Experience Algonquin Park at its most rugged and wild: a vast landscape of maple hills, rocky ridges, spruce bogs and thousands of lakes, ponds and streams. Enter the backcountry by paddle and portage to sample more than 2,000 kilometres of canoe routes and over 1,900 canoe camping sites. Additionally, Algonquin has three backpacking trails that await those seeking seclusion in the park on foot. As there are no backcountry campgrounds, Algonquin offers excellent solitude at individual backcountry campsites. Read on for 13 of our favourite Algonquin Park backcountry camping areas for paddlers and hikers.
[This article is part of the Ultimate Algonquin Park Travel Guide 2021. Find all the resources you need to plan an adventure-filled trip to Algonquin Park.]
Joe Lake backcountry campsites
There are plenty of good reasons that an overnight at Joe Lake is a milestone for many first-time Algonquin Park backcountry campers. For starters, the lake is an easy paddle and even easier portage from popular Canoe Lake. Add to that a liberal selection of spacious campsites, diverse scenery and fascinating park history scattered around the lakeshore and along the neighbouring Arowhon Pines Trails.
Choose from 20 backcountry campsites on Joe Lake and the lake’s East Arm. Launch from Algonquin’s Canoe Lake Access Point #5, located on the north side of Highway 60 near KM 14. Rent canoes and equipment from The Portage Store, and depart right from their docks.
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Parkside Bay backcountry campsites
The best part about canoe camping at Parkside Bay is how remote it feels, yet paddlers only have to traverse a single, short portage (240 metres) to reach here. Parkside Bay is actually an out-of-the-way offshoot of Ragged Lake; paddlers must navigate a series of narrow twists and turns to find the entrance to the bay. Once there, choose from 16 backcountry campsites peppered around the bay and perched on its islands. Wherever you decide to nestle in, the night sky here is simply magical.
Launch from Algonquin’s Smoke Lake Access Point #6, located on the south side of Highway 60 near KM 14. Canoe and equipment rentals are available across the highway at The Portage Store.
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Rock Lake backcountry campsites
Spend a couple of nights on this gorgeous lake and you’ll quickly see why many Algonquin Park regulars return to Rock Lake year after year. From the launch on a narrow bend in the Madawaska River, campers paddle directly out onto the open waters of Rock Lake—no portaging required. Eighteen backcountry campsites are scattered around the lake’s southeastern shore and central islands. Choose your view: dramatic cliffs, spectacular sunset or serene bay—there’s a site to suit every taste.
Algonquin’s Rock Lake Access Point #9 is located south of Highway 60 near KM 40.
Lake Opeongo north arm backcountry campsites
Out of the more than 1,500 lakes in Algonquin Park, Lake Opeongo is the largest and among the most beautiful. These are vast waters—there’s plenty of diverse shoreline here for a week or more of canoe (or kayak) tripping. Because of its size, when booking backcountry campsites on Lake Opeongo, paddlers will need to specify on which part of the lake they’ll be staying: the South Arm, North Arm, East Arm or Annie’s Bay. Camping at one or more of the 30 sites spread around the North Arm, paddlers can choose from island or mainland campsites and make early morning and evening wildlife-watching forays into the wetlands of Hailstorm Creek—moose sightings here are common.
Algonquin’s Lake Opeongo Access Point #11 is located several kilometres north of Highway 60 past KM 47. The launch is at the south end of the South Arm, making for a long and potentially treacherous paddle to the North Arm if it’s windy out on the lake. A water taxi service is available to shuttle paddlers to any point on Lake Opeongo in just 15 minutes—contact Algonquin Outfitters or Opeongo Outfitters. Both outfitters also offer canoe and equipment rentals.
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North Tea Lake backcountry campsites
In the northwest corner of Algonquin Park, North Tea Lake boasts a rare combination of breathtaking sandy beaches, loads of portage-free paddling and picturesque islands, and tons of gorgeous backcountry campsites. With two distinct arms and nearly 70 campsites to choose from, it’s possible to find privacy and seclusion even on busy summer weekends. Enjoy stunning sunsets and swimming, and stay alert for wildlife along the Amable du Fond River—this winding waterway is a moose-watching hotspot.
