Opeongo-Cedar-Big Crow Loop

CanadaOntarioAlgonquin
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Les Vuyk
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
177 km
Duration: 
8 days
Loop Trip: 
Yes
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
47
Total Portage Distance: 
25 m
Longest Portage: 
2280 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Novice
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Day 1: Lake Opeongo Access Point to north arm, then on to Merchant Lake via Happy Isle Lake.

C: 21 km P: 2520 m (2)

Day 2: Merchant Lake to Burntroot Lake via Big Trout Lake

C: 27 km P: 2255 m (4)

Day 3: Burntroot Lake to Nipissing River
(via Robinson, Whiskeyjack, and Remona Lakes)

On the Nipissing you book this as "Plumb Creek Junction"

C: 22 km P: 4570m (5)

Day 4: Nipissing River to Cedar Lake

C: 29 km P: 1830m (5)

Day 5: Cedar Lake to Francis Lake

C: 19 km P: 4185m (8)

Day 6: Francis Lake to Lake Lavieille

C: 9 km P: 5955m (15)

Day 7: Lake Lavieille to Big Crow Lake

C: 23 km P: 2485 m (7)

Day 8: Big Crow Lake (rest day)

C: 0 km P: 0m (0)

Day 9: Big Crow Lake to Lake Opeongo access point via Proulx Lake

C: 27 km P: 1485m (1)

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Algonquin Trip Diary
August 4 – 12, 2006
Bernie and Les (age 42)

Day 1: Opeongo Lake to Merchant Lake
Canoe: 21 km Portage: 2520 meters (2)

Looking back on this day, it has been a fantastic start to our longest trip yet! We left Beamsville at 4:23 am, and arrived at Opeongo by 8:15 am. We got the permit and were on our way at 8:45 am. The young lady at the permit office laughed when she asked the colour of our tent, and I told her that we would be sleeping in hammocks. I was a bit surprised that it was so novel for her; I had assumed more people slept in hammocks. Maybe they all take a tent as backup, whereas we didn't.

Opeongo had a very light breeze from the NW for most of it's length. When we got to the west narrows, we started to fight a fairly strong headwind until we got past the last point before the portage into Happy Isle Lake. It took us 2 hours and 28 minutes to cross the length of the lake, which impressed us both. Earlier, we had contemplated hiring a water taxi, but it turns out that would have been not only a waste of money, but a waste of a perfectly good paddling day.

According to the map, it is 15 kilometers from the access point to our portage. That works out to an average speed of just about 6 kph. I suspect we were going a bit faster in the lower lake, since we really slowed down in the north arm, and we stopped for 5 minutes to stretch in the narrows.

Opeongo Lake is very pretty, with rolling hills, and dotted with picturesque islands. There are many nice views to behold. I took a picture of a tree which looks to be growing right out of a rock near the shore. Life is tenacious. The downside of Opeongo is the number of power boats running around. It is too busy for my taste.

Our 2180 meter portage went very well. I stopped with the canoe once, early on when I came to a canoe rack, more because it was there than I felt the need to rest. However, I carried non-stop the rest of the way. Further on, we passed a number of younger people (late 20s) grasping for breath, who had started a good deal ahead of us, and we were well across Happy Isle Lake before they finished the portage.

Happy Isle Lake was very windy, and we paddled directly into the wind and waves. It took longer than expected to get across to the other side. However, the wind was even stronger on Merchant Lake. On both lakes, we knew we were getting close to the end of the portages when the cool wind hit us.

Merchant Lake is very nice, and clean! We have a great looking, large site, with an open area in front and a more closed in woodsy area behind, which is where we set up the sleeping hammocks.

We had warm, sunny weather all day, with the odd cloud. Throughout the day we saw signs of the vicious storm that came through on Wednesday night. There are numerous downed trees. Some have been snapped like kindling. Others have come down with their root balls intact, taking great mounds of earth with them. It is a wonder more people weren't killed or drowned. There are some very old, large trees affected.

After lunch, we had a good nap in the hammocks, followed by a swim in the lake. Supper was mashed potatos, sausage roasted over the fire, and milk. Life is good.

Day 2: Merchant Lake to Burntroot Lake
Canoe: 27 km Portage: 2255 meters (4)

It was another fantastic weather day. It was mainly sunny, with the odd cloud, a very light west wind and no humidity. Much like yesterday. We had a little trouble with biting house flies, but other than that no bugs on the portages.

We left Merchant Lake at 8:20 am, after a hardy breakfast of back bacon and fresh eggs, on toasted bagels with coffee. It was cool overnight, in the range of 10 degrees, but I slep soundly. Bernie was too cold for his liking, and will be wearing more clothing to bed tonight.

