Outdoors

Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Provincial Park

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Lake Opeongo (pronounced o-pee-ON-go) is the largest lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s name comes from the Algonquian word opeauwingauk  meaning “sandy narrows”.

It has 149 km of shoreline and is 15 km north-south and 14 km east-west and is centrally located on the south half of the park 6 km north of Highway 60. It has 3 arms, North, East and South joined by narrows into a Y shape. It is one of the most popular starting points after Canoe Lake #5, Smoke Lake #6 and Rain Lake #9. The road in is paved and there is plenty of parking available.

  • Access point: Opeongo Road (Access point #11)
  • Office hours: 8AM to 6PM
  • Phone: 1-888-280-8886
  • Site reservation: $11/adult per night. Less for children, seniors or those with disabilities.
  • Canoe rental: $32/day for fiberglass, $45/day for lightweight kevlar, $51/day for 3-person kevlar
  • Kayak rental: $29/day
  • Distance: Toronto (330 km – 4 hr), Ottawa (260 km – 3 hr)

Lake Opeongo campsite map

View an Algonquin Park Map online or get a Waterproof Map of Algonquin Provincial Park from Backroad Mapbooks

Like most backcountry camping, you’ll reserve a site in a particular section of the lake (south/east/north arm), but the individual campsites in each area are first come, first served. Almost all the sites we passed in the south arm looked great, but get on the water early if you want more to choose from.

The Opeongo Lake map is great as it provides more detail than you would find on a map of Algonquin, but if you’re traveling further afield, be sure to get a map of Algonquin Provincial Park to go with it.

Campsite selection

If it’s warm and buggy, you’ll want some exposure to the sun and breeze. Look for:

  • Sparse or gap in the trees along the shoreline
  • Located on a point or facing open waters

If it’s cold and rainy, you’ll want protection from the wind and rain. Look for:

  • Fence of dense trees along the shoreline
  • Located in or facing a small channel, bay or inlet

In addition, you’ll also want to see minimal to no weeds (ie. water movement) and a rocky shoreline (mud gets stirred up easily and is unpleasant to wade into) which are both good for swimming, water collection and preventing mosquito growth. A site with a gentle slope up from the water makes it easier to launch and land the canoe and is more likely to have flatter sections to pitch a tent or two.

Find a site on the east shore (looking west) for sunsets or on the west shore looking east for sunrises.

Lake Opeongo access point

The Opeongo Store is where you pick up your canoe rentals and also has a full selection of last-minute camping and hiking gear, clothing, footwear, souvenirs, bait, groceries and ice. There are also well-maintained bathrooms and showers available.

The smaller building across from it is where you can manage your parking reservations, which are based the license plate number you provide during booking – no slip needs to be displayed.

Pictured below is only a fraction of the dock space available:

With only 3 to 4 km of paddling and no portages between us and our campsite, we packed heavier, water-packed luxuries: a food barrel full of fresh fruit, veggies and snacks and a cooler with steaks, burgers and corn on the cob, as well as beer and wine.

There is a water taxi service available that will take you, your supplies and rented canoes across the lake, either to get to the portages on the far side (north) of the lake to quickly travel deeper into the park, or simply skip paddling the open waters and be dropped off directly at the best available campsite. Prices start at a minimum of $95 for 1 to 3 people and around $30 per person for each additional passenger.

Lake Opeongo canoeing

Due to its size and openness, wind and waves can be a real issue on Lake Opeongo and when strong, can make the lake impassable in a canoe. The lake has had more than a few drowning deaths over the years. Stay safe by:

  • Checking the weather before heading out
  • Wearing your lifejacket
  • Having a safety kit and first aid kit
  • Staying near to shore and taking to land when conditions become unmanageable
  • Travel at dawn or in the evening when waters are often calm
  • Visiting during the summer months when the water is warmer
  • Be prepared to stay in camp if the conditions are too poor for you to get in a canoe (carry an extra day’s food)

Motor boats are not permitted on most lakes in Algonquin Park, however, likely due to its size, popularity and the water taxi service, boats with any amount of horsepower are allowed on Lake Opeongo.

While this is great for those using the service – particularly those who are older or have a disability, as someone who started canoeing from the access point, I found the sound and wake produced by the boats as well as their frequency of travelling back and forth to be disruptive to the canoeing experience, and immersion-breaking.

This was especially apparent when one of the taxis later drove up to our campsite with a boat full of campers to ask if we were leaving. I personally prefer the calm, undisturbed solitude of the more remote interior of the park.

Lake Opeongo campsites

We meandered past a half dozen or so vacant and occupied campsites, noting that most had nice firepits and what appeared to be tables roped to trees. Our site (see below) came with a table made of branches tied between two trees, as well as 3 grills (of varying quality) and a pair of tongs nailed to the tree, which was handy as I had forgotten ours.

There had been a recent storm which left many fresh branches littered across our site (easy access firewood!) and toppled couple of trees – including one across the trail to the thunderbox
Our campsite

Even though the site was only a few kilometres from the access point and the south arm is the most densely populated with campsites, you still get the feeling of being disconnected from civilization (having no cell reception helps with that).

As long as the weather is good enough for canoeing, Opeongo Lake is a great option for those who want to try backcountry camping for a night or two without having to buy lightweight gear or extensive organizing of supplies – a kind of “hybrid” between car and backcountry camping, if you will.

The proximity to the access point and availability of motor boats also means you are within easy reach of the Park Wardens, who paid us a mid-afternoon visit, driving their boat straight into the shoreline at our site, jumping out and doing an unannounced inspection of our site to enforce the Algonquin Park rules. They have the power and authority of an OPP officer and can hand out fines for a range of infractions including littering, unleashed pets, cutting down trees, harming animals, placing more than 3 shelters or starting fires during a fire ban.

Thankfully, everything was to their satisfaction. They thanked us for keeping things clean and left 2 minutes later.

Swimming

The lake is clear and clean for swimming and provides wide open vistas.

The view from the site

Napping

A SingleNest hammock (see below) or 2-person DoubleNest is highly recommended for relaxing afternoon naps after a big meal or simply a place to sit that isn’t the hard, uneven ground – much better than sitting pads and even camping chairs.

Many sites have great hammock placement options

Firewood

Gathering fallen trees, branches and driftwood can be challenging as most campsites have been picked clean due to their popularity. In this case, you may have to hike further inland or take the canoe along the shoreline on a firewood collecting expedition.

Luckily for us there had recently been a storm that blew down a number of branches and trees. It’s handy to have a folding saw ready to break these branches into small pieces that will fit in the fire pit.

Part of backcountry camping etiquette is to leave behind some of the wood you collect for the next campers so they can get a fire going more easily.

Cooking

To cook, we brought a 2-burner Coleman camping stove, an MSR Alpine 4 pot set of camping pots for making tea, coffee and rice, and a Lodge cast iron pan for searing steaks and burgers:

Searing steaks and grilling corn over the campfire

Sunsets

Campsites on the east side of the lake are treated to stunning sunsets every night:

Loons are a common sighting on the lake:

After dusk, you’ll likely hear the call-and-response of loons, the most hauntingly beautiful sounds in the backcountry:

After the sun sets, Algonquin Park’s dark sky – away from from all the lights and obstructions of the city – lights up with thousands of stars on a clear night, no telescope or camera required. You may see Venus, the Big Dipper and other constellations and there is also the occasional occurrence of the Northern Lights.

The Big Dipper shot from my Pixel 4A

Further reading: Check out our camping checklist.

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