The Canoe Tripper’s Guide to Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park

Top routes, campsites, fishing holes, guided trips, outfitters and more.

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park is the centrepiece of Ontario’s Temagami canoe country, part of a vast network of wild rivers, countless lakes and intimate ponds linked together by ancient portages. There’s a special feeling that comes with paddling in a landscape where people have been travelling by canoe for thousands of years. Adding to the magic, the Park and its namesake river are set upon the province’s highest point of land and surrounded by some of the oldest white and red pine forests on the planet.

Less than a day’s drive from Ottawa or the Greater Toronto Area, this wilderness canoe country is remarkably accessible, yet far enough away to escape the crowds of near-north canoe destinations like Killarney and Algonquin.

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Canoe Routes

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park canoe routes offer an exciting challenge for intermediate and experienced canoe trippers, with some less strenuous options for beginners as well. Many routes blend into one another, making it possible to create longer trips with more varied terrain. The portages are often rough, the landscape rugged—no more so than along the steep cataracts and precipitous trails of the breathtaking Lady Evelyn River. Read on to discover our favourite Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater canoe routes.

Lady Evelyn Lake Tour

Hundreds of kilometres of sandy beach and bedrock shoreline, innumerable rocky islands and countless scenic campsites make Lady Evelyn Lake a rewarding destination for both short trips and longer tours of a week or more. Minimal portaging also makes this a great destination for beginners and sea kayakers; however, the exposed waters can become dangerous in windy conditions. Be prepared to get off the water when the wind is blowing.

Wondering how to get to Lady Evelyn Lake? The Mowat Landing access point offers a free launch and parking, within a half-day’s paddle from the lake’s eastern end. An easy 260-metre portage gets you to big water. The launch site is located at the end of Highway 558, accessible from Highway 11 (watch for the turnoff 16 kilometres north of Latchford).

Maple Mountain Loop

Starting from Mowat Landing, the novice-friendly, six- to seven-day canoe trip to Maple Mountain is a popular loop combining a crossing of Lady Evelyn Lake with an appealing medley of smaller lakes, creeks and river travel, as well as a spectacular day hike to one of Ontario’s highest summits. From the western end of Lady Evelyn Lake, you’ll enter the more sheltered waters of Sucker Gut Lake and navigate several narrows to Hobart and Tupper lakes.

Find the trailhead on Tupper Lake and don’t forget to pack a lunch and plenty of water for the climb to Temagami’s best view. The return trip to Mowat Landing heads north through Anvil Lake and follows a chain of pine-clad, postcard perfect lakes to Mendelssohn Lake and the Montreal River.

If you’re short on time (or have less appetite for portaging), the out-and-back route from Mowat Landing to Maple Mountain through Lady Evelyn Lake takes most paddlers five days. It’s also possible to start your Maple Mountain canoe trip with a floatplane flight to Hobart Lake with Lakeland Airways.

For a classic and challenging route requiring a week to 10 days, combine Maple Mountain with a loop on the North and South Branches of the Lady Evelyn River (see below).

woman paddles a canoe on the Evelyn River
Paddling the South Channel of the Lady Evelyn River. Photo: Melissa Giamou // @m.gamma

Lady Evelyn River Circuit (The Trout Streams)

The crown jewel of the park, the Lady Evelyn River is renowned for its waterfalls—and the precarious portages that go along with them. Once known as Men-jamma-ga-sibi—or the Trout Streams—the Lady Evelyn has long formed an important link for canoeists. Its twin branches, combined with its pool-and-drop geology, make it possible to travel upstream on one branch of the river and downstream on the other, for a spectacular seven- to 10-day loop trip. The river is navigable all summer long, but go in spring if you are looking for whitewater.

Plenty of steep, slippery and treacherous portages make this a route for more experienced canoe trippers. Launch from Mowat Landing and head west across Lady Evelyn Lake to Sucker Gut Lake, where a rocky arm marks the outlet of the North Branch of the Lady Evelyn River. Heading upstream, the steep 120-metre portage around Frank Falls is the first (and shortest) of six carries you’ll make around scenic waterfalls and rocky rapids. Take a break at Centre Falls—better known as the Golden Staircase—where a natural waterslide makes for a refreshing place to cool off.

