9 Outstanding No-Portage Canoe Trips in Ontario

All you need to do is paddle.

Most canoeists have a love/hate relationship with portages. Schlepping your stuff over a portage trail or two is a surefire way to avoid busy campsites and congested lakes. On the other hand, portaging is seriously demanding—especially if you’re travelling with kids, looking for a more relaxing outdoor experience, or wanting to bring along the proverbial kitchen sink.

Not to worry, Ontario is full of canoe trip options that achieve the elusive goal of wilderness and solitude without the physical challenge of carrying your gear around rapids or between lakes. Depending on your vacation window and skill level, there are no-portage canoe trips in Ontario that span a day to a week or more.

Our list of Ontario’s best no-portage canoe trips includes easy downriver day trips as well as two-week wilderness expeditions in the Far North. Be aware that no portage doesn’t mean no challenge. The trade off for a lack of carries is often big water, and some of our suggested routes on Lake Superior, Georgian Bay and other large lakes demand expert canoe tripping skills, good judgment and a high degree of caution.

Skip the portaging with these great Ontario canoe routes.

A couple paddles a red Parks Canada canoe at sunset.

Canoeing in Pukaskwa is always worth your while. Source: Parks Canada

Pukaskwa National Park, Lake Superior

The 200-kilometre stretch of wild Lake Superior between the towns of Marathon and Wawa, tracing the coastline of Pukaskwa National Park, easily ranks among Canada’s greatest paddling destinations. This coastal route is a favourite for experienced sea kayakers, but it’s also an excellent choice as a no portage canoe trip—particularly for those with advanced canoeing and wilderness tripping skills. It’s best to set aside two weeks for this epic trip. The rugged Pukaskwa coast reveals jaw-dropping scenery at every turn, including impressive headlands, sweeping sand beaches, towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.

There are plenty of exceptional campsites with good landings, and also longer stretches up to eight kilometres with few options to get off the water when conditions are rough. Make sure you have plenty of flexibility built in your schedule and equip your canoe with a spray cover for added seaworthiness. Late July and early August is the ideal time to paddle the Lake Superior coast.

Lake of the Woods, Kenora

Lake of the Woods is the inland sea of northwestern Ontario, featuring a mind-blowing array of islands and enough shoreline to inspire a lifetime of adventure. East of Kenora, the Lake of the Woods shore is a mix of sand beaches and lushly forested islands all the way to the mouth of the Rushing River, part of the Path of the Paddle section of the Trans-Canada Trail.

It’s important to note that this is big water that’s subject to strong winds, so be sure to assess your skills and make sure you paddle a seaworthy canoe. For a three-day, no-portage route on more sheltered water check out the Path of the Paddle segment from Keewatin, just west of Kenora, to the community of Minaki. It’s best to tackle this stretch of the Winnipeg River in the shoulder seasons to avoid motorboat traffic.

  • For canoe rentals and expert local advice check out Green Adventures in Kenora
  • Interactive digital maps can help you plan routes on the Path of the Paddle water trail throughout northwestern Ontario, a part of the Trans-Canada Trail
  • Minaki Yurt Adventures provide unique accommodations on nature’s doorstep, located north of Kenora and just off the Path of the Paddle water trail
Two men paddling a white canoe toward a rocky shoreline.
Find incredible scenery on and from Philip Edward Island. Source: Nathaniel Thompson // @natesneckofthewoods

Philip Edward Island, Georgian Bay

Located in the northwestern corner of Georgian Bay between Killarney and French River, Philip Edward Island is ancient canoe country that has served indigenous and non-indigenous travellers for millennia. While the outer, southern shores of Philip Edward Island and its outlying islands feature classic Georgian Bay pine-and-granite scenery, the sheltered waters of Collins Inlet to the north creates an ideal canoe channel.

Working with the weather, you can often complete a circumnavigation of the island in four to five days, with July and August being the ideal months to plan a trip. Killarney Provincial Park permits are required to launch from the mainland at Chikanishing River, off of Highway 637 just east of the village of Killarney.

Two canoes paddle on wavy lake next to shoreline on rainy day.
There are endless places to explore on Lake Temagami. Source: Musie Gemechu // @musie_gemechu

Lake Temagami

One look at a map reveals the great potential of northeastern Ontario’s Lake Temagami for an extended no-portage canoe trip. Temagami’s namesake lake is sprawling, with hundreds of kilometres of shoreline to explore. The Central Lake Temagami Access Road is your best starting point, providing good long-term parking and direct access to the mid-portion of the lake.

The lake’s deep southern bays beckon with tall pines and stunning smooth-rock campsites, and you can trace the narrow channel (no portages here) to Cross Lake for even more seclusion. Sharp Rock and Sandy inlets, in the northern reaches of the lake, have a distinct feel with a stark contrast of narrow island channels and vast horizon views. You could easily spend a week circumnavigating Lake Temagami’s wild and diverse shores.

