Story by: Rebecca Vandenberg
It is true, I have been on many canoe trips. And most have been fairly similar in nature; we furiously pack the night before, arrive at the put in super early the next morning and paddle our little hearts out all day to reach camp. We usually allot 15-20km of travel on the first day, set up a home base and explore from there. We also usually are bursting with energy and excitement, paddling feverishly all day in hopes of reaching complete solitude.
This year, given my impending due date and growing belly, we had to make some adjustments to our usual paddling plans. It was now late July and we had not been canoeing since I first found out I was pregnant back in May. We were itching for some MUCH needed time in our tent, and it seemed that my queasy stomach had finally settled itself enough to warrant time away from home.
I was so happy that there was finally an opportunity to get out in our canoe together, but was a little hesitant about what I was now capable of. After deliberating over various locations and their accessibility, we decided on Puzzle Lake Provincial Park, we had never been but heard many promising things about the area!
The park is located just north of Napanee Ont, and is an unorganized park. This meant we did not have to book ahead or pay for a campsite, which we always prefer. After doing some minor research, and with some very helpful guidance from Brad at Explore the Backcountry we got our gear ready for our adventure!
Our plan was to arrive early Saturday morning, paddle to our site, a mere 5km from the put in, and set up camp.
The main put in to the Puzzle Lake Provincial Park is located off of County Rd 15 and has a parking lot and boat launch into Gull Lake. From Gull Lake you paddle East to the first portage, a steep 200m, into the bottom of Puzzle Lake. Next you paddle North-East across the bottom of Puzzle Lake, to reach the 50 m portage at the end of a long bay into Loyst Lake, where we were hoping to get a site.
We had heard so many good things about this lake and were excited to camp there. However when we reached our destination, and not to our surprise, the two main campsites were already taken, so we decided to scout the lake to see if there were any other sites available. We stumbled upon a flat spot with a fire ring not to far away, and decided to make camp.
In other circumstances, we would have been fine to paddle to the next lake to find a site, but I really wanted to stay close to the put in, and had little energy to spare.
Once we had found our site, we were amazed to find that we had paddled in and set up camp way quicker than anticipated, as the time now read 10:30 am! We had the whole day to fish and explore.
Loyst Lake is like a dream. The small granite cliffs plunge into the aquamarine waters. Though it is small, it was home to many fish, loons and birds of prey, including a Bald Eagle which we spotted 3 times that weekend.
It truly reminded me of some of Killarney’s clear blue lakes, except Loyst is full of life! Though Ryan didn’t catch anything bigger than a ¼ lbs fish, we were happy to see the potential here! Rugged and wild, we were pleasantly surprised at the whole package this park offered and we had only just begun to explore!
The first day was spent paddling around the lake, napping in our tent and gathering firewood. The weather was cool, but the water was surprisingly very warm, and though I did not swim, I was tempted.
The next day was sunny with some cloud cover, and we had planned a day paddle to Bear Lake, which was 3 lakes over from Loyst Lake. The first 25m portage from Loyst Lake put us into Mud Norway Lake, which is a round shallow lake, surrounded by juniper bushes and shallow waters littered with lily pads.
We fished a little in this lake, and if given more time, I am sure Ryan could have fished there all day! Paddling North-East, we found two small openings at the edge of the pond marked with flagging tape, the first water trail on the north end of the lake goes back into puzzle lake, and after turning around, we found the second opening at the Eastern end and entered the correct water trail that would lead us to a beaver dam with a 10m portage into the bottom of Norway Lake.
There is actually an atv trail/road that gives you access to Norway Lake, which has a small “boat launch”, and a decent looking campsite. I have no idea what the condition of the “road” is like, but heard it was muddy and not accessible by small car. There are some hunt camps and nice campsites on Norway Lake, one of which is an island site.
With clouds rolling overhead and a nice breeze at our backs, we cruised up Norway Lake and found the portage to Bear Lake hidden near the North end. Though my energy was already dwindling at this point, I really wanted to see what Bear Lake looked like, and we decided to push through the longest portage of the trip. This portage was surprisingly open and easy to follow. I would guess it is roughly 700m in length and meandered up and down through the forest.
We appeared on the other end, tired but happy to escape the bugs! As our paddles propelled us into another brand new lake, and we were so very excited. This lake was beautiful, with only a few campsites dotting the shores, it was quiet and surprisingly secluded. We decided it was time to take a break, and we parked ourselves on a large exposed rock for lunch.
As Ryan fished, I made some Mr.Noodles and unpacked our PB and J sandwiches. After we were rested and our bellies were full, we planned to scout the lake.
Completely unaware of the weather moving in, we re-loaded ourselves back into the canoe to find the wind had picked up significantly and moments later the rain started to come down in sheets.
Of course we did not bring our rain gear, for some reason, so we waited out the rain under one of the tall white pines that skirted the lake. Once the weather had moved past us, we decided we would ditch our original plans to scout the lake and head back to camp instead. We quickly reached the other side of the portage and were happy to see it was still sunny over Norway Lake, though rain clouds surrounded us on either side. Blessings!
We zipped down Norway, just in time to reach the beaver dam back into Mud Norway Lake before the real storm hit. Thunder began to rumble in the distance and the rain began to fall. Seeing as we were only 15 mins from Loyst Lake, we decided to settle in under our canoe and wait out the storm. The rain came down in buckets, and thunder and lightning filled the sky overhead. We made the best of the situation by snacking on some muffins and coffee, fairly dry under our canoe.
Luckily it only took 1 hour for the storm to pass, and we made a quick exit into Mud Norway Lake and thenback into Loyst Lake. Once back on Loyst Lake the skies cleared and it looked like we had bared the worst of the weather for the day. Happy to be safe, we fished a little before heading back to camp for a well-deserved nap.
After dinner, we hit the water again to fish. Ryan still only catching small fry, we toured the lake as the sun fell, revealing a beautiful sunset. The night was uneventful, and peaceful.
Ryan and I discussed the beauty of spending this special time together away from all the distractions of life. Happy to be together, and to know that when all of the stresses of life are taken away, our relationship flourishes. We truly value this time as a family; immersed in the land we love so much, and really working as a team.
For me, though the trip was a little more exhausting than usual, we still came away elated and refreshed. Not only was it easily accessible, it still felt fairly secluded and the landscape offered so much more than we anticipated from such a small park!
I believe that it is these trips together that really strengthen our relationship with each other and ourselves. Ryan has become more and more able in the bush, and we have come so far as a team.
It is crazy to think that just over a year ago, we were backcountry camping together for the first time. I was the one who set up the tent, and got our gear arranged, meal planned, filtered water, set up our bear bagging system, and made sure all was well and prepared. Now, with almost 20 trips under our belts, Ryan is the one leading our team. Making sure our tent and tarp are set up well enough to weather storms, refilling and filtering water, making our fire, from flint instead of flame, and making sure I have all I need.
I can truly say we have come so far, which has not only has deepened our trust in each other, but has made me so excited to share our love and passion for the wilderness with our baby boy.
On our final day on Loyst Lake, we slept in, and had an amazing breakfast of precooked bacon, and fried eggs on pizza buns. We packed up and headed out in good time. I was so much more exhausted than usual, but was so happy we had made the effort to visit Puzzle Lake Provincial Park, and would highly recommend this place for all levels of canoeists.
We will definitely coming back with Isaac, and I cannot wait!