Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Rain / McCraney Lakes, Algonquin Interior

Location: Rain Lake Access, 1 hr north of Huntsville
Website: Friends of Algonquin or Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Jump-off Camping, Cabin and Backcountry
Grade: B+
Summary: 1800 m portage aside, this is a nice part of the park that can feel pretty remote.  However, there's not much more to see, unless you're ready to really trek.
View from island site on McCraney Lake
Thoughts: I don't think there has ever been an instance where I've tried to book McCraney Lake and it wasn't available.  What it is about this access point or this lake that repels people, I'm not exactly sure.  It could be the 20 km drive along the dirt road after you leave Kearney (it feels like 50 km).  It could be that it is difficult to get to the park office in Kearney on a Friday night before it closes.  It could be the 1800m portage between Rain and McCraney.  These are just a few guesses.  But all of these issues in tandem could make backcountry campers opt to go elsewhere.

The Rain Lake access is pretty busy, there always seems to be a shortage of parking spots.  As a result people are parked along side the roads, causing it to become a bit narrow.  The access point also provides "jump-off" camping, allowing you to stay at the access point on your first night (in case you arrive late).  These sites aren't formal, you just set up on the grass in a spot that pleases you.  Its handy but should be avoided if possible. There's also a cabin at the Rain Lake access, which can't be much fun, given that its pretty close to where people are loading up canoes and parking their cars (in addition to being next to the jump-off location).

Dinner prep on McCraney
The paddle to the McCraney portage is nothing spectacular.  Its very narrow and calm in the narrow sections,  then it opens up briefly before you arrive at the portage into McCraney.  You can spot the hikers on the Upland Backpacking Trail as you paddle along, which seems to follow a rail trail.  The portage sounds arduous, at 1800 m.  But in actuality, its probably one of the easiest 1800 m portages around.  It's very flat and reasonably wide.  I seem to recall a bench halfway through, but I may be getting my portages mixed up.  I imagine in the later summer, its even better, if its cooler and dryer.  You get to McCraney, before you know it.   I recall my wife and I once heard a wolf howl just as we paddled into McCraney, which made for a pretty exciting entrance.  This lake can really give you a wilderness feel.

Cooling heels in the crisp waters of McCraney Lake
The paddle into McCraney from Little McCraney takes some time, longer than you'll probably be interested in.  Once you get to McCraney, you'll have to make your decision of where to stay.  Though we have only stayed on the northern island on our two visits here, I don't recommend this location; while you'll probably find enough wood there, its limited and takes some work.  As well, the two sites there are pretty close together and are connected by a footpath.  It might be fun if you're with two groups who want to be able to access each other's sites relatively easily.  From paddling around the lake, I imagine most of these sites will meet your needs (though I'm skeptical of the southern island).  Activities on this lake are somewhat limited, its reported to have decent fishing (haven't cast a line in myself), there are a few portages to other lakes if you want to make a loop out of it, or if you want to make day trips from a base camp on McCraney.   But just sitting back and communing with nature is always an option.

A note about the drive into Rain; I've seen cars that have gone off the road on the gravel section (not that far after Kearney).  Drive slowly, especially at night.  As well, parking at the Rain Lake access can be brutal.  The lot fills up fast and things get pretty messy after that.

All said, I don't fully understand why its so easy to reserve a site on this lake, but it is.  It's a nice lake, relatively easy to access and it provides seclusion.  If you're making a last minute reservation to get away, this is a suitable destination.

(The photo quality on this post is quite poor, attributable to the use of a disposable waterpoof camera.  Let this be a lesson - this is par for the course from what I've seen from these cameras). 

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