Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

Algonquin: Highland Backpacking Trail, Oct. 5th & 6th 2010

with 6 comments

October 5th

Originally, this trip was planned as a 3 day/2 night canoe trip on Lake Opeongo, but due to scheduling conflicts we had to make our first trip to Algonquin (and first *ever* backcountry camping trip) a quick overnight visit. Since we were short on time, we didn’t hike the entire trail, or do the loop. Still, the hike to Provoking Lake is a great overnight getaway and we’d head back to the Highland Backpacking Trail anytime.

We left home (Stratford) at about 4:30 am, arriving at the park around 9:00 am. To access the Highland Trail, you must first go to the Mew Lake Campground to get your permit. The trailhead and parking lot is about 1 km to the west of Mew Lake @ km 29.7.

The temperature when we set out was just below zero and quite chilly. As you’ll see in the picture below, we were backpacking with gear that was intended for a canoe trip.

Lesson #1: Travel light.

She’s carrying an overstuffed backpack with three wool blanket-rolls tied to the back (in lieu of sleeping pads), and He’s carrying a 120-litre canoe bag on his back. This picture was taken by a fellow hiker (Ken), who caught up with us at the first lookout on the trail. Ken took one look at our gear and asked, “is this your first time in the backcountry?” Yes, Ken. Yes it is. 😉

The Highland Trail is described as “difficult” by other hikers who have taken the time to write trip reports, and we can testify to that. The first section of the trail up to Provoking Lake is beautiful, varied and quite challenging in a few areas (especially when carrying packs that are anything but “ultra-lite”). There is a section that we dubbed the “Stairway To Hell” as it is very rocky and a very steep climb. I would say that it’s about 2 to 3 kms into the trail.

Lesson #2: Hiking poles are not for sissies.

We decided to take the trail to the west of the lake and look for a campsite. It took us roughly 90 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the lake (including a rest break). We ran into Ken again while looking for campsites, and it was good to know that we had an experienced camper within earshot. Ken was helpful with tips on hanging a bear bag (i.e. – hang it as far away from your campsite as you can).

We found a site that was quite pretty and open. It was set on a huge slanted rock that, while impressive, was a real challenge to walk safely on considering all of the fallen pine needles.

After setting up the tent, we decided to boil water right away. Camping gear is expensive and we decided to save buying a water filter until a future trip. The water from Algonquin lakes are, by most accounts, safe to drink when boiled.

When Jill tried to scoop up a pot of water from the rocky shore, she slid right into the water, up to her shins! It was cold, her feet were soaking wet. Lighting a fire seemed to be our priority now.

Lesson #3: Bring back-up footwear.

Making the best of the situation, Jill went for a swim while I finished boiling the water and started the search for firewood. There was enough wood for us to have a fire for the night, but the pickings were pretty slim. We may be novice, but we knew enough to only take wood that had fallen to the ground. After a dinner of soup and bannock, we brushed our teeth and went to hang the bear bag.

Hanging a bear bag is a bit of a challenge for the new camper. Choosing an appropriate tree was tough, but after about 30 minutes of searching, we found an obvious spot that had been used previously. After several attempts at getting the rope over the branch, we managed to hoist our ridiculously heavy bag about 10 feet off of the ground.

Lesson #4: It’s OK to hang more than one bag if you’ve got a heavy load. There’s plenty of space in the woods.

Jill managed to dry her boots out around the fire and we enjoyed a clear night full of stars. Our sleeping bags, while entirely inappropriate for backpacking (2 Coleman’s weighing 7 pounds total), were very effective at keeping us warm overnight. The temperature may have dropped to zero at some point, but we woke up to a balmy 4 degrees with sunny skies.

Lesson #5: Wool blankets are not a good alternative to a sleeping pad.

Oct. 6th, 2010

Waking up around 8:30 am, we prepared a breakfast of tea and bannock, packed up our camp and hit the trail doubling straight back to the parking lot. Clouds had begun to gather and we had some light rain on the trail. Again, it took us about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to hike back to the trailhead. We stopped for a break by a well maintained seating area by a bridge about halfway back. There were a few day-trippers having lunch there as well.

Ultimately, we had a great time and enjoyed practicing our backcountry skills for the first time. We regularly do day hikes and enjoyed the chance to take in some of Algonquin in the fall. Looking forward to the next visit.

People spotted: 6 to 8

Wildlife spotted: 2 ferret-like animals ran past us at one point. A few loons on the lake.

Unnecessary gear: Almost everything save tent, rope, stove & food.

Wish list for next trip: Down-filled sleeping bags, compression bags


Written by canadianparkhound

May 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm

6 Responses

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  1. thanks a lot. it was very helpful


    May 19, 2012 at 3:37 am

  2. Thanks guys, if you see this… or anyone else, is the entire trail pretty well marked? I want to do my first solo trip here, and am just wary of getting lost.


    April 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    • Yes, all of the hiking trails in Algonquin are well marked and easy to follow. The Highland trail is a great one to start with. You can do it in one night/two days easily.

      It’s pretty hard to get lost on these trails. You’ll likely run into a few other folks out there. I’ve never been on a hike and not come across another person. You’d have to get on the 3rd loop of the Western Uplands trail to start getting lost.

      Have fun and come on back to tell us how it went!


      April 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm

  3. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and
    wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

    May 16, 2013 at 12:04 am

  4. Worth mentioning: try to practice “Leave No Trace” ethics. Avoid campfires – downed wood is a vital part of the ecosystem, but if you must light one, keep it small (use only branches that you can easily break by hand) and be sure to soak it down real good when you’re going to bed or taking off.

    Otherwise, awesome write up 🙂

    Chicky Loo

    June 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm

  5. Highland Backpacking Trail was our first backpacking trip as well. We loved it there especially camping in Harness Lake. We wished we could just stay and live there.

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