Wilderness by Train
One glimpse of a roadmap of Ontario reveals this to be a huge province. The vast geography may be enough to scare you away from visiting one of the world’s greatest wilderness canoeing destinations, Wabakimi Provincial Park. This 872,000-hectare preserve of boreal forest, free-flowing rivers, and secluded lakes is entirely road-free, and it’s twice the size of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. But if you have at least 10 days’ vacation—along with the backcountry paddling skills to venture far off the beaten track—getting there is much easier than you think.
When you think of Wabakimi, think of Via Rail. Its cross-country passenger service allows you to load your canoe in Toronto or Winnipeg (and many places in between) and ride the rails right into Wabakimi.
But first, like any great adventure, there’s some planning involved. Local adventure companies offer a variety of outfitting services including specialized trip planning advice, ultra-light canoes, high quality camping gear, meals, pre-and-post accommodation, guides, and more. Professional guides add much value by sharing their knowledge of local history, legends, ecology, best fishing and camping spots.
Getting There: The Basics
The railway transects the southern perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park, with passenger trains arriving from the east and west two times per week. Passenger tickets can be booked online (one-way economy adult fares are about $70 and $180 per person from Winnipeg and Toronto, respectively, and less for intermediate stations along the way such as Sudbury and Armstrong).
Canoes can be checked at the station; it’s recommended that you call and make a reservation in advance. Each canoe comes with a $100 surcharge, regardless of where you are embarking and disembarking. Canoe packs, paddles, and fishing gear are free; just make sure you keep your equipment organized and protect fragile items. Note that pets are not allowed on trains.
Two of the best places to start a canoe trip in Wabakimi are scheduled stops—Allanwater Bridge and Flindt Landing. With 48 hours’ notice (call 1-800-842-7245) the train will stop at unscheduled stops, so long as you know the exact mileage (book the next scheduled stop). The Friends of Wabakimi provides a mileage chart of popular launch sites for canoeists.
The schedule was updated in 2019 (the route is called The Canadian). Westbound trains depart downtown Toronto on Wednesdays and Sundays at 9:30 am. Nearly 24 hours later, they arrive in the town of Armstrong, a road-access community located three hours north of Thunder Bay and on Wabakimi’s doorstep, at 9:00 am Eastern time on Thursdays and Mondays. It’s about an hour by rail into Wabakimi from there. Note that Wabakimi is in central time.
Eastbound trains depart Winnipeg on Mondays and Thursdays at 10:00 pm and arrive and pass through Wabakimi between 9:00 am and 10:30 am on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Suggested CANOE Routes
Now for the fun part. With such a vast mosaic of waterways, you could spend a lifetime exploring Wabakimi Provincial Park. Local experts can help plan your trip.
Whitewater canoeing enthusiasts will find outstanding conditions all summer on the Allanwater River; starting at Allanwater Bridge, run the river as it flows north and study the Wabakimi Canoe Trip Planning Map to identify a loop back to the tracks.
If you’re more compelled by a lake-to-lake trip, request a stop at Schultz’s Trail (mileage marker 24.7). You’ll head north from here, stitching together bodies of water large and small. With two weeks, you could venture west and finish your trip at Flindt Landing, near the park’s western perimeter. Contact a local outfitter for detailed route-planning advice.
There's no feeling like being dropped off with your canoe on a wilderness railway siding, watching the train disappear in the distance and realizing that the only way back to civilization is by paddle and portage.
MORE ADVENTURES IN WABAKIMI
- BLOG: Conor Mihell’s account of a 24-day canoe adventure around the perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park
- BLOG: Ray Mears, world authority on Bushcraft and Survival, explores Wabakimi
- MUST-WATCH VIDEO: We Belong To It, an award-winning short film featuring Ray Mears in Wabakimi Provincial Park
- National Geographic Adventurer Visits Wabakimi Provincial Park