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7 Amazing Group of Seven Inspired Paddling Trips

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7 Amazing Group of Seven Inspired Paddling Trips

Experience the transcendental landscapes that inspired some of the Group of Seven's best-known art. • Credit: Destination Ontario

Explore Ontario’s most famous painted landscapes by canoe and kayak

Love art and adventure? This one is for you.

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The Group of Seven are Canada’s most famous painters whose work, created largely between 1914 and 1930, defined the country’s landscape style and fostered a deep sense of national pride. Northern Ontario served as the backdrop for the Group of Seven’s most influential paintings, represented by flowing hills bathed in vibrant autumn colours; cascading waterfalls; and austere lakeshores.

For a paddler, it’s impossible not to be moved by canvases like Tom Thomson’s “The West Wind”, J.E.H. MacDonald’s “The Solemn Land” or Lawren Harris’s powerful renditions of Lake Superior’s Pic Island. The same landscapes painted by the Group of Seven remain virtually unaltered today, ready to be revisited by modern-day art enthusiasts and adventurers. Use the expert advice below to explore your Group of Seven touring route by canoe and kayak.

Best Group of Seven Inspired Canoe and Kayak Trips in Algoma 

Two kayakers paddling by large cliffs on Lake Superior
World-class paddling on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Photo: Destination Ontario

Algoma lies in the heart of Northern Ontario and its rugged landscape remains just as wild as when the Group of Seven first visited in 1918. This is a place of deep, rockbound canyons, rugged hills and some of the finest fall colours—flaming red and orange maples and golden birch—in Canada. Water abounds, including wild rivers, placid inland lakes and majestic Lake Superior.

Man sketching while sitting on a beach surrounded by driftwood
Be inspired by the same landscapes that fascinated the Group of Seven. Photo: Destination Ontario

It’s no surprise Group of Seven artists ventured into this region by canoe; paddling remains the best way to experience it today. Group of Seven-inspired travel packages are available through Naturally Superior Adventures and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie. Get ideas for a Group of Seven-inspired road trip in the Algoma Region with this great resource.

Michipicoten Bay Sea Kayak Day Trip 

Sea kayaker paddling on a lake with colourful fall foliage on shore.
Choose from a guided day trip to a multi-day adventure with Naturally Superior Adventures. Photo: Conor Michell  

Sea kayaking is the best way to experience the jaw-dropping Lake Superior scenery that inspired A.Y. Jackson—the Group of Seven painter who once retreated to a cabin in the north end of Michipicoten Bay. The 10-kilometre day trip is best for intermediate-level sea kayakers with experience on open water. Beginners should sign up for a guided day trip with Naturally Superior Adventures, an outfitter located at the mouth of the Michipicoten River, just south of Wawa.

“Michipicoten” means “big bluffs” in the Indigenous Anishnaabe language, perhaps referring to the same rugged cliffs that inspired at least 15 of Jackson’s canvases. Pack a lunch and stop for a break at the historic Michipicoten Harbour Lighthouse. You’ll also want to pull off at Sandy Beach, a strand of brown-sugar sand and inviting clear water. Spend the night on the lakeshore at Rock Island Lodge.

Canoe Tripping in Lake Superior Provincial Park 

Dog sitting in front of a canoe looking at a kayaker in distance on calm lake
Algoma boats an inspirational landscape. Photo: Conor Mihell

Group of Seven painter J.E.H. MacDonald called Algoma “an earthly paradise,” referring to the stunning pine and hardwood hills, thundering waterfalls and countless gem-like wilderness lakes. So the region protected by Lake Superior Provincial Park remains for intrepid modern-day canoeists looking for an inspiring landscape to explore.

You can get a good sense of Algoma with two backcountry canoe trips. The journey to Belanger Lake is a great overnight trip with eight portages; go in the fall to experience the flaming maples and golden birch trees that so inspired MacDonald and his colleagues Lawren Harris and Frank Johnston on their own canoe trips in the 1920. Fenton-Treeby, a second overnight canoe route located in park’s north end, provides a great introduction the boreal forest, with 11 portages passing through verdant spruce and birch. Canoe rentals are available from Lake Superior Provincial Park or Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa.

