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The Ultimate Guide to Quetico’s Best Canoe Trips

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The Ultimate Guide to Quetico’s Best Canoe Trips

Paddling a small swift on the Pickerel River in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario. • Credit: David Jackson

Explore the crown jewel of Ontario’s canoe country

Don’t miss these highlights on your next backcountry canoe trip.



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In Ontario, we are lucky to have access to the finest canoe country in Canada. But did you know, the province’s crown jewel nests conveniently on Highway 17? Quetico Provincial Park was founded in 1913 and boasts access to over 600 lakes. What makes this area so unique is the preservation of First Nations and voyageur traditional canoe routes through dedicated upkeep and protection of the interwoven labyrinth of portages through pristine backcountry. These routes are an ancient connection, a heart song of a land and its people.

Imagine a landscape so wild you'll find no portage markers on trees or backcountry campsites on a map. Quetico is a wilderness that lies one portage away, just a short drive from Thunder Bay (2.5 hours), Kenora (4 hours), and Winnipeg (6 hours). It is a region where you can discover pictographs, gaze at deep stars, and travel between stands of old-growth white pine trees.

Last June, I traveled into Quetico with a friend on his first-ever canoe trip. We were heading south from Stanton Bay to a favourite campsite on Oriana Lake. I smiled as the beauty of Pickerel Lake engulfed him. For three days, lake trout and walleye bit our lures. We didn't see another person for the duration, and every day dawned warm, sunny and windless. Find out everything you need to know about fishing permits here

A canoe trip in Quetico is an opportunity to thread your line on a canvas of canoe routes. Most importantly, it’s your backyard access to Ontario’s—and Canada’s—finest wilderness escape.  

Sunset over a lake, inverted canoes along the shore.
Sunrise hues on Sturgeon Lake, Quetico. Photo: David Jackson

BEST GUIDED CANOE TRIPS IN QUETICO

Consider Atikokan, Ontario, to be the hub of Quetico from its strategic location at the park’s northern entry points. From family-run lodges to full-scale outfitters, the region is peppered with all the amenities to make Ontario’s premier canoeing destination feel like your backyard. Knowledgable outfitters can help you plan your trip and get you set up with permits, maps, gear, meals, and more. Use one of these trusted outfitters to get you on your way to the trip of a lifetime. 

Voyageur Wilderness Programme
Voyageur Wilderness Programme is a premiere guiding service, outfitting business, and overall exceptional example of what an eco-tour can be. Run by Michelle Savoie and her dedicated family, VWP will not only create the trip of a lifetime; they will steep you in the history of Metis and French voyageurs while helping you connect with the canoe. To inspire your next trip, watch this clip about Michelle and VWP, called The Connector.

 
Voyageur Wilderness Programme
Voyageur Island, Nym Lake 
Tel: (807) 597-2450 

Camp Quetico
In addition to offering beautiful cabins on nearby Eva Lake and guided fishing tours, Camp Quetico provides a wide range of full guiding services, outfitting options, and shuttles to start or finish your trip. Their website also offers various route suggestions to kick-start your Quetico canoe planning. 

Camp Quetico
Tel: (807) 929-2266

Canadian Quetico Outfitters
For complete gear outfitting and shuttle needs, Canadian Quetico Outfitters is your stop conveniently located on Highway 17 east of Atikokan. Their website clearly outlines the prices of their rentals per day and the set fee for shuttles to various access points such as Stanton Bay and Lerome Lake. 

Canadian Quetico Outfitters
Tel: (807) 633-0552

Seine River Lodge 
Quent and Lori Branch’s Seine River Lodge is a family jewel of the Quetico region. Tucked at the park's northwestern corner, Branch’s can offer you everything from partial gear outfitting to full meal plans, shuttles and accommodations. Their website provides a thorough breakdown of all costs to their various levels of assistance for your trip. The best part, they will even let you pitch your tent free of charge at their resort before or after your Quetico canoe trip. 

Seine River Lodge
Tel: 1 (866) 443-4414

Canoe Canada
Canoe Canada was established in 1974 to share knowledge of the Quetico wilderness country with outdoor enthusiasts seeking real adventure and security in the knowledge of excellent equipment and careful planning. 

Canoe Canada
Tel: 1 (877) 597-6418

Teaming the depths, Quetico is filled with Lake Trout. Photo: David Jackson
Teaming the depths, Quetico is filled with Lake Trout. Photo: David Jackson

Fly-in Canoe Trips in Quetico

Quetico Provincial Park does not allow motorized vehicles, including planes, so a fly-in trip must start from one of the boundary lakes. Saganaga Lake is the most common given its ranger station and access to the park's remote southern end. Canoe Canada offers a fly-in, paddle-out package, starting at the Cache Bay ranger station and ending at the north end of the park at one of the various entry points. The trip costs, depending on additional add-ons, $1,095 per person. In addition to outfitting canoe trips, Canoe Canada also outfits anglers to wilderness cabins in the vicinity of Quetico via floatplane.

