Outdoors

Magnetawan Lake Access Point: Tim River, Shippagew, White Trout & Petawawa – 5 Days in Algonquin

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  • Total Distance: 82.6 km
  • Duration: 5 days
  • Paddling: 74.2 km
  • Total Portage Distance: 8.425 km
  • No. of Portages: 20
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Hard
    • ~1.8 km portage
    • Technical paddling (drawing and prying) around the many turns and obstacles on the Tim River
    • Long, but not generally not hard days
    • Wind potential on Big Trout, White Trout and the narrows between them
    • Survived on freeze-dried meals
  • Access point location: Magnetawan Lake Access Point on Forestry Tower Rd (Access point #3)
  • Distance: Toronto (300 km – 4 hr), Ottawa (400 km – 5 hr)
  • Site reservation: Ontario Parks $11/adult per night. Less for children, seniors or those with disabilities.
  • Canoe/kayak rental: Algonquin Basecamp
    • $36 to $48/day for ultra-lite (39 to 44 lb.)
    • $28.5 to $38/day for touring kayak with rudder
    • Delivery is $50 for up to 5 canoes
    • PFDs are charged separately at flat $5 per rental
    • Yoke pads (recommended if you’re doing more than a couple portages) are available for $2/day

Route map – Magnetawan Lake/Tim River/Shippagew/White Trout/Misty

View an Algonquin Park Map online or get Complete Map of Algonquin Park from Backroad Mapbooks or MEC

The map is waterproof and tear-resistant, so it is great for shoving into a front pocket or sleeve of a bag or backpack and pulling it out frequently it to navigate throughout your trip.

Magnetawan Lake Access Point

The access point is located on the west side of Algonquin Provincial Park. To get there, take Highway 11 north through Huntsville, take the Highway 518 exit to Kearny, ON (where Algonquin Basecamp is located if you need to pick up gear rentals) and then a bit further up Highway 518 is Forestry Tower Rd – a gravel road on which you’ll need to drive an additional 40 minutes (25 km) – which feels like it goes on forever.

The access point has a parking lot, washrooms and jump-off campsites, but that is about it. It was busier than we expected when we got there:

The queue to launch canoes (I have a pear in my mouth)

There is a small wood dock that is large enough to easily launch or retrieve 2 canoes at a time, which can be limiting if there is a lot of traffic:

Launch point, Credit: Camping Across Ontario

There were a couple of park wardens at the access point checking reservations and we saw them catch one group breaking two of Algonquin Park’s rules before they had even hit the water: trying to bring a case of twenty-four cans of beer (cans and bottles are prohibited) and being a group of 10 (maximum number of campers allowed on an interior campsite is 9 persons).

Day 1: Magnetawan Lake Access Point to Tim River

  • Distance: 14.8 km
  • Paddling: 12.2 km
  • Portaging: 2.6 km (5)
  • Approx. Time: 5 h at “Veteran” pace
Portage between Ralph Bice Lake and Little Trout Lake

The portages were well-maintained, clear and straightforward and getting in and out of the canoe was easy.

Leeches

We did notice at least a couple of leeches at each entry and exit point and we unfortunately picked up a few in the first couple days of the trip. Some of them were about the size of a long grain of rice and looked like a stick or piece of debris and camouflaged with the mud you pick up while portaging. However, upon further inspection, they were attached and moving. I recommend washing the mud and debris off after you’re back on the water and checking in between your toes.

These little guys are one of the many reasons why you need to filter your water before drinking it. If you can’t reach the leech because it’s in your mouth or esophagus, you can try gargling saltwater, which will irritate them enough to detach.

To remove a leech:

  1. Don’t panic – yanking at a leech or pouring salt on it can cause it to vomit blood (that may or may not be yours) into the wound
  2. Identify the end that is attached to you – typically the narrower end (its mouth)
  3. Use a flat, blunt object such as a credit card, stick or fingernail and slowly and firmly slide its edge across your skin and under its mouth
  4. Fling that thing far away!
  5. Wash the area with soap and water and bandage it

They will feed for about 30 minutes before dropping off, if you can wait that long.

