www.AlgonquinAdventures.com David G. Pile's Smoke Lake - Louisa Lake Loop www.AlgonquinAdventures.com

General Information:

Distance: 57.54 KM (35.7554 Miles) calculated by Navitrak software
Duration: 3 1/2 days
Loop Trip: Yes
Our party was 3 adults, using 1 Timberline 4 person tent with vestibule and 1 Swift Chestnut and 1 Swift Shearwater canoes See Kevin Callan's Brook Trout & Black Flies for variations off this route.

Portage Information:

No. of Portages: 16
Total Portage distance: 7865 meters
Average Portage: 491.56 meters
Longest Portage: 1460 meters
Worst Portage: beyond Devil's Staircase and other uphill climbs nothing stands out and most of the trails are enjoyable hikes if you pace yourself.

River Travel: beginner
Lake Travel: intermediate (wind on Smoke Lake)
Portaging: easy to moderate though some border on difficult
Remoteness: mixed with McGarvey, Little Coon, North Grace Lakes very good, Big Porcupine and Louisa can be good while Smoke, Ragged and a few of the smaller Northern loop lakes between Big Porcupine and Louisa can be moderately busy.

Maps required:

Friends of Algonquin Canoe Routes Map
Chrismar Algonquin 3 Corridor South
No topos required but trip is covered by 31 E/10, 31 E/7 and 31 E/8. Rather than topos, I'd use both the park and Chrismar maps

Trip Log:

Day 1 Distance: 14.13 Km/8.7804 Miles

Shuttle to Smoke Lake Access Point 6
Paddle South down Smoke Lake past Molly Island at 2 KM mark
Continue South to 240-meter portage into Ragged Lake at 5.6-KM mark
Lunch at 7.41-KM mark on small island in line with portage
Paddle Southeast around large island to bay leading to 590-meter portage into Big Porcupine Lake
Portage at 10.26-KM mark
Paddle South from portage through Big Porcupine Lake

Night One on Big Porcupine Lake - several good sites on south or left hand shore as you paddle around the peninsula to the lower portion of Porcupine, also right hand upon entering lower portion of Porcupine

We arranged for an Algonquin Outfitters shuttle to Smoke Lake where our route would take us into some familiar waters and trails as well as a few new lakes and over the infamous Devil's Staircase. The parking lot was moderately full but there was little activity, which was a pleasant surprise. Initially, Jester and Gill took the Chestnut while Baron paddled the Shearwater. We had bright skies and a following breeze, which made for a pleasant first leg. Gill and I slipped in behind Molly's Island to wait for Baron to catch up and found that the wind was whipping up as it came around the island's point so we bobbed a bit more than we expected. Gill was marveling at the beauty of Smoke Lake and was probably going down memory lane as he recalled paddles of his past and other lakes of his adopted Montana.

About an hour and a half later we were at the portage where we encountered several parties ending trips. Gill carried the Shearwater and could not believe the ease of lifting a 42-pound canoe after having lugged an old aluminum canoe around the ranch. When I set down the Chestnut and began to pack up gear, Baron and I offered the solo to Gill with instructions to paddle straight down the narrow channel and stop at the small island. Soon past the narrows South of the portage Dick and I began reminiscing about other trips through Ragged and Porcupine. At the small island on Ragged Lake we enjoyed our typical "pita gooey" lunch. Then we actually headed off in the right direction and found the Big Porcupine portage without making the mistake of several years ago when we had to back track after turning too far to the South and West as we rounded the large island which occupies center stage on Ragged.

The lower end of the portage has been fixed up with wooden beams and the trail is in good shape, although uphill in several sections. Big Porcupine is worth the uphill climb as it has an interesting layout as well as several nice campsites. When we arrived, the site chosen as our destination was occupied by a small group however we soon learned that this group had stopped for lunch so we were able to unload and pitch the tent. Although good weather there was a strong breeze and by late afternoon the weather began clouding over. It rained a couple times during the night but there was no real downpour.

Day 2 Distance: 14.11 Km/8.7680 Miles

Paddle South through Big Porcupine
Paddle 2 KM to 370-meter portage into Little Coon Lake
Paddle South through Little Coon Lake
The campsite on left shore as you head for the portage appears to be suitable for a small tent only with little level ground
At 3.37-KM mark portage 895 meters over Devil's Staircase to Whatnot Lakes
Paddle 1st Whatnot Lake to 430-meter portage to McGarvey Lake
(Chrismar map indicates a possible water route through to McGarvey)
Paddle East through McGarvey Lake
Lunch at approximately 5.5 KM on McGarvey's south shore at large flat campsite
At 6.5-KM mark portage 810 meters to Lemon Lake
Paddle length of Lemon Lake
At 7.6-KM mark portage 165 meters to North Grace Lake
Paddle length of North Grace Lake
At 11.12-KM mark portage 1460 meters to Louisa Lake
Paddle North, then East to campsite

Night Two on Louisa Lake at one of the small islands in the Western portion of the lake. Several nice campsites along the length of Louisa, including one high grassy point on the South shore.

