Maybe you’re an expert canoe tripper who’s ready to portage dozens of kilometres to find the perfect site. Maybe you just want to head into Algonquin Park for the day with someone who can show you around. Maybe you camped as a kid in Scouts but no longer remember any of your survival skills. Or maybe, like us, your kids begged you to go camping but you have no gear (and no clue).
There’s an Algonquin camping experience built just for you and your expertise when you head out with Wild Adventures Canada into one of Canada’s greatest provincial parks.
Even the experts can benefit from Algonquin Park guided canoe trips, because — holy heck — it’s HUGE. At 7,653 square kilometres, the park is bigger than PEI (yes, the entire province) or about the same size as Delaware and Rhode Island…combined.
Unless you’ve grown up tripping around Algonquin Park, are a trained park ranger or have the kind of GPS gadgetry required (that works with the sometimes intermittent to more frequently non-existent cellular service) to figure out where you are on a map like this of the Algonquin interior, I suggest hiring a guide of some sort:
Thankfully, all we needed to locate was Rock Lake Access Point 9 using a Google Map link provided by Wild Adventures Canada. From there, we parked, unloaded our backpacks and met our guide, Grant.
PRO TIP: Here’s what to pack for a canoe trip with kids.
Grant helped us sort out canoes and paddles, and came prepared with tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, filtered water, a first aid kit and all the food we needed for three days in the bush. All of our belongings went into dry sacks and then we loaded our family, food and gear into canoes and set off for Rock Lake.
Even if you’re just heading into Algonquin Park to use a toilet, you need a park permit. Fortunately, booking with Wild Adventures Canada meant that the owner, Justin, met us at the Access Point gate and handed us a parking permit that allowed us to park for free the entire time we were camping.
Our guide had park permits for all of us, along with something official for our campsite — and it was a good thing, because the park rangers arrived on our second day to spot check all of the sites! Algonquin Park reservations are required to set up at ANY site around the park, and you book a specific lake in the park rather than a specific site.
As someone who’s never booked a campsite in her life, I appreciate this kind of turnkey approach that leaves guests completely hands-off during the registration process. You just show up with your personal belongings and your Algonquin camping fun begins.
Camping in Algoquin is a “leave no trace” experience, so anything you bring in — no matter what kind of park accommodations you have — that you don’t consume needs to come back out with you. Your guide, if you have one, will have park-issued trash bags and every morsel of garbage you create (or find from previous campers) must come back to the Access Point with you when you leave.
There’s also a very good chance that you’ll attract bears if you don’t know how to properly store food and other scented things (like toothpaste and deodorant) throughout your stay. This is not a joke. So either do your research or hire an experienced guide.
Read more about Wild Adventures Canada‘s all-inclusive, fully guided camping experience.
Algonquin Park accommodations
Algonquin park campgrounds and campsites vary depending on whether or not you want to drive in or arrive by some kind of boat.
The park has a mix of accommodations that includes everything from fully developed campgrounds to yurts to backcountry sites. We enjoy the adventure that comes with going off in canoes in search of a suitable campsite, and have stayed in two of the backcountry sites the last two summers.
Our Wild Adventures Canada guides lead the way but we check out the sites together and decide whether or not to keep looking. Part of the fun is canoeing around the waterways looking for empty sites and feeling like you really scored when you snap up a great one.
These backcountry sites have basics like a fire pit, a few cut trails and a “thunder box” (purpose-built wooden boxes that are essentially port-a-potties without doors or walls) — but you’ve got to bring the rest of your comforts in by boat. There’s no electricity, no running water and no toilet paper.
Since guests reserve a backcountry campsite on a specific lake each night, you have the freedom to move around each night if you want to amp up the adventure factor. Just keep in mind that individual campsites are first-come, first-served so you may want to keep some of your things at your current site before packing it all up just in case you don’t find a better one!
We personally had no desire to change sites since it takes approximately 842 hours to pitch a tent and organize it for a family of four.
Algonquin canoe rental
If your Algonquin Park accommodations are drive-in, you may still want a kayak or canoe rental to putter around your lake and explore — even if you have no plans to portage. That’s part of Algonquin’s beauty — the many connecting streams and lakes that make up its vast interior.
Our canoe rentals were included in our Wild Adventures Canada package (see all available summer packages here), but if you’re doing a self-guided tour, there are outfitters on the drive into Algonquin Park and within the park itself. There are rentals at three lodges inside the park and then there’s also Algonquin Outfitters, which is outside the park and arguably the most well-known name in the Algonquin canoe rental game.
