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BACK ROADS BILL: A paddling roundup - where to go

Starting the paddling season, Bill highlights some day and overnight trips in northeastern Ontario and gives us a good amount of trip-planning information

Find your paddles. It is time to go canoeing or kayaking in Northeastern Ontario (NEO).

When you think about it geographically NEO touches Algonquin Provincial Park, includes the historic Ottawa, French and Mattawa Rivers; the pristine Lake Temagami/Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater wilderness, the Lake Superior coastline and many of the dynamic rivers at the height of land flowing in two directions, northwards towards James Bay and south to the Great Lakes. Where else is there so much choice and diversity? The region is a canoe/kayaking Mecca – a natural choice. Like ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, there are so many flavours to choose from.

Experts were contacted who know NEO. Adam Shoalts is one of Canada’s most well-known adventurers.

He stated, “NEO is one of the best canoeing locations in the world. Although it's hard to choose a favourite, both Temagami and the Mattawa River come to mind. The Mattawa for its historic charm and mix of whitewater and calm sections, and Temagami for the wildness and ruggedness.” See his ‘Along Against the North’ book set in NEO.

"Hap" Wilson is a Canadian naturalist, canoe tripper, author, illustrator and photographer. He has published numerous Canadian canoe-route guides and books about wilderness life.

“I’ve had the privilege to paddle all these waters; the Mattawa over 20 times; the Lady Evelyn more than 200 times; worked on the original wilderness park plans in 1980, and today, petitioning to include the Temagami core “dome” as a world UNESCO heritage site, headed by our environment group Earthroots. From pre-history use along 5,000-year-old “nastawgan” canoe trails to historic fur-trade routes, along with unequalled unique geophysical features, this region remains world-class.”

He recommends Florence Lake as one canoe trip destination.

Listen to the interview Back Roads Bill had with him on the podcast.


Tourism matters in northern Ontario. Where to go? Think about your accommodations and whether you want an overnight camping trek or a series of day trips with your canoe or kayak. There are plenty of communities and service providers. Whether you are doing a day trip, a loop or a linear trip planning requires a beginning and an end. Here are some summary suggestions.


If you always wanted to be a voyageur and travel in the footsteps of our Canadian legends the Mattawa River is a good place to start. This historic waterway stretches between North Bay and the Town of Mattawa on the Quebec border and is designated as a Canadian Heritage River. This was once an important route for voyageurs, trappers and loggers—and before them, the early aboriginals who began inhabiting the region more than 3000 years ago. It is a leisurely two to three-day paddle with a visit to the Native ochre mine used for the pictographs – rock art. Or consider day trips starting from near North Bay, Corbeil, Rutherglen or Pimisi Bay on Highway 17, paddle upstream to the famed Talon Chutes or downstream to a destination at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. You will want to see the Talon Chutes and Parreseux Falls. Here is the map.


This is an area of water flowing to James Bay. It is the land of black spruce and the Boreal forest. There is one journey to a destination in NEO where you will enjoy a breathtaking vista, and a towering gorge and revel in the sounds of the roaring water as it plunges into a pool many tens of metres below. Because of the narrow gorge, it always has a great deal of mist. A wilderness trip or a good overnight on the Abitibi River provides both. Whether you are paddling to the coast or an overnight down and back to visit New Post Falls, a must-see, you will start just below the Abitibi Canyon Dam. The Abitibi River flows northwest from Lake Abitibi to join the Moose River which empties into James Bay. This river is 540 kilometres (340 mi) long and descends 265 metres (869’). The river was an important fur trading route for the Hudson's Bay Company. It can be a good overnight down-and-back trek.

French River

You may have watched the most recent TVO documentary on this river.

