Hambone, Ralph Bice, and Little Trout Lakes, with a Day Trip to Queer Lake and the Tim River
August 16-22, 2020
We’ve been wanting to take the girls on a backcountry trip for some time. Last year, our summer vacation was taken up by our epic trip to the Arctic, so this was the year! Kory and I went on several backcountry canoe and hiking trips before having children. Though Kory has been on a few trips over the years, my last backcountry experience was in 2012! We wanted to go to Algonquin, but away from the crowds on highway 60. We’ve never been up near the Magnetawan Access point, so we decided to give it a try. Our trip would be a simple one, with short paddles and portages and lots of downtime. Even though we were planning a 6-day trip, our route was short enough that if we needed to get out, we could do so in one day.
Our canoe is a 16.5′ Holy Cow Canoe. I was worried that our girls would be crammed into the canoe with all our gear, so we decided to rent a larger canoe. Supply was limited, it seems many people are renting canoes in this year of covid, but we found an 18.5′ Swift Keewaydin from Algonquin Outfitters in Oxtongue Lake.
Our trip started on Friday night after work. We drove to Barrie and spent the night in a hotel. The next morning, we excitedly drove to Algonquin Outfitters to pick up our canoe. From there, we made the drive over to Arrowhead Provincial Park. We set up quickly and went for a swim. It was busy! We all had a restless night in our tent, no doubt anxious to begin the canoe trip.
It seemed like there were thunderstorms and downpours all night long. We awoke to more rain. Kory checked the forecast – we had a small window to paddle between thunderstorms. We quickly threw everything in the car and decided to pick up breakfast at Tim Hortons instead of breaking out the camp stove. We ate in the car en route to the town of Kearney, where we stopped to pick up our backcountry permit.
From there, passed through town to the logging road that would take us to the access point.
It was an easy drive along the well-maintained logging road. We drove through a busy parking lot at the Magnetawan Access Point, but there was plenty of room to park and unload. Magnetawan is a nice access point with composting toilets and a dock at the put-in.
Because we had packed up in the rain back at Arrowhead, it took us a bit of time to organize our gear. Several paddlers and families arrived and left as we packed up, but we took our time to ensure we had everything.
Soon enough, we were on the water, paddling through the gentle rain. The Swift Keewaydin was a dream to paddle! It was narrower at the bow seat than our canoe, so it made it easier for me to reach with my short arms. Kory reports that, despite its length, it turns on a dime. It was a short ride to the portage to Hambone Lake, an easy 135m trail.
Our eldest daughter is 7 years old. She carried all her own belongings (sleeping bag, pillow, clothes, thermarest) on the portages! Our youngest is 4 years old, and she carried her PFD and paddle. I carried the giant Woods Mason pack and my daypack, along with our paddles. Kory portaged the canoe and then went back for the food barrel and Seal Line pack while I stayed with the girls. It worked well!
Hambone is a lovely lake. We paddled through the dreary weather and found a campsite.
The swimming area wasn’t great (shallow but filled with branches), but the site was nice and sheltered and would be a good home for the night, especially with thunderstorms in the forecast.
Thankfully, the rain held off for a bit while we set up camp and ate lunch. The girls were so excited to go for a swim, even tough the temperature was cool! They swam out to a big rock and had fun sliding down into the lake.
Soon enough, the rain started again and we all took shelter under the tarp. It rained for hours! I was chilled to the bone but the kids were just fine, though a little bored. I had packed them some small notebooks and pens and a few tiny toys. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for me to break out all the surprises on the first afternoon, but they did help to keep the girls entertained. As with other trips that we’ve done, the longer the girls spend in the outdoors, the less interest they have in toys. The notebooks were used throughout the trip, but the toys spent the rest of the week in my daypack. By the end of the trip they were entertaining themselves for hours in the natural environment.
I will admit, though, that the fights, whining, and tantrums that occurred under that tarp made me briefly question my decision to do a backcountry trip with the girls. Our 4 year old had an especially difficult time adjusting to the trip, and the poor nights’ sleep certainly didn’t help. After what seemed like forever, the rain stopped for awhile and it turned into a beautiful evening.
We awoke to a beautiful morning. Everything was still wet from the rain and the drops falling from the trees. Kory prepared the bagels for breakfast while I packed up the tent. We finally got everything packed up and put in on a lovely, calm Hambone Lake. It was a short paddle over to the portage to Ralph Bice Lake. The portage to Ralph Bice is 295m, another flat and easy trail. It was busy! I think there were 3 canoes at the take-out and 3 or 4 more at the put-in!
A group that we met on the trail mentioned that Ralph Bice has a campsite with a lovely sandy beach. They told us roughly where it was. The girls, of course, were super excited for a beach, so we tried to call them down in case the site was already taken. We set out on Ralph Bice under sunny skies. We crossed the lake and stayed near the north shore, passing a large island site. As we went, the wind picked up. We had heard that Ralph Bice can get windy and we arrived at the beach site just as the waves were getting bigger. Perfect timing!
