Can I use a sea kayak in the Algonquin Park interior?

A kayak among a bunch of canoes

Well, it’s not against the law. And you probably won’t die if you do. But my strong suggestion would be ‘no’. Why? Three reasons: the portages, the portages and the portages.

On big lakes like Opeongo, Cedar, North Tea or Kioskowkwi, you’ll be glad you did. Assuming you never leave those lakes because the minute you want to portage to another lake your outlook will change somewhat.

Spiffy, light weight sea kayaks weigh as much as heavy canoes. That is to say around 30kg or 75 pounds.

You have to have some way of carrying your gear too. In most sea kayak rigs, your stuff is parceled up into itty bitty dry bags and jammed into tiny compartments fore and aft. Unload them all and you’ve got a jumble of stuff and no convenient way to carry it. So you would have to bring an empty portage pack.

And speaking of things that do not carry well – the boat itself. Now they do, apparently make detachable portage yokes for kayaks. So at least there’s a hope you won’t have to sling 70 or so pounds over one shoulder. But you don’t see a lot of them. Algonquin Outfitters, for example, will rent you a PFD for your dog, but doesn’t list ‘kayak yoke’ among their gear offerings. MEC doesn’t sell them.

But of course MEC and many outfitters do sell wheels you can stick under the kayak to push it across the portage like a one-handled wheel barrow.

Which sound great except that roots and rocks that you step over without a second thought while walking a portage trail will cause your cart great difficulty.

I have been on an interior park trip with a sea kayak. It was penury. And it delayed us significantly, having to make three trips to move one person, his gear and his boat across the portage.

I have come across people doing interior trips in kayaks. They seemed miserable.

The comment section is open if you’ve got another perspective. I welcome it.

16 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, thus why we rent so many Canoe’s vs Kayaks for Algonquin Park Interior Trips. The park is just best suited for a canoe. You wouldn’t rent a 2 seater sport’s car for an African safari would you?

    You nailed the lakes that are big enough to accommodate a kayak and not need to portage off of those lakes. I’ve also added North Tea into that list as it only has one little portage to get into it. My favorite is Lake Opeongo though, large enough to paddle for a few days and not cover the same area twice, with it’s large Y shape and many bays to explore Opeongo is prime kayaking territory, just don’t get brave and think you can portage to the many lakes that surround Lake Opeongo.

    I once paddled my canoe, departing from Access Point #1, Kawawaymog, to Manitou Lake. At the same time we pushed off from the Access Point a man in a sleek kayak did too. 5 minutes later we couldn’t see him any more, he had paddled so far in front of us. When we got to the portage into North Tea a little 295m one, We stopped and had a snack then crossed over. At the other end we ran into him again putting gear back into his kayak.

    Crossing North Tea was similar we only saw him for a few minutes before he disappeared around a corner out of sight. The last portage into Manitou was a little longer a 465m one. This time at the end we once again caught up to him, he was obviously frustrated, seems he had broken his little kayak cart and damaged his kayak. Not even sure how he was going to get back out at this point.

    Yep kayaks aren’t made for portaging even with a kayak cart, the interior of Algonquin Park is just too rough for them and you. Bring a canoe you’ll like yourself better at the end of the day.

    Cheers.

    Really enjoyed your view on this topic. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I wonder what “spiffy, light weight sea kayaks” you have paddled that weight 75 lbs. I have two boats – one is just under 18′, one is 19′ and has an extra bulkhead. They weight 52 and 59lbs respectively, and are *not* the spiffy kevlar layup. Lots of reasons why sea kayaks are best suited to seas, but it’s not the weight of the boat.

  3. I’m sure I haven’t paddled any spiffy light weight sea kayaks. And I’m no expert. But my impression is that even the lightest ones are heavier than a canoe. Certainly the ones I have paddled were.

    For the purpose of my slapdash blog factoids I just checked the specifications of some of the more expensive models they have on offer at MEC. I’m curious as to how you rate them, Johanna.

    But even if you consider 52 pounds a more normal weight for a solo sea kayak, compare and contrast that with a 15′ solo flatwater canoe which weighs in at around 34 pounds for a kevlar layup with aluminum gunwhales.

    I’m getting old, I admit, but that extra 18 pounds is meaningful to me on its own.

  4. I agree. Canoes are meant for lakes with portages and kayaks are good for larger bodies of water where you don’t have to portage. If you want to sea kayak, go to Killarny or Lake Superior Provincial Parks. Much better suited.

  5. Kayaks are a pain to portage but lets not kid each other… a “spiffy light weight sea kayak” is about 30 lbs, a canoe is 60-80 lbs…how is this anything alike?

    • My 16′ canoe weighs 38 pounds. It’s made of carbon fibre and Kevlar. I have hefted 16′ canoes made of royalex that definitely weighed the 80 pounds of which you speak.

      And of course the aluminum Grummans I used as a kid weighed 74 pounds or thereabouts.

