Canoe Portage With Friends: How To Have A Successful Back Country Camping Trip

A couple men carrying a canoe over rocks in Kawartha Highlands provincial park

My camping and canoe portage with my awesome friends and fellow travel writers was taken with The Land Canadian Adventures on The Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and was hosted by Peterborough & the Kawarthas Tourism.

Canoe portage and camping go hand in hand. Like peanut butter and jelly. Mix in some of your best friends and suddenly it’s the best trip ever… or is it?

There is a ton of planning that goes into making a camping and canoe portage with friends successful. Food, tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, washroom habits all need to be taken into account and planned accordingly. You could decide to do this trip with a couple of your closest friends and return enemies if it doesn’t go according to plan.

Camping and canoe portage with friends, Kim and Chris in canoe on Serpentine Lake in Kawartha Highlands PP

Canoe Portage With Friends

Luckily, my friends (Kim from Walkaboot Travel, Ryan from Out With Ryan, Chris from TravelingMitch and my steady stern, Kevin from The Wandering Wagars) and I survived and thrived on one of these fabled camping and canoe portages and you can read all about the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park here. We returned home closer friends than when we left. Want to know how we did it? Read on!

Kevin from The Wandering Wagars and Kathryn from KathrynAnywhere relaxing during a canoe portage with friends in Kawartha highlands Provincial Park

Pick a location like Kawarthas Highlands Provincial Park

This newest Ontario Park is made for adventures, canoes portages, and back-country campers. It’s also home of some of the best sunrises and sunsets Ontario has to offer those who wander. Be sure to reserve your sites in advance and obtain a park map with portage routes for ultimate success.

KathrynAnywhere, the author happy be to on a canoe portage with friends

Rent the gear and camping equipment you need from an outfitter like The Land Canadian Adventures

Even better, take along a couple of their guides too. It’s a safe bet to ensure you don’t get lost, have someone who will bring a guitar and sing campfire songs with you and know how to cook gourmet food in the wilderness. The guides are expert canoe paddlers who can help you sharpen your own paddle skills as well. The Land will have everything you need from dry bags to keep your camera gear waterproof to sleeping bags and tents to barrels for food and all your cooking gear and they’re super cool people too.

Canoes packed with food barrels and dry bags with tent, sleeping bags ready for push off

See Our Day 1 Video blog here:

Figure out your roles ahead of time

Pick a paddling partner and know who is going to be the bow and who is going to be the stern. Experience counts here, I don’t recommend that you put two novice paddlers in one canoe together. If you’re all inexperienced on the water, in a canoe or don’t feel comfortable, hop in a canoe with your guide. If you’re the designated picture taker, be the bow and let your steady stern do all the work! Well, help them out sometimes, but the bow is typically in charge of taking all the selfies of the both (or trio) of you. Switch roles now and then if you can.

My steady stern, Kevin Wagar from the Wandering Wagars in our canoe in Serpentine Lake.

Pull your weight in gear

That means when you are in the midst of portaging overland from each body of water, make sure that no one is left making 3 or 4 trips across carrying the canoes and all the gear when you are making just one trip. That’s the fastest way to wreck your friend’s backs and shoulders and they will resent you for it. Unless they tell you it’s okay. Even then, it’s not really okay for you to slack off.

Kevin Wagar carried the canoe on our portage every time.

Get a poop bag

Nothing can ruin friendships faster than not keeping up with each other’s excavation habits. In Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, the campsites have a wooden poop box removed a hundred or so feet away from the campsite. What you need to do is make sure that a dry bag with hand sanitizer and toilet paper is positioned along the pathway from the campsite to the poop box. If the bag is gone, you know someone is indisposed and you won’t call for them. If the bag is there, game on for you to go do your business, no discussion on the topic required!

The poop box. Better than no poop box when back country camping. Photo by Ryan Thomas Woods.

See Our Day 2 Video blog here:

Be a good tent mate

If you snore, don’t share a tent with the person who is a light sleeper. See, your canoe and paddle partner do not necessarily have to be your tent mates! While my friend, Kevin and I spent 4 days together in a canoe, we thankfully slept far apart. In completely different tents. I shared a tent with Kim and Ryan. Kim was paddling with Chris. Ryan boat hopped between canoes with our guides.

Kat puts together the tent, Kim looks cute stuffed in a dry bag. Photo by Ryan Thomas Woods from Out With Ryan

Help prepare food

Nothing is worse than that person sitting around and watching the sunset every time while the same people cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sharing is caring! Share the meal preperation (as long as you don’t poison your friends) and clean up duties for a harmonious meal!

Kevin from Wandering Wagars preparing lunch while camping

Take The Time To Watch The Sunset Together

Nothing is more magical than magic hour. By magic hour, I mean that time of the evening when the sun turns everything a golden hue. When the lighting is best on everyone. When you can all sit in silence and awe of the beauty surrounding you. This is the time of day where no one needs to talk, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

sunset on north rathbun lake in kawartha highlands provincial park

Hide the Pictures The Need Hiding

Hiding pictures that shouldn’t see the light of day goes without saying. Like this one:

Chris Mitchell from Traveling Mitch hanging precariously between two canoes

And this one because no one needs to see this:

Strange waterfall picture of Kat from KathrynAnywhere with Chris and Kevin. Photo by Chris Mitchell from Traveling Mitch

Yes that’s me.

