A backcountry camping trip to Spider Lake

This year for our backcountry camping trip we went to Spider Lake (the one in Massassauga Provincial Park, west of Highway 400 just south of Parry Sound, not the several other Spider Lakes I found when I tried to search Google). We went in through Three-Legged Lake, after checking in at the park office — which is across the road at Oastler Lake, and a ways north of the put in. It was a beautiful sunny day, and without much wind at all, we made pretty good time paddling to the far west side of Three-Legged Lake, where the portage is. Or rather, we *would* have made good time if we had been going the right way. Which we weren’t, as it turns out.

Becky and I were in one canoe, following a couple of strangers who seemed to know where they were going. But Marc and Kris had the map in their canoe and they said we had to turn left. So we did, and as we were paddling past some cottages, a woman shouted out: “Are you going into the park?” Yes, we said — Spider Lake. “It’s the other way!” she yells, pointing in exactly the opposite direction. “Don’t worry, it happens to lots of people!” We waved and then turned around and headed back the way we came, only to have a kid at a different cottage yell “Are you going to Spider Lake?” Yes, we said. “It’s that way,” he yelled, pointing to the northwest. Very helpful crowd on Three-Legged Lake! And apparently quite used to people who don’t know where they are going 😂

At the portage, we got out the canoe cart, since we brought two old and heavy canoes this year, instead of renting nice light Kevlar ones which we could carry over our heads. It was only a short portage, maybe 350 metres, although there was a fair bit of up and down and tree roots etc. to get the cart over, and a wooden gangplank across a swamp that had a bunch of soft and broken boards. On the portage, we ran into a young woman and her husband and three kids — one a baby, maybe six months old, and two who looked to be about five and seven maybe. They also had two dogs, a setter and what looked like a Samoyed.

At the other end of the portage, we watched in amazement — and disbelief — as they calmly loaded all the kids, dogs, and their gear into a single smallish-looking canoe. “I know, kind of like a clown car, right?” the young woman said with a laugh, as they paddled away with barely an inch between the side of their canoe and the top of the water. Luckily they weren’t going too far, and the husband told us he had been a park ranger for several years, so presumably he knew what he was doing!

We followed them through a short passage that led through a swamp directly to the right of the put in — a route that often isn’t passable when the water is low, but was for us. It cut off a bunch of paddling, which was good because it was into the wind more or less the whole way to our campsite, which was at the extreme far end of Spider Lake, right next to a portage that led into Georgian Bay. It took a couple of hours of hard paddling, but luckily it was sunny and beautiful. We got to the site, number 18, and found it had a couple of nice shallow landing spots and some good flat spots for tents. We set up the tents and then Marc and I went to get wood to build a fire.

We found a good spot not far from the campsite with a shallow beach-like area where we stashed the canoes. Then as we were chopping dead branches off trees, Marc said “Did you hear that buzzing? Sounds like a big swarm of mosquitos.” But it was not — it was wasps, or hornets (we didn’t get close enough to see which). Marc got stung multiple times before we ran for the lake. They didn’t follow us, so we went back into a different part of the forest — but somehow they found us, and stung Marc a couple more times. We ran back to the lake and the canoes, but then I noticed I had dropped my hatchet and saw, so I had to sneak back in to get them, hoping the wasps wouldn’t see me (they didn’t). We got back to the site, and luckily Kris had Benadryl in the first-aid kit, so Marc used some of that, and he was none the worse for wear.

Yes, that’s bear scat, about 200 yards from our campsite. Luckily it looked to be days or weeks old

For a variety of reasons, this year’s trip happened in July rather than our usual time in September, and that was both good and bad. It was good because it was hot both during the day and at night, so we barely even needed sheets or a sleeping bag, and we went swimming multiple times every day. It was bad because July is bug season, and we were swarmed with deer flies and mosquitoes. The deer flies swarmed all day, and then around 9 pm the mosquitoes would take over, and last until about 10:30. They were so bad even spray didn’t work — we had to retreat to our tents one night, and another night we all wore bug shirts with hoods, which was quite a sight I’m sure.

After a great meal of steak (cooked sous vide and then vacuum sealed and frozen) and some cinnamon rolls, a nightcap or two and a good sleep, we got up and had peameal bacon over the fire, and then headed out in the canoes because it was warm and sunny. We made our way partway back to the northeast to a large island, where we pulled up the canoes and had a swim and then ate lunch. And then we paddled further back along our route to check out some of the campsites (which are very far apart, something I like about Massassauga Park). Then we saw a site that looked very built up, with a dock and cabins. So we went and took a look and found out it was the rangers’ cabins, with a BBQ setup and storage sheds, parts for repairing picnic tables, etc.

Paddling back into the wind to get back to our site wasn’t popular with some members of our party, but we made it, and it was a great day for a paddle. We had pork chops for dinner and retreated to our tents during mosquito time, and got another good sleep. The next day, after biscuits over the campfire, we decided to take a single canoe across the portage into Georgian Bay, using the cart again. We made our way through a swampy bay and then out into a fairly sheltered part of Georgian Bay, which was good because the wind was starting to rise, as a fairly serious storm was making its way towards us. We paddled into a small bay and swam off the dock of a cottage that looked to be still closed up from winter, then headed back to Spider Lake to wait for the storm.

Although the Weather Network talked about a massive storm with damaging winds and hail etc. coming from Lake Michigan, we wound up getting not much of anything — a little bit of rain, not much wind at all, and then a great cloud show as we watched the storm pass to the west of us, heading northwest. We had another great dinner and a good sleep, and then it was up and get packed to head out. We stopped for a break on one of the other sites and had another swim, and then as we were coming across Spider Lake — going with the wind this time, luckily — we watched these poor sods paddling straight into the teeth of a strong wind. I asked one which site they were going to, and didn’t have the heart to tell him they had two-plus hours of hard paddling ahead of them. So I just wished them well 🤣 All in all, it was another great trip — with the exception of the bugs, of course!

Addendum: It’s sort of hard to see from the photo above, but on the path between our campsite and the portage into Georgian Bay, we came across some kind of man-made pit — I would say it was at least four feet deep, and probably about 10 feet across in either direction. And it had what were clearly man-made walls, with large rocks piled on each other. But why? It’s a mystery. Storm shelter? Bear pit? It wasn’t big enough for that. Hot tub? Who knows.

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