Although there was no rain we paddled in muggy conditions and during the day there was constant mist between our canoes and the far shore. The first portage out of Big Porcupine into Little Coon Lake began at a muddy bog, which at first stumped our party. Actually, once we stepped out of the canoes and off to the side and walked along the edge of the area already flattened down by those passing through the area before us we were able to carry gear and canoes without much difficulty. If I kept moving, my feet stayed fairly dry and mud free but if I slowed down to catch my balance or misstepped at all I could feel the moisture entering my river shoes. Actually, the trail from Big Porcupine to Little Coon Lake was reminiscent of the Provoking Lake backpack trail as it was a pronounced rut several inches wide and deep surrounded by mowed grass making the trail width about 4 feet.

Little Coon has just one marked campsite so if you're looking for solitude it might be a place to try. The trail out, rather up and out, of Little Coon into Whatnot Lake is approximately vertical for a hundred feet or so. It has been reworked to include stairs, steps, switchbacks, erosion control logs and such. So once you're up the initial climb, it changes into a more gradual incline. I'd guess this total trail is about 2/3 uphill until leveling off and possibly going down to the Whatnots. Next time through we are going to investigate whether it is possible to skip the next portage from one of the Whatnots into McGarvey Lake. Although the topo and park maps show a pencil thin line, the Chrismar map shows a small creek or channel from the second Whatnot through to McGarvey. The outfitters often smile when asked questions such as, "Can you paddle.....?" The answer usually is something like, "There is only one way to know for sure." Of course, as I kept telling Gill during this trip, "Another reason for renting the canoe." As you would never subject your own canoe to some of the routes we have tried.

McGarvey Lake was a beautiful lake, as were most of the waters on which we paddled, even without bright sun. We found a large campsite which could have held all the King's tents from 20 years ago, each with super flat sleeping area. It looked as if someone had been in the site with a small Bobcat earthmover but the only area which actually showed signs of construction was the embankment down to the water. Some logs were placed in a series so what looked like bleachers from the water were actually erosion stoppers.

This second day had the two longest portages as well as the steepest inclines and it was after lunch that we carried over an 810 meter into North Grace Lake which is quite a place to paddle. It is an elongated lake with arms and fingers so we enjoyed the quietness of being in a part of the park which takes a bit of work to reach. The portage into Louisa Lake from N. Grace is 1460 but not too bad as far as elevation changes. However, don't take my word on that. By the time we reached this trail I was quite tired. My knees were chatting to one another about some government regulation which I was violating.

When we discovered our island campsite vacant, the three of us set up the Timberline (with vestibule) and settled in to eat supper which we began about 5 PM or so. We usually calculate the cups of water, fire up the stove and then pretend we're actually cooking. Once the water boils we slowly add the ingredients and mumble something about "What do you think?" "It looks good to me." "Let's add some more seasoning." Once again, we used Lipton Rice and Sauce and one of the Knorr Skillet Potatoes meals. Jester was beat, so at about 8 PM he crawled into the tent and read until falling asleep. Although awakened by the entrance of Baron and Gill, Jester heard the phrase, "We should be sleeping crosswise in this tent."

Day 3 Distance: 15.42 Km/9.5820 Miles

Paddle West and North through Louisa
At 2-KM mark portage 510 meters to Rod & Gun Lake
Paddle Rod & Gun Lake
At 3-KM mark portage 415 meters to Lawrence Lake
Paddle North and West the length of Lawrence Lake
At 5.6-KM mark portage 715 meters to Kirkwood Lake
Paddle through grassy bay, then length of Kirkwood Lake
At 8-KM mark portage 60 meters to Phipps Lake
Lunch on Phipps Lake at nice campsite opposite the grassy bay at mouth of creek leading to the portage to Bonnechere Lake
Paddle length of Phipps Lake
At 9.5-KM mark portage 175 meters to Bonnechere Lake
Paddle length of Bonnechere Lake through first narrows at 10.85-KM mark, second narrows at 11.8-KM mark and past point at 12.32-KM mark before turning West-Southwest at bottom of lake.
At 13.4-KM mark portage 200 meters to Big Porcupine Lake
Paddle North and West to campsite at 15-KM mark.

