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)

Lyme Disease At Ontario Parks

If you’re camping with your family in Southern Ontario, or anywhere where there are migratory birds, you should be paying attention to the notices the Parks have about Lyme Disease. Lyme is a bacterial infection that is passed by deer ticks, and is largely spread by migratory bird. Although initially only found in Long Point and Point Pelee, Ontario, Health Canada says there are established blacklegged tick populations infected with Lyme disease at these parks1:

  1. Long Point Provincial Park
  2. Turkey Point Provincial Park
  3. Rondeau Provincial Park
  4. Pinery Provincial Park
  5. Rouge Valley
  6. Point Pelee National Park
  7. Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area
  8. Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area
  9. Thousand Islands National Park area.

Ducks at Presquile
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Camping on the Grand River

When people think of the Grand River, they probably think of the Elora Gorge. A very popular destination for hiking. The Grand River is a Canadian Heritage River, and runs from Highway 89 south through Guelph, Waterloo, and ends in Lake Erie.

A great way to visit the Grand River is to camp at one of the eight conservation areas, at the Rock Point Provincial Park, or at one of the many private campgrounds located along the river. It’s also possible to paddle portions of the Grand, but that’s beyond what you’d want to do when camping with your family.

The Grand River Conservation Authority has eight Conservation Areas that offer overnight camping. Most offer excellent recreation opportunities during the summer.

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Bronte Creek Maple Syrup Festival

When the European Settlers arrived in Canada they learned about the native people’s way of making sugar from the sap that pours out of a maple tree every spring. They emulated this but brought with them metal so they were able to innovate on their methods to bring down the time required for the process.

Bronte Creek 200 year old tree with sap

On the last day of March Break this year, we stopped at Bronte Creek to check out their Maple Syrup Festival. It was the middle of March and the sap was still running from the trees. The first thing we did was join the Interpretive Walk that shows us the Maple Syrup making innovations.

Bronte Creek - Native people's method The first step in the tour showed us how they tapped into the tree and put a bucket in to catch the maple syrup running out of the tree. Then there was a station that had the native people’s method on display. They had a campfire where they warmed up rocks. There was a log that was hollowed out that had the sap in it. Using two stick carefully they dumped the rock from the campfire to the log to heat the sap. It took 48 hours to turn the sap into maple syrup using this method.

The walk taught us that with each innovation, the time to make maple syrup was halved, with the ultimate time being 6 hrs to get it from sap to syrup. There was no syrup or sap to taste on the tour, unlike at the Kortright Conservation Area, where we went a few years ago.

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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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