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Kejimkujik National Park: Big Dam / Frozen Ocean Loop (3 days / 22 km)

Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site (or Keji) is a 404km^2 area of idyllic untouched wilderness. It is largely accessible by ancient Mi’kmaq canoe routes on flat water, allowing for a variety of trips for all skill levels. The Big Dam Frozen Ocean loop starts in the northern part of the park and ends at the main launch point accessible from Keji Lake (the focal point of the backcountry). This loop includes small lakes, quiet still waters and short, well-maintained portage tracks. 


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Big Dam Lake

Ending Point: Jake’s Landing

Total Distance: 22 km (could make it 34 km depending on campsites chosen)

Duration: 3 days / 2 nights

Difficulty: Easy

Location

Keji is located in Maitland Bridge, in South Western Nova Scotia. It is a two-hour drive from Halifax, and its closest towns for supply purchase are on either side of the park on highway 8. Caledonia is on the way from Halifax and is 18km away. It has a small supermarket, NSLC, and a cafe. Warning, there is no gas station in Caledonia, make sure you fill up before you get here. Coming from the other direction, there is Annapolis Royal, located about 35km away. There are more options for stores and restaurants here, and there is a gas station in Lequille just down the road toward the park. EJ’s grill is located just outside of the park on highway 8. You can find a hot meal, cold drink, and limited groceries/supplies here. Their hours are subject to seasonal change. 

Keji is the site of an ancient Mi’kmaq encampment and is considered an extremely important part of the Mi’kmaq people’s history. Be sure to read online, visit the Visitor Centre, and speak to a Keji Interpreter to learn more about Keji’s cultural significance. 

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: N/A

Map: Backcountry map provided by Parks Canada. You can purchase a physical map at the Visitor Centre.

Camping Permits: Campsites must be booked in advance on the Parks Canada website or by phone (1-877-737-3783). Make sure you know what site you want, the person on the phone is not Keji staff and likely will not be able to advise you. When you arrive in Keji for your trip, check-in at the Visitor Centre to receive your permit. Make sure to call ahead for a late pickup if you know you will arrive in the Park after hours (1-902-682-2772). You are also meant to return your permit when you leave the park. 

Be advised that the choicest sites are often booked up for weekends all summer long, so it is smart to book these well in advance. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

Whynot Adventure is located at Jake’s Landing, the park’s main launch point. They have several different types of boats and will rent you the appropriate craft for your trip. They also have gear rentals, short of personal items and food; you should be able to fill in your gear gaps here. Use their website to reserve all of your gear in advance. They can get busy during the summer and lightweight boat availability can be tight if you book last minute (make sure to submit the required documents on the website to speed things up when you pick up your rental). The website offers descriptions for each piece of gear so that choosing is easier if you are new to canoe tripping. 

Note that Keji is full of glacial till, and these granite boulders can quickly jump out and bite your canoe. I would suggest finding a compromise between a lightweight and durable hull to avoid damage. The lightweight boats for rent at Whynot Adventure are appropriate, but if you’re borrowing, be careful with fiberglass!

Whynot Adventure offers shuttle services (important to book in advance, see website). 

Note: Covid restrictions currently prevent the company from allowing people in their vehicles, make sure you read the online descriptions for details. They can pick up or drop off your boats at a few different locations if you are unable to take them on your vehicle*

They also rent out shuttle blocks (for free) with straps if you want to take the boat on your vehicle to another launch point. 

Trip Report

Before you begin this trip, you must figure out transportation logistics between the start and endpoints. The easiest way to deal with this is to bring two vehicles and leave one at both Jake’s Landing and Big Dam Lake. Make sure to note this when you check-in at the Visitor’s Centre. If this option doesn’t work for you, leaving a bike and helmet at Jake’s Landing in advance, or renting one from Whynot Adventure (best to confirm in advance) so that someone from your party can take the bike ride back to Big Dam Lake (about 1 hour) to get the vehicle. 

It is crucial to know the wind speed and direction for open water trips in Keji. You can find a 5-day Environment Canada forecast posted at the outfitters. Be warned that cell reception is patchy out there. 