We made quick work of Merchant and the portage to Big Trout. We did the entire portage, 1890 meters, in a single carry without stopping, in 22 minutes flat. Big Trout Lake had little wind and no waves, so we went quickly through it as well. It is really a pretty lake. The marsh at the south end was interesting. We were hissed at several times by a psycho muskrat. That was about it for wildlife however.

We got to Burntroot Lake at about 1:00 pm. We paddled around the north end looking for a suitable campsite. Two sites on the smaller island, then a site on the west shore next to it all basically sucked. We ended up camping on the northern-most site, which we camped on two years ago after a very long day on the upper Nipissing River. We had more time and energy to enjoy the site this time. We could see that the water level on Burntroot was a good deal higher than two years ago; the little beach behind the site was under water. We should be able to get a good start tomorrow, since we are located right across from the portage into Robinson Lake. We're expecting a long day on the Nipissing River.

This is a much nicer lake when the sun is shining! Two years ago, it was drab and overcast while we are here, so that is how we remember it. We had a good swim this afternoon in the clear water in front of the site. We followed this with some hammock time and fishing (no luck yet). Right now (8:15 pm) the gulls are making a terrible racket across the lake.

Day 3: Burntroot Lake to Nipissing River (Plumb Creek Junction)
Canoe: 22 km Portage: 4570 meters (5)

Oddly enough, it started spitting while we were eating breakfast on Burntroot Lake. I swear the sun was out at 6:00 am, when I first opened my eyes and peeked over the edge of my hammock. An hour later, it was overcast and spitting rain. We got going at 8:00 am after a breakfast of cold cereal and milk. It was no longer raining by then.

We headed out through Robinson Lake, Whiskeyjack and Remona Lakes. All of the portages went well, and the weather continued to improve all day. Then we hit the 1980 meter portage to Nipissing River. After a short paddle downstream, we portaged another 850 meters, our last portage for the day. It would probably be more accurate to think of it as a single 2830 meter portage with a short rest in the canoe. However, we managed to carry both portages without any rests along the way. The river in between was quite frothy with off-white foam, no doubt created by the High Falls upstream. The water itself has a very distinct tea colour. The water level is very high, and the current is strong, pushing us along near the rapids and falls at a good clip. I would estimate that they add 2 to 4 kph to our forward speed. The river is also quite a bit wider than I remember it being two years ago, probably due to the rainfall this summer. We didn't have any obstructions to contend with this time.

We finished the last portage at 10:30 am, and got to our site at about 1:00 pm. We took the first potential site near Plumb Creek junction, about a kilometer before the first Plumb Creek portage. It's quite secluded, and picturesque for a river campsite. We got a big surprise at lunch time when a pair of moose crossed the river and entered the campsite a few feet from where we were eating lunch. We vacated our lawn chairs and gave them a wide berth. They ran within three feet of where we had been sitting after checking us out first. Which gave me a good opportunity to take some pictures. This was a real exhilarating experience for both of us.

After lunch the weather became quite hot, with constant sun, but with a nearly constant breeze to keep it pleasant. The breeze calmed down after supper. We had a swim and a bath in the river after lunch. It was very cold water and was very invigorating. After lunch we had lots of hammock time. Bernie caught some small trout in front of the campsite, but threw them all back. We shouldn't have too bad of a day tomorrow. I think we can be on Cedar Lake by 10:30 am. I have a small grocery list written on birch bark for the Brent store. We are planning to buy some junk food and cold pop, as well as a few groceries (bread and coffee).

Day 4: Nipissing River to Cedar Lake
Canoe: 29 km Portage: 1830 meters (5)

It has been quite the day. We left our site on the Nipissing River at 8:30 am, and got over the first three portages fairly quickly. It had rained a bit overnight, so things were a bit wet, and it took us a few minutes extra to pack. Despite the rain overnight, it was a very pleasant day, with sunshine and clear skies. While I was making breakfast, Bernie watched a cow moose make her way along the river from the east, eventually coming onto our site after we finished eating breakfast.

Neither of us slept great last night due to the constant mosquito attacks. It was also warm, which made it uncomfortable to go under the covers to avoid the mosquitos. A tent would have been a better option last night.

We managed to by pass the second last portage, 230 feet on the Nipissing River, because of the high water. It took some maneuvering, but we got through the mild rapids and shot out the bottom at a good clip. It was quite a bit of fun. At the last portage we met a young couple from Ottawa. She was five months pregnant. Good sport! He was camping up the Nipissing River a couple of weeks ago and told us that the river had risen at least a foot in the two weeks since he had been here. That makes sense, and was probably related to all the storms that hit the area in the week prior to our arrival.