Sure enough, the beach was amazing! The site also had a lovely sloped rock for sitting in the sun. It was a huge and obviously well-used campsite. Cheese (Babybels), crackers, beef jerky, and dried fruit were on the menu for lunch. The girls were eager to swim. Kory watched them while I set up the tent. As much as I wanted a swim, I felt the need to set up the tent first. Soon, I joined the girls in the water. The water was warm but the wind was is chilly! We’re definitely well into August! As we were playing around, I heard a motor in the distance – it sounded like a chain saw! After a bit, a canoe with a motor on it approached our site. As soon as I saw that the occupants were wearing uniforms, I relaxed. The rangers pulled into our site, checked our permits and the trail to the thunder box. I had indeed heard a chain saw – they were out doing maintenance. I’ve heard stories of people backcountry camping without permits and leaving sites dirty (creating problem bears) so I was thankful that the rangers were out. Indeed, all the sites we stayed at were clean and well-kept, and we had no difficulty finding a site everyday. We didn’t even see a bear (or a moose or even a beaver!) on this trip.
We all enjoyed sloppy joes and bannock for dinner. The sloppy joes re-hydrated well and tasted yummy! I found the bannock recipe on YouTube and it’s the best I’ve tried! Thanks MaddyTheGoose! Years ago, well before kids, Kory and I went on backcountry adventures together. After one trip, we learned that the prepackaged freeze-dried food wasn’t for us and we decided to make our own. Thankfully, our dehydrator was still up to the task after sitting in the closet for all these years!
Thunder rumbled in the distance for most of the evening. We were thankful that we had great weather for paddling and swimming earlier in the day.
We awoke to a chilly morning on Ralph Bice and packed up camp. Instant oatmeal was our breakfast, and it would be for most of the week. The girls all like it and Kory chokes it down).
We said goodbye to the awesome campsite and set out to paddle the rest of Ralph Bice Lake. We arrived to find the portage to Little Trout quite busy (as was the trend). We actually had to line up and wait our turn on the water! The 435m portage to Little Trout Lake is another straight forward trail and we completed it easily.
Once on Little Trout, we paddled to the east side of the lake close to the portage. The site there site was taken. Kory wanted a view to the north sky so we went over to the south side of the lake check out an open site there. Kory loved the site (it was quite nice) but I was freezing. The cold wind out of the north blew directly up onto the site. We ate lunch and I set up the tent but it was challenging in the wind. We took a family vote and decided to check out the campsite across the lake. We had plenty of time as it was still early in the day and we were picky because we were spending two nights on Little Trout. Across the windy lake we went to check out the campsite on the north side. The take out was weedy/filled with branches – no good spot for swimming or getting drinking water. We backtracked west, along the north shore, heading toward a site on the point. We happened upon a campsite that both of us had missed on the map initially. It was perfect!
Several rocks jutted out into the lake for easy swimming and water filtering. The site was next to a small bay, so Kory could climb down onto the rock for his north view. The campfire was sheltered, yet offered a view to the lake. It had a nice spot for the tent and lots of fun places to explore. We were all pleased with our decision to leave the first site. The girls went for another swim – again the water was warm but the breeze was chilly! I think we ate pasta for dinner that night. I had dehydrated fresh mushrooms and they were delicious in the pasta sauce!
We awoke to another chilly morning and relaxed for awhile in the tent. It was our rest day! Eventually, we emerged from the tent to enjoy our pancakes!
I packed up our Day Pack while Kory made up some peanut butter and jam on tortilla “roll-ups” (as the girls call them) for our picnic lunch. We hopped in the canoe and paddled over to the portage to Queer Lake. It is another easy 175m trail. Queer Lake is absolutely stunning! Though we didn’t stay there, several of the campsites looked amazing (but some might be buggy!). It was a lovely lake to paddle around, with several interesting bays and channels to explore.
We paddled through Queer to the portage to the Tim River. Our old Jeff’s map mentions that there is a waterfall near the end of the portage. The portage is signed 1330m but the Jeff’s map states 1450m.
Anyway, this portage is challenging. We were just hiking the trail as a day trip so it was fine, but it would have been a bit of a struggle with all of our gear. There is a significant elevation change! The trail, however, is beautiful! We emerged at the other side to find the stunningly beautiful Tim River.
The towering Spruce trees made the environment feel much more northern across the river. There was a small beach section where we sat down to enjoy our picnic lunch. The weather was cooperating and it was just a perfect spot.
We explored a bit and enjoyed the scenery and warm sunshine for some time.
Finally, we hiked the trail back to our canoe and started to paddle back through Queer Lake to Little Trout.
Back at camp, the girls enjoyed a popcorn snack and we went for a swim. I love our bright yellow tarp! It is a silicone tarp from MEC and it’s awesome! It is lightweight and packs down small, and the yellow colour is so cheerful on a dreary rainy day!
