Guide to canoeing in Northwest Ontario

Routes, parks and destinations for your next canoe trip in the Thunder Bay Area

By: Brady Coyle, Staff Writer


PC: Sean Maurik/ Flickr

Canadian history is rich with canoe tripping. With the colder weather and the end of October fast approaching, the paddling season is coming to a close for anyone without a dry suit.

Despite this, living in Northwest Ontario means Lakehead students have access to some of the most brilliant canoe routes in the country. For those of us who are persistently searching for the next river or lake to paddle, the options are abundant.

One of the most popular spots to paddle in the area would be Quetico Provincial Park. The park is approximately two hours west of Thunder Bay and straddles the Canada-United States border. Quetico has plenty of history, being one of the major voyageur routes during the days of trapping and fur trading.

There are several entrances to the park, all of which are in close proximity to the town of Atikokan. Atikokan also plays home to the parks office, which is where you would need to go in order to pick up permits to camp in Quetico.

The other popular park, approximately two hours to the North of Thunder Bay, is Wabakimi Provincial Park. Wabakimi is an expansive park that has plenty of moving water for avid river travellers. Wabakimi is less travelled than Quetico, however that is an appeal to those who enjoy the idea of remoteness while on the trail.

When on any expedition, safety is almost of the utmost importance. For both parks, and for most Ontario parks, The Adventure Maps brand has detailed maps of the areas that include portages marked and measured, as well as campsites noted.

The beauty about both these parks, and Northwest Ontario paddling as a whole, is the size. Neither Quetico nor Wabakimi can be explored in one trip. With a constantly changing landscape and diversity of the wildlife, environment and seasons, each trip offers new discoveries and more opportunity to connect with the land.

For folks who do not have access to a car, within the Thunder Bay city, there are plenty of paddling spots. The Macintyre River, which runs right through the LU campus, is a runnable river. With water level changes, it is recommended that this river be paddled in the springtime.

For those without gear, there are places in Thunder Bay to rent equipment, such as Wilderness Supply and Gear Up. The cheapest, and school supportive option is the ORPT Gear Depot. The gear is available year round and there are weekend discounts to encourage students to get outdoors.

In terms of Northwest Ontario paddling during the summer, the options truly are endless. The Albany, Winisk and Attawapiskat Rivers are well-travelled and popular destinations for whitewater paddlers. It should be noted that these are rivers that require experience, skill and good moving water judgement.

While many Canadian outdoor enthusiasts head west in pursuit of mountains, oceans and adventure, not many places in the country can offer the lakes, landscape and waterways that Northwest Ontario can give paddlers. Adventurers should consider themselves fortunate to be in such a beautiful part of Canada.

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