With an area covering 100,000 square kilometres and over 70,000 freshwater lakes, rivers and streams, Ontario's Sunset Country is any flatwater paddler's dream destination. If a trip into our Boreal forest landscapes isn't on your bucket list, well it should be. This article provides a brief overview of some of the canoe routes you can traverse in Sunset Country. While you can do these routes self-guided, we strongly recommend you consider the services of an experienced canoe outfitter. They're someone who knows the area, knows the route you want to take or who can suggest routes. They are also a fantastic insurance policy against getting lost as they will come out looking for you if that occurs. They can also rent you equipment and supplies for your trip, provide you with maps, and even identify the best campsite locations.
PaddleON in Sunset Country
An Overview of Sunset Country Canoe Routes
This article is intended more like an info piece than as a guide on how to undertake your trip. Consult our canoe outfitters who are experts at that aspect. What we want to do here is give you a sampling of some of the canoe routes in this region - and there are many - so you can make the best choice for yourself on where to go. There is no better source of route information than what's available from My Canadian Canoe Routes - Northwestern Ontario page. There are in many cases detailed route descriptions so you know what to expect. But from a general perspective, here's what we have to offer:
Route Access Between Provinces - Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
We are fortunate to have a border with wilderness areas in Manitoba, specifically with Nopiming Provincial Park and Atikaki Provincial Park that have inter-connected routes into Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Waterways with routes between the two provinces include Wallace Lake through to Artery Lake, Bird Lake through to Snowshoe Lake, as well as routes on the Gammon and Berens River, Beresford Lake into Ontario to mention just a handful. These are only general references so please consult the route descriptions for a full list of waterways on all the routes. There are additional routes from Manitoba to Woodland Caribou Park. On the Ontario side, most people access the park through Red Lake. The Ontario MNR is a good resource for information on the park.
The Bloodvein River System
The Bloodvein is a designated Heritage River stretching almost 350 kilometres starting near Red Lake, Ontario and flowing west into Lake Winnipeg. Its place in opening up the Canadian west is well-known so the designation is appropriate. The river was travelled for centuries by area indigenous peoples who used it for commerce and sustenance. There are pictographs along the route as well as many other features. There is some whitewater on this route so be aware and plan accordingly.
The Quetico is a world-renown canoe destination featured in media and journals for paddlers almost since it's inception in 1913. The Provincial Park is located adjacent to the US Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) and offers an almost endless choice of routes and some of the best places to camp overnight of any canoe destination anywhere. While Quetico Provincial Park is a popular canoeing destination, you won't see many others as you need an access permit which limits the numbers of paddlers in the park at any one time.
Far North Routes
Suitable only for experienced canoe trippers, the far north of Sunset Country offers real wilderness paddling. There's basically no one around and if you actually do see another person, check to make sure all is okay with them as you are that remote. Some potential routes to consider are the Fawn River through the Fawn River PP, The Severn River through Severn River PP or the Otoskwin and Attawapiskat Rivers through the Otoskwin-Attawapiskat Provincial Park. Trips here will challenge all your skills so plan accordingly. When you're done, you'll be able to say you have traversed true wilderness untouched by human development. Note: It's highly recommended that you use the services of an experienced canoe outfitter for any trips in this area of Sunset Country.
The Turtle River-White Otter Wilderness Area
A canoe trip up the Turtle River and its many adjoining lakes should make the bucket list of any serious canoe tripper. This area is especially rugged with many high cliffs and spectacular fishing opportunities are available along the way if that's your thing. You'll be paddling through the Turtle River-White Otter Wilderness area with bodies of water along the route such as Clearwater West Lake, White Otter Lake, Pekagoning Lake etc. Nearby are what many refer to as the "Atikokan area routes" including trips on the Seine or Atikokan rivers, and large lakes such as Lac Des Mille Lac, Marmion and several others.
Boundary Waters Fur Trade Route - Pigeon River West to Lake of the Woods
A trip into this area will see you paddling just north of the US/Canada Border. There are no formal starting points but extreme trippers with time on their hands can start at Pigeon River in the east and paddle all the way to Lake of the Woods on several adjoining lakes, including Northern Lights Lake, then south of Quetico Park ending up eventually in giant Rainy Lake which flows into the Rainy River and eventually, Lake of the Woods.
Kaministikwia River Fur Trade Route - Thunder Bay to Fort Frances
Another route with history, this alternative trip near the Canada/US Border will certainly challenge your skills. There are sections along this route where you traverse the same lakes as in the Boundary Waters Fur Trade Route but this route goes through Quetico Park as opposed to the south of it. As you paddle along this route, picture in your mind what happened centuries ago when the same route was plied by local indigenous peoples and the early voyageurs.
Lake of the Woods and Area
At 1,000,000 acres and with 14,522 islands, Lake of the Woods is one giant canoe route unto itself. You could paddle the lake the entire summer and only see parts of it - it really is that big! In addition to the lake itself, there are several adjoining routes up the Winnipeg River and east towards Dogtooth, Kilvert and other lakes. If your novice canoeists, this area while rugged, is probably a good choice. You can increase your confidence by using the services of a canoe outfitter of course. Just east of Lake of the Woods is Kakagi (Crow) Lake - one of the most picturesque and beautiful lakes in Sunset Country - with many options available for paddlers in Kakagi's crystal clear waters and its adjoining waterways.
Eagle Lake -Vermilion Bay/Dryden Area
There are lots of route choices here that are relatively short compared to some others so another good area for the more inexperienced canoeists. Some choices include an Eagle Lake, Hawkcliff Lake, Populus Lake, Dogpaw Lake route, a route that takes you through Upper Wabigoon Lake and the English River and several others. The fishing opportunities are out of this world. Check for what's available here.
As one of the largest Provincial Parks in Ontario, Wabakimi is another one of those bucket list destinations for any serious paddler. Because the Park is so large, you have a wide variety of routes you can choose from. Wabakimi is very rugged and remote so this is another area we recommend you use an outfitter for your trip. Several have established packages for you to consider. Areas with routes adjacent to Wabakimi include those in Kopka River, Albany River and Brightsand River Provincial Parks. Canoeing.com has a guide about paddling in the park which you can read here.
More Opportunities Exist...
We should emphasize only a small sample of the canoe routes available for paddlers have been highlighted here. There are more routes around areas like Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake, Lac Seul just to name three.
Here are some useful resources for those wanting to plan a trip up here.
Canoe Outfitters in Ontario's Sunset Country
The Path of the Paddle Association
My Canadian Canoe Routes - Northwestern Region Info
Ontario Parks Online Reservation System
Canada Map Sales - Topographic Maps for NWO
Explore Magazine's Article on Canoe Routes in Ontario (includes other areas outside NWO):
Paddling Magazine's 101 Canoeing Quotes:
Outdoor Stuff Guide's The 10 Essentials for Camping 2020:
Get a FREE Sunset Country, Ontario Travel Guide here