5 paddling day trips in Sunset Country

From Quetico to Woodland Caribou to Wabakimi Park and every lake in between, you'll find ancient rocks, timeless forests, hidden beaches and wildlife.

Paddling is entrenched in the history of Sunset Country, and there's no better way to experience Sunset Country's ancient rocks, timeless forests, hidden beaches, and wildlife than from a canoe or kayak. Here are five top paddling day trips to try this summer or fall. To share your personal favourites, tweet @Sunset_Country and use the hashtag #bestpaddling.

French Lake-Pickerel Lake

Jim Clark with Canoe Canada, an outfitter operating in the Quetico Provincial Park area, puts this one first on his list of day trips in this famous paddling park. Start the day at Dawson Trail Campground just inside the park gate off Highway 11 east of Atikokan. From the canoe launch located in the campground, paddle through French Lake to the Pickerel River, and follow this gentle meandering watercourse to Pickerel Lake. In Pickerel Lake, follow the south shore about two km to "The Pines." This scenic beach area is a great place to stop for lunch.

Spend the rest of the day swimming, fishing, and exploring Pickerel Lake, then head back to French Lake and the campground. Clark says you'll find more beaches on the north shore of Pickerel Lake if you want to take a different route back, and he reminds paddlers to keep an eye out for moose and other wildlife.

Dawson Trail Campground has lots of parking. Outfitters, including Canoe Canada, can provide canoes and gear if needed. Stop by the park office to get a day pass and park map and more details on this canoe route.

The Pines beach area on Pickerel Lake.   Photo credit: Chris Stromberg
The Pines beach area on Pickerel Lake. Photo: Chris Stromberg

Beaverhouse Lake

This Quetico Park day trip is more out of the way than the French Lake-Pickerel Lake option. To get there from Atikokan, go west on Highway 11 to Flanders Road (look for the sign to Quetico Park, Beaverhouse). Follow Flanders Road south for 16 km, then look for the sign for Beaverhouse. Follow the narrow dirt road 8 km or so until you get to the parking lot. Outfitters will drop canoes at this location if you don't have your own. From the parking lot, there is an 800-m portage to the lake on a well-maintained trail.

Spend the day exploring Beaverhouse Lake. The first stop should be the Beaverhouse Ranger Station, "a beautiful log cabin surrounded by old-growth pine," says Quetico Park superintendent Trevor Gibb. Visit the ranger, ask about recent wildlife sightings and pick up a park day pass. Beaverhouse has Anishinabe pictographs, nearby high hills for panoramic photos, and "exceptional" fishing, Gibb says. The lake has no motorized access, so fish are plentiful and curious. Live bait and barbed hooks are not allowed in the park, but Gibb has heard of people catching walleye with bare jigs and catching lake trout while trolling with a canoe.

For more challenging excursions and portages on this Beaverhouse day trip, contact park staff or one of the many other outfitters servicing the Quetico area. They have lots of suggestions for paddlers up for a longer day and a few more challenges.

Make sure to stop by the Beaverhouse Ranger Station to visit the ranger and get your park pass. Photo: Chris Stromberg
Make sure to stop by the Beaverhouse Ranger Station to visit the ranger and get your park pass. Photo: Chris Stromberg

Stupbeck Lake

To get to Stupbeck Lake, head into Red Lake along Highway 105 and turn left at the lights (they're the only traffic light in town). Follow Highway 618 for roughly 14 km and turn right onto Flat Lake Road. Travel 45 minutes or so until you reach Stupbeck Lake on the left. This is just before the Johnson Lake access to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.

Red Lake Outfitters' Harlan Schwartz calls Stupbeck a true Canadian boreal wilderness experience. Photo: Harlan Schwartz
Stupbeck Lake is a true Canadian boreal wilderness experience. Photo: Harlan Schwartz

Chimney Lake

Brenda and Bert Zwicker's favourite daytime paddling spot is Chimney Lake near Armstrong. The Zwickers manage Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters and Eco-Lodge, owned by the Hyer family. "We've been here 15 years and I go back to Chimney Lake at least once a year," Brenda says. "Whenever we have family come to visit, we take them there."

Chimney Lake is surrounded by a lot of rock, and at the far end, paddlers can venture into the middle of a tight formation of high cliffs. The formation has the look and feel of a giant chimney — hence the lake's name. Set aside three hours to see the chimney and explore the lake.

Armstrong is three hours north of Thunder Bay on Highway 527. Chimney Lake is about seven miles south of Armstrong. Getting to the lake requires a 200-meter portage from the road. Contact Wabakimi Lodge for more specific directions and other canoe trip ideas. Guests of the lodge can also get guided canoe trips.

Amazing rock formations, including one like a chimney, make Chimney Lake a must-see paddling destination. Photo: Ian Beatty
Amazing rock formations, including one shaped like a chimney, make Chimney Lake a must-see paddling destination. Photo: Ian Beatty

Keys Lake

Keys Lake is a clear "trout lake" that provides a good combination of sandy beaches and scenic cliffs. The 60-km drive from downtown Kenora up the Jones Road (Highway 671) to Keys Lake is an important part of the day, says outfitter Scott Green, owner of Green Adventures in Kenora. "The drive up Jones Road is beautiful, so take time and enjoy the scenery and the views," he says. "I've done the drive numerous times and have seen lynx, bears, and lots of other wildlife along the way."

Keys Lake is on the west side of Jones Road. Park on the road or pull into the beach area nearest the road. After launching at the beach, paddle left along the shore for about an hour to see the cliffs. And don't forget to look down. Keys Lake is "super clear" giving paddlers a good glimpse of the lake bottom, Green says.

Keys Lake can get choppy on windy days, but this can add to the fun, Green says, by giving adventurous paddlers a chance to ride the surf. If more adventurous paddlers are also up for a short portage, he recommends crossing over to Bert Lake to see the waterfall. Contact Green Adventures for a map showing how to find the portage location.

Keys Lake has such clear water you can see the lake bottom as you paddle along. Photo: Scott Green
Keys Lake has such clear water you can see the lake bottom as you paddle along. Photo: Scott Green

Visit the Sunset Country website for a complete list of full and partial canoe outfitters or for a list of lodges that have a canoe to rent or use while staying at their facility

About Jay Whetter

Jay Whetter is a journalist and magazine editor based in Kenora, Ontario. He has also written a children's book called "The Adventures of Geo the Pebble." He likes quieter outdoor pursuits like canoeing and hiking, and loves to discover amazing new places. To contact Jay or order a signed copy of his book, email whetterj@gmail.com or call 807-468-4006. His Twitter handle is @KenoraJay.

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