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Wilderness Programs for Schools and Organizations

Program Mission

Pathfinder is a unique destination, offering wilderness experiences that expand more than learning -- confidence, creativity, cooperation, and community. An historic summer canoe tripping camp for boys, Pathfinder is known in Canada and the United States for its outdoor education and leadership programs. The Algonquin setting and expert staff combine to make a Pathfinder trip memorable.

School and organization private events are conducted in the spring and autumn. These off-season programs introduce young people --as individuals and a team -- to the Park and to the Pathfinder experience: simple living in harmony with Algonquin, making a personal and cerebral connection to the natural world, working and playing together in friendship and respect, all while having a blast!

Now in its 102nd season, Pathfinder's program is run by Owner-Director Mike Sladden with a veteran guide staff, in collaboration with a group's leaders. For each event, we custom design the 3- and 5-day experiences. From our island base, students and their faculty members in small groups paddle, trail-hike, bush walk, mountain bike and challenge the camp ropes-course. Special events, camp traditions, and shared chores round out the island days.

Located since 1914 on Pathfinder Island, Source Lake, Camp Pathfinder is unique among the renowned Algonquin Park youth camps. Accessible only by water, designed to be a simple, technology-free setting, the  island base camp is a preserved historic site; a beautiful pine dining hall with resident chef and complete food service; a swim waterfront; treasured canvas canoe fleet, voyageur canoes and kayaks; an excellent ropes-challenge course; and modern vans for trip shuttle to special access points of Algonquin Park.

Camp Pathfinder is a founding member and is accredited by the Ontario Camping Association (OCA) and Canadian Camping Association (CCA).

Creating a Pathfinder Experience For Teachers and Learners

Fees for Pathfinder programs are $300 us/cn per student for a 3-5 day experience. Faculty are welcome at no charge. HST and Ontario Parks fees are additional where applicable.

Information and program availability can be confirmed with the Camp Director Mike Sladden for the 2015-16 seasons. Phone 585-249-0716 winter / 705-633-5553 summer. Email mike@camppathfinder.com

Activity Choices for Student Outdoor Education:
Canoeing & Kayaking instruction and exploration
Interpretive trail hikes and Bush hiking with map & compass
Ropes-Challenge Course
Trail biking loops
Survival skills clinic and Pathfinder Skills Challenge
Canoe Trip in Algonquin interior
Lectures, demonstrations, and traditional story telling
Meeting, seminar and conferencing programs
Evening games and council fire frograms

 
 
 

About Camp

A Brief Camp History

Camp Pathfinder was established on Source Lake in 1914 by Rochester educators Franklin Gray and William Bennett. Pathfinder has been in continuous operation ever since. Owners Herman Norton, William Swift, Roy Thrall, and currently Glenn Arthurs and Michael Sladden, have stewarded the camp on Pathfinder Island as a simple, technology-free outpost, a unique community in the heart of wild, world-famous Algonquin Provincial Park, from which Pathfinder trippers explore the back country.

Location and Facility

Pathfinder is a five-hour drive door to dock from Buffalo, three and one half hours from metro Toronto and Ottawa, and two hours from Peterborough, ON. Camp accommodates over 100 guests in cabins and platform tent lodges. Autumn groups typically comprise 30-80 guests. Faculty may stay with students or in their own single cabins. Tent and cabin areas can be assigned to separate genders.

We maintain a large fleet of watercraft. Wood-canvas canoes are the pride of the Camp, complemented by modern Royalex or Kevlar canoes, along with touring and river kayaks for paddling instruction, free paddling and tripping. A picturesque swim waterfront with 10- and 20-foot dive towers is the centre for swims and soap bathing. The Island campus includes the historic dining hall (1934), recreation lodge (1946), council fire clearings (1910s), low/high ropes and challenge course (2000), and athletics courts. The Pathfinder Rec Lodge is a 1940s pine landmark, with restored truss beams, mullion windows, maple floor, and modern lighting, state of the art audio-visual equipment, reference library, and game tables for billiards, foosball and table tennis, all in a lodge atmosphere. The facility can be tailored to use or hide its technology resources.

The dining hall seats up to 190 people family style tables. Our head chef Fernanda Muniz and her cooks cover all food service, both on-island and for tripping. Her homemade menu, including baking and pastries, is prepared fresh daily on the Island. Pathfinder accommodates a number of dietary preferences and needs.

Staffing and Safety

The Pathfinder Staff is made up of veterans who are longtime guides and directors, with special skills in outdoor education. A typical Pathfinder guide staff for school programs is 6-8 professionals plus the kitchen and service staff. Pathfinder has a well-equipped infirmary, the camp's guides and instructors are Wilderness First Responders, CPR and Lifeguard certified. Our consulting physicians, Dr. Julia Orkin and Dr. Aaron Orkin are on call at all times. Ontario EMS, Algonquin Park emergency response, and the proximity of Huntsville Memorial Hospital all combine to offer superlative service to the Camp's location.

Programs and Resources

Pathfinder and a visiting group's faculty play cooperative roles based on pre-service planning. A 3- 4- or 5-day program is custom made with the guest organization, built on a daily rotation through a series of small group experiences, as well as whole-group activities that open and close each day. Among many options are some popular Pathfinder programs.