At Katherine Lake, head downstream on the Lady Evelyn’s South Branch—where exciting swifts and more mountain goat portages around three stunning falls await. Complete your tour by looping back to Mowat Landing through Willow Island Lake and the south basin of Lady Evelyn Lake.

For an easier encounter with the fabled Trout Streams, book a guided canoe trip (or floatplane to Katherine Lake) and stay at Cabin Falls Ecolodge. Temagami icons Hap and Andrea Wilson run this wilderness retreat on the Lady Evelyn River’s South Branch, where you can enjoy an off-grid oasis perched atop a 30-foot waterfall.

Waterfalls on a river
There are waterfalls galore along the Lady Evelyn River. Photo: Rachel Bosley // @rachel.bosley 

Makobe, Grays and Lady Evelyn Loop

Experienced whitewater paddlers looking for a challenging spring trip should check out this classic 10-day loop combining a trio of beautiful northern rivers with some of the Park’s best moose viewing. Runnable water levels in the Makobe and Grays watersheds are dependent on spring rainfall and snowmelt. Plan your trip from mid-May to mid-June to enjoy the Makobe’s exciting class I-II whitewater.

The trip begins at Mowat Landing and crosses Lady Evelyn Lake to the North Branch of the Lady Evelyn River. From Katherine Lake, however, you’ll continue heading upstream to the Grays River, connecting through Grays and Banks lakes to the Makobe River. Dropping steeply over its short length, the Makobe River offers 34 rapids totalling seven kilometres of runnable whitewater—all set in a series of ruggedly beautiful canyons. Following this roller coaster descent, you’ll reach the lumber town of Elk Lake (paddlers who have arranged a shuttle can take out here for a shorter trip) and the smooth-flowing waters of the Montreal River.

It’s a straightforward—if somewhat anticlimactic—finish down the Montreal River to Mowat Landing. Alternatively, paddlers with more time can loop into the Maple Mountain route (described above) and add a spectacular hike—and a second crossing of Lady Evelyn Lake—to their Temagami journey.

Smoothwater, Florence and Sunnywater Loop

Check out the northwestern corner of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park if you enjoy spectacular lakes, solitude and challenging canoe tripping. The white sand beach on Smoothwater Lake rivals those of the Caribbean; breathtaking Florence Lake is an ancient sanctuary surrounded by beautiful hills and towering pines; and you can see to a depth of nearly 30 metres in crystal clear Sunnywater. Over a dozen arduous portages make this seven- to eight-day loop best left to intermediate canoe trippers with strong shoulders.

Gamble Lake or the launch on the Montreal River are your gateways to this area; both are reached from the Beauty Lake Road, off Highway 560. Montreal River provides the best access to Smoothwater Lake. The gravel road is generally in good shape, and it’s free to park and launch here. The forest access road to Gamble Lake—the headwaters of the North Lady Evelyn River—can be rough for low-clearance vehicles and overnight parking is not recommended. It’s best to get a vehicle shuttle here from a local outfitter like Smoothwater Outfitters or the Temagami Outfitting Company.

Early spring is the best time to make this trip; you’ll need high water for travel on the meandering South Lady Evelyn River from Whitemud Lake to the Florence River. If you’re planning a summer or fall trip, allow 12 days and avoid this section by continuing south and west from Florence Lake. Expect plenty more portages on this crossing through Bluesucker, Pilgrim, Solace and Scarecrow lakes, back to Smoothwater Lake.

Most paddlers who reach Scarecrow Lake will want to set aside a day for the three-hour hike from here to the abandoned fire tower atop Ishpatina Ridge, Ontario’s highest point of land. If you have less time, an out-and-back trip from Montreal River to Scarecrow Lake offers easier access to the ridge’s panoramic views. Alternatively, Scarecrow Lake is also a popular destination for fly-in canoe trips.

woman sits and looks at rapids on a river
Taking in the rapids above Helen Falls. Photo: Melissa Giamou // @m.gamma

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park Camping

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park provides outstanding opportunities for backcountry campers to experience expansive solitude in an undisturbed natural setting, far from roads or development. Campsites here are among the most beautiful and wild in Canada—expect towering pines, crystalline lakes, thundering waterfalls, sweeping sand beaches and polished bedrock shores.

Ontario Parks classifies Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater as a wilderness-class park, meaning you won’t find any visitor facilities, marked portages or signed campsites. Because of its remoteness, backcountry camping here is recommended for experienced canoe trippers with well-developed paddling, navigation and portaging skills.