Tim River waterfalls located along the second half of the portage between Little Trout Lake and the Tim River

It is a 100 m or so detour off the portage path to get to the falls and since it is near the end of a 1330 + 410 m (~1.75 km) portage, not all of us bothered to go see it. One of our members found the energy to bring us back the video above.

It was after this long portage that one of our friends asked how we had found the mosquitos. My partner and I both commented that we hadn’t really noticed any and didn’t get any bites. Our friend then asked if she could use our bug repellant (OFF Deep Woods – 25% DEET) for the upcoming portages as she had been bitten a number of times while using her bug spray. She later mentioned that she definitely noticed a difference and borrowed the spray from us a few times during the rest of the trip.

Cooling off after the ~1.8 km portage and starting the Tim River

At the other end of the portage is a babbling brook that we waded into to cool off and a decent spot to stop and have lunch.

Typical view of the Tim River

The river’s current flows west to east (with us) and is deceptively steady which made paddling easier and you make progress even when stopping to drink water or grab a snack.

One of a couple beaver dams we had to carry the canoe over
Tim River campsite near Little Trout Creek

We were a little concerned about what it would be like to stay at this site given how narrow, lush, weedy and at times shallow most of the Tim River had been, but were pleasantly surprised by its sandy beach, decent sized clearing, raised log benches with a flat section for food prep and the water flowed at a steady rate and was deeper than expected, which was good for collecting water to filter and washing dishes.

Firewood was readily available, but the folding saw was very handy for breaking the mid-sized branches down to sizes that could fit in the fire pit.

The tent placement options were okay, but limited – one of our three tents had to be setup pretty close to the fire to avoid roots.

Like most backcountry camping, you’ll reserve a site in a particular section – typically on a lake-by-lake basis, but the individual campsites in each area are first come, first served. This particular site on the Tim River is part of the 49 – Little Trout Creek site reservation.

Sunset view from the campsite

Staying on one corner of the dozens of turns of twists and turns in such a long and ever-flowing river nestled between the borders of tall pine trees with not another campsite in sight felt uniquely serene, sheltered and remote – a side of Algonquin that I had not experienced before.

Day 2: Tim River to Shippagew Lake

  • Distance: 22.8 km
  • Paddling: 22 km
  • Portaging: .86 km (3)
  • Approx. Time: 7 h
Navigating the often narrow, winding switchbacks of the Tim River

It can’t be overstated how many hard left and right turns you need to make along the river. Along with the many obstacles like logs, dams, bushes and the occasional rock, it keeps you active and is great practice for improving your steering precision and coordination with your paddling partner as you communicate your intentions and requested actions. If you’re amateurs like us, you’ll first be taking the turns too wide and drifting into the bushes along the shore, but by the end your draw and pry will have you cutting corners like a race car.

Taking another turn and surprise, turtle on a log!
Our view of Shippagew Lake from the site

The campsite has a rocky shore with a gentle incline to get the canoes out in one spot, but just a little further away from the point, the water depth increases quickly which made for great swimming. Don’t bother treading water – just grab one of the life jackets and float until you cool off.

While in the water, quite a few small to mid-sized fish would come so close that you feel that you could reach out and grab them. If I were to return, I would definitely try fishing in Shippagew.

The water of Shippagew Lake wasn’t as clear as some of the others and had a reddish-brown tint. It seemed to gum up our water filter quickly. We had to backflush it frequently to flush out particulate and increase the flow rate so we had enough to drink and cooking dinner.

Firewood was in decent supply as there were a number of fallen trees and branches to retrieve, but I had to forage well into the peninsula past the thunderbox to find anything of a significant size.

The best campsite ever (Shippagew Lake)

Most members of the group agreed that this was the best backcountry campsite we had ever stayed at. It is open, clear, and located on a peninsula which allowed for a great breeze across the site. Has some tall trees for shade, a large, well-built fire pit and enough log benches for 6 with flattened tops for comfort and food prep. There was also plenty of level, root-free ground room to pitch tents on.

