Temagami: Kukagami Lake – Sturgeon River Loop (6 days / 165 km)

The Sturgeon River Loop is a perfect loop trip for those looking for a combination of beautiful lake travel and exciting whitewater rapids. Located in the southwest portion of the Temagami wilderness, this route passes through some of the most beautiful terrain the province has to offer. The chain of lakes heading north includes both Chiniguchi Lake and Wolf Lake, both of which have stunning granite outcroppings that resemble that of Killarney’s La Cloche Mountains. The Sturgeon River boasts gorgeous waterfalls and Class I to II rapids perfect for water play. The river changes character further south, into a swift strewn meandering river with sand cliffs reaching up to 100ft. This route is best accomplished in the spring when the water is high for a more enjoyable run down the Sturgeon. However, I do believe the river is still navigable throughout the entire season. 

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Sportsman’s Lodge, Kukagami Lake

Ending Point: Sportsman’s Lodge, Kukagami Lake

Total Distance: 165 km

Duration: 6 days (could be done between 6 and 11)

Difficulty: Intermediate 

Location

This route is located in the southwestern Temagami region. Part of the route is on Ontario Crown Land while part of it is in Sturgeon River Provincial Park.

Tradition Territory: This route in Temagami is on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki, Cree and Omàmìwininìwag (Algonquin) (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Kevin Callan’s Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario

Map: Regional Topographic Maps, Jeff’s Temagami Maps, and Friends of Temagami Adventure Planning Map 

The following digital Ottertooth maps are helpful for planning as well:

Campsite Reservations: N/A – All permits are first come first serve.

Permits: Permits can be purchased at Sportsman’s Lodge or reserved online through the Ontario Parks Reservation System (select “Backcountry Registration” on the far right, and then select “Temagami” for the park and “Upper Sturgeon” for the access point.

Permits are only required for the nights on the Sturgeon River (when you’re within Sturgeon River Provincial Park).

Outfitters & Shuttles

Because this route consists of white water rapids, we chose to rent our canoes accordingly. The best place to rent whitewater-prepped boats is Algonquin Outfitters. Although not close to the put-in, we would still recommend taking the extra drive for their outstanding service.

Non-white water canoes can be rented at Sportman’s Lodge, but the owner told us he would not rent boats to anyone going down the Sturgeon.

Trip Report

Day 1: Sportsman’s Lodge to Colin Scott Lake (17 km)

Because of a 6:00 am departure from Toronto, we managed to miss most of the GTA Saturday morning traffic. Driving up Highway 11, we took a detour to Algonquin Outfitters Oxtongue Lake to pick our canoes up. In our experience, Algonquin Outfitters is the most reliable outfitters for appropriately set-up whitewater canoes; it was worth the detour. Driving another 4 or so hours, we made it to the put-in at Sportsman’s Lodge. There is a stretch of dirt road for about an hour with no service or gas stops, so plan accordingly (including the trip back). Here, we picked up our permits, parked our car, and launched the boats. Boats can also be rented from the Sportsman’s Lodge, but the owner said he would not rent boats out if they were going down the Sturgeon River.

We quickly made our way to the first portage of the trip. This portage trail didn’t lead to another lake, but it helped us avoid a long paddle around a peninsula. The portage (340 m) took about half an hour to locate and was strewn with blowdowns and loose rocks. This was a wake-up call for the group. Portaging was not going to be easy on this route. As the majority of the route goes through crown land, you must be comfortable with locating unmarked portages to travel safely. 

Once again paddling, we made our way to the 1000 m portage to Donald Lake. The trail was a little better and easier to locate. Donald Lake was gorgeous, and if we were not running out of light, I would have loved to spend some time on this lake. Lots of swimmable spots and a handful of campsites. One more portage later (120 m), we found ourselves on Colin Scott Lake, where we found the first campable location and set our gear up. 

Campsite: Sloping rock face, and only 2 tent spots. I would not recommend this site for anything except in a pinch. There are more scenic locations on Donald Lake which are better suited for camping. No privy, swimming spot, or sunset view. If you stay here you better have good company, as there’s nothing much to do except chat. 

Campsite Coordinates: 46.826418, -80.500098

Day 2: Colin Scott Lake to Dewdney Lake (29 km)

Hoping to have made it further the previous day, we stepped on the gas early the next morning. Two quick portages, the portage into Gold Lake (150 m) and the portage out of Gold Lake (230 m) and we were on the stunning Matamagasi Lake.