Canoe Canada
Tel: (877) 597-6418

Quetico Road Access Points for Canoeists

There are a total of 21 entry points into Quetico. From Atikokan, there are five main entry points at Quetico’s north end, two of which are ranger stations. Beaverhouse Lake is down the Lac La Croix Road and will require a short portage to the lake. The second, French Lake and Dawson Trail Campground, is at the park’s northeastern gate and is a common access point for convenient entry to Pickerel Lake with no portages. 

The rest of the access points are unmanned entries, meaning you will need to pre-purchase a park permit at one of the ranger stations and then travel to these remote entries for quicker access to the backcountry. Each ranger station has a self-permitting option for out-of-office hours or out-of-season use. Stanton Bay provides access halfway down the length of Pickerel Lake and can be a strategic entry/exit point for trips travelling south through the central park. 

The quintessential Quetico night, with a rocky bluff to situate your fire at sunset and fresh fish ready for the cast iron. Photo: David Jackson
The quintessential Quetico night, with a rocky bluff to situate your fire at sunset and fresh fish ready for the cast iron. Photo: David Jackson

Nym Lake launches you on a short paddle to the Batchewaung Lake portage, and many refer to this entry as 'one portage to wilderness.' Lerome Lake is a backcountry gem as it requires five portages to reach the Sue Falls remote entry, which drops you into the incredible fishing of Cirrus, Soho, and Kasakokwog lakes. For the most intimate feel, Beaverhouse and Sue falls are the finest entry points to Quetico’s splendour, especially in the fall season.

With a linking of shuttles from nearby outfitters, these various access points can lend well to creative route planning without the need to double back on your canoe route and provide different degrees of ease in access to transition away from campgrounds and discover the backcountry.

Reservations and Permits for Canoeing in Quetico

Reservations are available online or by phone up to five months in advance of your arrival date. When making a reservation, you will select the access point where you will start your trip. You must start your trip from the access point you have reserved. While travelling in the park, all campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are recommended to secure your trip dates.

Interior camping permits are required for backcountry camping at Quetico Provincial Park. Permits must be picked up in-person at a designated ranger station before entering the park. Permits for access points controlled by Beaverhouse, Atikokan and Dawson Trail Ranger Stations can be obtained at any one of these ranger stations. Permits for access points controlled by Lac La Croix, Prairie Portage and Cache Bay Ranger Stations must be obtained at the ranger station that controls your access point. Visit the Quetico Provincial Park website for more detailed information on backcountry camping in Quetico.

Loons on Oriana Lake. There’s so much to discover. Photo: David Jackson
Loons on Oriana Lake. There’s so much to discover. Photo: David Jackson

Quetico canoe routes map

The Adventure Map will display all lakes and connecting portages in a 1:125,000 scale to plan your trip. You can purchase online here or from a local outfitter. Several guidebooks for canoeists are also available, including A Paddler's Guide to Quetico and Beyond by Kevin Callan

Best Quetico canoe routes 

A map of Quetico is a sight to behold. Many lakes are interconnected by little—albeit sometimes hearty—red lines, which signify trails between deep, clear lakes, or picturesque meandering streams. The lines represent a maze of portages meticulously maintained, connecting an otherwise complex and rugged landscape. For a dreamer, the park is a canoe route puzzle to be pieced together. For the first-timer, here are some highlights to plan your first backcountry trip.

Island mazes and a warm summers breeze in Quetico Provincial Park. An experience outfitter can set paddlers up with permits, maps and advise on the best route options.  Photo: David Jackson
Island mazes and a warm summers breeze in Quetico Provincial Park. An experience outfitter can set paddlers up with permits, maps and advise on the best route options.  Photo: David Jackson

Best 5-day canoe trips in Quetico

Beaverhouse Loop 
5 Days, 50km, beginner to intermediate.
While some travellers will work hard to experience the intimacy of Quetico’s deep interior, the park’s splendour is perfectly encapsulated in the region around Beaverhouse and Quetico lakes. Rocky peninsulas beg for tents, island-studded bays and sweeping cliffs lure one to explore further, all while under the watchful gaze of towering white pines. This loop will take you not only through beautiful countryside, but over fish-rich waters, where trophy catches of walleye, pike and lake trout are common and meals guaranteed. Portage options vary depending on your speed and willingness to explore, but the route doesn't have to loop back on itself until the final hour of your journey, meaning you will travel fresh vistas for almost the duration of your canoe route. Plan to travel 10km each day, allowing ample time for swimming, reading, and the joys only found on backcountry lakes.

