Big Salmon - Clear Lake Route

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Trip Date : 
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Additional Route Information
19 km
2 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
3680 m
Longest Portage: 
974 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Hwy 38 north on Kingston
Turn down Perth Road, then down Salmon Road to access point
Northeast on Big Salmon Lake
P 491 m to Labelle Lake
East through Labelle Lake
P 190 m to Big Clear Lake
North then west through Big Clear Lake
P 666 m to Black Lake
P 503 m to Little Clear Lake
West through Little Clear Lake
P 856 m to Little Salmon Lake
West through Little Salmon Lake
P 974 m to Big Salmon Lake to finish

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

August 15th 1995

I arrived at the shore of Big Salmon Lake at about noon today. This will be my second solo trip this year. So many of my friends try to discourage me from doing this but I find it revitalizes me and, besides, I am not one to take chances when I am alone.

One of the most restricting things about tripping here in Frontenac Park is the need for a strict trip itinerary. At first I found this confining but after a few times out here I envisioned paddling all day to the only site on a large lake only to find it occupied. By about 3:00 I arrived at a site in a small bay on the south side of the lake. I have to admit, it should not have taken me three hours to paddle here but along the south shore is an outcropping of rock that overhangs the water and there is a constant dripping of water from it. I slowly cruised along its face. At one point you can paddle right under it. Nice to know if I ever need shelter from a downpour.

I never rush when I come out here. I just explore every bay and inlet and savor the solitude. After all, that is why I came out here. Rounding a point I can see the bay where the map says my campsite is supposed to be. I have the tent set up within minutes and dinner is simmering on the stove. According to park map there is a trail leading to Camel Lake. Ihave heard about this lake. Apparently at night you can hear the community of coyotes howling all night from there. After dinner I hiked out to the lake to satisfy my curiosity. Along the trail I passed a small pond that is in the slow painstaking process of reverting back into a meadow. The trail is steep in places and it is kind of strange to be hiking up so high to a lake. I was a little disappointed at first. I think I was expecting to see coyotes running rampant all over the place. There was a small hill on the northeast shore of the lake. Eureka! There was coyote scat all over the place and a few abandoned dens. I did not stick around long became the last thing I wanted to do was disturb them. After all I wanted to be serenaded tonight. By the time I hiked back to my site it was beginning to get dark. I decided to set up the tarp because there was foul weather in the forecast. I wanted to wake up to a dry place to have breakfast.

Amid the glow of a dying fire the coyotes began to rehearse their opera and across the lake the loons were not content to be mere spectators and contributed to the nocturnal symphony. You just cannot get entertainment like this in the city. I felt like a child on Christmas eve not wanting to go to sleep for fear of missing something. Finally by about 11:00 I decided to turn in.

August 16th 1995
Woke up this morning at about 7 to the sound of a heavy rain pelting my tent with a vengeance. Glad I set the tarp up last night. Lots of dry firewood was a welcome site when I finally emerged from the tent. Oh well, times like this when you wish your itinerary was a bit more flexible but as long as I was packed up and on the water by about 2:00 I would be fine. Finally at 9:00 or so the clouds broke up, the sun came out but unfortunately the wind whipped the surface of Big Salmon Lake into a frothy frenzy. I am familiar with paddling on windy lakes. I just do not like breaking waves at all. Looking over the map after the canoe was loaded I noticed that the worst part of the day would be getting past the point on the south east corner of the lake. Once past that I would have the protection of the arm all the way to the portage. I remember the park superintendent, mentioning the relentless Westerlies that make this lake treacherous. Canoeists can sometimes be wind-bound on the far north east shore for days, pummeled by heavy winds and meter-high waves.

I opted to make a direct crossing from my campsite and follow the north shore. The portage was plainly visible from the time I left shore but it seemed like I never got any closer to it. Finally the north shore offered me some relief from the wind and I began to see progress. As I approached the 923 meter portage I remembered why I chose this direction in the first place. This is the longest portage in my route and I wanted to get it over with while I was still fresh. The portage trail joins the hiking trail on the shore of Little Clear Lake and since I was making good time I decided to hike to the old Green homestead where there are remains of buildings and fences all over. Along the trail, almost concealed by brush, is an old truck that has been affectionately named Old Thor by the park staff. It is quite overwhelming when you think that people lived out here as late as the 1950s and how quickly nature has reclaimed it.