We were met with rocky cliffs on either side of the lake, and a demoralizing headwind. Besides the wind, it was such a beautiful sunny day, and it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of the lake. The water was incredibly blue and many rock outcroppings along the shore. Paddling southwest along the lake, there are a large collection of pictographs on the northwest shore. Take some time at this location. The southwest channel takes a quick right turn and begins going northwest, forming a V. The wind was starting to turn, just as we turned to the northwest, and we were once again stuck with a headwind. We stopped at the apex of the V for lunch and to let the wind die down. The islands and shoreline here are lined with incredible campsites. The campsites here were so nice, we contemplated camping here even though we still had dozens of kilometers to paddle. I would recommend anyone going through this region to stay here. 

After lunch, we faced the headwind dead on. We portaged 3 times to get from Matagamasi to Dewdney Lake: there are two portages to get to Silvester Lake (300 m and then 240 m), then a short paddle into Wolf Lake, and finally a portage from Wolf Lake to Dewdney Lake (160 m), where we stayed the night.

A swimmable blue pool of water, aptly named Paradise Lagoon, is located in this stretch of portages between Silvester and Matagamasi Lake. Take some time at this location and explore. Unfortunately, we did not have time to swim because of our wind delays. Wolf Lake is absolutely spectacular (photo 1), with granite white outcroppings reminiscent of the La Cloche region in Killarney. There are a handful of incredible spots to camp and would recommend staying on this lake. We camped on Dewdney Lake in view of the portage to Chiniguchi Lake.

Campsite (Photo 2): Large rock Peninsula with a difficult canoe landing. There was no sign of a privy, but the tent sites were great. The fire pit was large with an abundance of sitting space; would be a difficult location to tarp in the case of rain. 

Campsite Coordinates: 46.893600, -80.668410

Day 3: Dewdney Lake to Sturgeon River (34 km)

First thing in the morning we portaged into Chiniguchi Lake (450 m). This is one of the prettiest lakes of the whole trip. There are white granite outcroppings similar to that of Wolf Lake, the largest of which being on the far western shore, called “The Elephant”. I understand there is a hike up to this ridge if one has the time. There is a narrow channel on the eastern side of the lake which is faster to take. However, unless there are heavy winds, I would recommend paddling the main body of water to fully experience the lake’s beauty. There are plenty of great swimming opportunities here.

Paddling towards the next portage, there is an active camp with a handful of buildings and a long beach. A quick liftover around a road brought us to sawhorse lake, a 620 m portage to Adelaide Lake, a 350 m portage to Button Lake, and last a 480 m portage to Dougherty Lake took up the rest of our morning.

We were slowed down, as locating the trails took anywhere between 5 min and 30 min because they were unmarked or only marked with small bits of flagging tape. Once again, this trip requires a confident ability to locate unmarked portage trails.  Every lake closer to the sturgeon and further away from the put-in, the trails became less maintained and harder to find. At this point, we figured we might have been the first group through this season. As fallen down trees from the winter were littering the trails. We cleared trails as we went, hopefully making the passage easier for the next group.

Exhausted from the portaging, we had a salami and cheese lunch at a campsite on Dougherty Lake. The water here is acidified, making it particularly clear and picturesque. We gathered up the courage to keep moving, portaging 220 m to Frederick Lake, and another 200 m to Stouffer Lake.

The furthest easternmost point of Stouffer Lake is where the trail to the Sturgeon is located. This ~700 m portage to Sturgeon River was by far the most difficult to locate and follow. In retrospect, walking the trail first with a pack and a saw to get a better look would have been a good decision. Either way, blowdowns littered the trail, and it took us a while to finally get on the river. 

The river blackflies greeted us almost immediately, and we paddled quickly in hopes of leaving them behind. At first glance, the river has barely any current. However, once moving downstream you notice the pushing force of the spring melt. We started making good time, only halted by the first set of rapids. We carefully decided that the technical Class II was not a good decision first rapid of the season, especially so late in the day. Being a well-traveled route, all rapids along the river have an accompanied portage. Ours was located on river right, and we lugged the gear to the bottom of the rapid. We made camp at a flat piece of land on river left only a few kilometers from the portage, marked in Kevin Callan’s book.

Campsite: The campsite was large, artificially barren of trees, and had an outhouse. The campsite backs into a bush road, which explained the development. There was a large fire pit, plenty of room for tents, but the canoe landing was a little boggy. We had to canoe out to get fresh water.

