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A 246-kilometre canoe route through Wabakimi Provincial Park; a world-class wilderness canoeing area north of Lake Superior.

August 2020

The untamed beauty of Wabakimi Provincial Park is an area we always wanted to explore. Even though the last three paddling seasons were spent canoeing our way across the rugged terrain of Canada, for months at a time, we found that our route in Wabakimi Provincial Park was no easy feat!  

With camping gear packed and our canoe firmly attached to the top of the car, we headed to Wabakimi, a twenty-four-hour road trip from our home in Kingston. Wabakimi Provincial Park is a rural and untamed section of wilderness approximately 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. The park itself is over five million acres, which is twice the size of Prince Edward Island. And, the only way to access Wabakimi Provincial Park is by floatplane, train or canoe. On day one of our adventures, we took an exciting floatplane ride from Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters and Ecolodge. The pilot dropped us off near Star Island on Kawaweogama Lake. Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters had arranged to pick us up sixteen days later at the pre-determined location on the Kopka River. In excitement and anticipation of the unknown, we began our journey!

Since Wabakimi Provincial Park is so expansive and challenging to access, the portages are not maintained frequently. The portages are also not marked. Fortunately, with experience in wilderness skills and training from previous trips, our awareness of our surroundings was heightened. After a few portages, we discovered old (axe cuts) blazes on trees. Blazing is an Indigenous method of marking a trail. When we couldn’t find a portage we had no choice but to find an alternate passage from one water source to another such as traversing boulders along a dry river bed, slogging through a swamp or bushwacking through the forest. 

In Wabakimi Provincial Park, campsites are also not marked and are used very infrequently. We had to be very careful about where we placed the tent because storms, heavy rain and high wind come fast! We had to ensure the tent was not pitched under dead trees or those that were about to fail during a windstorm. Of course, we always found a great place to camp, some camp spots being more interesting than others. A few times we placed our tent on Caribou Moss. Caribou Moss grows on the ground and on rocks in arctic and northern regions around the world. It looks like a foamy, grey-green spongy mass, and grows to be two to ten centimetres high. Another reason why it is called Caribou Moss is that the Caribou love to eat it!

There were many islands to camp on as well. One day, we located an island that looked like an ideal spot to pitch a tent. As we were getting closer, we saw one very large black bear swimming. As we stopped to observe (from a safe distance) what this bear was up to we noticed it was swimming from island to island looking for the next patch of berries to feast upon. The decision was made to camp on the mainland instead for that particular evening!

The Kopka River area was the highlight of this trip. Kopka River Provincial Park is immediately south of Wabakimi Provincial Park which eventually empties into Lake Nipigon. The Kopka River is one of the most interesting and challenging areas to paddle and portage through. The scenery is typical of the Canadian Shield, with impressive granite outcrops and dramatic ridges lined by spruce and Jack Pine forests. Pristine lakes, scenic rivers, and spectacular waterfalls greeted us along this last section of our trip. Of course when land is this rugged, one can expect portages that are quite challenging and require a good degree of competence to circumvent. A challenge, but so worth the views!  

In total, we spent sixteen days paddling this remote route, without seeing a single soul. Although gruelling at times we completed 67 portages during this short period of time. The route was a challenge, but the remoteness of this area was worth every minute and we would not hesitate to go back.