Wilderness Camping – Outdoor Outfitters Make Algonquin Accessible
By Bryan Dearsley

So you fancy doing a little wilderness camping in Canada, eh? Well, you better check through your list of important things to take a long with you. Self-inflating sleeping pad? Check. Backpack stove with fuel? Check. Three-season sleeping bag and liner? Check. Bear spray? No, just the spare paddle… that should deter a bear, right? (Well, if it doesn’t, it could at least be used to slow down the faster runners in your group!)

Bear spray and kidding aside (it isn’t really necessary in Ontario, and a paddle won’t work anyway), the gear mentioned above is only a fraction of what’s needed to ensure your much-anticipated wilderness camping adventure goes as smoothly – and safely – as possible. You may be surprised to learn just how extensive the equipment list for such excursions can be, whether your trip is for a night or a week. A properly planned, equipped and executed trip into the hinterland of Algonquin Park near Lake of Bays requires a checklist with countless items on it, big and small.

Yes, tents and canoes are pretty obvious when it comes to wilderness camping. But would you have thought to bring along a map case, waterproof matches, fire starter, and saw? Such things are undoubtedly better left to professionals like the folks at Algonquin Outfitters, a family business that’s been serving canoe trippers since 1961. Algonquin Outfitters offers a wide range of services including equipment rentals, complete and partial outfitting, guided day trips, and custom guided trips.

Started by Bill “Swifty” Swift Sr (and still run by members of his family), a US ex-pat who camped in the area and loved it so much he chose to stay, the business has grown from its original location on Oxtongue Lake to encompass several locations in and around the park. Today, the 40 original cedar-canvas rental canoes have been replaced by an impressive fleet of more than 500 canoes designed especially for the unique Algonquin environment, most of them made by The Swift Canoe and Kayak Company, an offshoot of the outfitter business.

Canoeing Paradise

Ontario’s outfitting businesses have grown rapidly as they keep pace with the tremendous rise in interest in wilderness camping and nature adventures, and Algonquin Park in particular has become a haven for canoeists, kayakers, campers and nature lovers alike. Encompassing some 8,000 sq km of rugged Canadian Shield – most of it accessible only by canoe – the park is home to an abundant and diverse wildlife population, unspoiled lakes and rivers, and spectacular scenery, all of it found in a thick forest of northern conifers and southern hardwoods.

wilderness camping canoeing

Young and old alike enjoy canoeing in Algonquin

An impressive 1,600 km of canoe routes traverse the park’s lakes and streams, providing the best possible way to discover the area’s rugged natural beauty at your own pace: you decide how long to stop and enjoy the sight of a moose, when to stop for a swim or a spot of fishing. It’s a great way for families and friends to spend quality time in the fresh air, sharing the experience of the great outdoors as they unwind and develop (or even teach) a few new skills.

For those new to such outdoor adventures, businesses like Algonquin Outfitters can do much more than handle the details. From planning to packing, an outfitter can take care of every aspect of the trip, whether it’s a gentle paddle around the nearest lake with younger children or something a little more adventurous. All you need to do is show up with your personal gear, and your food and equipment will be ready to go – a perfect solution for people without the time, experience or equipment to put together their own wilderness adventure.

As important as the equipment, however, is the training and advice available from an experienced guide. Algonquin Outfitter’s staff are available from the get-go to custom tailor your trip for you, and you can hire your own personal guide to tag along with you, whether for a day or longer – a particularly good idea for those new to such adventures (nature can, remember, be a little unforgiving).

A guided day trip is the perfect way to get a taste of what a longer trip might be like, and the valuable tips and techniques that can be picked up from a seasoned guide are worth every penny. A variety of guided overnight packages are also available, and adding an experienced guide to your entourage can make that first wilderness trip a lot less intimidating.

Day and Night Trippers

A suitable daytrip for families will typically include some wildlife viewing without having to paddle the bigger lakes. A water taxi will transport you and your canoes from Algonquin Outfitters’ Opeongo store to the heart of Algonquin Park in just 20 minutes, ensuring you’ll have plenty of time to explore the Hailstorm Creek Nature Reserve. Once there, you can enjoy the wildlife, whether it’s a moose, beaver, heron or loon in their natural habitat. The paddling isn’t strenuous, navigation is easy, and the experience can be enjoyed as much by beginners as it can be by expert paddlers. A bagged lunch is included, as is the return water taxi service, canoe or kayak rental, and all related canoeing and safety equipment.

wilderness camping

Algonquin adventures include the chance to see moose

The best way to truly experience Algonquin, however, is on a multi-day canoe trip. Overnight trips allow for exploration of more lakes, a wider variety of wilderness environments, more wildlife, some wholesome outdoor cooking and, best of all, a chance to sleep under the stars. In short, camping out will enhance your Algonquin adventure by providing more time to experience everything the park has to offer.

Overnight camping trips also allow for the opportunity to ratchet up the luxury quotient a little, too (yes, luxury and camping can be used in the same sentence). Upgrades include adding some of the best food and equipment you’ll find on any canoe trip, as well as surprise food treats and a little extra comfort after a long day of travel. This can encompass the addition of featherweight carbon/Kevlar canoes, premium gear, comfortable sleeping pads and the ‘Super Deluxe’ menu plan. Other extras can include pre-trip route planning, free permit reservation service, free tent cabin accommodation at Oxtongue Lake the nights before and after your trip, and secure parking.

Another useful upgrade to consider – especially if your trip is a first for some members of your group – is the aptly name ‘Greenhorn Service’. Included with the ‘Ultimate Outfitting’ plan (and an option for others), this service gives customers a basic course in canoe trip skills, including a three hour mini-trip and covers skills like camp set-up, food storage, portaging and paddling tips.

To learn more about wilderness camping in Algonquin Park, visit the Algonquin Outfitters website at http://algonquinoutfitters.com


Bryan Dearsley is Editor-in-chief of Luxury Globe Media, and can be reached at editor@luxuryglobe.com