This site had a few log benches and a large rock area to sit on. Lyssa had spotted a garter snake on the rock earlier, and we watched it slither away under the rock. We wondered if that was its home.
Later on, we saw (presumably) the same snake right in the fire pit! It slithered down somewhere between the rocks of the fire pit and we did not see it again. We wondered if there was a tunnel connecting the fire pit to the rocky area – or maybe it snuck out when we weren’t watching…
By this point in the trip, we were all relaxed and having a wonderful time. Lyssa’s tantrums had thankfully ceased, and we had all adjusted to life outside. I had gone from wondering if I had made a mistake planning a backcountry trip, to not wanting the trip to end!
It was a chilly evening again and I even donned my down jacket to stay warm (I’m usually cold). The girls were troopers though. Lyssa pretty much wore a t-shirt the whole week, even when I was wearing a toque!
We awoke to gentle rain and another chilly morning. Though we were moving slowly and no one wanted to leave Little Trout, I felt the need to push everyone to get going so we could avoid a potentially windy afternoon on Ralph Bice. We set off under cloudy skies and paddled, sadly, out of Little Trout. Kory and I both tend to prefer smaller lakes, and although we had had an epic campsite on Ralph Bice, neither of us was thrilled to be headed back to a larger lake.
The portage was once again busy, but uneventful, and we set off to find a campsite on Ralph Bice. We wanted to try to paddle a ways through Ralph Bice while the water was calm. We crossed the lake safely and followed the north shore. Many sites were occupied. The large island site was free, but we preferred to be on the mainland so we kept paddling. We passed a site where a very friendly 5 year old waved and introduced himself, and we continued on our way. We stopped at an available site. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but the tent area and fire area were somewhat open and neither area had much shelter. As we were checking out that campsite, Kory noticed the boy that we had just met paddling away with his family. Back into the canoe we hopped to backtrack a bit and see if their campsite was still available. It was! It was a cloudy day and rain threatened, so we were happy to have a campsite that was a bit more sheltered. This campsite was elevated up over the lake but was a bit wet after all the rainfall. Giant logs were placed around the campfire pit.
The perimeter of the campsite was surrounded by berry bushes, and although it would have been lovely to taste some, they were thankfully done fruiting for the year (I didn’t want berries attracting bears to the site). We set up camp and then the rain started again. The girls had no complaints and continued playing and exploring. Em collected many pieces of bark (all from the ground, of course), and set up a “Bark Store” and a “Bark Museum” with her interesting specimens. We explored around the site and found a trail to a lookout at the small bay beside our site.
It continued raining after the girls fell asleep and Kory and I stayed under the tarp, with a small fire going. We were a bit dismayed by the ongoing pouring rain when I noticed some movement. I turned on my headlamp to see a salamander! I don’t remember ever seeing salamanders before, so this was a really neat experience! At least our wet, muddy site was good for something! I believe we saw Spotted, Blue-Spotted, and Red-backed Salamanders!
Eventually, the thunder rumbling in the distance started getting louder and Kory and I retreated to the tent. Sleep, however was somewhat limited as the thunderstorm hit and was extremely loud! The girls somehow slept through it and we stayed cozy and dry in our Eureka EL Capitan 4 tent.
We awoke to a cloudy morning, though it was a bit warmer. It rained again as we were getting ready and I packed up a soggy tent before enjoying some oatmeal, bacon, and lots of coffee.
Back on the water, we paddled to the portage to Hambone Lake. By the time we got there, the sun was out! Hurray! We enjoyed a beautiful paddle on Hambone and were happy to discover that the campsite that we wanted was available! I quickly started to unpack and get everything dried out.
What a beautiful day! We swam and relaxed in the warm sun.
We enjoyed beef and bean burritos with rice for dinner. So tasty! The girls ate baked beans and rice. That was yummy too but the baked beans did take some time to rehydrate. Next time, I’ll add water to the baked beans a few hours before dinner to speed up the cooking process. It was a perfect day – I was finally warm and we were all happy and relaxed.
We awoke to a beautiful, sunny morning on the last day of our trip. The girls and I went down to the lake to eat our oatmeal, wanting to soak up every last minute in nature.
We had to move on, though, as we still had a busy day ahead of us. We packed up and made the short paddle to the portage back to Magnetawan Lake. We took our time paddling to the take-out, not ready to leave.
What an incredible trip! We all absolutely loved it! I am so proud of the girls. They adjusted wonderfully to the backcountry and stayed positive despite all the wet weather. We unpacked the canoe and Kory went to go get the car. After loading up, we drove back to Algonquin Outfitters to return the canoe, and then on to the Canisbay campground in Algonquin for the night. Front country camping felt so busy and loud after our backcountry experience. I know we’ve had a lot of fun camping in campgrounds over the years, and we will continue to do so, but the backcountry was so amazing! We are already planning next year’s trip!