Discover Ontario’s Least Busy Canoe Routes

Escape the crowds on these little-known Ontario waterways.

Ontario is Canada’s most popular canoe trip destination—and with good reason. It’s no secret amongst paddlers that Ontario abounds with lakes and rivers, nestled within ancient pines and carving through endless boreal forests, creating the perfect geography for a canoe trip. Ontario’s canoe routes go back to time immemorial, attesting to Indigenous ingenuity dating back well before colonization.

Many of Ontario’s most popular canoe routes are also part of the province’s beloved parks, such as Algonquin and Killarney provincial parks, setting the stage for a rush for permits and congested portage trails on the most well-used routes. There’s still plenty of solitude to find, but you need to look further to discover the least busy canoe trips in Ontario. Our list highlights hidden gems scattered across the vastness of Northern Ontario, with something for everyone.

Escaping the Crowds in Temagami

Set amidst ancient white- and red pines just east of Sudbury, Kukagami Lake is a paddler’s gateway to the south end of Ontario’s renowned Temagami canoe area. This hidden corner offers some of the least busy canoe trips in Temagami. The lake is located about 25 km north of Highway 17, on Kukagami Lake Road (mostly gravel but suitable for all vehicles). Kukagami itself is busy with cottages and anglers, but beyond the first portage to Donald Lake the crowds thin and a feeling of wilderness takes over—especially in the shoulder seasons of spring, late summer and fall.

Donald Lake is a perfect destination for an easy canoe trip with family or beginner-level friends. The lake boasts crystalline waters, a few islands and hidden bays to explore, and soaring cliffs. If you have four or five days, it’s possible to create a loop through Carufel, Maskinonge and Matagamasi lakes, which includes several modest portages and a diverse range of paddling conditions, including wetlands and small ponds. More advanced paddlers can use Kukagami as a starting point for even longer adventures into the heart of Temagami.

Permits and Fees

Backcountry camping is free for Canadian residents. Non-residents must acquire a Crown Land Camping Permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, or use the services of an outfitter.

Outfitters

Sportsman’s Lodge Wilderness Resort is located on Kukagami Lake and offers a launch site and secure parking for a modest fee, vehicle shuttles and canoe and gear rentals.

Where to Stay

Sportsman’s Lodge Wilderness Resort also offers lakefront accommodations in cozy cabins and a classic northern lodge, complete with meals—the perfect way to start and end your canoe trip.

two lit-up tents pitched alongside a river at dusk
Expect superb fishing, challenging portages and secluded campsites on the Mississagi River. Photo: Lachlan McVie

Discover the Backcountry of Mississagi Provincial Park

The northeastern Ontario community of Elliot Lake is surrounded by water, including a handful of excellent canoe trips for novice to intermediate paddlers. Mississagi Provincial Park features a quiet campground where frontcountry sites are first come, first served. The campground on Semiwite Lake is your starting point for great day paddling for families and anglers. More experienced canoe trippers can set off into the backcountry from Flack Lake, launching from Laurentian Lodge. An excellent three- to four-day canoe trip loops from Flack to Ten Mile Lake and back, including superb fishing, several challenging portaging and secluded campsites. For a longer, four- to six-day adventure, you can extend the trip from Ezma Lake to Mace Lake, circling through Claim and Dunlop lakes to Ten Mile.

Permits and Fees

You need a park permit (day use, frontcountry camping or backcountry camping) to paddle in Mississagi Provincial Park, including Flack Lake. The multi-day canoe routes starting at Laurentian Lodge are situated in a non-operational park and do not require permits for Canadian residents (non-residents must acquire a Crown Land Camping Permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) beyond Flack Lake. Laurentian Lodge charges a modest fee for launching and parking on Flack Lake.

Outfitters

Canoes are available for daily rental at Mississagi Provincial Park. You can also check out Adventure North in Elliot Lake. The Chrismar Adventure Map is an excellent route-planning resource.

