Family Friendly Backcountry Destinations

When my family goes on a canoeing trip I usually bring a lot more stuff than I would otherwise, and when I bring little kids I expect them to carry a lot less than me. That’s why I want to go canoeing to a lake that is a short paddle away, with at most one or two portages. As an added bonus, I look for a lake that doesn’t allow motorboats so it’s more quiet and the water doesn’t taste like motor oil. My ideal campsite should have a jumping rock or beach nearby, which happens very often with lakes on the Canadian Shield in Central and Northern Ontario.


My favorite lakes with all of the above are located in Killarney, Massasauga, Kawartha Highlands, Frontenac and Algonquin Park, but I’m always exploring new regions and finding new places that I love.

Here is a list of some of the lakes that meet this criteria:


  • Access #1: George Lake, Killarney Lake (P80, P380)
  • Access #2: Kakakise Lake (P940) or Norway Lake (P940, P1470), and possible loop with Killarney Lake
  • Access #3: Clearsilver Lake (P830)
  • Access #4: Balsam Lake (P30), David Lake (P745, P200), Grey Lake (P595), Little Bell (P30, P135), Loop Balsam and David.
  • Access #5, 6: Avoiding this area due to boat traffic on Panache and surrounding lakes
  • Access #7: Murray Lake (P210), Nellie Lake (P210, P1470), Grace Lake (P1745) (As a loop do counter clockwise as portages are uphill when done clockwise)
  • Access #G1: You can park at G1, and go out of the park to Philip Edward Island. After crossing the Western Entrance, there are several camping spots along the South West part of the Island. The waters of Georgian Bay can get rough so try to go on a calm day. Once you cross the Western Entrance, the water is less rough if you stay close to the island.


  • Oastler Access Point: The closer sites on Spider Lake (P370), or the ones on Canoe Lake (P370, P540) are great, whereas Vicary Lake (P370, P500, P90) is too far to do in one day for us.
  • Pete’s Place Access Point: Conger Lake (P405), Blackstone Harbour at campsite 508, 509 are sheltered from boat traffic, or Little Blackstone Lake (P930). Note that the water at Blackstone Harbor can be quite rough and dangerous to leave from in a canoe if the winds are up, which happens often near Georgian Bay.

Frontenac 1

  • Big Salmon Lake Access: Little Salmon Lake (P974), Little Clear Lake (P923) (Loop with Big Salmon Lake) Big Salmon Lake allows electric motors.
  • South Otter Lake (Park Office) Access: Doe Lake (P341)

Kawartha Highlands2

Motor boats are allowed on most lakes in Kawartha Highlands 2, and some lakes have a lot of cottages on them. However, these two lakes don’t allow motorboats and are one portage away:

  • Cold Lake Access (6): Cloudy Lake (P1559)
  • Bottle Lake Access (7): Sucker Lake (P80)

Queen Elizabeth Two Wildlands 3

  • Devils Lake (D1, G1, L1) Access: Sheldon Lake (P1400), Lutterworth Creek (P125, P20)
  • Head Lake (H1, H2, H3) Access: Fishog Lake (P100), Head River, Smudge Creek, Crooked Lake (P100, P40, P180, P35)
  • Moore’s Falls (M1, G2, G3) Access: Scrabble Lake (P500, P1800), Sheldon Lake (P1200)

Algonquin Park

  • Access #1: North Tea Lake (P65, P135) allows motor boats. Outfitter provides a field for camping upon late arrival. Kmog L and North Tea L. can get very windy and difficult to paddle.
  • Access #1b: Craig Lake (P200, P345) 1.5 hr approach to a quiet lake
  • Access #2: Tim Lake, Rosebary Lake (P120)
  • Access #3: Hambone Lake (P135), Daisy Lake (P135, P420), Ralph Bice Lake (P135, P295) can do a loop with an extra P1455. Also Magetawan Lake, and Little Eagle Lake (P340)
  • Access #4: Sawyer Lake (P310), Islet Lake (P700, P455), McCraney Lake (P1880)
  • Access #6: Ragged Lake and Parkside Bay via Ragged Bay (P240), Little Island Lake via Kootchie Bay (P895, P255)
  • Access #8: Hillard Lake (P760), Head Lake (P1640), Kenneth Lake (P1640, P290)
  • Access A41: Provoking Lake (P960) three backpacking campsites can be reserved by canoeists.
  • Access A43: Sunday Lake, Sproule Lake (P480)
  • Access #34: Cannisbay – Great for a first backcountry trip, Polly’s Lake (P2600!), Linda’s Lake (P2600, P930)
  • Access #9: Penn Lake (P375), Clydegale Lake (P375, P275), Lake Louisa (P3000!) Alas lake Louisa is beautiful.
  • Access #10: (Currently Closed, Use Access #12) Norway Lake, Fork Lake
  • Access #11: Lake Opeongo, Annie Bay, Opeongo North Arm, Opeongo East Arm
  • Access #12: Pinetree L (P2010!)
  • Access #13: Prottler’s Lake (P1630!)
  • Access #14: Kimball’s Lake (P230, P320)
  • Access #14a: Rockaway (P320, P2745 – Portage is called Golden Staircase!)
  • Access #14b 4×4 required?: Dividing Lake (P80, P230, P105), Rockaway Lake (P80, P230, P965)
  • Access #15: Byer’s Lake (P1300, P650)
  • Access #16: Hay Lake (Has crown Land), Little Hay (P775), Cauliflower (P985), Lower Hay Crown Land
  • Access #17: Crotch Lake, Farm Lake, Shirley Lake (P1050), Booth Lake (P645), Oram Lake (P495)
  • Access Ap3, Ma2, B4: Bark Lake (Crown Land and Bell Bay Provincial Park, Chapleau Bay)
  • Access #19: Basin Lake
  • Access #20: Sec Lake
  • Access #21: MacManus Lake, Smith River (P150)
  • Access #22 Archay: Clemow Lake (P905), Lower Spectacle Lake (P20, P90), Upper Spectacle Lake (P20, P90, P155), Stratton Lake, St Andrews Lake (P45), Berm Lake (P255)
  • Access #23: Travers, Petawawa River
  • Access #24: Big Bissett Lake, Little Lake (Crown Land)
  • Access #25: Wendigo L (Crown Land), Allan Lake (P180), North Depot Lake (P180, P250)
  • Access #26: North River Lake, Meganser Lake (P120)
  • Access #27:  Aura Lee Lake, Laurel Lake (P345), Petawawa River, Nipissing River
  • Access #27a (Brent Crater):  Tecumseh Lake (P1095)
  • Access #28: Brian Lake
  • Access #29 (Kiosk): Mink Lake (P635, P410), Lauder Lake (P1075)

