Wilderness by Day, Pampered at Night

It's a perfect way to experience Algonquin. #PaddleON

Our blue canoe drifts silently across the shallow bay in the shadow of Tom Thomson’s gravesite, which is located high on the hill to the west. A pair of loons approaches with two babies in tow, as curious about us as we are thrilled to see and hear them.

The clouds that earlier threatened rain begin to break up, and the sun illuminates the canoes, the loons, and the waves in unison, transforming the solemn morning into a glorious day.

I am here in Algonquin Park with my wife Dervla. We are on short wilderness getaway that has a bit of a twist. Instead of camping for the night like I am used to, we will head back to Deerhurst Resort for some fine dining and a comfortable bed. It is a compromise that makes us both happy.

We have come to pay respect to the memory of the late artist Tom Thomson on the centennial year of his untimely death on Canoe Lake. There is no better way to do this than in a canoe on the lake where he spent so much time and he loved so much.  

The Portage Store outfits us with everything we need to enjoy the day on the water. Vince provides us with a map of the Canoe Lake, making note of the features that are worth checking out—the Tom Thomson memorial that was created by the Group of Seven and the remnants of Mowat, once a thriving mill town where Tom often stayed. If you don’t want to explore or paddle on your own, you can take a guided tour to learn about Tom Thomson. There is so much history here that I consider it an essential destination for anyone interested in Canadian culture.

The memorial is located at Tom's favourite camping place on Canoe Lake. 
Remnants of the railway bridge near Mowat.

Historical artifacts aside though, the energy here is palpable, and for that reason alone is worth the trip. Canoe Lake is the starting point for many backcountry canoe-trip enthusiasts, but it is also a great place to learn to paddle, or to simply sit on the dock and watch the bustle. Here, it is obvious how important the canoe is to Canadians—anyone who visits or lives in this great country should visit this place at least once.

The Portage Store has a well-stocked shop, and their restaurant is a perfect place to stop for lunch: after eating our Tom Thomson burgers, they happily custom-make our favourite dessert—a cup of vanilla ice cream topped with espresso! 

Arriving by canoe at the Portage Store and Restaurant

The Tom Thomson special edition canoe by Langford Canoe in nearby Dwight

The canoe we used today was manufactured by Langford Canoe in honour of Tom Thomson, who paddled a craft of similar colour and design a hundred years ago. It is a beautiful watercraft and I can’t help thinking about how nice it would be to keep paddling into the backcountry and spend the night in a tent.

But as we are driving along Highway 60, I start to really look forward to a enjoying delicious meal and relaxing at the resort.

Tired, and a little sore from paddling all day in the hot sun, we drop our bags in the hotel room and head straight for the spa. Thirty minutes in the steam room, followed by a soothing massage and a glass of wine, help us unwind. Afterwards, we dine at the Eclipse restaurant, one of four onsite restaurants that serve everything from pizza and hamburgers to scallops and wild game.

It is a beautiful evening so we end the day with a stroll along the waterfront and cozy up beside one of several fire pits that are strategically situated around the resort. It is not exactly roughing it, as I am accustomed to, but I am not complaining.

Watching the sunset from Deerhurst Resort's beach

When I ask Laura Kennedy, Director of Marketing at Deerhurst Resort, why other guests come to the resort, her response is exactly what my wife and I have already discovered—to experience the Canadian outdoors from the comfort and relative luxury of a historic Muskoka resort. We agree.

In addition to being able to easily access and paddle in Algonquin Park for a day, there are so many traditional cottage country activities offered here that we have a hard time choosing what to do on this trip—jet skiing, boating, paddling, fishing, horseback riding, tree top trekking, golf, campfires, and much more. We fit in as much as we can and enjoy every minute of it.

We feel a little guilty having so much fun without our daughters as we know they would love it here too. Like their mother, they love adventure and they love being pampered.

On our next trip, we plan to take the girls paddling in Algonquin, explore the local lakes right from Deerhurst, plus do some more of the resort’s activities. It’s a perfect place for adventurous families.

Doing a quick paddle from the resort

Typically, on backcountry excursions, I am the Sherpa, the keeper of the fire and the cook. At Deerhurst, when I am exhausted from all of the daytime activities, I too get to relax and enjoy dinner made by a professional chef and to sleep in a comfortable bed. Here, we found the perfect compromise between my fondness for wilderness adventure and my wife’s preference for luxury getaways. I can’t wait for our next trip to Deerhurst Resort and Algonquin Park.


About Shawn James

Shawn James is an outdoorsman from central Ontario who is passionate about photography, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and spending time in the outdoors with his wife and two daughters.

He blogs about his adventures on his website, My Self Reliance

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