Where to Stay

Mississagi Provincial Park offers a spacious drive-in campground on Semiwite Lake. For an upscale experience, book a private cabin or lodge room at Laurentian Lodge.

canoe camping in Wabakimi Provincial Park
Wabakimi Provincial Park is one of the world’s ultimate places to paddle, with over 2,000 km of canoe routes. Photo: Conor Mihell

Wabakimi and Beyond: The Savant River

Located about three hours north of Thunder Bay, Wabakimi Provincial Park is one of the world’s ultimate places to paddle, with over one million hectares of wilderness and over 2,000 km of canoe routes. However, the word is out and Wabakimi has become increasingly busy. One way to get a taste of untracked wilderness in Wabakimi is to access the lesser travelled (yet equally spectacular) rivers, lakes and boreal forest around its perimeter. It is a perfect destination for advanced paddlers with experience on wild waterways and the confidence to scout out infrequently used (and often unmarked) portage trails.

Working with an outfitter in the village of Armstrong like Wabakimi Outfitters or Mattice Lake Outfitters, you can charter a floatplane or take the VIA Canadian passenger train to Flindt Landing, located on the park’s west side. From here head west, outside of park boundaries towards Savant Lake. This sprawling body of water feeds the Savant River, which eventually dumps into the Albany River—Ontario’s longest waterway. All this to say, you have plenty of options, depending on the amount of time you wish to travel. It’s a wonderful seven- to 10-day adventure from Flindt Landing to Velos or McCrea lakes, where you could schedule a floatplane pickup. If you have more time, continue downstream on the Pashkogan River or deke east to Davies Lake and descend the remote Misehkow River, both of which flow into the Albany.

A budget-friendly option is to loop back east and south (a myriad of lake options exist) to the VIA tracks or the town of Armstrong. Wabakimi is clearly a destination for those who like to choose their own adventure. Besides local outfitters, Friends of Wabakimi is a great resource for discovering all the canoe trip options in the area.

Permits and Fees

Backcountry camping permits are required for your time in Wabakimi Provincial Park, which comprises about half of the route. Camping is free for Canadian residents outside of the provincial park, though non-residents must purchase a Crown Land Camping Permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Outfitters

Wabakimi Outfitters offers full-service trip planning, rentals, shuttles, logistical support and guided trips. Mattice Lake Outfitters provides floatplane service throughout the region.

Where to Stay

The Wabakimi Wilderness Lodge in Armstrong is a great place to stay before and after your trip.

A Little-Known Tributary of the Mighty Missinaibi

Missinaibi Provincial Park is a preeminent destination for wilderness canoe tripping in Ontario. Many paddlers dream about descending the mighty Missinaibi River, which flows over 500 km across the province’s geographical centre, part of a historic link between Lake Superior and James Bay. The little-known Little Missinaibi River offers a mix of paddling conditions for experienced trippers looking to beat the crowds. Check out the 85-km Shumka to Missanabie route for an intimate glimpse of the boreal forest, secluded campsites and awe-inspiring Indigenous pictographs.

This intermediate-level canoe trip starts at the village of Missanabie on Dog Lake, about a two-hour drive east of Wawa at the end of Highway 651. Inquire about a vehicle shuttle to the put-in from Dog Lake Resort or book a one-way ride on the eastbound VIA Budd Car from Missanabie Station to Bolkow Lake (the journey takes about one hour). From there you’ll traverse a series of lakes to the Little Missinaibi River, which cascades into sprawling Missinaibi Lake. It’s another two or three days back to the village of Missanabie. Alternatively, you can opt for an out-and-back trip starting at the campground on Missinaibi Lake, about 80 km north of Chapleau.

Permits and Fees

Backcountry camping permits are required for your time in Missinaibi Provincial Park, which comprises about half of the route. Camping is free for Canadian residents outside of the provincial park, though non-residents must purchase a Crown Land Camping Permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Outfitters

Rent a canoe and equipment at Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa. Canoe rentals are also available at the Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park campground, and you can order an Adventure Map for the area from Ontario Parks.

Where to Stay

Check out Dog Lake Resort for accommodations in Missanabie before and after your trip. You can also break up the drive with a night’s stay at Rock Island Lodge in Wawa. The provincial park campground on Missinaibi Lake offers a great base camp for day paddlers, families and anglers.

a canoe silhouettted on the French River at dusk
The little-travelled Restoule Provincial Park-Upper French River loop boasts beautiful scenery and excellent fishing. Photo: Colin Field

Explore the Upper French River at Restoule Provincial Park

Cradling the headwaters of the French River, Restoule Provincial Park is surprisingly unknown amongst most paddlers, given its easy-access location in central Ontario. Canoe day trips start from the drive-in campground launch, with 2.5- to 14-km options available.