Back at the canoe I noticed a flock of rather large birds congregating in the dead standing trees along the shore of Little Clear Lake. Paddling as close as I could without spooking them I took out my binoculars and realized that these were adult turkey vultures. These bold birds were well beyond spooked as I paddled to within 5 yards of the tree they called home. Finally one spread its wings and effortlessly took to the air. What a site. They must have a 7 foot wingspan. The campsite is located on the north shore of this kidney-shaped lake and is well sheltered from the wind.

Almost immediately afer getting the canoe unloaded a small chipmunk scurried over and plopped himself down on a rock 3 feet from me. Apparently someone had been feeding this little guy in the past. I took a paddle around the lake after dinner to explore and photograph some of the rock formations. Full moon tonight. The sky is clear and so bright that I could see the trees on the opposite shore. I was awakened at 3 in the morning by the sound of loud splashing in the lake just off shore. I got out of the tent and there on a large rock a few feet from me was a small black bear apparently trying to scoop up fish from the lake. With the brightness of the full moon I could almost see his frustration as he tried repeatedly to grasp dinner. Finally he hopped from the rock and wandered into the woods behind my tent. I felt a chill but I doubt it was from the night air.

August 17th 1995
The weather was fantastic when I woke this morning. The sky was clear and there was no wind to speak of. I dawdled over breakfast today and my little chipmunk friend was back for a handout. It is difficult not to give in to the temptation to feed wildlife but when you think about it, any food we give them is contributing to their own demise. They lose their ability to fend for themselves and eventually die. After about 15 minutes of watching me eat, he finally got the message and scurried off. I hope he appreciates what I did for him.

After breakfast I packed up and shoved off with the intention of visiting the remains of an old homestead off the portage to Black Lake but try as I might all I could find was a fence post. The portage to Black Lake was as much of a pleasure as carrying a canoe and 75 lbs of gear can be. It was flat, dry, and extremely well maintained. I guess considering that a portion of it is shared by hikers that may explain it. The portage to Big Clear Lake is located in a small inlet Black and very easy to find. Again I met and shared the hiking trail I really enjoyed the rocky outcrops along this 660 meter portage. The beginning is quite steep. At the summit of the trail I stopped to take a breather and heard some rustling ahead of me. Then a pair of thumps like someone had thrown a stone. There in the stubby tree ahead was a mother raccoon and one of her youngsters scrambling up the tree. Unfortunately two of her young were not so graceful as they lost their footing and came crashing down, hence the thumping noises. Without hesitation they made a hasty ascent to the safety of moms tree. That was a welcome comic relief. They remained in that tree as I made my way back for the packs. Descending the trail to Big Clear Lake was awesome. From this height you could see the whole bay and the huge lake opening up beyond. Big Clear is the deepest lake in the park and looking at the sheer cliffs on the north side of this long inlet gave it an ominous appearance.

There was a marked trail heading left on the way to the lake that got my curiosity. Leaving the pack by the side of it I headed up the steep path, camera in hand and was treated to a breathtaking view of the lake from a dizzying height of about 300 feet. This trail, I later found out., leads to my campsite. I could not believe some of the vegetation up here. There was a shrunken, twisted jack pine that looked more like a bonsai tree. But given the harshness of the area and the sparsity of soil up here this little tree was probably over 300 years old. Finally after shooting a roll of film and sitting there silently for over an hour I turned to head back down the trail. There was some movement in the bushes that caught my eye. Rather than walking towards it I simply stayed put and scanned for a moment. There, not 3 feet in front of me, on the other side of a course bush was a magnificent White Tail deer who, although she knew I was there, (she looked right at me) seemed oblivious and totally unafraid and proceeded to browse. We sat and watched each other for an eternity and she slowly made her way back down the trail. I did not even take a picture but for some reason I do not think I could have captured on film what just took place. Suffice to say it was nothing short of a spiritual experience.