Day 1: Big Dam Lake to Frozen Ocean Lake (9 km)

You will begin your trip at the Big Dam Lake parking lot. From here you will walk the Portage Q (300 m) to the East end of Big Dam Lake. There is a portage rest at either end and one midway through. 

Note: If you haven’t come across a canoe rest before, it’s a large wooden frame that allows you to lean the canoe on the cross bar without having to put it on the ground.

The paddle across Big Dam Lake is about 4 km in total and should take roughly 1 hour, possibly more if you have a headwind. You will pass through “the narrows” about halfway through, where you should be on the lookout for granite boulders close to the surface of the water. Keji’s waters are very tannic, which means that the water looks like weak coffee and makes seeing obstacles from a distance a challenge. After carefully moving through the narrows, you will take a left-hand turn. Here you should take a wide turn to avoid a rock shoal – you should see some rocks above the water. Around the corner is a yellow and brown sign marked “R”- this is your next portage. 

Portage R is about 800 m (longest of the trip!) with at least 3 rests. At the other side of Portage R, you will enter Still Brook, a meandering waterway through a wetland. It is about 4 km and should also take around 1 hour. You are nearly at your last portage for the day, S, when you see the trees becoming taller ahead. 

Take care at Portage S (150 m) not to overshoot the take-out area; the water moves fast here into Frozen Ocean Lake. Some folks will run this section if there is enough water and they have experience, however please be cautious and use good judgment. If you are unsure, do the portage, it’s only about 150 m with no canoe rests. Also, be aware that the areas to the side of the path (particularly near the start) contain poison ivy. Be careful not to step off the path or place gear to the side. I would recommend saving a photo on your phone if you don’t know how to ID this plant…it’s nasty!

Campsite: Backcountry sites in Keji all include access to firewood, an outhouse, a picnic table, a firebox, a bear hang and two tent pads. Any site on Frozen Ocean Lake is appropriate for your first night of this trip (I have stayed at several).

There are seven sites to choose from: 5, 6, 7, 8, 44, 45, 46. Of these sites, 5, 6, 8, and 45 are ideal based on view and accessibility. 7 is a group campsite and requires at least 6 campers. Site 8 has a shelter on-site and is the best option for poor weather camping. Campsite 5 is my favourite – it is up and over a small hill but it is very private and is in the centre of a stunning hemlock grove. When you use site 5, you are staying adjacent to a small Portage S. I take the boat(s), paddles, and PFD’s to the other side and leave them out of the way, near the entrance to Frozen Ocean Lake.

Day 2: Frozen Ocean Lake to Keji Lake (10-15km depending on campsite)

Day 2 begins by paddling across to the southern end of Frozen Ocean Lake, which is about 3 km. Portage T (100 m) is, like S, possible to run if water level/experience allows for it. This path is less than 100 m, no rests and also has poison ivy on either side.

On the other side you will paddle less than 1 km on the Channel Lake Stillwater and then encounter Portage U. Both the take out and put in on either end of this portage contain a lot of slippery clay, so use caution when unloading/loading your canoe. This track also has plenty of poison ivy to watch for; make sure not to touch anything growing next to the boardwalk that makes up most of this path. There is a rest on both sides of this portage. 

The paddle down Channel Lake Stillwater is similar to the Still Brook from Day 1. It is about 2 km of paddling and through a wetland with a lot of beaver activity. It outlets into Channel Lake, which is about 1 km, where you will paddle to the northernmost point to Portage V (800 m). This portage contains three canoe rests. 

This brings you to Little River, which has about 2 km of paddling in partial shade and potential rocky areas if water is low.

Campsite: For the second night of this trip, you will want to choose either Site 10 on Little River or any site located on the northern side of the string of islands that divide Keji Lake. These include sites 11, 20, 12 (group site), 13, 14, or 15. These are all incredible spots, amongst the most sought-after in the park. It pays to book this trip well ahead of time to get a site in an appropriate spot for this night. If these are unavailable, there are sites 21 and 22 that are a bit out of the way, down West River. It requires at least an hour of extra paddling to get to them, however if you still have energy at this stage, the river is a gorgeous place to spend the golden evening hour. 