While in Algoma, Dont Miss … 

  • Voyageurs Lodge offers great accommodations and hearty Canadian meals in Batchawana Bay, about an hour’s drive north of Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Agawa Canyon Tour Train is an iconic way to experience Group of Seven landscapes on a historic train, departing Sault Ste. Marie and travelling to the stunning Agawa Canyon on day trips. Check out the boxcar replica of Group of Seven artists’ rustic accommodations on their sketching trips at the brand-new station in downtown Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Art Gallery of Algoma includes numerous original Group of Seven canvases and landscape-inspired exhibits.
  • Dining in Sault Ste. Marie is highlighted by “the Soo’s” rich Italian heritage at Giovanni’s Restaurant, or visit the trendy Outspoken Brewhouse on Queen Street.

Best Group of Seven Inspired Canoe and Kayak Trips in Killarney and Georgian Bay 

Person paddling solo in a canoe on a beautiful lake in Killarney
Paddle the incredible Killarney landscape. Photo: Conor Mihell

Some of the Group of Seven’s most recognizable work reflects the stunning landscapes of Killarney Provincial Park and Georgian Bay. Painters like Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson and A.J. Casson immortalized the white quartzite hills and aquamarine lakes of the La Cloche Mountains.

View of a canoe on a turquoise lake from high on a hill
Killarney Provincial Park offers an iconic 645 square kilometres of wilderness landscape showcasing the wild Georgian Bay Coast of pink granite; the La Cloche Mountains’ white quartzite ridges and over 50 exceptionally clear, sapphire lakes set among Jack Pine hills. Photo: Conor Mihell 

You don’t need to be an intrepid adventurer to experience this marvellous landscape: Killarney’s George Lake Campground provides a glimpse of the painted land, easily accessible from Southern Ontario on the Park Bus. Check out the historic Killarney Mountain Lodge for accommodation packages. The Key Harbour Lodge provides comfy accommodations on the shores of Georgian Bay, where you’ll encounter the classic wispy pines made famous in Canadian art. Plan your Group of Seven road trip to the Killarney and Georgian Bay area with this great resource.

Nellie Lake Loop 

Canoe being paddled through lily pad covered lake
Extensive backcountry explorations by paddle in landscapes like this one inspired the Group of Seven. Photo: Conor Mihell

This 29-kilometre-long, two- to three-day canoe route in Killarney Provincial Park starts and ends at Widgawa Lodge, off of Highway 6 (canoe rentals and overnight accommodations are available here). You’ll paddle Charlton, Murray, Nellie and Grace lakes, making four portages. While the waters are generally sheltered, long and steep portages on this route demand physical stamina from paddlers. Stunning scenery is the reward for challenging portages.

The route passes through Killarney’s iconic white quartzite hills, the same features that inspired artwork by Group of Seven painters Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson and A.J. Casson. Expect crystal clear water on Nellie and Grace lakes and set aside time to hike into lakeshore ridges for spectacular views. Backcountry camping reservations are required.

George to Norway Lake Loop

Man painting scene of rocks, trees and water in Killarney
Unleash your creativity with arts in the wild.  Photo: Destination Ontario

Venture into the La Cloche Mountains on this two- to three-day canoe route starting and ending at George Lake. The basic route is 28 kilometres and includes six portages, passing through Freeland, Killarney, Norway and Kakakise lakes. Be sure to set aside time to hike: the canoe route offers easy access to the Crack climb, which affords a panoptic view of Killarney. Add another day to make a trip into O.S.A. Lake, a Group of Seven favourite. In fact, it was this lake, wedged between the Killarney and Blue ridges, that inspired painter A.Y. Jackson to lobby for a provincial park. Be sure to make your backcountry camping reservations well in advance. Canoe rentals are available at George Lake from Killarney Outfitters and Killarney Kanoes.

French River Delta and Georgian Bay by Sea Kayak 

Aerial view of the Georgian Bay coast and islands
Paddle Georgian Bay, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  Photo: Destination Ontario

Get a glimpse of Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Thousand Islands at the mouth of the French River, Key Harbour, Killarney or Parry Sound areas, ideal sea kayak destinations for novice to intermediate paddlers.

French River Delta: Start from Hartley Bay Marina, located just off of Highway 69, for a four- to five-day loop. Head downstream and watch your map carefully navigating the many channels at the mouth of the French River, aiming for the western outlet; depending on water levels, you may need to portage around swift or shallow water. The exposed waters of Georgian Bay are guarded by hundreds of smooth rock islands, creating a labyrinth feel. Return via the French River’s Eastern Outlet, making a short portage at Bass Creek. Backcountry camping reservations are required. Rent a sea kayak at Hartley Bay Marina.

Key Harbour: Stay at Key Harbour Lodge and explore Georgian Bay, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Killarney, Phillip Edward Island, Bustard Islands: Killarney Outfitters will help plan and outfit your sea kayaking trip on Georgian Bay. Go guided for an enhanced experience.

