, and set out.

Overnight at Mikisew

We set out after work on a Thursday and headed up to Mikisew Provincial Park, located just west of South River on highway 11, which is about 45 minutes from the put in at Kawawaymog Lake.  We arrived at a decent time – early enough to stop at Antonio’s Grill for one of their legendary “Big” Panzerottis.  After wolfing down a football sized meal, we headed over to the park and set up our camp for the night.  Mikisew, it turns out, is a very dog-friendly park.  Why a downside Gavin? Normally you love dogs, especially Nancy, who is the best canoe tripping dog.  Well, dogs are often noisy, but thankfully they settled down by around midnight, so we could get some sleep.  The next morning we got up early, packed up and headed out to K-Mog.

Long and Winding River

After picking up our canoe at the put-in, we would have to cross Kawaywaymog Lake, to the winding Amable du Fond River, which leads to North Tea Lake after two small portages. Two things of note about this area: First, you’re not actually inside Algonquin Park until you’ve reached the second portage. Make sure you leave early enough to make it all the way into North Tea and get a campsite. Secondly, make sure to keep to the south where Amable du Fond river splits (right on the way in, left on the way back out) as you can go pretty far before you realized you made a wrong turn. The signs present and the fact that this advice is listed in the official park map suggest that a few people may have made this mistake.

This is Pretty

Setting off across K-Mog gave my wife a chance to practice paddling as luckily the wind and water were quite calm.  She very quickly got into a rhythm, and is in fact a very good paddler.  By the time we got to the Amable du Fond River, we were making excellent time and it quickly became apparent to my wife as to why I love going on these trips.  She must have said “This is Pretty” about 10 times in the next hour.  Before we left, Gary of Voyageur Outfitters told us about a beaver dam that had been constructed on the river, and showed us a canoe that was damaged when some folks tried to run over it.  The canoe had been broken across the center, $400 of damage apparently.  Needless to say, we’d be much more careful. We lifted over the beaver dam (there was a usable spot on the right bank of the river) and continued on through the winding waterway, eventually coming to the first portage – a brutal 135m monster – then after a difficult 265m, we found ourselves on North Tea Lake.

Out on the Big Lake

North Tea Lake is a beautiful spot, I’ve been a couple of times, but it was the first time for my wife.  She asked me why it is called Tea Lake, and I told her about the staining process that has made the water the rich tea that it has become over many centuries.  Luckily, we got a good tail wind going, and we made great progress across the lake.  I no time at all we found ourselves a great campsite on one of the islands in the East Arm.  It was spacious, and had a nice fire pit, and a small beach for swimming.  Kristen really loved this campsite, it was very spacious, no bugs, and the swimming was great.

Slight Loss of Direction

This was the first time I had gone canoeing without a portable GPS.  We had a compass and a map, and planned to navigate by those tools.  I often get my bearings by the position of the sun, however this day was cloudy. We accidentally got ourselves turned east, ending up in the lovely and tranquil Man-Go-Tay-See Lake, which is east of the East Arm of North Tea Lake.  After discovering our navigating blunder (by using the aforementioned compass), we headed in the correct direction (North) and were at the portage to Manitou Lake in about an hour and a half.  This portage is slanty – very slanty. Manitou is only 20m lower in elevation than North Tea, but the portage quickly climbs an additional 20m.  Kristen didn’t like this portage as much.

Mighty Manitou

Manitou is quite a large lake, and worth the hop from North Tea Lake as it is much more scenic.  There are sandy beaches, islands, hills, trees, etc.  Getting tired by this point, we decided to find a camp not too far from the portage.  We went to a campsite that I had previously been to with a beach, and some giant stairs going up to the camp area.  It was a little buggier here, but it is a wonderful campsite.  After another nice swim and some food, we hit the hay.  I am glad I brought my tarp on this trip, as the heavens opened up overnight, complete with thunder and lightning and dumped a decent amount of rain on everything not under the tarp.

[Editor’s note: This site, with it’s shady camping area and your own private beach, was a favourite of my friends and I after discovering it a few years back. In a strange coincidence, when travelling with my family out in this area, I made sure to find this spot again, and so it turns out we had been in the exact same spot as Gavin the previous weekend.]

The long way home

Once the rain had stopped the next day, we were ready to head out.  Our initial plan was to stay another night, but we were kind of itching to get back to civilization (particularly me, who had been sleeping on the crappy sleeping pad).  We ended up paddling the entire distance back to the outfitter (along with the three portages) and arrived around 2:30pm.  Unfortunately, because of all the rain, the beaver damn we had so easily crossed two days earlier was now far muddier. When lifting over my leg sunk  three feet deep into the mud. I got out, but the mud ate my sandal….

Gratuitous Postscript

I feel like I should have one of these, Preston always has at least one of them.  The main thing we took away from this trip was that Kristen absolutely loves backcountry camping.  It will be fun to get her to come along on some trips next year, and hopefully we can get one more short one in before it gets too cold.  Also, next time, we are bringing a proper camera instead of relying on my phone, it is a big pain to dig it out of the pack, and most of the time I didn’t bother. It would have been nice to have brought back a few more images for Kristen to look back on our first trip together and be able to say “This is Pretty” whenever she wants.

Editor’s Postscript

Gavin is a good friend and an integral part of our portaging group, and a newlywed, having been married this year in May. If I hadn’t said so (enough) already, congratulations you guys! I’m so glad to hear how much his wife Kristen enjoyed the trip. It’s always so great to hear about someone getting a chance to try it out, because we all know they’ll love it. Here’s to many more years together, portaging or otherwise!

  • I went to the same area this past September and stayed on the exact same site on Manitou!!
    We went through North Tea, Biggar and a few other lakes and entered Manitou from the north end (after a gruelling 2800 metre portage) we also got rained on there.

  • Preston (& Gavin) – Is this route a “best place to start” for the leap from endless canoe day-trips and car-camping experiences?
    Would this route be suitable for a solo trip? And – is a solo trip a bad idea for a first experience? No one else in my family wants to leave the comfort of the campground “comfort stations”, and no one worships the paddle like I do. 🙂

    • Hi Julia,

      This is a great trip to start out, with the exception of the total distance. With all the twists and turns on the Amable du Fond river, getting there is a lot longer than it appears. Stopping on North Tea lake will shorten the trip. The portages are small, and there are a lot of really nice campsites, some as if you have your own private beach. The winds can get a bit tough, so try to travel during the morning and hug the coast. It’s also a good spot if you’re going solo for the first time, because they’ll be plenty of people around in the unlikely event something goes wrong and you need some help.

    • You should join Wilderness adventures in Toronto – we do lots of trips every year so you wont be solo and you meet lots of very cool people

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