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1/28/2022 7:21 pm  #1

Wenda Lake 2 Day Loop - Sep 2021

Grand Lake to Wenda Lake Loop (2 Days, 1 Night)
Total travelling distance = 20 km including 7 portages, totaling 6,955 m

With our big summer trip in the books, as well as our small day trip from May and our base camp on Basin Lake, we had a good year in the books. September was upon us, and both Rich and I realized we had a little too much vacation time from work banked up. We grabbed the maps, and decided to plan out a quick little two day, one night trip that would potentially have some good foliage change, some history, and if possible another interior ranger cabin. We quickly decided on Access Point 22 (Grand Lake) and planned to hike the Barron Canyon trail and spend the night next to the cabin on Wenda Lake.  
We tossed together the food rather quickly and planned on heading out early on a Friday to morning to make the most of our two-day trip.

Goals of the trip were the following:
- Hike the Barron Canyon trail
- See some pictographs, and Tom Thomson Jack Pine spot
- See the Wenda Lake, Out-Side-In, and Stone House Cabins
- Get one last trip in for 2021! 

Part 1:

Part 2:

Day 1: Grand Lake (Access Point 22) to Wenda Lake
Total travelling distance = 11.1 km including 6 portages, totaling 3,005 m

       I am not a morning person, so our plan to meet at my house for 4am was not ideal. It was worse for Rich, who had not packed until the night before, and still had to drive in from Kingston, ON. As hard as a 3am wake up is the excitement and pleasure of heading out on a trip does give just enough motivation to make it happen.
       The canoe and bags were loaded, canoe paddles tucked away nicely under the seat (more on this later) and we headed out. We stopped to get gas, some windshield washer fluid, and a Tim Hortons. Little did we know, every coffee shop in Belleville is closed at that time of the day. Just another byproduct of covid… Not a huge deal, just meant the morning pick me up would have to wait until Madoc.

               It was a warm morning, nearly 20 degrees at 4am. The forecast was calling for clear skies for the entire duration of our trip. The first goal of the trip was to get to the Barron Canyon trail as close to sunrise as possible. I enjoy driving to the western access points of Algonquin, which for us involves either passing through the park on HWY 60 or weaving our way through the Muskokas. I enjoy driving up to the Eastern or Northern parts of the park even more. I have fond memories from my childhood in this area, so by the time we reached Pembroke, the sun starting to peak in through the passenger window, I was an incredibly happy camper.

               We passed the Sand Lake Park office (one benefit of Covid is printing your own permits) and headed to the trail head. We reached the Barron Canyon trail parking lot around 0730am, and my dastardly plan finally came to fruition. For context, I normally throw the paddles (wrapped together with bungee cords) in the bed of the truck. Since we only had three paddles for this trip, I was able to put them under the seats in the back of the truck, packed under all the gear and bags. When we got to the canyon trail, Rich finally investigated the bed of the truck, and noted the lack of paddles. He asked me where the paddles were, and as convincingly as possible I said, “tossed them in the back like always”.  My plan worked perfectly, and for a good 2-3 minutes Rich had a heart crushing moment thinking we were up the creek without the physical paddles. My face must have cracked and my 4am prank unraveled. We had a good quick laugh at Rich’s expense and started the easy climb up to the top of the canyon. To be fair, Rich should know me better than that. I am meticulous in many things and packing for camping is certainly included in that.

               The trail to the top of the canyon is wide, groomed, and not very long. The view at the top is one of the best views in the park, in my opinion. We reached the top and sat on the bench to soak in the first rays of the rising sun. We spent close to 30 minutes walking around, taking in the various viewing locations available. It was during this time that Rich admitted to me that he is very afraid of heights… well not heights but steep drop offs… so in this context they are one and the same. Caution should be taken, in some locations you can get very close to the edge, and it is indeed a very steep drop off. With the sun rising, the morning mist burning off, it was a spectacular way to start our trip. If you are entering the park at any of the access points off this road, you are obligated to enjoy this trail.
               Ryan and I completed a trip in this area in October 2016. That year the road access to Grand Lake was closed for culvert repair, meaning we entered the Park at the Brigham access point. We had an excellent trip with a paddle on the Barron Canyon, visiting High Falls from the top and bottom, as well as camping on Opalescent Lake and Carcajou Bay. One thing we did not get to do on that trip, was visit the Grand Lake access point. Rich had never been to this area either, so we were both excited to see the two ranger cabins at the access point.

