Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Ragged Lake / Parkside Bay, Algonquin Interior

The bay into the portage from Smoke
to Ragged Lake
Location: 55km East of Huntsville (~ 1 hr)
Website: Friends of Algonquin Park or Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps Canoe Routes
Camping Facilities: Backcountry
Grade: B- (Ragged), B+ (Parkside Bay)
Summary: Congested, but less so than Canoe Lake. Ragged has few high quality campsites, but better options are available on Parkside Bay.
Thoughts:  The less desirable cousin south of Canoe Lake, Smoke Lake is a nice introduction to Algonquin, with smaller crowds at the portages due to fewer canoe route opportunities south of Highway 60.  As far as the challenge of the paddle, crossing Canoe Lake is likely easier than crossing Smoke, due to the winds and waves that can whip up on Smoke.  These can be especially strong in the southern 1/3 of the lake after passing the narrower northern portion, where the lake gets suddenly wider in the east-west direction.  Once you throw in the wakes of the many motorboats whizzing by, it can be a pretty choppy ride (but not altogether unpleasant).

View from site NW of island on Ragged
Remnants of a
mussel dinner
Things get better once you get to the portage into Ragged Lake.  Though there's a sharp incline right at the beginning, its a very short portage.  Its one of those instances when you wonder if the length was accurately recorded on the map, as it seems even shorter than its 250m.  The put-in on Ragged has some historical significance as it was once the site of a log chute between Smoke and Ragged, though not much remains.  There is a trail that is perhaps 15-20 m north from this put-in, along the east side of the portage, where you can hike down to the rapids and have a look at the old chute site.  Its a nice, peaceful set of rapids, but don't expect to see any remnants of the chute.

View from south "point" site
on Parkside Bay
The sites on Ragged are hit and miss. While many will suit most needs (decent site sizes), they are extremely tightly packed, especially around the island.  We stayed on a site on a NW point, just across from the island and 6 other campfires were clearly visible (and audible).  A few exceptions are the northern most site, just after the portage (though you're bound to see plenty of paddlers come by your site on their way further south or to other lakes) and the two southern most sites (the southeastern sites have very nice private beaches, making great docking points, in addition to swimming/sunbathing opportunities).

Parkside is even tolerable in the rain
Parkside bay is slightly better, though I haven't been here on a long weekend (in fact, only on weekdays).  Its much wider, with greater space between the sites.  There are two sites on long points on the east side of this bay that are winners, get them if you can. There is also good fishing on this bay, where we've tangled with some feisty bass.

Family of ducks on Parkside
While the variety of routes is often much greater north of Highway 60, the availability of sites is probably better to the south.  We booked our stay about one month in advance on Ragged Lake, and that was booking for the August long weekend.  While it's best to stay away from Ragged if you can, you'll still have a decent camping experience, with loons, large sites, and clear views of the night sky still possible.  Be warned however; you may have to share this with experience with a few dozen others.  

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