8 Unforgettable Lakes in Wabakimi Provincial Park
Wabakimi Provincial Park is one of the best places to canoe in Ontario. This remote park is massive, spanning over 892,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) in northwestern Ontario; its main access point is the town of Armstrong, located about three hours north of Thunder Bay at the end of Highway 527. Simply put, Wabakimi is a world-class destination for intermediate to advanced paddlers looking for an epic wilderness canoe trip in Ontario.
Wabakimi is seemingly purpose-built for canoe tripping, with over 2,000 kilometres of routes on pristine lakes and rivers. Wabakimi offers wilderness canoeing at its finest; there are a lifetime's worth of backcountry lakes to explore. The fishing is beyond belief, there’s excellent whitewater, iconic wildlife, spectacular waterfalls and, as the homeland of Indigenous communities, many traditional cultural sites.
You can imagine that coming up with a short list of the best lakes in Wabakimi Provincial Park was a tough task, but we relied on the experience of multiple Wabakimi canoe expeditions to select bodies of water that provide distinct experiences.
This lake is aptly named with glacier-polished granite offering some of the best camping in Wabakimi Provincial Park. The lake is huge, making it a worthy destination for base camping or sea kayaking; getting here is relatively easy with minimal portaging. You’ll pass through Smoothrock Lake while canoeing the Boiling Sand River off the VIA Rail stop at Collins, or following westbound canoe routes from the Little Caribou and Caribou lakes, which are accessible by road from the community of Armstrong. Smoothrock’s islands offer good opportunities to view elusive woodland caribou.
Just about every major canoe route in Wabakimi Provincial Park passes through the area’s namesake lake. This sprawling, east-west body of water includes two distinct parts: the main lake, as well as Lower Wabakimi Lake, connected by a river section of swift water (with a few portages). Wabakimi Lake receives the Allanwater and Flindt rivers, merging into the larger Ogoki River at Outlet Bay. Both lakes are shallow and sprinkled with islands.
Drop a line over a shoal and you’re sure to catch a walleye dinner. A closer look at the map reveals several options to access Wabakimi Lake without paddling whitewater, including a scenic bypass through McWade Lake. Or you can charter a floatplane flight for direct access.
The largest lake in Wabakimi Provincial Park is peppered with islands and secret coves. Whitewater Lake invites exploration: you’ll discover secret channels, quiet coves and beaches to rival the Caribbean. Eccentric inventor Wendell Beckwith once homesteaded here in a series of elaborate cabins, conducting complex astrophysics experiments and identifying this place to be the centre of the universe.
Whitewater Lake is remote so getting here under your own power requires serious planning, time and effort; the most direct route involves several days of travel from the north end of Smoothrock Lake. Of course, you can also charter a floatplane from Armstrong (a great option if you wish to paddle a sea kayak). Whitewater Lodge offers luxurious wilderness experiences, with special packages for paddlers.
Located about a day’s travel north of Whitewater Lake, Grayson Lake is emblematic of Wabakimi’s myriad mid-sized lakes that are often overshadowed by their larger neighbours, but would be considered remarkable anywhere else. Grayson is accessed via the Palisades River and offers a good flatwater alternative to paddling the boisterous Ogoki River to Whitewater Lake. Like most Wabakimi lakes, the fishing here for walleye and northern pike is superb.
The west end of Brennan Lake, near the mouth of the Allanwater River, boasts a magical collection of Indigenous pictographs. It takes a solid full-day paddle to traverse Brennan Lake’s east-west length. Portions of the shoreline have been charred by wildfire, and it’s best to plan to camp in the eastern portions which escaped the blaze. A series of channels with multiple portage options approach Brennan Falls at the lake’s eastern terminus.
Granite Lake welcomes the Allanwater River in the form of a cascade thundering through a narrow corridor of rock. This is Brennan Falls—a magical place for photographers and anglers alike. Granite Lake doesn’t disappoint, either, with densely forested shorelines of boreal spruce and birch and plenty of sunbleached rock, as well as some of the best campsites in Wabakimi. The Allanwater River flows out of Granite Lake towards Wabakimi Lake, or you can avoid the whitewater via McWade Lake.