A river of national historic significance the French River was the first designated Canadian Heritage River. Paddle the route of First Nations, French/English Explorers, fur traders and voyageurs. The landscape changes as you leave Lake Nipissing and travel the 100 km to Georgian Bay. The French is an ancient Canadian Shield river which still plays an important role in the drainage of the Georgian Bay watershed. Its notable geological features illustrate the building of the Canadian Shield 900 to 1,600 million years ago. It is an extensive bedrock delta on Georgian Bay which displays spectacular evidence of glacial erosion and the many areas of exceptional natural beauty, characterized by narrow bedrock-lined channels, islands, rapids, and falls. You will discover Recollet Falls en route! For more spatial information and the map for good access points.

Kapuskasing – Hearst

Kapuskasing-Hearst lies in the heart of the Great Clay Belt. The topography of the region is very flat, dotted with numerous small lakes and muskeg bogs. Also in the heart of Canada's boreal forest, the region is drained by rivers running north to James Bay. The district is heavily forested, mostly by thick stands of black spruce trees. Wildlife is abundant. Species such as moose, black bear, lynx and red fox are commonly seen in the area. Lakes and rivers are well populated with walleye, northern pike and yellow perch. There are many rivers to choose from but consider the mighty Missinaibi and Thunder House Falls. Set your compass bearing for here for more spatial information on the river.


Canada's most famous painters, The Group of Seven, are said to have been responsible for the creation of Killarney Provincial Park. Three of the group painted extensively in the park and brought the area to prominence. Once you visit, you quickly understand their passion. This is an enchanted region; with bright white quartzite hills contrasted sharply by wind-swept green pines, red granite shorelines and the emerald waters of Georgian Bay. Killarney Provincial Park and access to Georgian Bay is your destination. A must-see is Silver Peak a wonderful canoe and hike tandem adventure. For more spatial information on a variety of canoe routes see this website.

Kirkland Lake

The geology and terrain of Ontario are best understood by first examining the foundation of bedrock geology underlying the surficial deposits and landforms. The Kirkland Lake area is nestled in the resource rich Precambrian Shield, the oldest geological formation on the planet. Nearby is the Arctic Watershed. Waters flowing south of this height of land (318 meters above sea level) flow into the Saint Lawrence River and on to the Atlantic Ocean. North of this point, all waters flow into Hudson Bay and on to the Arctic Ocean. You will want to canoe or kayak to NEO’s Stonehenge on Larder Lake and view Mount Cheminis. A natural choice for day or overnight trips is the Larder River. For more spatial information see this website.

Manitoulin Island/North Shore

Manitoulin Island and the North Shore are blessed with incredible natural beauty mainly because of the rocks. Its rocks are oddities, limestone left over from the great inland sea. When compared to the granite of the Canadian Shield found in most of NEO, the background here is the white quartz and limestone rock and the alvars that make the island the exception. Five hundred million years ago, Paleozoic limestone was deposited in shallow, tropical seas at the time over the top of the bumpy landscape of the Canadian Shield. The North Channel is one of the most scenic places to kayak in Ontario. Twisting its way between Manitoulin Island and Lake Huron, the North Channel is the perfect location for a sea kayaking or paddling adventure filled with Island hopping, rocky shores and evening sunsets. This story will help.

Moosonee/Moose Factory

Moosonee and nearby Moose Factory are located on the Moose River 20 km( 12 miles) south of James Bay. The town site is in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, the largest wetland area on Earth. Originally settled as a fur trading post by Revillion Freres of Paris in 1903 in competition with the Hudson Bay Company, the town grew in importance with the arrival of the rail in 1932 when Moosonee became a transportation hub for the James Bay coastal communities. See Tidewater Provincial Park.

If you are sea kayaking Moosonee serves as a gateway to the north and a launching point for further destinations, whether across the Moose River to Moose Factory, or further north up the western coast of James Bay to neighbouring First Nation communities. For more spatial information see this site for the Missinaibi River - Mattice to Moose River Crossing canoe route.

Sault Ste. Marie - Wawa

The late and the pioneer videographer, Bill Mason canoed the Lake Superior coastline and then kayaks appeared and it became a destination. You will be hooked if you watch Waterwalker.