A more adventurous, four- to six-day, 72-km route forms a loop between Restoule Lake, Lake Nipissing and the upper French River. This novice- to intermediate-level route contains a range of Canadian Shield scenery, including the island-pocked waters of Lake Nipissing and travel on creeks and rivers, with 14 portages.

Permits and Fees

Backcountry camping permits are required for Restoule Provincial Park.

Outfitters

Canoe rentals are available from Restoule Provincial Park. You can also pick up a rental canoe at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, White Squall in Parry Sound, or Swift Canoes in South River.

Where to Stay

Restoule Provincial Park offers an excellent drive-in campground for frontcountry camping. For a luxe experience book a cabin (and savour gourmet meals) at The Lodge at Pine Cove, on the French River.

The Interior Lakes of Lake Superior Provincial Park

While some of Lake Superior Provincial Park’s road-access interior lakes get a lot of canoe traffic, the park is a gem for those willing to suss out hidden or more challenging routes, several of which rank amongst the least busy canoe trips in Ontario.

Check out the Fenton-Treeby route for a family-friendly overnight canoe trip, with an access point located at the north end of Lake Superior Provincial Park, about 20 minutes south of Wawa. It’s remarkable that this easy, 16-km loop doesn’t see more traffic. The route provides a glimpse of the boreal forest, with spruce and birch-clad shores, as well as good fishing for trout, pike and walleye.

Old Woman Lake is a good destination for more experienced paddlers ready for a physically demanding, three-day canoe trip. Seven portages, including a couple of long, steep and gruelling trails, mark the way from the access point at Gamitagama Lake to spectacular Old Woman—and you’ll have to repeat the suffering on the way out. The trip features the rugged scenery that makes Lake Superior Provincial Park so spectacular for travellers on Highway 17, with a healthy dose of wilderness, wildlife like moose and boreal-breeding songbirds, as well as the possibility of seeing wolves and black bears—not to mention soul-healing isolation. If that’s not enough you can add a few more days of backcountry travel to link Old Woman Lake to the Sand River, a wonderful high-water adventure for experienced moving water paddlers.

Permits and Fees

Backcountry camping permits are required in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Outfitters

Rent a canoe and equipment at Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa. Canoe rentals are also available at the Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park campground, and you can order an Adventure Map for the area from Ontario Parks.

Where to Stay

The Voyageur’s Lodge in Batchawana Bay offers cozy lodging and great take-out meals (including famous apple fritters) on the shores of Lake Superior, about 45 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie.

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. 

Recommended Articles

Ontario’s Blue-Water Lakes

So blue you won’t believe your eyes.

Ontario’s Moose Hotspots

Your best chance of seeing a moose is by paddle.

Philip Edward Island Camping Guide

The inside scoop on this Georgian Bay gem.

Best Family Canoe Trips

7 overnight canoe trips kids will love.

Paddling Laws

This is what you need to know about safety on the water in Ontario.

The Missing Link of "the Great Trail"

Find out how it was completed.

SUPreme Adventure

Best paddleboarding destinations for beginners.

Go Ahead, Be a Joiner

Find a Facebook Paddling Club that's right for you.

Easy River Tripping

The French River will delight canoeists of all ages.

Temagami Canoe Trip Routes

6 top trip options.

Ultimate Paddling Day Trips

11 can’t-miss provincial parks for paddlers.

It's Time for a Paddle

Canoe and kayak rentals that are perfect for your next paddling adventure.

Top 10 Easy Canoe Trips

Go guided and learn canoe and camping skills in Northern Ontario.

Missinaibi River Canoe Trip

Learn how to plan a canoe trip down this famed wilderness river.

Hike-in or Paddle-in campsites only

Frontenac Provincial Park

Find Wilderness South of Algonquin

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Sun and Sand

Soak it up at the best Lake Huron beaches

Best Sites on the French River

Where to stay on your canoe trip.

Songs About Canoeing

Kevin Callan shares his top 15 favourites.

8 Secret Paddling Hotspots In Ontario

Explore waters less travelled.