8 Reasons Fall is the Best Time to Paddle in Ontario

Get planning so you can make the most of this incredible season.

I can’t imagine a summer without a canoe, but I’ll tell you a secret: fall is the best time to get on the water. I first fell in love with fall paddling as a guide. The summers were the busy season for guiding, but after Labour Day, we could take our personal paddling trips. It was on these trips that I discovered the best of what autumn had to offer.

The middle weeks of September bring a break from the summer heat. A little more rain raises water levels to make for better paddling. And birds migrating south bring the feeling winter is on its way. It’s a thrill catching a look at a shorebird making its long journey from the arctic to its southern wintering areas.

Why else should you take a fall paddling trip? Read on to find out.

Canoe on leaf-covered portage trail
You’ll have the portage trails and lakes all to yourself. Photo: Dean Heliotis // @deanheliotis

1. There aren’t any crowds

The first weeks of September are a prime time to paddle—school is back in, so the crowds wane significantly. Getting out on the water after Labour Day increases your chances of scoring the nicest campsites or even having the whole lake to yourself.

Use this opportunity to visit some popular areas like Temagami, which are often packed with summer camps and canoe trippers in July and August.

Temagami Outfitting Co. can get you set up with everything you might need for a canoe trip, including gear rentals, shuttles, meals and guides. They also offer women’s only trips and canoe-based fly fishing trips through their partner So Fly.

Smoothwater Outfitters & Lodge also offers full outfitting packages for trips in the area, as well as pristine accommodations if you wish to stay in comfort and do day trips.

Island on a lake as mist rises up and fall colours line the trees
It’s worth it for the views alone. Photo: : Dean Heliotis // @deanheliotis

2. The colours are incredible

As the trees prepare for the long winter ahead, the green chlorophyll gradually fades, briefly turning the leaves vibrant red, yellow and orange hues. Sunny days and cool nights make these colours much more intense. You’ll have a good shot at seeing the best fall colours across Northern Ontario while on a canoe trip in late September into the middle of October. Maples get especially red, so you’ll want to visit maple-heavy forests for the broadest colour palette.

The bright fall colours stand out against the white quartzite of the La Cloche mountains in Killarney Provincial Park. Through September, the water is often still warm enough for swimming in the sapphire-blue lakes.

Paddle to a backcountry campsite on Bell Lake and spend an afternoon hiking up to Silver Peak where you can admire panoramic views of the fall colours over the La Cloche mountain range. Or choose to go guided with the pros at MHO Adventures on their Killarney Fall Colours trip or any of their other custom trip options.

Man wearing flannel sitting atop rocky lookout over lake.
It’s time to get cozy. Photo: Dean Heliotis // @deanheliotis

3. You can rock your favourite flannel

I love layering up while I’m out in the woods, and in summer's heat, my favourite flannels and wool sweaters don’t get much use other than as a pillow. Complete your quintessentially Canadian look by paddling a canoe while wearing a checkered flannel shirt. Bonus points if you can get a moose in the background of your photos.

I am always reaching for my rubber boots in general—but in fall in particular, they are great footwear for tackling muddy portages. It’s also cool enough that long pants are comfortable. A sturdy pair of work pants protect my legs from scrapes and shrubs along portage trails.

If you find fall nights a bit too chilly for sleeping in a tent, spend your evenings in the comfort of a log cabin at Laurentian Lodge, near Elliot Lake. Use this as a base for day trips, or to bookend an extended trip on the lovely Flack Lake canoe loop.

Empty canoe waits near shore with mist on water
A golden (bugless) fall morning in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Photo: Amy Newport // Southpaw Photography // @amymnewport

4. There are no bugS

In the first week of June, I remember why I love the fall so much. Sometimes I’ll be standing exactly where I was the previous October, only something seems Off(that’s because you’ll be dousing yourself in it). Northern Ontarians take pride in their bug tolerance, but an entire summer of mosquitos, blackflies, no-see-ums, horse flies, deer flies and the other biting insects you’ll find in the bush wears down on you.