The beautiful, relaxing view from the thunderbox
Panoramic view from the tip of the penninsula

Day 3: Shippagew to White Trout

  • Distance: 11.5 km
  • Paddling: 9.71 km
  • Portaging: 1.79 km (2)
  • Approx. Time: 3.5 h (rest day)
Moose sighting first thing in the morning on the south end of Shippagew Lake

After being as quiet as possible along the Tim River in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a moose and leaving the river empty-handed, we were very pleasantly surprised to spot a moose bathing and eating lunch along the banks of Shippagew. It paid us no mind as we paddled slowly and silently past so as not to disturb it (and to give us time to line up some photos while kicking ourselves for not bringing the zoom lens).

Approaching the cliffs on White Trout Lake
Looking up at the cliffs
Pushing through the water lily pads to get around the crescent island
Campsite on the crescent moon-shaped island on White Trout

The campsite is somewhat elevated, but there is thankfully a set of stairs to help you up the steep bank. Placing the canoes was a bit of challenge, but we were able to stack them against each other to the left the stairs.

Stairs to the campsite

The campsite is level with plenty of space to pitch a tent away from roots and provides great views from both sides of the island.

There is a trail that runs pretty much the entire length of the island along its crest. You can see the water on both sides at a number of points thanks to the path’s elevation and clearings in the trees on either side.

Firewood was a bit challenging to find due to the island’s size and hard to acquire due to its steep shoreline, but walk the trail long enough and you’ll likely find something worth bringing back to site – it just might a bit of a trek.

View from the campsite

The waterfront is shallow and muddy for a little ways out and there were a few weeds here and there, but the depth eventually increases to the point where you don’t have to touch the bottom. Once again, good water shoes are highly recommended.

Day 4: White Trout to Misty Lake via the Petawawa River

  • Distance: 17.4 km
  • Paddling: 16.1 km
  • Portaging: 1.3 km (6)
  • Approx. Time: 5 h

Most of the sites were taken on Misty Lake, so we ended up on the island at the west end of the lake.

The site has 3 primary locations to pitch a tent, but not a lot of wiggle room after that. The spots even offer a bit more privacy than the other sites we stayed at, however, this comes at the cost of being a bit too insulated by the dense treeline to be comfortable in the summer heat as it cut off the breeze that we had felt out on the water.

Seating around the fire pit wasn’t great as the logs were low to the ground and uncomfortable. It did come with 4-5 different grates to choose from though. The shoreline is rocky and great for swimming.

Firewood was in short supply. I did a fair bit of foraging and was only able to find a large amount of kindling and a chunk of a stump that was a bit damp/near the rotting point. With this as fuel, it took us quite a while to boil the water for dinner (though we could have switched over to the camping stove at any time).

Stargazing thanks to a rocky shore and dark sky

After dinner, we spent the evening stargazing and even watched a red moon slowly rise from above the treeline.

Day 5: Misty Lake back to the access point via the Petawawa

  • Distance: 16.1 km
  • Paddling: 14.3 km
  • Portaging: 1.8 km (5)
  • Approx. Time: 6 h

The Petawawa is quite similar in look and feel to the Tim River but more open and slightly less winding. Even though we were travelling against the current this time, we made quick and steady progress.

The river was quite shallow at times and we did our best to navigate around large rocks, sand bars and logs – staying in the middle where the water should be deepest. However, the obstructions were often hidden just enough beneath the dark, murky waters, making it difficult for the paddler at the bow (front) of the canoe to spot and call them out before it was too late.

In one instance, we got stuck on top of rock that lodged itself in the middle of our canoe. Paddling only spun us around in place and the water was too deep to push off the bottom with our paddles. I had to get out of the canoe and balance on top of a neighbouring rock and lift our canoe to free it from the rock (another great reason for water shoes).

One of many obstacles along the river

With the exception of a couple of beaver dams that we needed to carry the canoe over, obstacles such as fallen trees, logs and brush have been cut back enough by park staff to provide enough space – sometimes only a canoe width – to paddle through unscathed.

Trip resources

For a complete list of the things you may need on your trip, see Canada’s Camping Checklist.

Maps

Over to you

Have any questions about this route? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer them! Done all or a portion of this trip before? Tell us about your experience!

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