               We wheeled into the parking lot at Grand Lake and found that most of the parking spots were filled. There were already quite a few people out and about, preparing for hikes, walking dogs, and the scent of camp breakfast filled the air. It looks like a nice place to go car camping, for future reference. We unloaded the gear and boat at the lake, parked the car, and then checked out the Stone House and Out-Side-In cabins. The Stone House is now the park office, and the Out-Side-In has been converted into an interpretive center for park history. I would like to take this time to thank Brandon Peek for his excellent website “” and inspiring us to visit all the interior cabins. We only have a handful to go, and if you have any more hints for the hidden/secret cabin… the secret will be safe with me…

               We left the access point with a slight head wind, some small waves, and a beautiful view in our face. We estimated that we were a week or so away from peak leaf change which was unfortunate. The view was still spectacular up Grand Lake, with the massive hill on the west side promising a long and hard portage tomorrow. We swung to the south for our first stop for the day. We were not quite sure where the Tom Thomson Jack Pine spot was, but as we approached the beach looked promising. We landed on the beach, and quickly noticed multiple firepits in the area. Behind the beach, you can see the old rail bed and the end of the Jack Pine Trail, so we knew we were in the correct spot. We hiked up the large rocks on the shore and took in the view that inspired Thomson. It is definitely a pleasant view, and I am sure most people will agree with me, it would be nicer without the plaque. When we returned to the boat, we met our first group of fellow paddlers also coming for a quick view. After a quick greeting, we were back on the water.

               We headed past the access to Stratton Lake, with the very nice campsite on the peninsula. Like most times returning to somewhere I have been, I started filling Rich in on the sights and memories I have of the area. We angled into the waves and headed towards the large rocks that showcase the entrance to Carcajou Bay. We love large rocks, especially large rock cliffs on the shore of lakes. These do not disappoint. We spent a good 10 minutes searching for pictographs as we slid by. We found one, which was obvious, but we could not clearly see any more. Much like the Beckwith cabin, when I experience things like this, my mind starts to wander. I try and put myself back in time to when these things were created, and I wonder what life was like / why these people decided to leave their mark. I love history and am glad the park is steeped in it.

               The paddle down Carcajou Bay was quick, and uneventful. On our previous trip we stayed on the second campsite on the east shore. The first campsite on this shore appears to be nicer, but the fact that they are so close together is less than ideal. The 20 M portage is really just a quick carry over on the right shore, but after a quick inspection we decided to try and just paddle through. The crevasse is just wide enough for a canoe but midway through you will likely need to step out and pull the canoe over a rock or two (if solo, or lighter than myself, you might be able to paddle right through).

               The “High Falls” at the 90M portage is not high, especially in comparison to the other “High Falls” in the area. It is pretty to look at though. We paddled by the falls on the bottom end, then portaged to the top, before poking around in the area. This portage is short but does have some large step ups over some large rocks. Short legged people may have some difficulty while under weight. We rigged up the fishing rods, and spent 20 minutes walking around on the flat rocks and fishing the pool at the bottom of the falls. They call it fishing, not “catching”. We did find some metal spikes driven into the rocks around the falls. The assumption is they are remnants of the logging period and would be used to hold back the log booms above the falls waiting for the spring waters.

               There is a smidgen of a paddle between the high falls and another small set of falls and then we hit the 220m portage. This portage is small and quickly traversed. One thing to note on this portage is the campsite you find in the first third. The site didn’t look like our cup of tea, and we typically try to avoid portage campsites. However, both ends of the portage do have excellent views, so it would not be the worst place to stay for a night… I guess. There was a couple on the campsite, and their little dog ran out to greet us as we passed. It is not our fault, but I always feel invasive when passing an occupied portage campsite. We ate our lunch on the top end of the portage and enjoyed the sunny vista looking up Carcajou Creek.

               At this point, we should have stopped for a moment and looked at the map. We had a little bit of an oopsie. After lunch, we loaded up and immediately began telling stories, shooting the breeze, and were having a grand ole time. What we didn’t do was turn right and head towards Lower Spectacle Lake. As you head up the creek, it looks like it might open into a lake, but once you turn the corner there is just more creek. We continued on our merry way with a small voice in the back of my head hinting we should be on the lake by now… Once we got to the 330M portage into McDonald Creek we had fully realized our error. We laughed, swung around, and headed our way back to the forks. It was not a huge mistake, it only took us 10-20 minutes out of our way, but it was surprising at the time. In recent memory, I can’t remember the last time we had gone the wrong way. No harm no foul, we swung the corner and entered the next lake of the journey.

               Upper and Lower Spectacle are very similar style lakes. Likely why they have similar names… though in my opinion neither are a spectacle. They are shallow lakes from what I could see, with a muddy bottom and plenty of Lily pads on the shoreline. The campsites seemed ideal for hammocks with nice evenly spaced trees. I presume the traffic through the lakes would not be overly bothersome. There is something I do enjoy with small lakes with limited campsites. The chance to have the lake to yourself does increase. The portage out of Lower Spectacle Lake starts and ends with very muddy access. Make sure to look before you leap on these ones.