It would be a shame to drive into a camp site and not add a bit of canoeing or kayaking to your Algonquin camping experience, so I hope you’ll consider even a half-day rental!
Things to do in Algonquin Park
There are so many Algonquin adventures to be had in the park — some of which you can only get to by canoe or kayak. Motorboats aren’t permitted on most of the lakes within the park and that makes non-motorized boating or stand-up paddleboarding a pleasure.
Some of our favourite things to do in Algonquin Park around the Rock Lake area include:
- Eat by the lake. Food never tasted better — trust me
- The remains of J.R. Booth’s lakeside estate. This Canadian lumber tycoon and railroad baron had a huge home here, complete with a tennis court (you can still see the white lines if you look closely). By 1890, Booth was the largest lumber producer in the world and one of the richest men in Canada. You might even see old iron spikes and chains around the decrepit dock, once used for logging
- Find Echo Bay (or an imitation of it); when we went to chase the sunset on the backside of our campsite, Miss Q said something a bit louder than usual and the echo was insane. I mean, if you called out five syllables, the same five syllables would call back at you seconds later and then more faintly seconds later again. It was the clearest echo pattern I’ve ever heard in my life. When we told Grant (our Wild Adventures Canada guide) about it, he said it’s just like nearby Echo Bay
- Get up at dawn and search for moose by canoe. We’ve been on moose lookout two summers in a row and still haven’t seen one, but it’s possible that on the family adventure we simply can’t get into the interior deep enough to find one. It’s no less fun looking, though! Our guides both years had success finding moose, so it’s just a right-place-right-time kind of thing
- Look for cool bugs, caterpillars, butterflies…and let your kids (or inner child!) enjoy these unplugged moments in nature
- Nap in a hammock
- Canoe or kayak for no reason! Your Algonquin camping adventure has no rules. You’re in charge. If you want to go out in a canoe for five minutes or five hours and do everything or nothing, it’s all up to you. With a network of more than 2,100 km of canoe routes throughout the park, you could even take off for five days if you wanted to
- Watch the sun rise
- Find some rapids and do some freshwater swimming
- Don’t bother with the rapids and just swim right out in front of your campsite!
- Watch the sun set
- Try fishing (if you bring or rent equipment). Just remember that adults need a fishing license
- Search for firewood (please don’t cut down healthy trees), make a fire and roast marshmallows
- Ontario Parks lists other Algonquin camping fun — activities like organized nature walks, kids programming, hiking trails and other special events are listed here
Directions from Toronto to Algonquin Park
As I mentioned upfront, Algoquin Park is B-I-G. There are many meeting points but only two main entry/exit points; depending on where you’re coming from in the Greater Toronto Area and where you’re doing your Algonquin camping, your directions could vary quite a bit.
Algonquin Park guided canoe trips will likely come with clear instructions about your meeting point, but before you rely on Google Maps or Waze to get you there, check out all of the directions ahead of time and double-check with your guide if something looks wonky. Again, relying on cellular service once you’re in the park isn’t a great idea so be super clear about your directions before you leave.
Highway 60 runs from east to west right through the park, with the town of Whitney near the East Gate and Dwight near the West Gate. The gates aren’t that close but if you enter through the wrong one, it’s not like you’re lost for hours…just drive through the park to the gate you need (permits are not required to simply drive on Highway 60).
Toronto proper is about 300 km due south of the park and directions from Toronto to Algonquin Park are pretty straightforward (even if the glut of northbound traffic on a Friday night is not).
People coming from the west end of Toronto to Algonquin Park (including Mississauga and Oakville) will likely do best heading north on Highway 400 and then connecting to Highway 11, continuing north and finally taking Highway 60 going east. In the Whitby area, you could take Highway 12 north to Orillia and then catch Highway 11, too.
But those coming from the east side of the GTA (Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa and all of Clarington region) may do better — especially during heavy cottage country traffic times like Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings — to take the 401 or 407 to Highway 35/115 to Highway 28 and go through the Kawartha Lakes region.
Have an outdoor-loving family (including a pet!) and want to stay at a resort in Kawartha Lakes? Check out my post about Viamede Resort on Stoney Lake.
From here, pass Burleigh Falls and head to Highway 62 in Bancroft (which turns into Highway 127 when you hit Maynooth). Highway 60 and the East Gate entrance to Algonquin Park are just minutes off of 127.
Here’s a map to help you plan. Just remember to plan ahead, because sites can be booked six months ahead of time.
Happy travels (and happy camping!).
DISCLAIMER: Wild Adventures Canada provided us with a canoe trip experience to facilitate this post. All opinions and suggestions my own.