Located in the southwestern corner of Wabakimi Provincial Park, Heathcote Lake is classic Canadian canoe country, including a myriad of islands and bays that invite side trips and exploration. The camping here is fantastic, too, with numerous island sites in the headwaters of the Flindt River. Heathcote Lake is easy to access from the VIA Rail stop at Flindt Landing.
This smaller body of water is tucked away in Wabakimi’s northwestern corner. Davies Lake sees few visitors and the feeling of wilderness is palpable here. It’s tough to access—about as far as you can get from the park’s main entry point at Armstrong—and located at the top of the watershed, meaning it requires a lot of sweat and tears (read: portaging) to get here.
Davies Lake is well worth the effort, though, with tannin-stained, wine-coloured waters and a great campsite on the eastern shore. Advanced paddlers pass through Davies en route to wild Misehkow River or use it as the turnaround point on an adventurous multi-week loop of the Palisades River and Muskiga Creek.
Planning Your Trip
Wabakimi is remote and massive, two factors that make it challenging to plan an adventure. But we’re here to help! We’ve assembled a comprehensive guide to planning a Wabakimi canoe trip in a separate article. Meanwhile, here are the key points to get you started.
Armstrong, Ontario, is the gateway to Wabakimi Provincial Park. This small community is accessed by Highway 527, about a three-hour drive from Thunder Bay. Armstrong-based Wabakimi Outfitters and EcoLodge or Mattice Lake Outfitters can assist with vehicle shuttles to road-access locations in the area. Little Caribou Lake, about a 20-minute drive from Armstrong, is the most popular starting point; it's a full day’s paddle from the launch into the Wabakimi backcountry.
The VIA Rail passenger train offers convenient access to Wabakimi Provincial Park for you, your canoe and gear. The railway traces the southern boundary of the park and offers drop-offs and pickups. You can board the train in Armstrong, or enjoy a longer ride from Winnipeg, Sudbury or even Toronto. Wabakimi Outfitters can assist with scheduling and booking tickets.
Flying in offers the fastest (and most scenic) access to the Wabakimi backcountry, with floatplane charters available to countless lakes; take your pick and enjoy a jaw-dropping ride in a quintessential Canadian bushplane. Again, Wabakimi Outfitters can help plan your Wabakimi fly-in canoe trip or work directly with the experienced staff at Mattice Lake Outfitters.
Rentals and Outfitters
It begs repeating: Wabakimi Outfitters is your best source for canoe rentals, route planning and outfitting. Owner Bruce Hyer has decades of experience; in fact, he was one of the drivers in the creation and expansion of Wabakimi Provincial Park and remains a leader in regional conservation. Wabakimi Outfitters provides top-of-the-line lightweight canoes and backcountry gear, along with vehicle shuttles. Hyer’s eight-room ecolodge on Mattice Lake is a great place to start or finish your trip. Guided Wabakimi canoe trips are also available.
Camping Permits and Regulations
Backcountry camping permits are required to travel in Wabakimi Provincial Park. Reservations are not available (and generally unnecessary), but you can purchase your interior camping permits online up to two weeks before your departure date. You can also purchase permits from Wabakimi Outfitters and Mattice Lake Outfitters.
Several companies operate deluxe lodges and do-it-yourself outpost camps on Wabakimi lakes, including most of those mentioned in this article. Most Wabakimi fly-in camps cater primarily to anglers; inquire to see if canoes or kayaks are available.
- Wabakimi Outfitters maintains remote cabins on 6 Wabakimi lakes.
- Thunderhook Fly-ins has several cabins on Smoothrock Lake.
- Wilderness North offers a deluxe lodge on Whitewater Lake. Canoe packages are available.
- Mattice Lake Outfitters services several outpost camps in the Wabakimi area.
- Rusty Meyers has 9 remote cabins and lodges in northwestern Ontario, including accommodations on Wabakimi Lake, Brennan Lake, Granite Lake and Grayson Lake.
Discover the finest lakes in Wabakimi Provincial Park
Are you an experienced canoe tripper seeking Ontario’s best destination for wilderness paddling? Look no further than Wabakimi Provincial Park to plan the trip of your dreams.