Kejimkujik National Park: Keji Lake to Lake Rossignol on the Mersey River (3 days / 22 km)

Journey along the Mersey River, from the heart of Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site to the vast Lake Rossignol. The Mersey River was a major transportation route for the Mi’kmaq people, and later for loggers moving wood downriver to Liverpool’s pulp mill. Lake Rossignol is Nova Scotia’s largest freshwater reservoir and was historically used as a means of power to propel the pulp mill. Its fluctuating water level, enormous size, and an array of abandoned timber and granite boulders have given this lake a dangerous reputation. This trip allows you to travel through the area’s history while enjoying the massive reservoir from the safety of the shore’s protection.  

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Jake’s Landing

Ending Point: Low Landing, Lake Rossignol

Total Distance: 22 km

Duration: 3 days / 2 nights

Difficulty: Beginner

Location

Kejimkujik National Park is located in Maitland Bridge, in southwestern 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 about 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. 

Low Landing is a 30 min drive southeast from the entrance of the park. If you are coming from the South Shore/Halifax, it makes sense to drop your vehicle off at Low Landing on the way to Keji. Make sure to be familiar with directions, or to load the GPS map in advance, cell service is poor at Low Landing. It is a small detour from Caledonia on a series of dirt roads that require careful driving (arguably not that much worse than highway 8). 

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, visit the link to download PDF. You can purchase a physical map at the Visitor Centre. There is also a framed map on the wall at Jake’s Landing. This map includes the portion of your trip that leads you outside of the park to Lake Rossignol. If you can take a decent photo and have reliable phone battery life, this option should work. I recommend both!

If you are renting from Whynot Adventure, they will offer you a laminated buoy map of Keji Lake, it is considerably easier to read than the one provided on the back of the backcountry map. 

Campsite Reservations: 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, it is smart to book these well in advance. 

Your second campsite does not require a permit, it is located outside of the park and is free for public camping.  

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: 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 (www.whynotadventure.ca) 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 digital documents in advance 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, these granite boulders can quickly jump out and bite your canoe. I would advise 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!

Shuttle: There are no shuttle services that operate outside of the National Park. You will need to sort out your own transportation logistics for this trip.

You will need two vehicles, or to organize a ride from Low Landing back to Jake’s Landing. A third option is to upgrade the trip to intermediate difficulty and paddle back the way you came. This will be challenging in areas of the Mersey River where the current is strong against you and would require moving water paddle experience and lots of caution. 

Trip Report

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. 

I would suggest having a map available while reading this report, as my instructions will make a lot more sense with a visual reference. 

Day 1: Jake’s Landing to south end of Keji Lake (6-7 km)

The first day of this trip will be spent navigating across Keji Lake to your campsite at/near the mouth of the Mersey River where it continues to flow south. The buoy map of Keji lake will be useful here if this is your first visit. The wind predominantly comes from the southwest in Keji, if this is the case, you are heading straight into it. The best strategy is to paddle along the northern edge of the string of islands that divide the lake north/south. You can use the Lee side (opposite to the direction wind is coming from) of the islands as a windbreak. If the headwind is presenting a challenge, you may use these opportunities to rest and have a drink before continuing the battle. When you get closer to the west side of the lake where you are more protected by the land, you can begin to head south to your campsite. If the wind forecast says otherwise, try and use the landmasses to your advantage. Keji Lake is large, and the open parts are often very choppy. Staying on the Lee side will protect you from the worst of it. 

Campsite: 18, 19, or 24 are all appropriate campsites for your first night of this trip. 18 and 19 are located very close to where the Mersey River begins again, and site 24 is just northwest of them in Minards Bay. They are all great sites, however don’t be surprised if other groups pass you at site 24, it is located at the beginning of a portage (A). 

Backcountry sites in Keji all include access to firewood, an outhouse, a picnic table, a firebox, a bear hang and two tent pads. 