Ropes-Challenge Course is in the forever-wild portion of the island. The trained course facilitators work with kids on low elements for trust, team-building and problem-solving skills; the high elements are designed to help push their own perceived limits in the safe, controlled environment of a quality ropes course. Elements include zip line, dangle duo, pamper pole, catwalk, and rock wall.

Paddle and Paint starts with basic canoeing skills, then explores the backcountry where lake meets river, beaver marsh, and conifer lowland environments. Students cooperate in tandem, learn basic paddling quickly, and through it they are drawn to explore that next bend in the waterway. Guides give each student a watercolor painting field kit and facilitate intuitive landscape painting at a backcountry location along the trip route. Exhibition 'openings' back on the Island, around the stone fireplace, are a time for recognition and sharing of the day's experiences. The story of Tom Thomson's creative connection with the Algonquin landscape, and the simple campsite enjoyments of debating his mysterious death in Algonquin in 1917, is an important component.

History Paddles can alternately focus on human history in Algonquin and the Ottawa Valley. The Rock Lake, Canoe Lake, and Cache Lake routes we often use for day paddling are rich in human history, from pre-contact native peoples, to the timber era, the early Park rangers, the advent of recreation and tourism, and today's management dilemmas. Many historical threads run from Algonquin Park to major themes in Canadian history: lives of the first peoples and early European contact; exploration for national defense and resource exploitation, pioneer homesteading and logging, the role of railroads in Ontario and trans-Canada; daily life in rural bush Canada at the turn of the Twentieth century; preseravation of wild lands and development of tourism; concepts of 'north' in the Canadian psyche.

The Track and Tower trek also explores natural and human histories influencing each other over the last three centuries in North American forests. It's punctuated at lunchtime by a spectacular summit view of Algonquin's western uplands.

A Pathfinder Earth Hike is an off-trail map and compass bush trek from water's edge through upland pine and hardwood forest. Its focus is not on the objectification of nature through naming/classification, but instead emphasizes guided discussion and visceral immersion in the bush, connecting kids personally with nature, and by that experience opening their senses to the complexity and beauty of the natural systems at work. This program is unique to Pathfinder, and is frequently described by guests as the highlight of their trip. It is also often wet, muddy and tiring; a good challenge for all.

Survival Game or the Algonquin Ranger Challenge are also good options for groups. The first is a two-hour struggle to survive in Algonquin as an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore. Students must locate hidden food and water across the Island, but must also avoid injury, disease, fire, Man, and other natural predators. This active game is appropriate to all ages. The Ranger Challenge involves small groups making shelter and food with minimal resources, as they create a progressive folk lore story based on the history of Algonquin rangers.

Groups may also choose guided wilderness overnight trips, or hiking tours of interpretive trails in the Park. We have access to the Park's excellent museums of natural history and logging, Pathfinder's own fascinating wooden canoe craftsman Jack Hurley, and the Park's professional biologists.

Each evening after swim bath is a hearty family style dinner; then, the group gets the last light of the day for a camp game, and gathers at the hearth for reflection, story telling, music, song, and laughter. There can be night-time expeditions, to howl for wolves and revel in the cosmos in this unique place without light pollution.

Comments From School Heads

"The Allendale Columbia/Pathfinder experience allows students of all abilities to challenge themselves outside of what is their normal comfort zone. New leaders arise, confidence is gained, and students learn a great deal about themselves and their peers."

"An exceptionally well trained Pathfinder staff provide the core of the Pathfinder program. The staff is remarkably adaptive in working with our teachers, creating activities which are valuable experiences and meet the identified needs of our group. 

"Our 7th grade Fall Pathfinder trip has become a key activity in aiding us to develop class unity and tolerance while having a great deal of fun."

Hank Theuer, 
Head of Middle School
Allendale Columbia School

"The Pathfinder experience for our seventh graders has consistently led to a positive start to the school year. I have worked with Mike Sladden and his team of guides to design a program that ties directly to our school's mission.

"The community-building activities, based in a pristine, technology-free setting, reinforce our school's goal of promoting character education. Our students return with a clearer sense of empathy and a greater respect for one another and for the natural environment. The experienced guides connect easily with middle schoolers and confidently direct them through, for many, their first wilderness experience. I can't think of a more effective way to jump-start the school year and getting kids, even middle schoolers, excited to work together. 

"We have also been fortunate to include a team of seventh grade teachers each year to participate side by side, and oar by oar, with their students in a non classroom environment. The student-teacher relationships
established at Pathfinder set the tone for productive year in the classroom."

John Munro, 
Head of Middle School
Nichols School

“The most appealing aspect of Camp Pathfinder is that it offers a combination of all of the elements that a school group seeks in an expeditionary learning experience.

Pathfinder presents three essential components: a diverse array of activities; an energetic, engaging and experienced staff; and a technology-free, pristine island location. These all combine to create a unique atmosphere where visitors can focus on developing new relationships and strengthening existing bonds.

We use the Camp Pathfinder trip as a culminating activity. The individual challenges and team building activities offered on the island are powerful, memorable experiences. Not only do students report a strong sense of community as a result of the trip, they also exhibit a new relationship with the natural world.

For our urban youth, regardless of their comfort and experience with the outdoors, this is a life-changing journey.  These transformations have been the greatest rewards and are what generates excitement for our club throughout the year.”

Davin Reddington – faculty advisor, Wilson Outdoor Club
Wilson Magnet Commencement Academy, Rochester, NY

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