At the end of the trip, reflect on what made the trip awesome and what could be improved for next time. Once you do this canoe portage with friends once and do it well, you’ll want to do it again and again and again! Happy camping!

End of canoe portage selfie of Chris, Kat, Kevin, Ryan and Kim. Photo by Chris Mitchell of Traveling Mitch.

Endnote – yes conflict does arise when you’re out in the wilderness with five very different and strong personalities. The inherent fear that we would each blast the others on social media kept us in check.

Just kidding!

We’re actually all cool people and discuss things like adults despite our ability to react extremely quickly.

Canoe portage with friends, how to have a good trip when you all come back alive #canada #paddling #canoeing #ontario #canoeportage #canoeing #camping #ontarioparks #backcountrycamping #outdoors #kawarthahighlands

How to have a successful camping and canoe portage with friends. These tips will guarantee your friendship for years to come! #canada #paddling #canoeing #ontario #canoeportage #canoeing #camping #ontarioparks #backcountrycamping #outdoors #kawarthahighlands

I’m no stranger to experiences in Ontario Parks. You can read up on my other camping and glamping trips here:

Epic Hikes With Kids – Barron Canyon Trail, Algonquin Provincial Park

Yurt Winter Camping in Algonquin? Yes Please!

Glamping in Bonnechere Provincial Park

Why I Took My Son Camping At MacGregor Point Provincial Park

20 Photos That Will Inspire You To Snowshoe at MacGregor Point Provincial Park With Your Kids

Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park – 20 Photos to Inspire You To Canoe That Route

19 thoughts on “Canoe Portage With Friends: How To Have A Successful Back Country Camping Trip

  1. Pingback: The Art of Escapism | Kathryn Anywhere

  2. Andi says:

    Oh my goodness this post was such fun! I loved the hilarious tips about topics like poop and photos! No one ever talks about it, but it does impact group trips and you had a fun way of writing about it!

  3. Fred ‘Jacques’ Shermock says:

    I’m an old tripper…..luv this article. Couple more thoughts….
    Spend an afternoon at home week or 2 before, and have a talented paddler teach /review with all, the 4 basic paddling strokes, knee-deep at a quiet local beach. ‘Constant rudder in stern / slacking will create slow-burn in the bow. A talented stern man will paddle and steer in perfect rhythm with their bow mate.

    Have a crew meeting at-home before you go…..each talk about ‘what they expect / want / hope for’ on the trip. This gives perspective with each other, which can be ‘understanding’ later on the trip (I like a lot of alone / contemplative time).

    Roses-buds & thorns……each evening dark dusk, circle-up and each talks about what they liked, didn’t like (about anything including one other person problem!)….and what they are looking forward to tomorrow. Settle simmering issues with handshakes, smiles and shoulder hug.

    Portages are tough….if you come-up on mate struggling, drop your load, they do too, and spend a minute / rest / chat. And maybe switch loads…..lend a hand / endear hearts. Nothing much has to be ‘said’…..just help your mates.

    Camp-time….pulling in…..either have a set routine for each mate; or discuss ‘who’s on what’ each time ok too. Each person gets on their task (tent; firewood; start getting meal items together; bear rope up; getting the 4ltr gravity water filter filled / hung / started; canoes up on land and painter lines securing each….and ‘doing dishes’ no-one wants to do, I recommend ‘make it an ‘all-in’ effort to just ‘get ‘er done!.

    Alone time….probably the most precious moments. Allow wandering off but….careful! Very easy to get lost in woods wander…..I recommend ‘escape along the shoreline’, find your spot, enjoy and journal, and follow shoreline back!

    Do NOT let a dispute / argument get to blowout….settle it. This requires a leader. This would be the Guide usually but without one, well….at some point (maybe 2nd night), one person should be designated CrewLeader. Their role is mostly silent and may never be actual actions; but is critical in dispute resolution. After resolution… how hard it is (and it’s HARD), 2 mates must shake hands / shoulder hug….and genuinely agree to ‘let it go’. Usually works but not always. Trips can end friendships.

    50 year tripper in the Quetico…….contact me if you would like! Au revoir –

  4. Jenny says:

    I’m laughing here because I can handle about two hours in a boat with one other person. You are so brave to do this and it really looks like fun. But, you have to pick your travel companions wisely!

  5. Karthika says:

    How cool is this! I love backcountry camping but haven’t tried backcountry canoeing yet But I am very inspired by these tips. And I love the one about hiding the pictures that need hiding..LOL

  6. Josy A says:

    Great tips! Especially about the poop bag – I have something similar for normal camping trips (although many loos in the mountains here have toilet paper and hand sanitizer- luxurious. 😉 )

    I have a feeling the biggest help was booking those guides! I would be soooo clueless without bringing a guide along!!

  7. timpani says:

    I’m not that outdoorsy, but this looks like a fun trip to take. Not sure if it’s possible to do in Alberta, but it’d be awesome to take a canoe trip through there. I went last year and it was beautiful.

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