Backcountry Camping With Kids In Killarney

When my daughter was three we went on a four day interior canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park. This was our first backcountry trip, so I booked three nights at George Lake campsite and four nights in the interior. We chose the George and Balsam Lake loop staying two nights on each lake. The trip was very successful, and we had great weather to help us. We went in late August so the bugs weren’t bad either.

Killarney David LakeThe next year, I tried the same thing. We booked two nights at George Lake campground, and then two nights at OSA. After our two nights at George Lake campground we chose to go home instead of paddling into the interior lake called OSA. There were a few factors that led to this decision. The weather forecast was calling for high winds on the day of our departure to OSA. The main reason, however, was that OSA was three lakes away from the George Lake campground and we weren’t feeling up to the challenge. It’s very difficult to book the other two lakes before OSA, and even OSA was only available from Monday to Wednesday instead of the weekend. We had a wonderful time staying at George Lake campground, but in the end we cut our trip short and went home instead of paddling into OSA.

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New: Book Algonquin and Killarney Interior Sites Online


Killarney Interior Reservations now Online

Killarney Interior Reservations Online

For a long time, if you wanted to camp in the Ontario Parks backcountry, you had to call the Ontario Parks Reservation line and talk to an agent. Well, not anymore! Now you can book Algonquin and Killarney Interior campsites online.

Initially only selected parks had online reservations for backcountry, including the two newer ones, Massasauga and Kawartha Highlands, and the smaller ones like Bon Echo, Charleston Lake and Frontenac. All of these parks offered reservations by numbered site. You had to choose a particular site to be able to stay there. They added pictures to a lot of these sites so you could see what you were booking.

As of March 2015, the backcountry lakes in Killarney and Algonquin are also available through the online reservation system. The earliest you can book your trip through the system is Friday April 24, 2015. In Algonquin and Killarney, the reservation system is booked by lakes not specific sites, and each site is called a tent pad. You can book both canoe sites, and backpacking trail sites (though not the Killarney La Cloche Silhouette Trail). Quetico is also available but it wasn’t working for me when I tried.

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Backcountry Camping with Kids in Algonquin

Algonquin offers an almost unlimited number of canoeing trips in the interior, so I’m only going to mention some which are suitable for the whole family. Most of the time you’ll to want to do a short paddle, and at most one portage before you get to your campsite. It’s common on these trips to do a loop or circuit, to visit a different lake each night. However, this can be very time consuming and your trip would look like this: setup camp, make dinner, put kids to sleep, go to sleep, wake up, have breakfast, take down camp, and paddle to your next destination. Instead, I prefer to choose a centrally located lake and explore the nearby bays and creeks looking for beaver dams, turtles and moose. When I do plan a simple loop visiting two or three lakes during my trip, I still prefer to put a rest day in there to visit the area. We never tire of taking an afternoon to paddle around a lake, visiting the portages on the lake, and finding a good jumping rock to swim from.

Canisbay Canoe-in sites

Canisbay Lake is located next to the Canisbay campground on Highway 60 and has canoe-in sites on a motor-free lake.

You can rent canoes from the park, and canoe to your campsite. The sites are not numbered, so you have to canoe around looking for an empty site.

There is a beach at the Canisbay 20100801-Algonquin-IMG_1236-0301Campground that has shower facilities nearby. Since there are no portages you can bring all those car-camping stuff you usually bring like camping chairs and bug shelters. Don’t bring your cooler though because you can’t put it up in a tree or hide it from bears and raccoons at night.

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