10 – You will find this site on the stretch of Little River. The river flows into the North West corner of Keji Lake.

11 – You are pretty much there! The island site is just after you reach the lake

20 – 2 km paddle South

21/22 – Find the mouth of the West River, it is hard to see so look for the small white sign that has a red line through a motorboat…that’s the right way.

12/13/14/15 – Head southeast toward the string of islands that splits the lake. If there is a strong headwind (which there often is) then consider taking Portage W into Jeremy’s Bay where it is more protected than the open lake. There are no canoe rests on this track.

Day 3: Keji Lake to Jake’s Landing (1.5-10 km, depending on your campsite)

The final day will look different depending on what site you stayed at the night before, a good place to start here is to assess the forecast/ current conditions on Keji Lake. This lake can be very daunting to cross when there is high wind…and this is often. The portion of the lake north of the strip of islands is very open and any wind from the West will create large waves and offers little protection in some spots. Note that even if you have a tailwind, this open area of water can still be very difficult to paddle.

Coming from campsites 21/22, 11, or 20: You have some distance to cover to get yourself to Jake’s Landing. Normally, wind speed increases with daylight, so if you can get an early start, you may avoid any problems making the crossing. If you cannot avoid paddling when there is big wind, use portage W to take the more protected Jeremy’s Bay. This could be a long day if you started on the West River (about 9km) so leave plenty of time for yourself. Adding portage W will also increase your time to get back, so it could be a long day.

Coming from the island sites, 12, 13, 14, 15: This leaves you with a very short paddle back. Either set out early or eat a big breakfast to ensure you have the energy to get back. It is only 1-2.5km back to Jake’s landing, and if you are lucky, the predominant SW wind will give you a boost back. 

Reflections

I have done this trip many times and I have learned something from each experience. They were all “successful” in my mind, but this is surely due to lots of prep work beforehand. I learned the value of starting each day with a plan. Always expect wind and challenging conditions – if it turns out to be calm then you can relax, but at least you are prepared for the worst. 

The first half of this trip is very easy to navigate, however once you reach Keji Lake, it is important to orient yourself frequently and pay attention to the landscape. Keji Lake is 45 square kilometers, and all of the coastlines can look the same when you are in open water, especially on the relatively flat Nova Scotian landscape. Take care to stay close to land if you are unsure, and to use the buoy marker navigation system that is provided on the back of the backcountry map. If you are renting from Whynot Adventure, they include a laminated copy of the buoy map that is much easier to read.

Consider how many trips you will need to make on each portage. I like to give myself about an hour for each 2.5 km of portaging. This will help a lot with estimating how long each stretch of the trip will take when you make your daily plan. 

Food storage is important to think about on any backcountry trip. I have been lucky not to have ever had a visit from a bear at my campsite, looking for their share of my dinner. However, I have had a few issues with mice, and they will not only render the food that they touched unsafe to eat, but also chew holes in your gear. In Keji, the backcountry sites all have a cable that you can use to suspend your food container, away from hungry wildlife. Another great option is to use a bear-safe/water-resistant barrel. You can rent these from Whynot Adventure, and they have backpack straps for comfortable portaging. 

I reflect on the importance of the area I’m in, it is pristine in a way that reflects the respect that indigenous people have for the land. Mi’kmaq communities and their ancient ancestors have lived on and harvested resources from Keji for millennia, and it only began to change when colonization arrived. I always feel gratitude for the privilege of spending time in a place that offers such beauty and sacred connections to nature itself. 

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Author Bio

I’m Carlene, a backcountry enthusiast and wilderness guide. I owe much of my current expertise to my very first backcountry experience, a thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. This was an extreme way to enter the world of backcountry trekking, and my lessons were numerous, hard-earned and memorable. As scared as I may have been, I now know what my capabilities are and this has propelled me forward with confidence to new and amazing backcountry experiences. Now, as a guide, I am continuing to learn about and appreciate what nature has to offer. I now call Nova Scotia my home where there are many untouched corners of wilderness to explore. 

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