Learn more about this loop and see a map at Quetico Outfitters

Oriana Loop 
5 Days, 55km, intermediate. 
There's a campsite on Oriana Lake that is spellbinding. It is on a small and dramatic island, hemmed by mainland cliffs to the north, an island highway to the east, and perfect swimming to the west. Off any point, walleye will double-tap your twister tail jig near the bottom, begging to be fried over an open fire. The route can begin conveniently from Nym Lake access. Spend the next five days paddling and portaging through the lakes of Pickerel, Maria, Hamburg, Oriana, Jesse, and returning to Maria Lake. Starting at Stanton Bay access works beautifully as well, or arranging for an outfitter shuttle between the two means you won’t have to loop back through Maria Lake. The portages are well travelled, with the short but beautiful creek leading into Oriana being a highlight. Travelling a little more than 10km each day leaves ample time to enjoy fishing and swimming and early morning viewing opportunities for moose between Maria and Oriana lakes. The wind on Pickerel Lake can be burdensome, but starting from Nym or Stanton Bay avoids the brunt of it. 

The land where a twister tail on a jig head will catch double header walleye all evening long. Discover your own fishing vacation. Photo: David Jackson
The land where a twister tail on a jig head will catch double header walleye all evening long. Discover your own fishing vacation. Photo: David Jackson

Fern Lake Loop
5 days, 65km, intermediate to advanced
This Quetico canoe route is an introduction to the full gamut of the park’s diverse landscape and varying terrains. Starting at French Lake, paddlers experience the large body of water on Pickerel Lake, where an early departure reduces your chances of battling a headwind or perhaps cruising on a friendly tailwind. From there, you travel the Pickerel River through Bisk, Beg and Bud lakes, finding your dream campsite below the current in Fern Lake on a long, humpback island.

In the river's currents, bass and walleye, as well lurking giant pike, feast in the fresh, turbulent waters. The sounds of rushing water fill your thoughts as you travel safely around the rivers falls.

The carry out of Fern Lake is a sporty introduction to Quetico’s longer portages but is by no means a beast as some you will find in the park’s interior. From there, you travel the intimate beaver dammed creek of Deux Riviere, once a voyageur highway, as you work your way back to Pickerel Lake. For its ideal mixture of big lake, river, and creek network, this route is suited well to those looking to take the next step on their journey into the backcountry. For beginners, this route should allow a few extra days, and for the budding trip planners, the route provides for route variations to take advantage of shuttles between different access points.  

More great canoe trips in Quetico

It takes little imagination when viewing a map of Quetico to plan a lengthy trip. What makes the park so unique is that most portages jump between lakes or beaver creeks, seldom necessitating complicated river travel synonymous with so many canoeing destinations in Ontario. The countryside of Quetico is rugged, however. These are two suggestions of deep country trips that will leave you aching… for more. 

A lifting mist on Hamburg Lake, Quetico. Plan your own magical trip with the help of an experienced outfitter.  Photo: David Jackson
A lifting mist on Hamburg Lake, Quetico. Plan your own magical trip with the help of an experienced outfitter.  Photo: David Jackson

The Quetico Beatdown 
150km, 40-50 portages
Conmee Lake is tucked deep into Quetico’s interior, and—spoiler alert—there’s no easy way there. On either end of the lake are portages aptly named for their snarls, The Memory Lane Portages, for they are ones you surely won’t forget, and the Delahey Death March Portages, named for the floating marshes you will be forced to muddy walk in. 

If you’re still interested, here’s what you need to know. Starting at Beaverhouse, the route to Poohbah Lake is your first objective; from there, plan to tackle the Memory Lane carries with a two-night layover on Conmee. If you could ask Mike Ranta, the hearty voyageur known best for his canoe trips across Canada, he would tell you of the humpback walleye which live in this lake, often exceeding 10 pounds. When you continue north, aim to rest on Delahey after the marches have concluded. From there, enjoy your trip back to the north end of the park where a shuttle can bring you to fine accommodations on your return. 

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls 
Roughly 200km, 45 portages 
This route has many names and varying options for routes, but the idea is to hit all of Quetico’s significant falls on your journey through the park. Starting at French Lake, take your baptism up the first creek and pass through Cache Lake, and the ultra carries on either end of it. This gets you into Kawnipi Lake, a place adored by the late Sigurd Olson, and where you can access the Kenny Falls Chain. From there, head south then west to Louisa Falls, where the thunderous cascade will warrant a lunch stop or a layover. From there, head north through the sweeping beauty of Agnes Lake, pass by Chatterton Falls and work your way to an exit at Sue Falls and Lerome Lake. 

Both of these routes will demand two weeks in the park, and each one will depend on your willingness to travel every day to maintain the pace. Some paddlers might opt into a routine of paddle hard, rest for longer; others might prefer longer days on the water but a more leisurely pace in between. In any case, plan your rest days on either end of big portages to facilitate muscle recovery and maximize enjoyment. These routes are examples of the complexity one can undertake while embarking on a Quetico canoe trip. Both can be reduced in time and duration by flying into Saganaga Lake and travelling north.

EXPLORE CANADA'S TOP CANOEING PARADISE

We are lucky to have access to the finest canoe country in Canada: Quetico Provincial Park. Explore these routes and feel an ancient connection, a heart song of a land and its people.

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