Portage trails and campsites in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park are part of an ancient canoe route network that is thousands of years old. Treat this pristine landscape and its rich cultural heritage with respect by practicing low-impact camping. For example, use established firepits where available, and don’t build fires on campsites and shorelines without an existing firepit. Similarly, you may find pit toilets—known locally as “thunderboxes”—at some of the more popular and accessible campsites, but don’t expect such luxuries deeper in the backcountry. Bring a trowel and bury human waste at least 60 metres from water sources, trails and campsites.

As a general rule, pack out what you pack in. Burying or burning food waste can attract wildlife, leading to encounters that are dangerous for both you and the animal.

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Fishing

Angling in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park is primarily for brook (speckled) trout and lake trout in the many cold-water lakes and streams, including the North and South Branches of the Lady Evelyn River—originally known as Men-jamma-ga-sibi or the “Trout Streams.”

Lady Evelyn and Sucker Gut lakes offer renowned fishing for warm-water species like walleye and smallmouth bass. For a fish-filled diversion from the immensity of Lady Evelyn Lake, duck into the Sugar Lake area. This grouping of four small pine-rimmed lakes includes Angler and Goodfish lakes, a none-too-subtle hint at the excellent walleye and bass fishing found here.

Ontario provincial fishing regulations apply throughout the Park.

Perched in the remote bedrock highlands east of Smoothwater Lake, the “Aurora Trout Lakes” are home to a unique genetic variation of brook trout, found nowhere else in the world and named for the brilliant red-purple colouration along its sides. These lakes—Whitepine and Whirligig—are designated fish sanctuaries; fishing is not permitted.

man poses while portaging a canoe at Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park
Making the portage around Bridal Veil Falls. Photo: Melissa Giamou // @m.gamma

How to Book Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park requires overnight camping permits for all backcountry visitors. The regular per campsite fee is $32.50 (+ HST) per night. Permits are available from local outfitters, at the Finlayson Point Provincial Park gatehouse in the town of Temagami, or through Ontario Parks’ online reservation system.

Many canoe routes in the area venture into other protected areas where camping permits are also required, including:

Together, these five parks are collectively known as the Temagami Cluster in the Ontario Parks reservation system. Select “Backcountry Registration” to obtain a first-come first-served interior camping permit up to two weeks in advance of your arrival date. Permits do not guarantee availability of specific campsites.

Study your route carefully to determine where permits are required (camping is free for Canadian residents on Crown land and conservation reserves) or work with a local outfitter.

Note: Non-residents must purchase camping permits from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for overnight trips on Crown land and conservation reserves.

a plane flies over Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park
Make your trip to Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater a fly-in adventure. Photo: Nicole Mandy // @nicolemandy

Outfitting & Tours

Guided Canoe Trips

  • Cabin Falls Ecolodge, owned and operated by Hap and Andrea Wilson, provides off-grid wilderness lodging and custom guided canoe trips in the heart of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park.
  • Temagami Outfitting Company offers scheduled and custom guided trips to a variety of destinations, for all ages and levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

Canoe Rentals in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater

  • Smoothwater Outfitters and Lodge is one of Northern Ontario’s original canoe outfitters based just north of the town of Temagami on Highway 11. Besides a variety of lodging options and great meals (a luxurious way to start and end your wilderness canoe trip), Smoothwater offers rentals, vehicle shuttles and complete canoe trip outfitting with top-notch gear.
  • Temagami Outfitting Company offers lightweight canoe rentals, vehicle shuttles, complete outfitting and trip planning services, as well as all-inclusive guided trips for all levels of paddlers.
  • Lakeland Airways is your best bet for Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park fly-in canoe trips. The air base is located on the waterfront in the town of Temagami and services the area’s best wilderness lakes. Canoe rentals are also available.
two people paddle a canoe on northeastern Ontario's Evelyn River
Be astonished by the scenery along the Lady Evelyn River. Photo: Melissa Giamou // @m.gamma

Maps

Due to the interconnected nature of Temagami canoe routes and protected areas, there isn’t a discrete Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park campsite map. Instead, canoe trippers venturing into this remote wilderness park rely on a selection of excellent Temagami canoe routes maps to locate campsites and portages:

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

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