Algonquin in Three Days: Rock Lake, Penn Lake, Clydegale Lake, Madawaska River

I thought a backcountry Algonquin Trip was not in the cards this year, but guess what? I managed to squeeze one in.  If you would like to read some of my musings about Algonquin and the trip check out my guest post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog. Read on for a trip log of our three day trip!

Another trip started out bright and early.

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters around 9:15 a.m. to collect our canoe rental. On the advice of the staff we tried the featherweight prospector – a very light canoe. After loading up the canoe we set out for the Rock Lake Permit office.

Getting ready to portage the canoe

We were greeted with a sign warning of a bear in the area and few fall colours. Our destination for the weekend was Clydegale Lake and upon hearing the person ahead of us was also going to Clydegale, we hurried to get out trip started – we had a site in mind after all!

My mom organizing our packs on the Rock-Penn portage

Not long after loading at the dock, we paddled the short river that emerges into Rock Lake. This end is busy between the campground and cottages. We hugged the right shoreline before turning left down the narrows towards the Rock-Pen Lake portage. This area of the lake was beautiful and we discovered a few nice campsites before continuing towards the portage.

The portage was busy with campers heading in for a last weekend trip before the winter. My mom took the food pack while I carried a small backpack and the canoe. This canoe is SO light! I cannot say enough good things about it. I found this 375m portage an easy one. The ground is relatively flat with boardwalks throughout to make the walk easier. The beginning and ending had a short, but steep incline. The south side of the portage was even complete with dock, although we found it easier to load from the beach. We chatted with a few other campers and left the busy portage behind.

A little chilly

The day was cloudy, but Pen Lake greeted us with sunshine for most of the paddle. As we entered the lake it appeared that we could paddle between the island and the peninsula, but unfortunately we discovered a strip of land that prevented this. We turned around and travelled the channel to the left of the island. I probably should have paid more attention to my map to avoid this!

Penn Lake was beautiful. We admired the sandy beaches scattered between cliff faces on our way down the lake. The site beside the portage to Night Lake and the first one on the point after the bay looked lovely. The only problem I saw was the proximity to other sites, as this area is likely fairly busy in the summer. Just over an hour of paddling later and we arrived at the Penn-Clydegale Lake portage.

The clouds rolled in as we discovered the portage deserted. This portage was short at 275m, but I found it more hilly and tiring. Or maybe that was the two lakes we just paddled? We did this portage in two carries before continuing into Clydegale Lake. The wind was picking up and we were grateful to have it at our backs.

The first two campsites were lovely and empty, but we hoped for the island site. Unfortunately this meant a long paddle back if it was occupied. We were tired and spent about five minutes debating the wisdom of this decision before continuing on.  We passed more vacant campsites including one I had stayed on about 10 years earlier. It is remarkable how little it changed other than higher water levels. At the last campsite on the north side of the lake we debated continuing. We past one unremarkable site before finding the island empty.

Setting up on the island

The island was sheltered, private and very unique. It has it own small beach, rocks to catch the sun on and it even its own rock island. We set up camp than enjoyed some o’devours and boxed white wine – who says you can’t camp in style? The main course was pork and veggies cooked over the fire, as the resident squirrel sized up our camp for possible weak spots to steal food.

Just as we were contemplating turning in for the night, we saw a beautiful evening sky. The thick clouds were quickly moving across the sky to reveal an almost full moon. We bundled up and laid on the rocks near the water to watch the night reveal itself.


Our second day started to an incredibly foggy morning. It was nearly 9 a.m. before the sun burned off the fog. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and bacon inside gluten-free wraps. We spent a relaxing morning reading in the sun before preparing for a day trip down the south Madawaska River. My map showed that the 1550m portage had ruins on it, so that was our destination.

Walking up the river

We had a few false starts finding the mouth of the river. Almost immediately we were greeted with a beaver dam. This was problematic because it was small enough that there was almost nothing to stand on, but large enough that we had to get out of the canoe to cross. I precariously balanced on the one stable log while we lifted the canoe to the other side. One thing worth mentioning is our canoe was light, so it was also more delicate than the older style canoes. Someone else might have been able to simply drag across the beaver dam.

The exciting wildlife for the day was a few ducks that were disturbed on our way down the river. We crossed about five dams and only took a wrong turn once.