Use Algonquin’s Lake Kawawaymog Access Point #1, accessible from Highway 11 at South River. There are only two short, easy portages en route from here to the West Arm of North Tea Lake.
Provoking Lake backcountry campsites
For adventurous hikers seeking an overnight route through challenging terrain and superlative scenery, Algonquin Park’s Highland Backpacking Trail is an absolute gem. Spend a weekend hiking the shorter of the trail’s two loops: a 19-kilometre circuit of Provoking Lake. There’s ample camping—and no other traffic aside from your fellow backpackers—at this lovely backcountry lake cradled by pine-clad ridges.
The Highland Backpacking Trailhead is located near Mew Lake Campground, east of KM 29 on Highway 60. Hikers reach Provoking Lake—and the first backcountry campsites—after about 4 kilometres. Sixteen hiking campsites are scattered along the north and west sides of this rugged lake.
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Harness Lake backcountry campsites
For a truly remote backpacking experience that will test your mettle while simultaneously elevating your spirit, extend your hike on the Highland Backpacking Trail past Provoking Lake to complete the longer 35-kilometre loop. Lofty lookouts, deep wilderness and your choice of five secluded backcountry campsites on Harness Lake are your reward.
Travelling from Provoking Lake, hikers will reach Harness Lake after about 11 strenuous kilometres. Five hiking campsites are situated on rocky points along the lake’s east side.
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Lake Louisa backcountry campsites
Even if you don’t subscribe to the notion that a bit of straining and suffering makes your backcountry campsite all the sweeter, Lake Louisa’s stunning natural beauty and isolation makes it worth the effort to get here. Before you can settle into one of the 23 canoe camping sites nestled amid the lake’s windswept pines and panoramic rock points, you’ll need to carry canoes and packs an arduous 3,000 metres across the portage from Rock Lake. To get back to your vehicle, either retrace your steps or carry on paddling and portaging through Welcome and Pen lakes to loop back to Rock Lake.
Launch from Rock Lake Access Point #9, located south of Highway 60 near KM 40.
Rosebary Lake backcountry campsites
In late September and early October, the hardwood forest hillsides cradling Rosebary Lake are ablaze with breathtaking fall colour. Situated on the west side of Algonquin Park, the lake has fewer visitors than routes accessible from Highway 60—late-season campers may find they have Rosebary’s six backcountry campsites all to themselves. Choose a site with southeast exposure for early morning sunshine to warm up after a chilly night, or pick one of the lake’s west-facing points for stunning sunsets. The paddle down the meandering Tim River to Rosebary Lake often rewards with intimate moose sightings, especially during autumn when these iconic ungulates are particularly active.
On the west side of Algonquin Park, launch from Tim River Access Point #2 near the hamlet of Kearney.
Shirley Lake backcountry campsites
Shirley Lake is a beautiful and easy-to-reach weekend canoe camping destination that is not too far from Algonquin Park’s well-travelled Highway 60 corridor, yet sees far less traffic. There are just eight backcountry campsites sprinkled around this mid-sized lake, including a few with picnic tables (a rare luxury in the Algonquin backcountry!). Choose from spacious pine-rock points, or a private island site.
Use Algonquin’s Shall Lake Access Point #17, located north from the village of Madawaska. There is just one well-maintained portage en route from here to Shirley Lake.
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Burntroot Lake backcountry campsites
Lying in the heart of the Algonquin backcountry, Burntroot Lake takes several days’ travel by paddle and portage to reach. But its isolation is what makes this large, island-studded lake so special. All 25 campsites on Burntroot remind paddlers why Algonquin Park backcountry camping is world-renowned. And, if you’re a fan of pitching your tent offshore, this lake has no fewer than 11 island campsites. Explore the varied shoreline for artefacts of Algonquin’s early homesteading, farming and logging eras.
