There’s a landscape in northwestern Ontario that I’ve wanted to visit since I first heard of it. A boreal forest destination deep in the Canadian shield, and a place rich with indigenous culture. In fact, there’s evidence that the indigenous communities have lived in and travelled the area for seven thousand years. The Ojibway name of this amazing place conjures up images of a paddlers dream “Wabishkaugimi,” which means “Whitewater”. Of course nowadays we know it as Wabakimi.
I was planning to begin filming the pilot of a new series Trailguide Pictures was producing called “A Place to Paddle” and thought that there was likely no better choice then to kick off the series with a remote location known for its legendary fishing opportunities and northern landscape.
Wabakimi is the Canadian province of Ontario’s second largest provincial park. An impressive 8920 square kilometres of wilderness canoe trails and a destination of choice for anyone seeking a remote wilderness experience. An unmanaged park, most of the campsites and portages are unmarked and so the would-be traveller must be a relatively skilled traveller and have experience with a map and compass. Inside the park there are over 500 backcountry campsites which are primitive in design and many of which may not have seen a camper in some time. In fact, on our last evening in the park the fire pit was growing over with thick green moss.
Getting To Wabakimi Provincial Park
We set off on our road trip from Tobermory, Ontario so that we could begin the trip with a crossing of Georgian Bay on the Chi-Cheemaun “Big Canoe” ferry. From South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island we drove north on Highway 6 and connected to the Trans-Canada Highway. From there we drove west towards Thunder Bay and then north to the small town of Armstrong.
After resting the night in Armstrong, we flew in to the park aboard an Otter Seaplane courtesy of Wabakimi Air & Mattice Lake Outfitters.
The short 20 minute flight was smooth, easy and comfortable. Don and Annette Elliot and their flight crew made the trip seem effortless into the park and we were able to land into Termite Lake on the Allan Water River a short paddle from our first campsite and only a short distance from the rapids and waterfall at the south end of the lake.
Wabakimi Permits and Reservations
As reservations are not required for campsites into the park campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and fortunately during our trip we never had to adjust our itinerary due to someone camping at our targeted destinations. In fact, during our stay in the park we only encountered one other group of campers as we paddled by their camp one morning. Even though reservations aren’t required in the park for campsites, permits are still required for entry. We obtained ours before setting out through the Ontario Parks office. Its important to always get your permit, because even in unmanaged parks, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to maintain and promote the areas for us to enjoy.
The Wabakimi Canoe Trip Experience
Travelling in the park was quiet and a great escape from the hectic hustle of everyday life. We were far out of cell phone range so we travelled equipped with an InReach device and provided an update on our safety every day or two. Keeping in touch with the outside world was a task I delegated to Noah so that he could feel at ease on his first big wilderness trip by staying in contact with his twin sister back home.
The landscape itself was magnificent and we were given the gifts of a brief encounter with a woodland caribou and several visits with the eagles who inhabit the area as we paddled our way from lake to lake. Conditions on the water varied depending on the weather and wind, which seemed to change every couple hours and out on the water we encountered open water and river conditions which included swifts and rapids which ranged from class one to class three, as well as a couple water falls.
Wabakimi Provincial Park
Portages in Wabakimi
We portaged around the rougher water through unmarked trails which were still easy to see on our approach. Most of the portages in the park are maintained by canoe trippers and park special interest groups and although they’re a bit more rugged then what you’d find on a well beaten trail like in Algonquin, they’re still relatively easy to use.
Hiking the portage trails was an interesting experience for us and I couldn’t help think about how so many of the trails have been in use for thousands of years and walking them reminded me of the importance of minimizing our impact on the landscape. I think there’s often a voice whispering in one ear that says it’s ok to blaze new trails to get to a destination easier, but in places like Wabakimi it’s important to shut that voice out and remember the cultural significance of the land to the indigenous cultures who were here first.
Leave No Trace
I remember someone telling me once, that there are old trails once used by the Ojibway which are now overgrown. Most people naturally assume that the trails have been neglected or forgotten and that may be true in some cases, but there are also sacred areas within a cultural landscape and some trails have been left to regrow, not because of neglect but because of the intention to keep the areas safe and preserved. For that reason I believe its always better to tread lightly and respectfully as though I was walking through a friends back yard as a guest.
Wabakimi didn’t disappoint. We camped in silence, experienced regional wildlife, ate our catch of the day, braved stormy weather and paddled the whitewater. Its a trip that won’t easily be forgotten, but better than that, its a trip that I’ll always remember.