Group of kayakers paddling along a rocky shoreline
Discover why Georgian Bay has the best sea kayaking in the world. Photo: Destination Ontario

Parry Sound: Explore the beauty of Georgian Bay on a guided kayak day trip with Ontario Sea Kayak Centre or take a sea kayak course. Stay onsite in a comfy glamping tent

While in KILLARNEY AND GEORGIAN BAY, don’t miss … 

The Friends of Killarney Provincial Park organizes Art in the Park events to unleash your own creative spirit in the La Cloche Mountains.

Artists’s Stations in Parry Sound capture the same Georgian Bay views that inspired pivotal Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson.

See original Group of Seven paintings at the Art Gallery of Sudbury.

Best Group of Seven Inspired Canoe and Kayak Trips in Algonquin 

For the same reason Algonquin Provincial Park is Canada’s most famous canoe destination, this accessible wilderness of lakes, rivers and hardwood hills is also the backdrop for the Group of Seven’s most popular paintings.

See how Algonquin inspires Gary and Joanie McGuffin, avid adventurers. 

Algonquin features a range of landscapes to inspire the artist and adventurer, with beginner to expert canoe routes, easy access from Toronto and Ottawa and plenty of resources for visitors. A Discovery Route provides many options for a Group of Seven experience in central Ontario, including roadside attractions, guided canoe trips and accommodations throughout the Algonquin area. 

CANOE LAKE AND Big Trout Lake Loop 

totem pole and rock cairn with Tom Thomson memorial plaque
Visit the Tom Thomson Memorial on Canoe Lake. Photo: Trish Manning 

Painter Tom Thomson was integral to the genesis of the Group of Seven but he died mysteriously shortly before the troupe of artists were formally recognized. His legacy as an artist is defined by the bold landscapes and rich colours he portrayed—often from the backcountry of Algonquin Provincial Park, where he worked as a guide and ranger. This five-day loop starts at Canoe Lake on Highway 60 and passes through the same waters and verdant hills that so inspired Thomson—and marked his final days before his drowning, in 1917.

Man and woman looking at art work in the forest
It's fun to search for the locations painted by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Photo: Destination Ontario

Paddle through Joe Lake, to Burnt Island, Otterslide and Big Trout before completing your circuit through White Trout Lake, McIntosh Lake and Tom Thomson Lake. There are 14 portages on this intermediate-level trip. Less experienced paddlers can make a shorter, easier loop from Burnt Island Lake, returning to Canoe Lake through Littledoe Lake and the Little Oxtongue River. Backcountry campsite reservations are essential; go in the spring and fall for greater solitude, especially in the Canoe Lake portion of the route. Canoe rentals and full outfitting are available from the Portage Store (at the launch site) or Algonquin Outfitters. Check out the Park Bus for easy transportation from Ottawa or the GTA.

Petawawa River 

A canoe with two paddlers in minor rapids
The Algonquin Landscape is the inspiration for some of the Group of Seven’s most popular paintings. Photo: Conor Mihell

This whitewater canoe trip is best for intermediate moving water paddlers. It’s a two- to three-day, one-way trip from access point at Travers to McManus Lake, in the northeastern corner of Algonquin Provincial Park. On the Petawawa River you will encounter many rapids, including Big Thompson, Little Thompson, Crooked Chute, Rollway and Schooner. Great campsites are available at Crooked Chute and the Natch (backcountry campsite reservations are required)—the latter is thought to have inspired Tom Thomson’s artwork and you’ll see why if you take the time to hike the bluff trail, located adjacent to the campsite. Canoe rentals and vehicle shuttles are available from Algonquin Bound’s Pembroke location. Do this trip guided with Black Feather or MHO Adventures.

While in Algonquin, don’t miss … 

Muskoka’s Outdoor Group of Seven Gallery features many famous Canadian paintings in an easy to plan road trip through central Ontario—a great side trip on your way to Algonquin Provincial Park.

Ragged Falls on the Oxtongue River is an easy hiking destination off of Highway 60, east of Huntsville.

There are plenty of options for accommodations in the Algonquin area, including Bartlett Lodge, and Deerhurst Resort, both of which feature Group of Seven inspired stays.

Make sure you check out the Spirit of the Group of Seven exhibit at the Algonquin Art Centre, located on Highway 60.

Visit the Landscapes that Inspired the Group of Seven

Whether it’s visiting the sites that inspired the art, seeing original work in local galleries or checking out today’s artists who’ve followed their path, there’s lots of ways to create your own inspired moments.  Find out more.

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