The Rock - Welcome - Louisa Loop

July 9th-12th 2015     By Gordon Gair and Aislynn Shanahan


It had been a long time since I had done a backcountry trip, and my girlfriend Aislynn had never been on one at all. With help from Algonquin Outfitters and Algonquin Adventures, we were able to plan our long overdue trip for July. The guys at the outfitters suggested the Rock-Welcome-Louisa loop. A challenging enough journey with good chances to see moose and perhaps catch a brook trout. Meticulously studying posts and trip logs from deep in the forum's history, I prepared myself.

A map of our journey

Day One:

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters about 15 minutes before they opened. Perfect! We took in the sights on the dock at Oxtongue Lake and prepared ourselves for the adventure ahead. Soon enough we were on our way, loaded up and setting off from the Rock Lake Access Point.

Setting off from Rock Lake Access Point

Rock Lake was perfectly calm this early in the morning, making our first paddle of the trip a relaxed one. As we passed Rose Island and made our way into the southern arm of the Lake, Aislynn discovered some water lilies (her favourite). We spent some time trying to grab a picture, but were careful not to disturb these beautiful flowers.

A water lily on Rock Lake

As we made our way to the portage to Pen Lake, the sound of the waterfall began to drown out the distant sounds of motorized boats and civilization, we were getting that much closer to the wilderness. I was excited for this short portage to test out our carrying strategy. We had two full packs and one canoe, I would carry a pack and the Canoe, while Aislynn would carry a pack and the paddles. This way we could do everything in one trip. Boy, was I ambitious. It turns out I'm not in as great of shape as I had imagined. We managed the small portage with great difficulty, while I privately resigned to the fact that we would have to make several trips on the next portages.

Aislynn saying goodbye to Rock Lake

As we arrived on Pen Lake, the day was still just getting started. The wind had picked up, but not enough to cause any trouble. We headed south along the eastern shore looking for a good place to camp, I had my mind set on the beach site on the eastern shore but alas, it was taken. We continued on down and passed a few sites that didn't look too appealing. As we rounded a point we saw a great site, maybe even better than the beach site! Unfortunately this was also occupied. As we paddled away further south, a voice called out saying "We're just about to leave if you'd like this site!". The family that was leaving was very nice, they helped us land our canoe and we checked out our new home as they set off. We even discovered that they left us some firewood!

Our site on Pen Lake

Setting up camp for the first time made it all real. We were finally here! Unpacking each piece of gear was akin to opening presents on Christmas morning. Everything had its purpose and it's place in our pack. After a quick set up, we decided to scope out the entrance to our portage the next day .. a marsh due west of us. We pulled our canoe up on a sandbar at the mouth of the marsh and were overwhelmed with the surrounding beauty. This was the moment that we felt at peace and connected with nature. Our trip had begun.

The marsh leading to the Galipo River and Welcome Lake

Day Two:

We woke up early. I decided to go out for a morning paddle alone to fish and maybe spot a moose in a nearby marsh. The sun rose and highlighted our temporary home with a ray of light as I snapped a picture paddling by. I had a feeling of complete happiness and contentment with the world.

Our site on Pen Lake as the sun rises on day two

I paddled quietly along the marsh, hoping to catch a fish or see a moose but neither happened that morning. I didn't mind, I was completely at peace and snapped a few more pictures in an attempt to bottle the beauty for another time.

Approaching a nearby marsh on my morning paddle

After a quick breakfast and tear down of our campsite, we set off for our portage to Welcome Lake. This time we would try a method I had read about on the forums. I would carry the canoe and Aislynn would carry a pack. Then at the halfway point, she would drop her pack and head back to the beginning to grab the other pack. I would continue with the canoe to the end and head back to meet her in the middle, grab the other pack and finish the trip. I have to say that this strategy worked extremely well. While I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to making good time, my back was thankful that we'd lightened it's load.

Midway point of the portage to Welcome Lake

Welcome Lake was a welcome sight indeed. We had accomplished our first sizeable portage of the trip and were now deep into the wilderness. We spent a while at the beach at Welcome Lake, eating a snack and having a swim. I had read that Welcome was often windy and today was no exception. The winds were more than we had experienced thus far, but nothing we couldn't handle.

Arriving at Welcome Lake

As we headed toward the marsh that leads to Harry Lake, I decided to drop a line in and try my luck. We were bouncing around in the waves quite a bit and I wasn't paying attention to speed or action on the lure. Of course, this is when we caught a fish! As I pulled it in, I worried that the fish wouldn't meet the requirements of the park's regulations. A notice had advised that for these lakes we were on, any brook trout kept for eating must be over 14 inches and several of them were marked with tags and those were not to be kept. As I pulled this gorgeous brook trout in to the boat, I quickly grabbed a measuring tape. It came in at 15 inches and there was no tag! I was excited to have fresh fish for dinner.

Our Brook Trout!

We continued through the marsh toward Harry Lake, making sure to be extra quiet and thinking this was our best shot at seeing a moose. Unfortunately we didn't see one. But we enjoyed the beauty none the less.

Paddling through the marsh to Harry Lake

Anxious to get to our next site, we paddled quickly across Harry and through the marsh to Rence. This night would be our furthest from civilization and we were grateful for the solitude. We set up camp on the further site to the west. It was a great site with a large rock point for sunbathing and stargazing. We cooked the brookie and it turned out perfectly. The fresh meat was very much needed and gave our aching bodies some well earned nutrients. We swam, or I should say floated in our life jackets, for a while to rest our muscles before heading to bed for a long rest.

Our site on Rence Lake

Preparing our brookie for dinner!

Day Three:

The next morning, we ate and packed up quickly to get on the move. Our next home would be Lake Louisa and there was a fairly sizeable trip to get there. We paddled and fished our way to the portage from Florence to Louisa. By this portage, we felt like pros. Sucking it up and pressing on. There is no feeling quite like seeing a lake through the trees from underneath a heavy canoe, knowing that there is a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.

Arriving at Louisa

There were strong winds on Louisa, coming from the west. We decided to ride the waves all the way down to the east end of the lake to save ourselves a long paddle the next morning. We arrived at a site on the lake's east end and without overthinking it too much we set up camp and rested our tired bodies.

Having a rest at our new site on Louisa

After dinner, we had a second wind and decided to explore the marsh beside our site. There were giant moose tracks everywhere and we stayed there a while looking and hoping. But alas, no moose to be seen.

Looking back at our site from the marsh

Day Four:

We took off early in the morning to get a head start on our longest portage of the trip, from Louisa back to Rock where it all began. This portage was long but generally downhill. We tackled it in great time. Seeing Rock Lake through the trees was a bittersweet experience. We were so proud of the journey we had accomplished. But we were sad to see it come to an end. No matter how much our body ached, we knew we would be back to do it all again someday soon.

The light at the end of the tunnel .. Rock Lake at last!

As we paddled towards the Rock Lake access point, Aislynn began chanting a mantra, "Cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake, cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake". She was preparing herself for the drive-thru window in town. We had earned it.