I was back on the water and making my way to my campsite by about 3 today. And cruising the base of the cliffs on the north shore. Just above the waters surface was a small ledge and a horizontal crack in it. I thought I saw something move on the ledge and paddled a little closer to find a female Black Rat Snake and 3 young basking in the warm sun. I had seen these snakes many times before during my other trips here but this was quite different. First of all the Black Rat snake is indigenous to this area alone. It is a member of the constrictor family, does not bite and actually prefers trees to the ground. What did surprise me though is that I have seen many snakes before and they do not usually nurture their young. As a matter of fact garter snakes for example are cannibalistic and will eat their young immediately after their birth. Here was a family - together- sunning themselves. I had to get a few pictures.

What fantastic weather I have had. It rained the first night I arrived and the sun has been shining everyday since. The winds have been just enough to keep the bugs away. The only thing that troubled me about being on Big Clear Lake was knowing that I was on the boundary of the park and motorized boats were allowed on the water. On the distant shore I could see cottages dotting the horizon and the faint sound of voices as paddlers passed by my tent. This was the first encounter with humans since I left the trail head. Still, I really was enjoying this lake. There are countless bays and inlets to explore and deep pools to swim in.

After dinner I took a paddle to the northeast end of the lake and hiked the 860 meter portage to hardwood Bay on Devil Lake. I would have liked to have canoed to the top end of the bay and photograph an old log dump but it was beginning to get dark. The cliffs on the shores of this bay were dramatic and the setting sun cast imposing shadows on the water below. So near yet so far. I got off about 10 shots before the light was gone. Walking the portage back to Big Clear I made a mental note: Must paddle to the cliffs on my next trip here.

Not much of natures music to listen to tonight. I guess the wildlife does not like the cottagers very much.

August 19th 1995
I woke up to the sound of motor boats this morning as fisherman got an early start. This is my last day and since I have the most miles to cover I pack up right after breakfast. I know that I will not be pushing it at all but I want to take my time today. My route will take me around the point of Big Clear and south along the lower arm to the portage to Labelle Lake.

Another great day. I passed by a few cottages today and felt a little despondent. Nothing really overwhelming but still it was like this special moment was interrupted. A little further on in crossed back in to the park boundary again and could see the portage just ahead. Looking at the map it showed a mere drag over a small 190 meter trail. But within that "drag were 5 contour lines all crowded together. Funny how misleading a map can be if you do not take in to account the Vertical feet.

Labelle Lake had a special character to it. There are no campsites on it and its shape can give hours of pleasure exploring its little inlets and shallows. Unfortunately I was unable to get up one long finger because it was so choked with vegetation and I had a fully loaded canoe. As I rounded a small peninsula I caught sight of the portage and slowed down a bit. This is my last portage and I will be back on Big Salmon Lake. Suddenly I felt sorry that the trip was almost over.

Halfway along the 491 meter portage I sensed movement above me. Looking up I saw a beautiful Barred owl swooping silently above me to a nearby tree. He perched on a branch and stared at me as I made my way along the trail. On my return for the canoe he was still there. Looking back now I do not think I have ever been on a canoe trip where I had had this many animal encounters. I have gone for weeks and not even seen a squirrel.

Pushing off from the portage between the large island just off shore I caught sight of Devils Oven Rock on Big Salmon lake. I wanted to stop there when I first arrived on this trip but the winds were just too strong. Today they were calm. I had heard a bit about this small island. There are some rock formations on the island that are really phenomenal It has the appearance of volcanic rock and the surface is pocked with large holes and cavities. I stayed there for a while and took more photos. One cavity was guarded by a perfectly formed spider web that lit up like neon from the sun. Not wanting the rush the end of this trip I decided that I would take a swim and have lunch while I was here. I knew that I was postponing the inevitable and would have loved to stay at least one more day. As I rounded the point that nearly swamped my when I first arrived I heard a dull thud in the distance. A small caravan of 4 aluminum canoes were making their way to my first campsite on the south shore. As I passed them one of the canoeists waved and asked how long I was out. I answered 5 days and startled myself by the sound of my own voice. I realized that I had not spoken a word since I registered at the trail center.

"Paddling alone?" they asked.
"Brave," he said.

I can understand what he means by that but it is amazing how quickly you learn to respect and adapt to a solo trip. I know that things can happen and that is why I leave the adventurous activities to group trips. As far as I am concerned nothing teach humility like a solo wilderness trip.
Earle Jones
Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
Frontenac Park Map from Friends of Frontenac
Special Comments: 

Frontenac is a busy park - reservations are recommended