Between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa there are many access points within and outside the borders of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

North Bay

North Bay is geographically unique in that it straddles both the Ottawa River watershed to the east and the Great Lakes Basin to the west. The area contains a number of ancient volcanic pipes, including the Manitou Islands and Callander Bay and many exposed dykes and five named batholiths (Timber Lake, Mulock, West Arm, Powassan and Bonfield). North Bay is critically situated at the junctions of Highway 11 and Highway 17, this means canoeing and kayaking adventures are in all directions. It is a great place to start your Ottawa, Mattawa and French River trips it is ringed with provincial parks. And don’t forget Lake Nipissing, the fifth largest lake in the province, perfect for day trips with plenty of access points. Consider the West Bay and Upper French River.


The Sudbury region is a gateway to canoeing and kayaking. It has access points to the northwestern portion of the Sturgeon River- the Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater-Temagami wilderness area and the highest point in Ontario, the Ispathina Ridge!

But you don’t have to go far. “What a view!” That’s what you’ll say when you enter Wolf Lake, which has some of the largest stands of red pine in the world. But, there is a secret, the “blue lagoon.” Both are located within the City of Greater Sudbury. Most canoeists who pass along the river don’t even know it exists as it lies off the portage and across from the main course of the Chiniguchi River and associated waterfall. Most people see the falls but portage right past the “blue lagoon.” The water of this circular, seemingly bottomless lagoon is often described for its “Windex” like colour and is surrounded by steep rock walls of granite and quartz. For more spatial information see the Blue Lagoon and Wolf .


For canoeing enthusiasts, the word alone, ‘Temagami’ conjures up and inspires the vision of wilderness. And you won’t be disappointed. It was the inspirational home of the famed conservationist Grey Owl. It is the epitome of what the rugged Canadian Shield represents, lakes and rivers, white and red pine. Make Maple Mountain a destination! The town hub will point you and your canoe in all directions with plenty of access points like the Red Squirrel Road, a great place for put-in or a day trip. There are too many canoe trips to choose from.

Temiskaming Shores

The Ottawa River cradles the natural and cultural heart of northwestern Quebec and northeastern Ontario. The effects of glaciation, ten thousand years ago, are most evident here. Centuries later Canada’s first Aboriginal peoples roamed this landscape, followed by Europeans in pursuit of furs, timber and land. Its predominantly acidic, erosion-resistant substrate sustains vast forests essential to the production of the largest supply of fresh water in the world. It is a great canoe access (west) for Maple Mountain in the heart of the Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park wilderness area from Mowat Landing near Haileybury.

But there is more. It’s hard to believe that one of Northeastern Ontario’s best and most accessible vistas is seldom seen. The Devil’s Rock view is something you will want to see from your canoe or kayak and from above. This view would become very important to one of Canada’s most successful writers, Leslie McFarlane, author of the Hardy Boys series of books. It is not just the sheer height of the cliffs that takes your breath away. Launch at nearby Bucke Park, North Cobalt.

Timmins – Chapleau

Canada’s boreal landscape contains more lakes, rivers and wetlands than any comparably sized landmass on Earth. It has been estimated that the boreal region contains over 1.5 million lakes with a minimum surface area of 40,000 square kilometres as well as some of Canada’s largest lakes. With its extensive forests, Canada’s boreal zone provides habitat for diverse wildlife. This includes half of Canada’s 300 bird species and a wide range of mammals. It is a great place to start your canoe and kayak overnight and day trips. A natural choice is the famed Mattagami River; Timmins can become the destination or starting point in two directions. For more spatial information see the Mattagami River Conservation Authority for Mattagami River - Gogama to Smooth Rock Falls, through Timmins.

Head to the Chapleau Game Preserve for the Ontario Parks campground on Missinaibi Lake. You will want to see the Fairy Point pictographs.

You have your own haunts. Too many choices. Onward to the backwaters. What will be your flavour of the paddling season? (Yes, the blackflies are out on the back roads! There will be more about mosquitoes and blackflies soon.)

Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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