  • Rent a canoe from Temagami Outfitting Company on Highway 11. It’s possible to start an extended trip from the nearby Temagami town docks
  • Finlayson Point Provincial Park offers a quiet campground amidst the big pine of a classic Lake Temagami cove, with outstanding opportunities for portage-free day trips

Whitewater Lake, Wabakimi Provincial Park

Whitewater Lake is a massive body of island-pocked water that epitomizes the remote wilderness of northwestern Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park. The lake offers some of the best walleye fishing and opportunities to see woodland caribou in the region, as well as abundant campsites on glacier-polished rock and sand beaches. Once upon a time, Whitewater Lake was the cherished redoubt of Wendell Beckwith, an eccentric inventor who built a series of immaculately crafted cabins on a secluded island, which are returning to the earth today. Whitewater is a popular destination for experienced trippers. But you don’t have to portage to get there if you book a bushplane flight with an Armstrong, Ontario-based outfitter and take a week or so to traverse Whitewater Lake’s shores.

  • Strap your canoe to the strut of a vintage floatplane and enjoy the scenic half-hour flight to Whitewater Lake with Armstrong’s Mattice Lake Air
  • Full Wabakimi canoe trip outfitting packages are available from Wabakimi Outfitters
  • For a truly luxurious experience, fly into Whitewater Lake with Wilderness North and stay in a comfortable cabin
Dark clouds over lake as woman stands in water next to canoe.
Explore Opeongo's many bays and arms. Source: Shauna Feehan // @shauna.feehan

Lake Opeongo, Algonquin

Opeongo is a large body of water in the heart of Algonquin Provincial Park with plenty of shoreline and islands to support a five-day canoe adventure. The lake is located off of Highway 60 and serves as a popular entry point to the park’s backcountry. Opeongo features countless islands to explore; and the mouth of Hailstorm Creek, located in the lake’s northwest corner, is the site of a massive bog that’s a great place to view moose and many songbirds in the spring. Be sure to reserve your Lake Opeongo campsites well in advance.

  • Algonquin Outfitters’ paddling centre on Lake Opeongo features a huge fleet of rental canoes and camping gear, as well as providing route planning advice and water taxi service to ease your access to remote corners of the lake. Custom-guided canoe trips are also available
  • Opeongo Outfitters offers canoe rentals, outfitting, water taxi services and boat tours on Lake Opeongo
Two people paddle canoe next to sandy shore.
Enter the Goulais River from Goulais Bay on Lake Superior. Source: Ryan Walker // Forest the Canoe

Goulais River, Sault Ste. Marie

Located just north of Sault Ste. Marie with easy access from Highway 17 and Highway 556, the Goulais River is a little known gem with several options for no-portage canoe day trips. Intermediate paddlers love the Class I-II rapids between the village of Searchmont and Kirby’s Corner, where the river crosses Highway 552 east of the Trans-Canada Highway. This 20-kilometre section is best in high water conditions and includes plenty of easy whitewater, with several campsite possibilities on gravel bars and beaches. The river becomes more mellow at Kirby’s Corner, making the run from Highway 552 to Highway 17 a relaxing float trip for families that’s suitable all summer long.

  • Rent a canoe or sign up for a guided day trip and learn more about the Algoma Highlands region with Forest the Canoe, a Goulais River-based outfitter specializing in interpretive trips
  • Mountainview Lodge offers canoe rentals, vehicle shuttles and accommodations on the Goulais River near the village of Searchmont
  • Bellevue Valley Lodge provides B&B accommodations in scenic hardwood hills, minutes from the Goulais River, with great opportunities for paddlers, mountain bikers and nature enthusiasts
View from stern of canoe of woman in bow seat.
Explore the Magpie before the secret is out. Source: Anjali Oberai // @anjoberai

Magpie River, Wawa

The Magpie River is an under-the-radar, no-portage canoe day trip located just north of Wawa, off the Trans-Canada Highway. You’ll encounter a few easy rapids and sections of swift water along the 15-kilometre run from Steephill Dam to Highway 17. The big attraction is the awesome scenery, featuring high rolling sand hills reminiscent of the Canadian barrenlands. The Magpie is also an excellent place for blueberry picking and the fishing for trout and walleye is pretty good, too; it’s easy to be distracted by the sights and opportunities for harvesting along the way.

  • Vehicle shuttles, route information and canoe rentals are available from Naturally Superior Adventures. The company also offers a self-guided eco-tour (complete with canoe rental and shuttle) on the Michipicoten River, another great day trip with no need to portage
  • Stay at the Wawa Motor Inn and visit the lakeshore in downtown Wawa

Upper Ottawa River, Temiskaming Shores

The mighty Ottawa River gets its start in the highlands of northeastern Ontario, flowing out of Lake Temiskaming. This section of river is notable for its towering shorelines and impressive white pine, yet it’s rarely paddled. The Upper Ottawa River offers good opportunities to canoe the headwaters of an iconic Canadian river with plenty of potential for trips spanning a long weekend to a week or more, depending on your aspirations and experience level. 

  • Smoothwater Outfitters is a longtime Temagami canoe outfitter that offers vehicle shuttles for upper Ottawa River canoe trips and outstanding waterfront accommodations just off Highway 11

Plan Your No-Portage Canoe Trip Now

Skip the portaging and discover a world of wonderful, carry-free canoe trips across Ontario. Whether you have a day or a week or more, these no-portage canoe routes explore some of the most incredible scenery in Ontario.

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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