      Now I don’t know much about sea kayaks. I admit that. But I can google and I looked up the specs for the sea kayaks that MEC sells and they tend to support my argument that they tend to be heavier than canoes made of the same material.

      That’s all I’m saying.

  6. We met a group of high school students doing an interior trip in Killarney in kayaks. Their route was a loop into Baie Fine, where the kayaks would be quite appropriate. We met them at the first portage of their trip. They had carts, and 2 people per kayak, but much of the portage they were carrying the loaded kayak over rocks, roots, and uneven ground. It did not look like fun, and that was a short portage! They arrived at the portage ahead of us, and we left before them.

  7. Kayaks being heavier than canoes is a joke. If MEC is your only source you should do a little more Googling. They only sell heavy stuff that’s not much different than Canadian Tire. Plenty of 30lb kayaks out there and no need to use a cart.

    So Randy, since kayaks are clearly much faster than canoes and the light ones are lighter than all but the most ludicrously expensive canoes… why should I not take my kayak to Algonquin?

    Allow me to also add that wind will barely affect a kayak so you’re rarely wind-bound like the canoes, and rain doesn’t result in as much bailing as paddling.

    • I had to come back here and comment again. My 9-day trip through Algonquin with my sub-30lb kayak was spectacular! The suckers hauling their 65lb canoe were having a rough go while I bounced merrily behind them, stopping to enjoy the scenery while they slogged off ahead to give me space to move quickly again.

      I would NEVER go portaging with a canoe. Both of the people that were with me said they want to go next year with kayaks.

  8. I go to Algonquin park every year. I have seen lots of NON-sea kayaks. A light weight single person kayak with room to lash a dry pack or a backpack with items packed in dry sacks works great. Some people, including myself, do double portages, carry backpacks/gear, not kayak/canoe, on first trip then walk back and get the canoe/kayak. In doing it this way, I also get to see the wild life and scenery, while not killing myself trying to carry gear and canoe/kayak at the same time. It adds time to the trip, but makes it nicer as not trying to carry all and be off balance and possible hurting oneself. Am going to Algonquin park on August 13, and into the interior on the 14th with 2 others, using a 16 ft canoe and a 12 single kayak. I have a detachable yoke with pads to carry the kayak [like the yoke/yoke pads for a canoe. And I have canoe seat shoulder carries for the canoe. All the weight will be on the shoulders. If anyone wants more info, e-mail me at schaboo@tds.net

    • My family is leaving for a canoe trip shortly in Killarney. We have a 9-year old son and an 11-year old daughter, and we were thinking of letting them paddle a tandem kayak (or two solo kayaks?) this year. That way the kids can start to feel more independent, instead of being just spectators during the paddling, and my husband and I can take all the gear in a canoe. We had the kids out recently in both canoes and kayaks, and found that they could handle kayaks much better in slightly rough water. Has anyone ever tried something like this? Any suggestions? I’m thinking that we can go with light-weight kayaks since they won’t need to carry more than a daypack, but I don’t know exactly what to ask for in a rental.

      • I may be old school, but my preference would be to rent a second canoe instead. You stern one, your husband the other and each have one kid in the bow.

        That way, there’s a lot less riding on each child being able to paddle, there’s less chance of problems on a windy or wavy lake and the parents will be more able to control any adverse situations that arise. Without towing anything.

        Admittedly, the kids don’t have their own boats to play in at the end of the day, but they’re no longer spectators either as their paddling will actually matter.

        When I was a camp counsellor the kids didn’t paddle their own boats until they were 12 or 13.

        You know your kids and I may be answering with an over-abundance of caution and a penchant for being a control freak, but two canoes is how I’d play it.

        cmkl

        • Chris,
          Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. We gave it a lot of thought but chose to go with two kayaks for the kids. My husband and I have both been the sole adult in a canoe before, with a kid in the bow, and we knew that it can make for very difficult paddling if the water gets a bit rough. The kids just aren’t strong enough to keep a canoe going in a straight line, and even my husband has been blown off course in that circumstance.
          We ended up going to Temagami. We called several days ahead to Swift Canoe in South River, and Bob had several styles of kayak out and ready for us to check out when we arrived. We selected two child-size kayaks that were light enough for the kids to carry easily.
          The final verdict is that the kayak was a great choice for our 11-year old daughter. She got faster and stronger as the week progressed. One day in rough water, she was easily able to keep up the pace as my husband and I both paddled hard.
          The kayak was a bit much for our 9-year old son. He lacked the strength to go quickly, and the endurance to keep going. In smooth water, I often had to stop paddling entirely so that we could go slow enough for him. In slightly rough water, we tied a line from our canoe to his kayak, and found that the kayak pulled easily. We kept a close eye on our son but he continued to paddle and kept the kayak facing into the wind.
          Ultimately, we had a great trip and a lot of fun. The kids loved the kayaks and developed a strong sense of independence and pride in their ability to handle the kayaks by themselves.

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