The river started to narrow and deepen. The reeds turned to rocks and we were sure we were almost at the portage. A turn in the river brought the sound of water falling across rocks and a moment later we saw a shallow creek bed. It was clear we were too heavy to cross, so on the water shoes went and we walked through the icy water. Back in the canoe a few more turns of the river brought us to the portage.

The portage is truly unmaintained with green growth stealing back the winding pathway. We crossed some fresh moose prints, before continuing up the portage. About halfway up we decided not to bother with the ruins. We killed some time exploring the creek that boarders the portage before turning back.

The sun was crossing the sky as our stomachs rumbled.  We decided to have lunch in the canoe beside a particularly large beaver dam. The sun warmed our backs, as the wind whistled by. It was truly a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Back at our campsite we enjoyed the last few warm rays of sun before starting dinner — the days are short in the fall. The evening’s dinner was spaghetti with meat sauce, veggies and cheese. We took our dinner to the rocks and watched the sun set to a cloudless sky.  Before the sun was completely down the moon popped up on the other horizon.

We washed up the dishes and turned in for the night. I am ALWAYS cold, so with the temperatures dipping into the single digits (Celsius), I put a summer sleeping bag inside a winter one and had a very comfortable night’s sleep.


The morning of day three was another beautiful sunny morning after the fog burned off.  We had a few stops planned, so after a quick breakfast we were on our way. As luck would have it (and it never seems to) the winds had changed and were at our backs again.

Halfway down the lake we were greeted by a family of otters. We hung in the water watching them until the mom gave us a few warning snorts. The sky was crystal clear and sunny, and we quickly warmed up.  The portage back into Penn Lake was easy, DSC_0050but we found some high winds on Penn Lake.

At the Penn-Rock Lake portage we decided to take the canoe and our packs across before visiting the falls. We stopped for a snack and headed to a sign pointing to a short trail towards the falls. From here we climbed to the top of the falls. For a warm summer day there was a nice rock to slide into a pool at the bottom.  It’s too bad it was not a bit warmer because I was tempted! We briefly looked for the Petroglyphs, but never found them.

Cliff with the Pictographs

Our plan was to find the Pictographs listed on Jeff’s map. We looked by process of elimination by paddling the left side of the rock face and hugging the shoreline. At the other end they appeared. They are hard to see, but such a unique experience once found. We contemplated looking for the vision pits listed on the map, but decided it was too much trouble. The wind died down and we enjoyed the last portion of the trip with the sun warming our backs.

Another lovely trip has come and gone. This trip was relatively easy from a portaging stand point, which was a nice change from my last few trips. The campsites were lovely on this route, but I will save it for spring and fall camping because I imagine it’s busy through the summer.



10 thoughts on “Algonquin in Three Days: Rock Lake, Penn Lake, Clydegale Lake, Madawaska River

  1. Maegan on behalf of Algonquin Outfitters, let me thank you for sharing your experience with our readers and yours. Looks like you really enjoyed that ultralight Swift Prospector canoe, super easy to portage eh? We look forward to more of your adventures in Algonquin Park, maybe a winter expedition this year? Ever try winter camping in Algonquin Park, or even a day trip snowshoeing, Nordic skiing or snow (fat) biking? Algonquin sure is beautiful in the winter, well worth the visit. ~ Randy Mitson, Algonquin Outfitters.

    1. Randy, thank you! I really enjoyed working with Algonquin Outfitters, and all the great tips and information you guys have to offer. Yes, I certainly loved that canoe. I just may be hooked now!

      I think a winter Algonquin adventure will be on my list this year. The snow biking sounds really interesting or even a day out skiing or snowshoeing! Lots to think about.


  2. This sure makes me want to go back. Very cool that you saw pictographs, I didn’t know that these were in Algonquin. JeffsMap for the win.

    1. John, one of the things I love best about Algonquin Park is it’s diversity and size. You can literally spend a lifetime exploring and still discover something new each trip. Here’s something even older than Pictographs I discovered years ago. Did you know that Algonquin Park is the home to one of the oldest documented meteorite craters in North America? So much to discover…

    2. There are certainly some really interesting things to see in Algonquin. And I have to say that Jeff’s Map is amazing for finding all these hidden jems. I did not include it in this log, but Jeff’s Map also indicated a fresh water spring on the Rock-Penn Lake portage, which we found!

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