For many Canadians (and Americans), canoe trips are a tradition, a rite of passage, and for the ultimate canoe trip pack your gear and head to Northwest Ontario. With 150,000 lakes, rivers and streams, there is flat-water and whitewater, day trips, portages and literally something for everyone.
Discover the importance of the canoe in the area’s history
Imagine paddling a fully-loaded, 36 foot canoe from Edmonton to Thunder Bay or from Thunder Bay to Montreal. This was the reality in the 19th century for the voyageurs and fur traders from the North West Company, and at Fort William Historical Park (a living-history exhibit and replica of the original headquarters of the North West Company) you can not only learn the history of the fur trade, but you can also see a birch bark canoe being constructed and paddle one yourself in the Kaministiquia River.
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Naturally Superior Adventures is offering voyageur paddling packages where you and your group (with a guide) will travel along the rugged, north shore of Lake Superior, travelling in the paddle-strokes of the fearless voyageurs that came before you.
Building canoes isn’t just a thing of the past
While birch bark and spruce resin were the materials of choice for the voyageurs, modern canoeists require modern canoes and Northwest Ontario is home to some of the best canoe and paddle manufacturers in the country.
Souris River Canoes has been operating in Atikokan for over 30 years working to perfect the canoe. Handcrafted with Kevlar fibre and epoxy resin, Souris River canoes are today’s gold standard in wilderness tripping canoes as they are fast, stable, manoeuvrable and sea-worthy.
A quality canoe is a must, but even the best canoe won’t go far without a paddle – enter XY Paddles. Also located in Atikokan (the gateway to Quetico Provincial Park), XY has been handcrafting paddles for over 20 years. Using the voyageurs' preference for light, durable paddles, XY has designed a paddle that is inspired by the traditional design but with a recurved blade and a bend in the handle. This evolution has created a paddle that is sturdy but built for speed.
Paddle some of the largest parks in Ontario
Of the 150,000 lakes, rivers and streams in the region many of the best and most iconic paddling areas are located in Ontario Parks, and four of the five largest parks in the entire province are located in the Northwest.
Quetico Provincial Park
Sharing an international border with Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, Quetico is a world-famous paddling destination with over 2,000 lakes within the park itself. The exploration opportunities are limitless at Quetico. Paddlers visiting the area will have their choice of camping in the official campground or by staying in one of the many backcountry campsites throughout the park.
For a guided experience, check out Voyageur Wilderness Program. They offer guiding services, educational programs, complete outfitting and accommodation options.
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
Located in the western portion of the region near the Manitoba border, those who make their way to Woodland Caribou experience a paddler’s paradise with over 2,000 km of canoe routes and less than 1,000 annual visitors. If you’re looking to enjoy solitude and tranquility in undisturbed boreal forest, this is your place. The two main river systems offer excellent fishing to keep you nourished throughout your adventure.
Looking for a guide? Red Lake Outfitters works directly with Park staff to ensure visitors have the most epic experience possible. Check them out for all your equipment, shuttle service and guiding needs in the area.
Wabikimi Provincial Park
Ontario’s second largest park is inaccessible by road but the journey to get there can be just as exciting as the trip itself.
A visitor can paddle into the park from Armstrong via the Kopka River system, or arrive via float plane from Armstrong or Thunder Bay, but perhaps the most authentic way to enter Wabikimi is via Via (Canada’s passenger rail service). Via Rail’s cross-country “Canadian” line cuts right through the park, and passengers are welcome to put their canoes in the luggage area. With your gear safely stowed, relax and enjoy the view as you ride the rails through the rugged, boreal forest. When you disembark the train at the Allen Water Bridge, you can now paddle the network of 2,000 km of canoe trails and make your way back to your lodge.
Complete the “Northwest Quest”
Ontario Parks is running a contest from May 1, 2016 to October 15, 2019, where eligible participants may win a handcrafted canoe from Souris River Canoes or paddles from XY Paddles. In order to be eligible you must spend three consecutive nights in Quetico, Woodland Caribou and Wabikimi Provincial Parks within the contest period. The complete rules can be found here.