Burntroot Lake can be reached from access points on Algonquin Park’s north and west sides, as well as from the Highway 60 corridor. For a somewhat shorter trip, consider taking a Lake Opeongo water taxi from Access Point #11 to the North Arm, and then travelling through Happy Isle, Merchant and Big Trout lakes.
Maggie Lake backcountry campsites
Comprising a series of stacked loops ranging from 32 to 88 kilometres in length, the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail is the longest developed hiking trail network in Algonquin Park. Most hikers are content to trek as far as Maggie Lake (11.3 km), and then spend a couple nights here circling this pretty lake before returning the same way.
Maggie Lake has 15 backcountry campsites available for hikers, spaced at private intervals along 8.4 kilometres of trail looping around the lake. Access to the Western Uplands Backpacking Trailhead is at KM 3 on Highway 60, across a footbridge over the Oxtongue River.
High Falls backcountry campsites
Algonquin Park is home to a number of cascades named High Falls, but this particular cataract is located on the park’s east side along the Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail. The four backcountry campsites tucked on Stratton Lake’s High Falls Bay are the farthest from the trailhead—making for an 18- to 20-kilometre loop. To get here, hikers will skirt several small lakes and a peat bog, whilst scrambling over and around huge boulders deposited by glaciers during the last ice age. The best part? Cooling off in High Falls’ natural swimming holes and waterslides.
The Eastern Pines Backpacking Trail is accessed from Algonquin’s Grand Lake – Achray Access Point. Note that the road beyond Sand Lake Gate is unpaved and can be rough; total travel time to this access point from the Toronto area is nearly 7 hours.
Unique to Algonquin Park, paddlers can choose to stay in one of the nine Ranger Cabins scattered throughout the park’s backcountry. These are rustic, wooden structures equipped with a woodstove but no electricity or running water. Ranger Cabins were built by early park rangers, and have been carefully restored to offer visitors a fascinating heritage experience—and a cozy place to escape bad weather. For history buffs, each cabin’s story is detailed inside. For example, fire rangers used the Ranger Cabin on Big Crow Lake until the 1970s—hike up to the panoramic fire tower lookout behind the cabin. For an authentic log cabin stay with another scenic lake view, the Kitty Lake Ranger Cabin is nestled among mature white pines and was built in 1935 with materials salvaged from abandoned pioneer lumber camps.
Cabins are available to rent from late April to October; reservations can be made online at www.ontarioparks.com or by calling 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).
Car & RV campgrounds
Algonquin Provincial Park’s beautiful, fully serviced vehicle campgrounds make it easy to enjoy a few nights in the park without backcountry camping. Eight of the park’s developed campgrounds are centrally located along Algonquin’s Highway 60 corridor, while three more campgrounds service visitors to the park’s northern and eastern access points. Discover car and RV camping in the park here: Camping in Algonquin Park: 9 Breathtaking Campgrounds.
Ontario Parks charges fees for all developed and backcountry camping in Algonquin Park. Expect to pay around $42–$48 per night for a vehicle campsite, or $54 for an RV site with electric hook-up. This covers one vehicle and a maximum of six people per campsite. Backcountry camping fees are charged per person: around $12 for each adult, $6 each for those under 18. A maximum number of nine campers is allowed per backcountry campsite.
Backcountry reservations and bookings
Backcountry campsites in Algonquin Park can fill up quickly, especially during summer and fall colours season—reservations are strongly recommended to avoid disappointment. Reservations can be made up to five months prior to your arrival date (for example, you can book February 1st if you plan to arrive July 1st). Note that backcountry canoe and hiking campsite reservations are for a particular lake area or river section, not a specific campsite.
Before making your reservation, you’ll need to know your intended Algonquin Park access point and have a good idea of your route, including daily mileage that’s reasonable for your group. Keep a backcountry canoe routes or backpacking trails map handy while making your reservation, in case modifications have to be made to your trip.
Campsite reservations for your backcountry trip can be booked online at www.ontarioparks.com, or by calling 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).
Campground and campsite maps
*Contains only natural ingredients | Photo: Ontario Tourism