Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
What it's like paddling in and out of Wabakimi

In today’s post, influencer Ken Jones tells of his trip to Wabakimi.

Last year was interesting to say the least. The global pandemic has greatly changed the way we travel. After having to cancel a trip to Alaska in September, my wife and I wanted to explore somewhere in Ontario we hadn’t been yet.

As avid canoe hikers, we decided to plan a wilderness canoe trip to possibly one of the most remote areas in Ontario: Wabakimi Provincial Park.

We had three weeks to plan the trip and with the help of Wabakimi Outfitters, we were able to do it!

We planned a round trip paddle canoe trip in the heart of Wabakimi that would take 8 days to complete between late August and early September. This was a trip I had been dreaming about for over ten years and I was excited to challenge myself as it would be my most difficult trip to date.

The logistics

Prior to our trip to Wabakimi Provincial Park, we had primarily frequented Algonquin Provincial Park, so we were accustomed to the busy transportation trails and abundant signage around the park.

Full canoe reaching the shore.

We knew Wabakimi would be a fit. To ensure we could navigate the park, we were equipped with two sets of maps and a handheld GPS unit.

The heart of Wabakimi is a wilderness park and strives to remain as wild as possible. Campsites are not marked and there are flames on most transports instead of the easily recognizable yellow transport signs.

Although there is no park office on site, permits are still required and can be purchased online or through the vendor.

Our route would take us through a series of lakes and rivers starting at Granite Lake and covering Lake McWade, Lower Wabakimi Lake, Smoothrock Lake, and the Boiling Sands River, ending with a drive-up pickup at Tamarack Lake.

A delayed start

We planned to start our trip just south of Armstrong Station, Ontario. When we arrived, it was very clear that we were not going to have the best weather for our eight-day trip.

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In an attempt to improve our conditions, we postponed our trip by one day to avoid paddling in the expected 30mm of rain. Fortunately, we had accounted for this type of change, so we had a few extra days at the end of our trip and wouldn’t be rushed on our two-day trip home.

Coast of a calm lake.

The day after we left, we woke up to the sun. We packed our bags and completed our first transportation to the dock where we would meet our airline pilot to begin our journey.

alone in the desert

After they dropped us off in the middle of Granite Lake, we watched the plane take off. As the plane disappeared from sight, we realized how far away we were.

view of the forest from the plane

Neither of us had felt this way before in any of the parks in southern Ontario. We expected solitude and hoped to spend the entire trip without seeing another person.

The first day of the trip was beautiful. We were both very happy to finally be immersed in the boreal forest, something neither of us had seen before. Towering black spruce trees covered the landscape, while dense, thick moss covered the rocky ground. This type of landscape is what attracted us to Wabakimi, as there is nothing like it in southern Ontario.

Tent in the forest.

There is something striking about the contrast between the dense forest and the remains of ancient forest fires that devastated the park. It was a wonderful reminder of the life cycle of the forest we were in.

Maybe not as alone as we thought

That first day of our trip, we were able to see a large black bear on the other side of Lake McWade, from where we stopped for lunch. It was cool to see the bear, but it definitely put into perspective how wild the park is.

Wabakimi is also home to the Woodland Caribou. Many visitors bump into them, but you need to be very quiet to make sure they don’t hear you coming.

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A change of plans

Throughout our trip, we had quite a few days where we couldn’t go the distance we expected due to the weather.

Not only did we have days with extreme winds, we also had a significant amount of precipitation. It became very clear that the ability to add rest days to our route and be flexible with our itinerary would be our salvation.

About halfway through our trip, after a couple of rainy and windy days, we finally made the decision that we wouldn’t be able to finish the route we had planned in the time we had allotted for the trip.

Instead of rushing and risking our safety to make up the distance, we decided to have a more relaxed rest of the trip and truly enjoy the pristine nature we were in.

We had a satellite device, so we were able to contact our provider fairly easily and arrange our plane trip on day eight from Smoothrock Lake.

Once again, being flexible when changing plans was an advantage for us, even if it came at a higher cost in the end.

The rest of the days we stayed at one of the most incredible campsites I have ever seen. It stood at the foot of a waterfall and overlooked a rocky bay.

Rapids in the Canadian Shield and boreal forest.

Our position at the bottom of the waterfall made it a prime spot for fishing. We spent our days casting from the shore and caught both Northern Pike and Walleye. Unfortunately, a trophy-sized Northern Pike broke off my hook just as I had dragged it to shore.

We will be back

On our last day, we heard our plane approaching for landing and headed out to meet it in the middle of Smoothrock Lake. As the plane took off and took us out of the park, we were able to take one last look at Wabakimi Provincial Park from the air.

Calm river with trees and rocks.

With so much of Wabakimi still to explore, I know I’ll be back.

If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Wabakimi to explore its incredible scenery, you should know that it’s not a beginner-friendly park. Wabakimi is a challenging park that requires strong boating and paddling skills.

It takes experience to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time, but it is definitely worth the effort and preparation.