Algonquin Provincial Park’s Western Uplands Trail is most certainly the park’s longest and most challenging backcountry trek. Approximately 78 kilometres around its perimeter, it’s not possible to complete the trail without taking time off work. Thankfully, it’s composed of three stacked loops and two side loops that make it easy to work out multiple options, most of which can be hiked in a long weekend.
Last year, we decided to hike the blue loop of the Western Uplands Trail. Since then, I’ve been fantasizing about all the different route options the trail provides, and I think I’ve finally settled on which one we’ll take on our next hiking trip to Algonquin Park.
Route Options on the Western Uplands Trail
Parkway Access Point (Oxtongue River Picnic Ground)
Maggie Lake Loop
Approximately 31 kilometres, this route is great for combining a backpacking trip with day hiking. It’s just over 11 kilometres to the first cluster of campsites on Maggie Lake. If you rent your site for two nights, you can use the middle day to hike the 8.5-kilometre loop around the lake with nothing more than a day bag. Then, return the way you came from on the last day.
Main Loop #1 (Blue)
This route is approximately 33 kilometres, which we completed in three days for an average of 11 kilometres per day. Our route included overnight stops at Steeprise and Eu Lakes, the latter being one of the coolest campsites I’ve ever seen. The east-west portion of the loop is hillier and more challenging than the two north-south sections.
Main Loop #2 (Red)
At about 56 kilometres, only experienced and physically fit hikers should attempt to complete this route of the Western Uplands Trail in three days. Nevertheless, four or five days would probably be more comfortable. For ourselves, we’d in all likelihood stay on the northern end of Maggie Lake the first night (14 kilometres), then at Tern Lake the second night (15 kilometres), and at Redwing Lake the third night (15 kilometres). The fourth and last day would be the shortest at about 12 kilometres.
Rain Lake Access Point
Main Loop #3 (Red)
Although this is the third loop from the Oxtongue River Picnic Ground, it’s the first loop from the Rain Lake access point. Since it’s about 45 kilometres in total, it’s also a tough hike to plan because there are long stretches between campsites. It’s a bit easier to figure out if you’re planning a four-day hike, but you’ll have to live with hiking a long day if your trip is only three days.
To hike this route over three days, we’d try: Day 1, Weed Lake (13 kilometres); Day 2, Gervais Lake (14 kilometres); Day 3 (19 kilometres).
To hike this route over four days, we’d try: Day 1, Weed Lake (13 kilometres); Day 2, Tern Lake (11 kilometres); Day 3, Brown Lake (9 kilometres), Day 4 (13 kilometres).
Loft Lake Loop
As with the Maggie Lake loop, this route offers another option for combining backpacking with day hiking on the Western Uplands Trail. In this case, we would set up camp at Brown Lake, nearly 13 kilometres from the trail head. From there, the second day we’d take the trail towards Loft Lake, returning via Lady-slipper Lake. At 22 kilometres, it’s definitely a long day hike, but for advanced hikers, it’s doable without a heavy backpack. The third day, we would retrace our steps back to the Rain Lake access point. This is a 47-kilometre trip — I would expect to be sore when we got home (winky face).
Main Loop #3 Plus Loft Lake
This option is for those who want to extend the Rain Lake main loop by following the trail to Loft Lake instead of taking the main trail passed Lady-slipper Lake. It’s about 55 kilometres long, so it’s probably best to take four or five days to complete this route. For a four-day trip, we would stay at Weed Lake the first night (13 kilometres), Gervais Lake the second night (14 kilometres), and Brown Lake the third night (16 kilometres). That would leave 13 kilometres to return to the trail head on the last day.
So which Western Uplands Trail trip do you think I’m dying to try next? As much as they’re all really appealing, I’d most like to attempt the Loft Lake backpacking and day hiking combo. I’m sure we’ll end up doing them all eventually, of course!