Campsite Coordinates: 47.054078, -80.613477

Day 4: Sturgeon River to Upper Goose Falls (20 km)

We had an early start this morning, with fog coming off the river (Photo 3). We were excited to get some use out of the white water canoes and helmets we had been portaging all this way. There were three Class I rapids that started us off (Photo 4), a great warm-up. The last of the three was the trickiest, and although the river wasn’t too dangerous, the steep canyon walls on either side made us a little nervous. There is a great campsite halfway through the portage trail looking over the rapid.

After the 3 smaller rapids, we came about a larger rapid called “The Gorge”. It was marked as a Class II, but with the elevated water levels, it was more of a Class III rapid. Some very technical maneuvers around some canoe-crushing rocks would have been required, so we took the safe route and portaged (90 m) (Photo 5).

After “The Gorge”, the next 10 km are very exciting. There are a handful of ledges, swifts and playful rapids. All rapids in this section can be portaged if you find it necessary, which is one of the great things about traveling this river. The ledges could be run, lined, or portaged depending on comfort level. Enjoy the fun waves and drops of this section, it’s where most of the action is. I would guess that if not run in the spring, some of these more playful rapids would turn bony and a little more technical. We enjoyed this section of the river and took our time going through here.

Eventually, the river changed character, and instead of drop and pool, it turned to more consistent swifts. We enjoyed the ride and made great time. This took us directly to our campsite at Upper Goose Falls. We got here at around 3:00 PM and decided that this spot was worth taking an early day. The campsite in Kevin Callan’s book is marked on the opposite shore as the portage. However, the site is actually along the portage itself. The falls were about 40 feet high and absolutely thunderous from the spring flood. In lower water, one could actually get under the falls like a shower, but in this water level that would have been dangerous. The falls were at a very interesting angle, facing away from the campsite and at a 90-degree angle from the flow of the river downstream. So although right next to the falls, we didn’t get a very good view of it (Photo 6)

Campsite: The campsite was by far the best of the trip. There was plenty of tent space, a great fire pit and privy were present. There was a large flat rock just above the falls which was perfect for drying out wet clothes from the white water, and our afternoon and evening relaxation. 

Campsite Coordinates: 46.969274, -80.458170

Day 5: Upper Goose Falls to Kelly’s Farm (42 km)

We took a little longer getting up and ready this morning as none of us wanted to leave this scenic campsite behind. The rapids below the falls could be portaged around, but there is also a landing spot above them. We opted for the latter and rode the class II wave train. Good thing we did because this is the last set of rapids on the trip. Suddenly, we were surrounded by towering sandy bluffs which must have been up to 100 feet high (Photo 7). Back on the river, the current was ripping for about 2-3 kilometers but slowed down drastically afterward. Besides the outflow of the Obabika River, there was little of note while paddling this section. 

About 8 km from Upper Goose Falls, is Lower Goose Falls. A thunderous cascade, but much less scenic due to the bridge crossing over it. There is a beautiful beach swimming spot where the portage ends, and we took full advantage (Photo 8). The river at this point changes character for the last time and unfortunately turns quite monotonous. The change of character comes with sandy shores, a lazy almost non-existent current, and oxbow lakes. We had decided to try and get as far as we could through this section. There are a few campsites labeled at the lower stretches of the river, close to where we planned on portaging off the river, and this is where we planned on staying.

Because of all the twists and turns, when paddling this section of the river it is very easy to let some slack out on the navigation. This section of the river is so monotonous and repetitive on a map that once you lose where you are on the map, it is next to impossible to re-locate based on surrounding topography. I recommend taking extra care during this section to track your location on a map, or to utilize a GPS device to confirm your location. To further this warning, the portage of the river to Maskogne Lake is very difficult to locate. If not sure of your location, one could easily miss the portage without realizing it. 

During this section of meandering river, we lost our location at one point for about 10 km. Luckily, we found our location again because a logging truck drove by on a logging road not visible from the water, right next to the river: a unique location on the map. Good thing too, because some maps have a marked cabin, called “Kelly’s Farm” at the start of the portage to Maskinogne Lake. We were going to use this as a landmark to locate the portage. However, there is no cabin visible from the water, and this should NOT be used as a landmark to locate the portage.