Once we got to Cedar Lake, it was a bit of work crossing to the Brent store. We basically headed for the campground, then went south around the point with the waves pushing us. It was too risky to cross directly across with the waves hitting us from the side.

We picked up some groceries (jam, bread, coffee) at the store, and some snack food as well. The outfitter, Jake Pidgeon, told us that as of a coule weeks ago, the 2200 meter portage on the Crow River was in really bad shape from all the blow downs. He told us of a group of experienced trippers who took three hours coming down the portage a couple of weeks ago. He hoped that the ranger crew had been through in the meantime to clear the blow downs for us.

After our shopping trip, we crossed to the south arm of Cedar Lake. As we got to the middle of the lake, the wind and waves really hit us hard, as they came out of the north arm. It was a bit hairy, and we took on some water in the three foot swells, which occasionally hit us. We then travelled along the west shore for a bit, before finally crossing over to the large island campsite, once again into the path of the large waves, and taking on more water. The packs and my tee shirt got a bit wet, but everything inside was dry. At a certain point, I just held my paddle as a rudder and let the wind and waves push us to our site.

The island site is quite windy on the north side, but we found that in the trees, there is hardly any wind, and on the south side, in the lee of the island, we went swimming for quite long, enjoying the warm water and bright sunshine out of the wind. We were probably in the water for close to an hour watching fairly heavy canoe traffic moving to and fron the southern portage.

At supper time, it became quite overcast, so we put up the tarp as well. However, since then it has cleared, and the moon is now out and almost full.

Day 5: Cedar Lake to Francis Lake
Canoe: 19 km Portage: 4185 meters (8)

We slept like logs last night and woke up to a cool, but clear morning. We got going by 8:00 am, after a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. The first portage off of Cedar Lake was not marked and a group was actually camped on the trail. After sorting that out, off we went. The portage was in pretty decent shape, but ended in a steep downhill climb over loose rocks to the Petawawa River. When we got to the Petawawa, we immediately noticed just how different the area east of Cedar Lake is from the Nipissing River area. The landscape is much less marshy, and the river seems to cut through many high walled channels, with mostly Red Pine lining the shores. The water is clear and fast moving, and the river is wide, with a sand or gravel bottom. You don't see nearly as much pickerelweed or lily pads.

We managed to shoot a couple of small rapids and avoid two of the shorter portages.

Radiant Lake was a real gem of a lake. The last half kilometer or so on the southern half of the lake was very shallow, with a sandy bottom.

After travelling through Radiant Lake, the portages became quite nasty, with many large trees blocking the trail. The second last portage, 500 meters or so, was particularly bad, and took us quite a while to cross. It even took us about 15 minutes just to find the start of the trail. A couple of hours with a chainsaw would fix it.

Anyway, we followed the old CP rail line for most of the day, and arrived on Francis Lake at around 1:30 pm. After checking out the sites on the north end of the lake, we settled on the beautiful site on the south end which has a sandy beach and lots of trees. There is no one else camped on this lake and it is quite secluded. Just us and the loons.

We hardly saw a cloud in the sky all day, and the temperature was warm. It probably only got to about 25 degrees, but felt warmer without the big lake breeze. Bernie fished all afternoon, and caught several bass, and some huge catfish. Unfortunately, the fish were full of parasites and we couldn't eat them. Bernie had a good time anyway, except for the 20 or so baby leeches which covered his legs by the time he was done.

Well, we are expecting a tough day tomorrow on the portages with the blow downs, but at least we have experienced them today, and have had a chance to mentally prepare.

Day 6: Francis Lake to Lavielle Lake
Canoe: 9 km Portage: 5955 meters (15)

We were expecting a tough day on the portages, and we got it, but it sure could have been a lot worse.

We got started early this morning, after a cold night. There was a heavy fog on the lake when we got up, but the sun broke through and chased away the fog shortly after 8:00 am. The first few portages went well, and we turned off the Petawawa River onto the Crow River. The next few portages went well too, except for the end of the first small 165 meter portage on the Crow River where I lost my footing on some slippery rocks, and fell, dropping the canoe on the rocks, and getting myself a pair of soakers. Luckily, except for my hurt pride, there was no harm done to either myself or the canoe.

We made it to the start of the first long portage at 10:30 am, then carried quickly to the end in a single uphill carry. The portage was completely clear of obstructions. The rangers had been there! Fresh cut trees were visible all through the portage. We then made a very short crossing of White Partridge Creek (maybe 20 feet wide?), then were off again on the 1230 meter portage.