It’s a relief when the buzzing in your ears ceases. No longer do you have to dive into your tent as dusk falls and the mosquitoes begin to emerge, or go swimming just to get away from the deer and horse flies. With the end of bug season, you can spend as much time as you want outdoors—and the time you do spend will be that much more enjoyable.

So where should you go to make the most of the lack of bugs? Why not explore some of the Path of the Paddle trails stretching from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border? You can rent from Wilderness Supply in Thunder Bay, Canoe Canada Outfitters in Atikokan or Green Adventures in Kenora.

Silhouette of person sitting beside campfire next to lake.
Stay warm and cozy as night falls in Temagami. Photo: Smoothwater Outfitters

5. Campfires are that much more enjoyable

A campfire in the dog days of summer sometimes feels like overkill, especially when you need to sit three metres away to avoid roasting. In the fall, though, the warmth is welcome. And cooking a hearty stew over the fire is just what you need after a day on the water.

Cook up your favourite comfort food in the autumn air of Lake Superior Provincial Park. Trips into Mijinemungshing Lake or down the Sand River are great at this time of year with favourable water levels. Cap the trip off with a stay at Rock Island Lodge or a tour on the iconic Agawa Canyon Train.

Two mugs of hot chocolate with kettle on bench next to fire on a campsite.
Spoil yourself with lots of hot chocolate. Jana Rodwell // @jana_b_anana

6. You can drink as much hot chocolate as you want

When it’s cooler outside, your body uses more energy. Replenishing your body with sources rich in fats will keep you warmer. If there was ever an excuse to start and end your days with a mug of extra creamy hot chocolate, this is it.

Take a canoe trip loaded with treats and rich snacks, or treat yourself to a catered lodge-based experience. Enjoy premium comfort food from the chefs at a wilderness lodge like Mar Mac—all you’ll need to do is enjoy the scenery.

Starry sky over a lake.
There’s still plenty to do once darkness falls. Photo: Dean Heliotis // @deanheliotis

7. Starry skies are easier to view

Autumn’s shorter days bring the night closer. In the peak of Northern Ontario’s summers, the sun is still up at 10:30 p.m., but the daylight wanes drastically as winter approaches. To make the most of the shorter days, plan a canoe trip in a Dark Sky Preserve like Quetico Provincial Park, where you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

Outfitters in Atikokan like Canoe Canada Outfitters, Voyageur Wilderness and Quetico Outfitters can help you plan a route, and get you set up with any gear you might need.

View from stern of canoe of person paddling with most of leaves off the trees on shore.
The fall colours begin to fade on Robertson Lake, but the memories of autumn last a lifetime. Photo:  Ryan Walker // Forest The Canoe

8. It doesn’t last forever

Winter is just around the corner, and every year autumn ends sooner than I expect. While I always look forward to skiing, snowshoeing and other winter activities, when it’s cold and rainy in late November, I always wish I had paddled more. Sneak in those days while you can; they’ll be gone before you know it.

To make things easy, book a canoe or kayak tour with Thrive Tours. These tours, held near Sault Ste. Marie, are suitable for both beginner and experienced paddlers, with guides tailoring to the kind of experience you wish to have.

Likewise, take the Friends of Fall Colours tour with Forest the Canoe. You’ll paddle and hike to take in the best of the autumn foliage in the Algoma Highlands.

Get out and paddle this fall

There is something special about seeing the same place in all seasons. Often, it only occurs to us to take trips in the summer and winter, when seasonal activities are at the forefront of our minds. But the shoulder seasons offer something special, too. Fall is a time when things slow down for tourists and get busier for animals and the landscape, changing one day to the next. Be sure to visit your favourite paddling destination in the fall, to see how it’s changed and to witness the subtle changes each day you’re out there.

About Jake O'Flaherty

Jake O’Flaherty is a freelance outdoor guide who loves to explore the remote corners of the world, but Lake Superior is where he feels most at home.

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