The campsites marked close to the portage could not be found, and we decided to push to Lake Maskinogne. The river banks were 5-10 feet high, blocking any view of potential campsites. In retrospect, I’m sure there are plenty of camp-able bush-sites along this stretch. However, we decided to push on. 

We eventually found the portage trail off the river, which was located up a large sandy/muddy slope at the confluence of a creek on river right. There is a flat knee-high grassy area at the top of the sand slope where we temporarily stored our gear while unloading the boats. From here, there are two options to portage into Lake Maskinogne. The first is to take a whopping 3.5 km portage directly there. The alternative is to take the trail that forks to the left about 200m into the 3.5 km portage which leads to Kelly Lake. From there, a handful of smaller portages through a chain of marshy lakes also leads to Lake Maskinogne. We opted for the second option, avoiding the very lengthy carry. However, we could not locate the second portage of this chain, and we returned to the first portage to attempt the long portage. With at least an hour wasted, we were running out of daylight and opted to camp at the only flat area we could find: in the knee-high grass at the very beginning of the first portage: Not ideal.

Campsite: This was not a legitimate campsite and only worked in a pinch. There was no firepit, nor privy, and there was a 10m muddy climb to the shore of the river. This was a tough night on the river and I would not recommend staying here.

Campsite Coordinates: 46.787950, -80.385271

Day 6: Kelly’s Farm to Sportsman’s Lodge (22 km)

We woke up the next morning pretty demoralized. In retrospect, we realize this route should not be attempted in such a short time frame. Beyond this, we also had a massive 3.5 km portage as our first task of the day. We strapped on our packs and placed the canoes on our bruised shoulders, and took off. 

The portage trail was easy to follow and must be used as an ATV trail at points. Even though it was a brutal carry, with a worse trail condition it would have been next to impossible. Overall, we lucked out. At the end of the portage, we celebrated by finding the nearest island campsite on Maskogne (Photo 9) and went for a swim, ate breakfast and lunch, and had a coffee. A well-deserved break. The lake itself is absolutely stunning (Photo 10). This was the first reminder that we were in Temagami, famed for its rocky shorelines and deep lakes, since joining the river. 

After our extended break, we paddled down the lake to a chain of portages branching from southwest Maskinogne to Outlet Bay of Kukagami Lake. There are 3 liftovers to get to Caraful Lake, and 4 portages to get all the way to Kukagami (440 m, 110 m, 80 m and 150 m). A detailed account of this route can be found in Kevin Callan’s Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario, under the entry “Chiniguchi Donald Lake Loop”.

Here, we had to pull over a few beaver dams. It was also the best moose sighting territory we had paddled, and we spotted one. The portages were all short (longest 440 m) and easy to locate and follow. You could tell this section was more heavily used than most of the trip. 

Arriving back on Kukagami Lake later in the day, we considered staying the night on the cottage-riddled lake, but the only campsite we located was littered with garbage, and so we opted for the late-night drive out instead. 

Reflections

This route is absolutely incredible, with a combination of gorgeous Temagami flatwater paddling, and fun white water rapids. The way the trip is described in other trip reports made the Sturgeon seem like more of a dangerous white water river than it turned out to be. Not to say that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, as it can be dangerous if not given the proper respect as there are plenty of rapids that could crunch a boat. It just might leave a hardcore whitewater enthusiast with a little bit of disappointment. It is more of an intermediate white water skill level river. A confident whitewater paddler could get away with not having thigh straps, knee pads, and airbags in their canoes. 

The lake paddling was more stunning than we expected, with lots of hidden gems such as paradise lagoon, elephant rock, and Wolf Lake. I would like to return to this region and take more time to paddle this section.

There are numerous large lakes, and although it didn’t happen to us, there is a very real possibility of becoming windbound for a day. I would recommend planning for an extra day of food (as always) just in case. 

On a similar note, anyone attempting to do this route should allocate more than 6 days to do it. We initially planned on doing it in 9 days, however some last-minute scheduling issues gave us no other choice. There are so many incredible spots on this route to explore, we did not do it justice by rushing through.  

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Author Bio

Trip Report Written by Cam from Mad for Maple

Mad for Maple is a social platform used to share the Canadian wilderness adventures of three friends: Matthew, Matt and Cam. We hope sharing our adventures in this setting will provide entertainment and inspiration for others, promote sustainable outdoor etiquette, and showcase Canada’s natural beauty. 

Our adventures are exclusively self propelled and range from weekend excursions to multi-week treks. With our trips ranging in difficulty, we hope to have content available for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

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