Day 2: Keji Lake to Mersey River campsite (12-13 km)

The second day begins with one of my favourite areas to paddle, the Mersey River south of Keji Lake. Here the river is divided into the western and eastern run by Hemlock Island. If you are keen for a dip before you begin your journey, there is an excellent swimming beach in a small cove at the northern tip of this island. The western run is easier to pass in your canoe and will lead you into George Lake. At the south end of George Lake, you will find Portage O (1 km) at the mouth of the Mersey River. It is about a kilometer and is across from another launch point called Eel Weir. This is an important historical site for the Mi’kmaq, named for the contraption built in the river mouth to catch eels while they migrate to the ocean. This is another option for a spot to start your trip if you would prefer to skip the long paddle across Keji Lake. 

Portage O takes you down the Mersey River, you will only paddle for another 1 km before you reach Loon Lake. On the east side of this small lake, Loon Island is very close to the shore. This creates a stretch of white water, and Portage P (200 m) is located soon before this on the island to avoid this stretch. This portage is only about 200 m but the take-out area is rocky and should be handled with caution. If water is moving fast, it is easy to overshoot the take-out, and there is also poison ivy here. I would recommend having a photo of the plant saved on your phone if you are not familiar with it. If you are careful with your gear and where you step, you shouldn’t have a problem. This portage also leads you through campsite 23, remember to be respectful of the other camper’s backcountry experience. 

This brings you to your final stretch of paddling for the day, about 6 km down the meandering Mersey. At this stage, you will leave the National Park and enter into Lake Rossignol Wilderness Area. Keep in mind now that the terrain is a little less predictable, fewer people travel this part of the river, and there is no regular maintenance. Finding fallen trees or unexpected “portages” due to low water are possibilities. There are a few areas along the way where water can be fast and full of granite. If you are not comfortable paddling these bits, portage around. There is a section of white water beneath the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) bridge that can be tricky to move through. There is a road that leads to this bridge, you may see other campers here. I would suggest moving a few more kilometers downriver to more private campsites. 

Campsite: There are a handful of primitive campsites on the Mersey River, north of Lake Rossignol. These sites don’t have signs as they do in Keji, you will need to be looking for more subtle indicators. The first campsite you will come across is on the first island past the DNR bridge, on the west side. The site is hidden from view in a pine grove, up the sloped island near the middle. You will find a fire pit and a few obvious flat spots where tents could be pitched. If you do some exploring toward the northeast, you should be able to find a vague path to a “thunderbox” – your backcountry toilet. These don’t have walls and feel a little…exposed. They do offer an above-average view for an outhouse!

There are other campsites past this closer to the entrance to the lake, all are comfortable and scenic. 

If you can’t find any established spots, it is appropriate to set up camp wherever it looks habitable to you. It is extremely important to use Leave No Trace Principles when creating your own campsite. 

Day 3: Mersey River to Low Landing (3 km)

Continue down the Mersey until you reach Lake Rossignol. Low water will expose lots of old cut logs lodged into the river bottom, leftover from the days when the pulp mill in Liverpool was operating. From the river entrance, paddle east toward Low Landing. Rossignol is a huge lake, I would suggest getting started in the morning before the wind picks up and makes this short paddle very difficult. It is a good idea to try and find some landmarks using your map when approaching Low Landing, there is no obvious marker here.

Reflections

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. I have had a few issues with mice, however, 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 would recommend the barrel for this trip, otherwise, you should bring extra rope to make your own bear hang for your second campsite.

Leave no Trace principles are always important when you venture into the backcountry, even our low impact camping will still degrade the landscape over time. I have seen this a lot throughout my adventures, and I want to stress how crucial it is that we make the smallest impression possible. Specifically, this can be done by minimal wood collection, try and gather from a small area directly around/on the site. This deadfall is actually a vital part of the ecosystem, so removing it will result in a  negative impact over time. If there is no thunderbox, please dig a proper hole (~6cm deep) for your toilet. DO NOT bury your toilet paper, animals will dig it up…I throw mine in the fire or pack it out. Ultimately the main principle is to leave the place better than you found it. It is your responsibility as a backcountry camper to look into LNT and learn how to conduct yourself out there. 

While spending time in Keji, 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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