Algoma Canoe Country

Three great areas to explore Ontario’s secret paddling paradise

Ontario is known as Canada’s canoeing epicentre for good reason. The province is home to the best paddling in the world, for all levels of canoeists.

Certain parts of the province get more recognition than others. Algonquin, Killarney, and Quetico have certainly earned their reputation for canoe-camping, with thousands of kilometres of well-established routes. But let me tell you a secret: Wilderness canoe tripping in Algoma is just as good, with dozens of options located within a 200-km radius of my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.

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Lake Superior Provincial Park

The rugged coastal landscape that drivers experience on Highway 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa stretch far inland, into the wilderness backcountry of Lake Superior Provincial Park. Here, you’re more likely to see a moose than other paddlers—especially if you’re willing to tackle a few portages. Lakes sparkle like jewels amongst some of Ontario’s tallest hills and wild rivers cascade over polished granite, spilling into Lake Superior. Canoe rentals are available through the Ontario Parks Visitor Centre at Agawa Bay or contact Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa.

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Of the 11 canoe routes in the park, a couple stand out. The Fenton-Treeby loop, located 20 km south of Wawa, offers a perfect introduction to overnight canoe tripping. You’ll follow a series of small lakes along the Noisy River, making numerous—but very short—portages along the way. There are a couple of excellent campsites, including an island on Shakwa Lake and a bedrock site beneath tall pines on the west shore of Treeby, to spend a night. Anglers love Fenton-Treeby for its diversity of fish species, including lake trout, brook trout, walleye, and northern pike.

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Old Woman Lake is my favourite: It’s a long finger of crystalline water, cradled by soaring, hardwood-clad hills and sheltered from the crowds by several difficult portages. In high water, it’s possible to launch at Mijinemungshing Lake (a popular destination in itself for family canoe tripping) and trace a series of wetlands and small lakes. Mid-summer, start at Gamitagama Lake and endure eight steep, rugged carries. Trust me, it’s worth the effort! For a longer trip, continue south through Black, Wildcat and a handful of other lakes to the Sand River—a magical, five-day spring trip with easy whitewater and several stunning waterfalls.

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Algoma Headwaters

In 1999, Ontario designated a handful of “signature sites” in its Living Legacy protected areas initiative. The Algoma Headwaters, located about 100 km north of Sault Ste. Marie was highlighted for some of Ontario’s largest forests of old-growth white pine and pristine lakes with rich Indigenous heritage. This is an expert-only canoe country, with few visitor services and unmarked portages and campsites. If you’ve tackled other difficult canoe routes in places like Wabakimi Provincial Park or Temagami, you’ll enjoy the challenge and isolation of the Algoma Headwaters.

canoeing

To avoid a confusing maze of forest access roads, you’re best to launch at Ranger Lake located on Highway 556 (well-maintained gravel). A week-long trip links Ranger to Saymo, Island and Gong lakes before heading upstream on the West Aubinadong River—a journey best made in the high water of spring. Deep in the wilderness, Megisan Lake is surrounded by virgin pine forests. Megisan is located at the very height of the watershed, bridging the gap between the Lake Superior and Lake Huron drainage. Retrace your route back downstream on the West Aubinadong or try the feisty Nushatogaini River to create a 110-km, teardrop-shaped loop. 

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Elliot Lake

A network of bodies of water just north of the community of Elliot Lake forms a canoeist’s paradise, located off of Highway 108. Start at Laurentian Lodge on Flack Lake. Heading south, you’ll portage through a series of bodies of water, large and small. Three-, five- and seven-day trips are possible. The clear, deep waters of Ten Mile Lake are a highlight, along with the intricate shoreline of island-pocked Bobowash Lake. Nearby Mississagi Provincial Park offers a taste of the place with front-country camping, day paddling, and several hiking trails.

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Last year, two friends and I launched at Flack Lake in the peak of autumn colours. Maples and oaks blazed red and orange on the hillsides, offset by the golden leaves of birch and dark green pines. We had the place to ourselves on a three-day weekend—the perfect wrap-up to the canoeing season.

About Conor Mihell

Conor Mihell is an award-winning environmental and adventure travel writer based in Sault Ste. Marie. Read his work in the Globe and Mail, Explore, Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, ON Nature, and other magazines and newspapers. He's been a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior for close to 20 years, and has paddled from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. 

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