This portage was one of the toughest of the trip so far. The portage itself would be tough in the best of conditions. It starts with a steady climb of 25 to 30 degrees incline for the first 700 meters or so before the incline lessened. However, at that point, we ran into numerous blow downs – large trees completely blocking the trail. At several places we had to shove the canoe through an opening in the branches, with Bernie on one side pulling, and me on the other side pushing. This was a very tiring exercise. It added an extra 10 or 15 minutes to the portage anyway. However, by the end of that portage we had seven of fifteen portages out of the way. Later on, we paddled up two or three rapids, avoiding a couple of the smaller portages. This was a bonus, because by then, lifting up and setting down the canoe was becoming quite a chore.

Overall today, we worked our way uphill over 100 meters, based on the elevation of the lake we started on and the lake we finished on. While travelling, we realized that there are actually two smaller lakes on the Crow River. However, neither were particularly memorable.

We arrived at our site on Lavieille at 2:30 pm. The whole day, we only passed one small family group camped on Killdeer Lake. Lavieille Lake is a beautiful lake. We took the first site on the south shore of the bay leading to the Crow River. It is quite large, and includes a wooded area that is more or less out of the Southern wind that is blowing into the top of the site. After lunch, we slept for ½ hour in the hammocks, then did laundry and had a swim/bath in the lake. I read for a while while Bernie fished.

The weather was great again all day, and there is hardly a cloud in the sky. It has been a windy afternoon, and we are hoping it will die down by bedtime.

Day 7: Lavieille Lake to Big Crow Lake
Canoe: 23 km Portage: 2485 meters (7)

If someone had told me at 6:00 am that at 6:00 pm we would be eating supper on the beach of Big Crow Lake under a cloudless sky, enjoying the sunshine, I would not have believed them.

We woke up this morning at about 6:00 am to a light rain and a heavy overcast sky. We stayed in bed until 6:30 am, when the rain stopped. It stopped long enough for us to enjoy a bowl of cold cereal and a couple of cups of hot coffee. Then the rain started again. So we put up the tarp, battened down the hatches and made a plan to re-assess the weather as the morning went on. The wind was by then coming from the north, it was cold, and the sky was threatening more rain. Our plan was to stay at Lavieille Lake until it cleared, since we preferred not to travel in the rain. We could always take our rest day here instead of Big Crow Lake, we thought. So, Bernie headed back to his hammock, while I puttered around the site and finished my book. During breaks in the rain, I kept the campfire going.

I could not believe my eyes at 10:15 am, when I noticed the first blue breaks in the clouds. I woke Bernie up with the good news, and we watched the sky as it gradually cleared. After a coffee and snack, we decided to pack up and go, since the blue sky was here to stay. We got underway at 11:10 am.

The paddle across Lavieille was tough. The cold wind from the north was blowing up good sized waves, which we crossed diagonally. It took us about 40 minutes to cross, but once we got into the lee of the small islands on the west side, the going became much easier. Off came the shirts for good, as we paddled through Crow Bay and up the Crow River. Unfortunately, we were against the current as well as the wind for much of the way, so every kilometer was hard fought.

We ate lunch at the start of the 375 meter portage, which was the last in a series of four protages near Crow Bay. Then we continued on, making it to Big Crow Lake by 5:15 pm. During the day, the weather just got better and better. At lunchtime the sun was blistering hot on the rocks at the portage, but a breeze and occasional cloud made it pleasant. By the time we had supper, there was hardly a cloud in sight. The breeze has pretty much died down. Our site is very attractive and secluded on the south arm of the lake across from the old fire tower. Tomorrow we plan to visit the fire tower and the old growth white pine stand just up the Crow River.

We are looking forward to a day off from the heavy paddling and portaging of the last few days. I realized this afternoon that we only have two or three portages left on the whole trip.

Day 8: Big Crow Lake
(rest day)

It was a really great day in every respect. However, it started cold, down to six to eight degrees overnight according to my thermometer. We got up at 7:00 am, the latest we have slep in so far. We had a hot breakfast of cheese and bacon omelets in front of the campfire, then headed for the fire tower.

There is a steep path leading to the fire tower from the old ranger cabin. We got up the path in about ten minutes, then climbed to the tower, where we took some awesome pictures. It was quite windy there, way above the tree tops, and seemingly miles above the lake. You could see for great distances around, and pick out various landmarks.

