I have a new book coming out this spring. It’s an update (third addition) to A Paddlers Guide to Algonquin.
I’ve updated the information and added 10 new routes. Here’s a sample chapter; one of my favourite routes in the park.
Carl Wilson Lake
Time: 4 days
Distance: 19 miles (30 kilometres)
Moderate canoe tripping skills is needed. There are some long and steep portages.
There’s a certain point where you’ve had so many other paddlers glorify a particular lake in Algonquin, that you finally make the decision to plan a trip and go see it for yourself. Carl Wilson was that place. The good points listed by others were high rock faces, good trout fishing and absolute solitude. The only thing bad about it was the difficulty getting to it. The portages leading in and out of it were some of the steepest in the park. I thought I’d give it a try.
The route can be accessed by either coming down from Brain Lake access #28 or from Cedar Lake/Brent access #27. I’ve tried a route from the Brain Lake access once, and I must say it wasn’t my favourite. The road in is bumpy, the first few portages are rarely maintained and the lakes are small and somewhat stagnant. Cedar Lake is a better option. Of course, the drive into Brent is still a bumpy one.
The route from the put-in at Brent heads northwest on Cedar Lake, and in good weather you’ll make quick progress. From here, there are three ways to enter Carl Wilson Lake. You can take a series of portages and lakes from Cedar (Fry, Gull, Glacier, Camp #5, Varley) on its south end. Another series of portages and lakes (Bug and Ironwood) lead to its eastern side from Little Cedar Lake. Or you can reach it from the top end by going through Aura Lee, Laurel and Little Cauchon Lakes. I’d avoid the first two. Most portages are uphill and are more suitable for a mountain goat than a canoeist. They’re best left for leaving Carl Wilson, rather than entering it.
It will take you about an hour of paddling on Cedar to reach the narrow gap that joins Cedar Lake and Little Cedar Lake. That’s if the wind isn’t up. Cedar is a big lake and it can churn up on a dime. One minute its calm and peaceful, and the next you’re wondering if your boat will capsize. Make sure to keep that in mind while you’re paddling it.
An old railway bridge marks the way into Aura Lee Lake. Choose one of the two concert tunnels to paddle under (usually the one on the right is clogged by debris).
There are two portages marked exiting Aura Lee Lake. Take the 377 yard (345 metre) to your left. It takes you into Laurel Lake. This lake also has two portages leaving it. Take the 142 yard (130 metre) to your left, leading into Little Cauchon Lake. It’s a steep climb alongside a small cascade.
Not far after, you paddle under a second railway bridge on Little Cauchon Lake (paddle underneath the trestle), the route takes a sharp south where a 1,170 yard (1,070 metre) portage takes you into the northern tip of Carl Wilson Lake. There’s a slight slope to the trail (climbing 30m in one kilometre), and several boardwalks over some wet sections. It ends at the dam and a tapered channel opens into the expanse of the lake.
One look across the lake and you’ll definitely agree that it’s one of Algonquin finest places to visit. Vertical cliffs decorate the eastern shore and the entire lake is engulfed in bedrock lumps forested in majestic hardwoods and pine. It’s given extra protected by way of a conservation reserves and is rated as an international biological significant eco-region.
Carl Wilson’s original name was Red Dog Lake. However, in the 1930s the park held a contest to change its name. The winner chose Carl Wilson. I’m not sure why. It definitely couldn’t have been named after the co-founder of the Beach Boys. He wasn’t even born yet.
The campsites on Carl Wilson are like the portages that take you to it—rough. Don’t expect nice sand beaches or rock outcrops. They’re more like holes in the bush to pitch your tent. There’s plenty of trout, however. And I’d take beautiful scenery and incredible fishing over picture-perfect campsites any day.
Most paddlers choose to leave Carl Wilson by the same route they got to it. However, that means you’re viewing the same scenery. You have two other options if you want to see something different and complete a circular route.
The shortest of the two routes would be to take the less maintained portages out of the east end, through Ironwood and Bug Lakes, into Little Cedar. The first portage (405 yards [370 metres]) is a little bit of up and down but is easy enough. However, the 832 yard (760 metre) into Bug Lake is not. It’s a sheer climb from beginning to end, rising a full 71 yards (65 metres) in elevation. The only positive experience is that Bug Lake is poorly named. It’s not a buggy place and it’s a beautiful lake. The third portage is 957 yards (875 metres) and begins with a steep incline but ends with a sharp downhill clamber. Just be thankful you’re not going the other way. It has to be one of the steepest portages in the park.
Your other option is at the most southern end of Carl Wilson Lake. The first portage (377 yard [345 metres]) into Varley Lake isn’t bad; just a bit muddy at the take-out. The 1,350 yards (1,235 metres) into Camp Five Lake (named after the logging camp that once stood on the southeast shore) is long but flat. So is the 377 yards (345 metres) to Glacier Lake and the 514 yards (470 metres) to Gull Lake. The portage from Gull to Fry is a different story. It’s a long one (1,093 yards [1,000 metres]) and starts with a near vertical climb. However, it’s all downhill after that. The last portage from Fry to Cedar Lake (1,843 yards [1,685 metres]) is also downhill. You’ll be thankful you didn’t choose this route on the way into Carl Wilson Lake.
Whichever route you choose to leave Carl Wilson Lake, it ends by paddling back to Brent on the north arm of Cedar Lake. This lake is also stunning. I highly recommend you spend your last night camped along its shoreline.
P.S. Want to follow The Happy Camper's adventures in print?
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