Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Algonquin Interior - Big Crow Lake Ranger Cabin

Location: Off the highway 60, North from Opeongo.
Website: Big Crow Cabin or Friends of Algonquin Backcountry Advice or Ontario Parks or OP Cabin page
Map: Scroll down here
Camping Facilities: Backcountry & Ranger Cabin
Grade: A
Stargazing: Excellent
Summary: A bit of a trek, but a great spot with lots of options for base camping. Definitely worth doing once, though be prepared for the expense.
big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park
Outside the ranger cabin
Thoughts: Algonquin park's backcountry has to be some of the most storied, as well as visited, in the camping universe.  Its wild and rugged (to varying degrees), there are endless options for canoe routes and to top it all off, there's even man-made shelters scattered about to give a sense of the recent human history of the park.  The structures are old ranger cabins that are no longer in operation, but are available for rent by the public.  It should be pointed out right away that there are regulations for their use, and they can get pretty pricey (from $58-134 per night in 2011, more if you have more than a single person in your group).  So these are definitely a once-in-a-very-long-while camping experience, given that they can cost more than a decent hotel room.   The cabins have lots of very handy features, including bunks, tables and wood stoves, which gives an added measure of comfort in the backcountry.  Its also recommended that you book these cabins early, their charm makes them very popular.

Regarding my experience, I highly recommend the water taxi across Opeongo for getting into Proulx Lake (book in advance).  I imagine that Opeongo takes a full day to traverse (longer if you have wind to contend with) while the taxi takes about 20 minutes.  Opeongo seems to be a nice enough lake, but I think it might just be more of an irritant than a pleasure to paddle (especially once you consider that it's open to powerboats).  The portage into Proulx is generally fine, with some buggy portions, and one point where you can walk around or paddle a swampy stretch (I recommend you walk around, the swamp is shallow and you may end up pulling your gear along rather than paddling).

big crow lake algonquin provincial giant white pine trail
A giant white pine off of Big Crow Lake
Getting to Big Crow can be a bit of fun in itself, given that you must paddle the reed-lined path between Proulx and Little Crow (this takes roughly an hour).  Its a joy to paddle on a nice clear day, but frustratingly long if its rainy.  On one trip we made along this route, a thunderstorm moved in while we were about halfway through.  There is generally no shore access along this stretch as the reeds have you hemmed in, so we just paddled hard to try to get out before the thunderstorm reached us.  On another occasion, when we needed to meet the water taxi early at Proulx lake portage at Opeongo, we paddled this spot at around 6am and it was indescribably serene and probably an experience that everyone in our party wouldn't mind again.  

big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park fire tower trail
Big Crow Lake Fire Tower Trail lookout during the day 
Focusing on the Big Crow cabin, its ideal for my preferred kind of camping (base camping, with day trips) mainly due to its proximity to a number of portages, a stand of huge white pines and a trail from the cabin up to the fire look-out tower.  I have to say the stand of white pines was a bit of a let-down; there just aren't that many and the trail is pretty short.  I have difficulty believing that there are not better stands remaining in the park, but they just might not be this accessible.  The trail up to the fire tower, on the other hand, is not disappointing in the least. I've been up there several times and the view is spectacular.  Photos don't do it justice.

big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park fire tower trail
View from top of fire tower trail, Big Crow Lake
 The cabin itself is a lot of fun, you can spend the days exploring Big Crow lake and its neighbours and the evenings playing cards by candlelight.  Its also nice not having to worry about where to hang your food at night.  The fire pit area is probably the only disappointing aspect of the campsite, it felt a little cramped to me. The bottom line is that its a great group trip, though a bit on the pricey side when you've included all party members and the water taxi.  You definitely won't regret it.

big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park
Bunks in Big Crow Lake ranger cabin 
big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park fire tower trail
The kitchen table
big crow lake ranger cabin algonquin provincial park
Inside the ranger cabin kitchen 

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