               The P2140 is an interesting one indeed. No one enjoys long portages, and anything over 2km can be a bit of a drag. The first three quarters of this carry is not overly difficult and has nice big pine trees dotting the way. A little bit of blowdown to contend with but nothing major. There are also many large erratics to stare at, which I enjoy but they may be an acquired taste. With about a quarter of the portage to go, you run into a large pond on the left-hand side. I suggest you take the pond, as the portage becomes more difficult around this section. A short paddle in some very mucky water is nicer than climbing through boulder gardens any day of the week. Once the pond is over, the portage is significantly more difficult. A multitude of rocks, lots of elevation changes, and plenty tight turns. While we cooled down and rested at the end of the portage we ran into the couple that was on the campsite earlier. We sat and talked a bit with them, they were out for a bit of a day trip.
We have been very lucky, or it might just be the type of people who chose to enter the back country , but we have only had positive social experiences in the Park. Cheers to all the random people we have bumped into over the years!

       Little Carcajou Lake is a nice lake. We might have enjoyed it more because we had just finished a 2km portage, and we were almost to our campsite. With ciders by the lake on our mind, we quickly paddled the lake. You can’t get lost on the lake, but as your approach the portage make sure to not venture too far into the swampy bay on the north end of the lake. Before you get to the worst of it there is a big dead tree on the east shore that can be used as a marker. You will notice a break in the shore weeds and a small board to avoid the worst of the mud.
The P380 seemed like a nice walk in the woods compared to the last portage. Once you get to Wenda, don’t bother putting the canoe down though. There is a partial dam, and a large beaver dam between you and the main part of the lake. It is too shallow to paddle, so you might as well keep the boat and bags on and hike the shore until you are past the final dam.

      Wenda Lake feels a lot like the Spectacle Lakes. Small, quiet, and a weedy shoreline. The hope was to have the lake to ourselves for the night, and when we pulled up to the campsite at the cabin my heart dropped. There were no boats on the shore, but 4 people were standing by the cabin talking. Awkwardly we approached, greeted the group, and had a brief discussion. They had taken a day trip from Achray, over the P3950 to visit the cabin. They were not staying long, and we were able to set up camp as intended. Again, it was a very pleasant conversation and nice to meet these people, out there enjoying nature like ourselves. Maybe it is just me, but I find much more meaning in these interactions now after the years of Covid separation.

    We finished our day with a quick cabin tour. The Wenda Lake cabin is likely the smallest of the cabins we have been to. It looks heavily used and does not have a wood stove anymore. I read somewhere that the park removed the stove to prevent people using it in the winter. I can’t confirm that, but I have spent many cold spring nights in toasty warm ranger cabins, so it seems like a shame.

       At the time, we thought this was going to be our last canoe trip of the year (foreshadowing). We ate some great food, drank too much, and listened to a comedy special long into the night. The moon was full, not a cloud in the sky. It was a good day, and it was likely going to be a rough morning. Live and learn.

Day 2: Wenda Lake to Grand Lake
Total travelling distance = 8.9 km including 1 portage, totaling 3,950m.

      I slept through my alarm, which is likely the scotch’s fault. It was a calm, sunny morning with a nice mist burning off the lake. We were both dragging our feet during pack up and breakfast. This was likely because we were staring down the barrel of a nearly 4km portage over a very large hill.

               There is no sugar coating it. This portage is not very fun and is likely bad coming from both directions. Essentially it is a gradual lung and leg burning hike up the hill to the halfway point, and then a long downhill walk the other half. The forest, creeks, and pond that you pass are nice, but you need to make a point to notice these as you trudge along while laden down with gear. We stopped twice to cool down, hydrate, and joke about how stupid it was to end our camping season with the hardest portage we could find in the area. The nicest part of the portage, like most, was the end.

               We pulled out into Grand Lake and headed back to the access point. Grand Lake is a beautiful lake. With the leaves starting to turn and the sun high in the sky we tried to soak in the last moments of the trip. Try as we might we still quickly made it back beach at Achray and back to our lives. It was an excellent trip. Exactly what we needed at the time.  
Until next time, safe travels!

Last edited by Evan Briden (1/28/2022 10:52 pm)


3/27/2022 3:25 pm  #2

Re: Wenda Lake 2 Day Loop - Sep 2021

Good report! That is a grind of a two day trip. Have done the loop through to carcajou a few times. As bad as the Wenda portage is I think it's less scenic but less painful than all the small portages and 1 2k portag coming up through the spectacle lakes. 


3/27/2022 3:55 pm  #3

Re: Wenda Lake 2 Day Loop - Sep 2021

I would have to agree. The final big portage on day one seemed much harder than the big portage on day two… minus being hung over on day two. The incline is worse on the big one, but the footing is worse on the portage at the end of the day towards Wenda. Either way though, pretty scenic area of the park!

     Thread Starter

3/27/2022 4:18 pm  #4

Re: Wenda Lake 2 Day Loop - Sep 2021

Evan Briden wrote:

Upper and Lower Spectacle are very similar style lakes. Likely why they have similar names… though in my opinion neither are a spectacle

Or, maybe...


Last edited by MartinG (3/27/2022 4:22 pm)


3/28/2022 8:43 am  #5

Re: Wenda Lake 2 Day Loop - Sep 2021

Thanks Martin... it all make sense now!

     Thread Starter

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