Night Three Big Porcupine Lake - at the site on the North side and West end of the channel connecting the two halves of Big Porcupine, diagonally opposite where we stayed the first night.

Sunday morning we left Louisa for the Northern loop and a return to Big Porcupine Lake, portaging uphill into Rod & Gun Lake, then over the trail to Lawrence Lake which is not too bad and actually is more downhill, especially at the Northern end. This trail ends in what could be described as a little Devil's Staircase. On the water we seemed to have mist which dotted our glasses but while walking under the green canopy we had more droplets being blown out of the trees by the wind. As we reached the portage from Lawrence to Kirkwood another canoe arrived and when they were not sure which direction to paddle as they approached the shore we indicated that they were headed correctly. When paddling on Pardee Lake you can take either a 40 meter portage into Lawrence or pull out at a combination campsite and portage which leads 700 plus meters to Kirkwood.

After portaging this trail the landing leads to a stream flowing through a grassy lowlands which would appear to be a good place for moose sightings. This stream can be quite low at end of season so we were pleased that we could paddle right from the trail and on into Phipps without getting either wet or muddy. Soon we were paddling on Phipps Lake where we stopped for lunch at a campsite opposite the mouth of a grassy creek area which leads to the portage into Bonnechere Lake. If you paddle through this area check out the campsite for either a lunch spot or an overnight location. It is one of those sites which opens up into many possibilities once you actually climb out of the canoe and make your way up the rocks.

Bonnechere is probably the longest lake to paddle in this section and we encountered several other parties heading the opposite way. Possibly these were groups which entered the park on Saturday and they had left Big Porcupine earlier in the day OR they had gotten an earlier start that day and had paddled through Smoke, Ragged, Big Porcupine and were on Bonnechere looking for a campsite.

Once we had carried through to Big Porcupine we were intent upon finding a campsite which would put us close to the portage into Ragged Lake. The site on the point where we stayed Friday night was occupied but we were fortunate to find the next site down the narrow channel connecting the Northern and the Southern portions of Big Porc and on the opposite point was vacant. It had started raining while we paddled this last lake and I had stopped to pull on my anorak. We got the tent pitched soon and there was only minor moisture on the tent although for several hours the rain cycled through a typical Northern start, stop, start, stop period. When it wasn't raining the breeze blew the water off the trees and we finally put up the small tarp for a cooking shelter and Gill created a reading area under his space blanket.

Remembering the words about sleeping in the Timberline 4 person, Jester made certain that the tent had been pitched to accommodate sleeping by the book and when gear was stowed the sleeping pads were arranged cross tent. Since it rained both before and after supper, Jester tested his ThermaRest chair inside the tent and made his way through much of the Lewis and Clark work by Stephan Ambrose. Quite an interesting story and I should mention that it is the first time I've brought along the same book on two successive canoe trips and the first time others on said trips have actually read the book and agreed that it was a worthy read.

Day 4 Distance: 13.88 Km/8.6250 Miles
Paddle Big Porcupine Lake
At 3.1 KM mark portage 590 to Ragged Lake
Paddle Northwest on Ragged Lake until 5.5 KM mark then paddle West until 6.4 KM mark where the bay leading to the Smoke Lake portage is seen.
At 7.8-KM mark portage 240 meters to Smoke Lake
Paddle length of Smoke Lake to Access Point 6 at 13.88-KM mark.

Monday morning found us getting ready to pack up in a cool, overcast environment. However, by the time we were done with breakfast and had finished cleaning and packing our gear, the sun was shining and we were ready for the final paddle of this trip. Baron soloed through Big Porcupine and did the King proud by his efforts to maneuver the Shearwater through the waters of Big Porcupine. Once we got over the portage to Ragged Lake we used our rope to link the tandem and solo craft. This not only meant we could travel without thinking about the solo boat dropping behind but we could travel a bit faster in the winds. Ragged Lake took longer to paddle than I had estimated and from the navigation software it appears that the length of Smoke and the paddle on Ragged Lake from portage to portage is about the same or about 5+ KM. No matter what direction we turned, the wind was often across our bow or close enough to cause us course correction.

When we reached Smoke Lake, Gill took the solo and actually put us to shame with his ability. In fact, Gill would have had time to hike across Highway 60 to the Portage Store restaurant order lunch, enjoy his meal and dessert, hike back across the highway and arrive at the dock about the time Baron and Jester pulled in. We navigated like rookies and were regularly being blown off course by the gusty winds. But, we made it safely and had a few minutes to help a boater from Vermont and relax a bit before the shuttle arrived to haul our gear back to Algonquin Outfitters where we showered and then headed off to Huntsville, ON for a late lunch and more camaraderie.

Writing and photography by David G. Pile

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