After returning to the campsite for a quick lunch, we headed for the stand of virgin white pine. There is a 1.5 km trail across from the first portage on the Crow River. It was quite steep in places, but was no sweat without a canoe and pack on my head. There were several big pines at the end of the trail, but not as many as we had expected. There were mostly beech and birch trees in the vicinity, so the spot was quite open and “friendly”.

We got back to the campsite at 2:15 pm, after stopping on the shore of the river and dragging aboard several pieces of dry driftwood for the campfire (the pine on the site is very wet and smokey).

After we returned, we did laundry, had a bath, and just enjoyed a leisurely beach day in the sun. There was still hardly a cloud in the sky!

Day 9: Big Crow Lake to Opeongo Lake
Canoe: 27 km Portage: 1485 meters (1)

We went to bed about 9:00 pm last night. It was very cold overnight. The temperature on my little thermometer was 2 degrees when we got up at 6:45 am. It was really too cold for our equipment. We both slept, but not as well as we could have. Thank goodness for sleeping bags with draw-strings and padding around the zippers.

We had another hot breakfast, greatly warmed by the campfire, which we had set up ready to go the night before. It was very foggy on the lake when we got up, and much of the fog appeared to be billowing out of the little bay where the Crow River continues to Little Crow Lake. The lake itself was very calm, the sky was clear and bright, and it got warm quickly as the fog burned off.

We got going just after 9:00 am, and made incredible time through the Big Crow River to Proulx Lake. We crossed Proulx with little effort, and made it to the other end of the portages connecting Proulx and Opeongo by 11:10 am. We walked the entire way, about a kilometer and a half, rather than paddling the small pond in the middle.

Opeongo already had a bit of a wind coming from the northwest, which made for some fair sized waves and disciplined paddling. Despite that, the wind and waves were basically pushing us along, and we made good time. We paddled into the lee of Bannock Island, then across to the West Narrows and took a break on one of the small islands before continuing on. From there we continued south, again taking advantage of the wind and waves to blow us to the access point.

We ate lunch on one of the campsites on the west shore next to Bates Island, and watched as a “sail canoe” went by. Earlier, at the Proulx portage, we had seen this fellow lashing a sail together while we loaded up. It sure didn't look like it would work, and we kind of snickered. However, it proved to be a pretty good idea, and eliminated much work. The girlfriend was sitting up front, while the guy sat in the back using his paddle as a rudder. Sure, we made it in better time, but he probably wasn't as tired as us. Well, I have to say that I still have lots of energy and have enjoyed the paddling. I always try to soak up the paddling on the last day, knowing that it will likely be months until I am out again in a canoe.

After lunch, it was short paddle to the access point. Not counting the time spent on lunch, we spent about 2 hours 15 minutes paddling Opeongo, a new record!. After we arrived, we unloaded the canoe, then went for a “victory” swim off the dock. It was incredibly refreshing. We then loaded up the car, tied down the canoe, and headed for the showers; our first warm bath in over a week!

We got on the road about 3:30 pm, and made it home by 7: 20 pm.

This has definitely been the best trip yet. The weather was excellent almost the whole time, aside from a very small amount of rain, and the cold temperatures overnight. Hammocks are excellent for sleeping, and I wouldn't go back to a tent unless it was absolutely necessary. Bernie is a great camping buddy, and has never once complained about my cooking. We get along great, sharing the duties and having a lot of fun along the way. The scenery was fantastic, and the visits from the moose on our campsite was quite the experience. We saw an incredible view from the fire tower, and experienced some really beautiful views in the many lakes and rivers we visited.

I felt energetic and strong throughout the trip, and was quite happy to be able to carry long distances with a canoe and Woods Mason pack, going as long as 2300 meters without stopping. This was a first for me. Part of the reason is that I had really put a lot of effort into packing as little as possible, while still carrying everything we needed. Less is definitely better sometimes.

Totals:

Canoe: 177 km
Portage: 25,285 meters
47 portages

Average:

Canoe: 22 km per day
Portage: 3161 meters per day
5.9 portages

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
We used the official park map for most of the route, since the area east of Cedar is not covered in the Chrismar topo maps. I usually photocopy the area we are visiting and have them laminated in Office Depot. This works very well in the bottom of the canoe.
Other
Special Comments: 

We did this route in 9 days, but it can easily be accomlished in 8 days by removing the rest day on Crow Lake at the end of the route. We wanted to spend a day visiting the fire tower and virgin White Pine stand while camped on Big Crow Lake; thus the rest day.

Also, you may not have the weather we did, so plan on the possibility of renting the water taxi for the trips through Opeongo Lake on the first and last day.

The trip going up the Crow River from Francis Lake to Lavieille was very challenging.