Backpack Highland Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park

Rate this Adventure Highland Trail

This backpacking loop is filled with amazing blue lakes and perfectly secluded backpacking sites, many of which are right next to the water.

This was my first experience in the Canadian backcountry and it was remarkable.  Algonquin Provincial Park is beautiful with it's range of hardwood forest trees, lakes, and overall terrain.  It's popular for portaging but it also has three official backpacking trails inside the park.  (Unfortunately I only had my iPhone 6 to take pictures, which don't always do the scenery justice)

There are two possible loops along the Highland Backpacking Trail (these are marked 1st Loop and 2nd Loop). This write up is for a three day trip along the longer 21 mile loop, which incorporates both the 1st and 2nd loops. It was May, and the majority of ground snow had melted but not completely. Though we had to hike through a bit of snow, the lakes were completely unfrozen. This time of year was enjoyable because it also meant we would have no mosquitos or bug issues. Two months before our trip I reserved camping spots online for both nights.  When you book online you choose an area, not a specific campsite number. You can do that here - Reserve Online

Day 1 - 4.6 Miles

We drove from Montreal to the Mew Lake Campground Office to obtain our backpacking and parking permits, and confirm the areas that I had reserved online (in the winter you need to obtain these from the West Gate). Once we had our permits, we drove to the Highland Backpacking Trailhead where we parked the car and started our hike.

Our adventure began hiking through American Beech, Yellow Birch, and Eastern Hemlock trees, crossing bridges over creeks and passing small lakes.  Though beautiful, these don't compare to the pristine lakes to come.  We hiked 2.6 miles from the trailhead to a fork in the trail with signage for Provoking East and Provoking West.  (The first big lake you'll approach is Provoking Lake.) We booked a spot on Provoking East, so we hiked another 2 miles along the east side of the lake until we arrived in the area where there are four camp sites to chose from (if you book on the west side, there are six sites to choose from). All the spots are a significant distance from each other, so you wont be able to see other campers. After checking out all the sites, we chose one right on the water.  It was the prefect spot to enjoy the sunset over the water, eat some food and relax by the fire (which was only about 15 feet from the lake). 

Day 2 -  9.6 Miles

We left Provoking Lake that morning knowing that the snow patches were slowing us down slightly; though we weren't constantly maneuvering over ice or hiking in ankle deep snow, it did hinder our predicted pace.

We hiked 7 miles, passing Mosquito Fly Lakes, and through beautiful forests (which included Sugar Maples) until we reached Harness Lake.  This is where we had lunch and even took a small nap on a rock overlooking the magnificent body of water.  (Note: although we didn't stay at Harness Lake, there are a couple of great camping spots to choose from.) 

From Harness Lake we hiked 2.6 miles to Head Lake, and this is where we spent our second night. Head Lake was my favorite area to camp.  As the sun set behind trees, it created this purple illumination on the clouds in the sky; the water stood completely still, and we ate dinner only a couple of feet from the water.  When the sun rose in the morning, the fog settled on top of the lake--so calm and peaceful. 

Day 3 - 7.8 Miles

We didn't hike particularly fast on the last day.  I was in no hurry to get out of the park, but in the back of my mind I knew we had a long drive back to Montreal.  From Head Lake we hiked 4 miles to Faya Lake, and took a quick detour to check out the area. I originally wanted to stay here, but had no luck with reservations as it had already been booked (and I could see why); it's completely secluded with only one camping spot!  Shortly after, we spotted a moose with it's calf walking along the trail. We kept our distance and watched them roam through the forest, it truly toped off our trip. We returned to the trail and hiked along the west side of Provoking Lake for 3.8 miles back to the parking lot.

With all the amazing views and lakes, it's obvious to see why Algonquin is famous for portages.  But I wouldn't discredit the backpacking trails; hearing loons in the evening while enjoying a quiet dinner next to the lake was incredibly relaxing and one of my favorite memories.  

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water proof hiking boots
  • Food
  • Trekking Poles (helped in the snow and ice areas)
  • Water reservoir or water bottle
  • Water purification system
  • Bear spray
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RT Distance 21 Miles
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife

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