In conjunction with Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations, Ontario Tourism has launched a campaign to promote the province as the national capital of paddle sports. Ontario sponsored the production of The Canoe, a cinematic documentary profiling an array of paddlers who make Ontario their home. And the social media tag #paddleon was introduced to share stories and images.
Is Ontario the heart of canoe nation? As a lifelong resident my opinion may be biased, but I could happily spend the rest of my years canoeing and sea kayaking close to home. Here are my top five picks:
#1 The Inland Sea (Pukaskwa National Park) — Some of the deepest wilderness in central North America exists on Lake Superior's Ontario shore, particularly in Pukaskwa National Park. The 10-day sea kayak journey from the park's headquarters at Hattie Cove south to Michipicoten River represents the best freshwater sea kayaking in the world. The Pukaskwa coast is a gorgeous mix of headlands, beaches and cliffs—perfect for advanced paddlers. Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa, Ont., offers guided trips, outfitting and vehicle shuttles.
#2 The Watery Divide (Quetico Provincial Park) — Quetico has a well-deserved reputation as being the wilder big brother of Minnesota's acclaimed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It receives a fraction of the visitors and is far less manicured by backcountry rangers (don't expect to see any portage or campsite signs). Yet because of an easy "remote entry" system for crossing the border (for now), the Quetico is an obvious next step for north woods canoeists. BWCA outfitters include Piragis Northwoods Campany, Ely Outfitting Company and Sawbill Canoe Outfitters which specialize in planning canoe routes north of the border. On the Ontario side, look to Canoe Country Outfitters in the town of Atikokan. You can also check out Voyageur Wilderness Programme..
#3 The Frontier (Wabakimi Provincial Park) — With over two million acres of boreal forest backcountry, Wabakimi is Ontario's second-largest protected area. The park has a huge array of lake and river canoeing options, many of which extend well beyond its borders. One of my favorite canoe trips to date was a month-long adventure starting in Wabakimi and tracing a series of waterways to the Albany River. The best place for more info is the non-profit Friends of Wabakimi. Local outfitters include Wildwaters and Wilderness North.
#4 Ancient Waters (Temagami) – The ancient travel corridors of northeastern Ontario were known as "nastawgan" to the local Ojibwa. Vestiges of these timeless canoe routes, portage trails, and campsites remain amid the waters radiating from sprawling Lake Temagami. The region boasts 2,000 miles of canoe routes, and several provincial parks, including remote Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater. The website Ottertooth.com is a great trip planning resource. Local outfitters include Smoothwater Outfitting and Temagami Outfitting.
#5 Ontario's Crown Jewel (Killarney Provincial Park) – Central Ontario's Killarney is a popular destination for canoeists and sea kayakers alike. A network of canoe routes in the park's interior traces aquamarine lakes through the austere white cliffs of the La Cloche Range (tip: bring a lightweight canoe); meanwhile, the 30,000 islands of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay is a dreamscape for sea kayakers. The region's rolling hills and gem-like lakes were immortalized a century ago by Canada's famous Group of Seven artists. Killarney Outfitters and Killarney Kanoes are your best bets for trip planning. (See lead image.)
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