Noganosh Lake Provincial Park: Pickerel River to Noganosh Lake (4 days / 35 km)

Noganosh Lake Provincial Park is a non-operating provincial park approximately 4 hours north of Toronto, just south of Lake Nipissing and the French River, and directly north from Magnetawan River Provincial Park. Non-operating means that the area is protected by the same laws and regulations as a provincial park, but does not have any dedicated facilities (visitor center, parking lots, etc.) or staff. This means portages and campsites are not officially maintained, but it also means no permits are required to visit. 

The park consists of almost entirely flat water, with a small amount of bog/marsh paddling in the north along Smokey Creek.

We discovered the route in Kevin Callan’s book “Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario”, which describes it as “obscure with short portages, pristine campsites, and unbelievable fishing”. We were drawn to the fact that none of us had visited the park before, that it had relatively easy access from the highway, few portages, and could be explored over the course of a long weekend.

This is an excellent trip if you are looking to bring someone portaging for the first time, or you are only looking to get away for a weekend. Be aware though, that since there are no permits to enter or stay in the park, it has the potential of getting busy over long weekends and holidays.


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Pickerel River

Ending Point: Pickerel River

Total Distance: 35 km

Duration: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Easy

Location

Noganosh Lake Provincial Park is located south of Lake Nipissing and to the southeast of French River Provincial Park.

Traditional Territory: Noganosh Lake Provincial Park lies on the traditional territory of the Mississauga and Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario by Kevin Callan

Map: Canadian Topographic Map 41-H/16

Note: The topographic map does not give any indication of where campsites are located, although the sites are fairly easy to locate from the water. Kevin Callan’s book includes a map that indicates the location of many specific sites, both in the park, as well as on crown land leading up to the park boundaries.

Permits/Reservations: No permits or campsite reservations are required.

Outfitters & Shuttles

The only equipment we rented was a single kevlar canoe, which we picked up at Swift Canoe & Kayak just off highway 400, near Port Severn. This was only because we left the canoe rental to the last minute, and this was the only place we could find a canoe on such short notice.

Grundy Lake Supply Post is right by the entrance to Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Highway 522 close to where it intersects with Highway 69. This would be a much closer and more convenient option. Our second canoe and the rest of our gear we brought ourselves.

Trip Report

Day 1: Pickerel Lake (2 km)

This day was spent as a travel day, so we did not paddle very far. Most of us were driving from London or Toronto, and some couldn’t leave until the end of the workday. My brother Chris and I were the last ones to arrive, pulling into the parking lot at around 6 pm. The put-in is located on the north side of Highway 522, just east of the bridge that crosses over the Pickerel River. The gravel parking lot/put-in is not a specific destination you can search for and is only visible on the satellite imagery on Google Maps, so pay attention as you drive! 

By the time Chris and I got on the water, the sun was already beginning to set. Thankfully, our companions were already at our campsite, only a couple of kilometres downstream. We had a beautiful sunset, with clear skies and a gentle breeze at our backs.

Campsite: We stayed at a campsite on the eastern side of Pickerel Lake, approx 2 km from the put in. The site was fairly steep, with 2-3 fair tent spots, and lots of mosquito friends. It did, however, give us a beautiful sunset.

Day 2: Pickerel River to Noganosh Lake (15 km)

We woke up this morning to overcast skies and some light drizzle, which subsided by the time we had packed up our site, and gifted us with a double rainbow. We were packed up and on the water just after 9:00 am. From our site, we followed Pickerel River, turning east at an island marked “The Elbow”. We travelled between the mainland and Cincinnati Island to stay protected from the wind. We continued east until we reached the eastern end of Long Island, where we turned south towards the mouth of Smokey Creek and our first portage. 

The first portage (200 m) is along the western shore of Smokey Creek and is wide and flat over good terrain. The paddling along Smokey Creek was winding and boggy, but easily navigable. 1 km down the creek we met our second portage (75 m), a steep path next to a much steeper beaver dam. The dam has a sketchy makeshift ladder if you’d like to pull over the dam, which is what Chris and I elected to do, though the bottom of my boat did not appreciate it.

Update: Another paddler did this route in late spring 2022 and says that at this time “the second portage/beaver dam did not have a ladder or anything… but it was easy to pull over the dam on the right-hand side (when heading into Smoky Lake), right next to the rocks/shore.”

After the dam, the creek becomes increasingly boggy and cramped and becomes a bit of a maze as you approach the third and final portage. Luckily the entrance to the portage is easily visible from the water but took some trial and error to find the shore. This third portage (300 m) had moderately easy terrain and good put-ins on either side. At the north side of the trail, we found a rusted out tractor with a small rusted cart in tow, and a short questionable wooden bridge along a side trail that lay across a creek (don’t worry you don’t have to portage across it!).

From here the creek became considerably less boggy and, after another kilometre, opened up onto Smokey Lake. Here we paddled by a moderately sized island dotted with small cabins, which we later discovered was a fly-in hunting and fishing lodge named Smokey Lake Lodge. We chose a small island in the middle of Smokey Lake to stop for a late lunch.

From there we continued 4 km south down to Noganosh Lake and began looking for a campsite, which we found on an island half a kilometre down from the northern outlet of the lake. We spent the rest of the day exploring the southern bay of Lake Noganosh, fishing, lounging in our hammocks, and swimming. We managed to catch two basses that provided us with a tasty side to our chilli dinner. Despite being a long weekend, we only saw 2 other small groups out on the lake the entire day, which was a great surprise. Noganosh lake was quiet, and other than the odd hunting cabins felt quite secluded and wild. I was impressed!

Campsite: We found our site nestled in the trees on a small island near the middle of Noganosh Lake. It didn’t look like much from the water, but once you stepped on land and broke through the trees, it opened up with many tent spots and a thunderbox.

Day 3: Noganosh Lake back to the Pickerel River (13 km)

On this day I wanted to continue east to explore Last Lake, Mud Lake, and possibly John Lake, then backtrack to stay on Smokey Lake for the evening, but the group elected to begin to make our way back the way we came to make our final day fast and easy. Thus is the life of the weekend warrior canoeist I suppose.

The morning greeted us with overcast skies, and a stiff breeze coming from the north, but nothing we couldn’t handle. After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we were on the water heading back north towards Smokey Lake. We continued north through Smokey Creek, and the previously mentioned portages went off without a hitch. At the beaver dam, my brother and I decided to try and charge the dam at full speed, launching ourselves off the top and swamping our boat in the stream below.

By the time of our last portage, the skies had cleared and we were greeted by the heat of the sun. We rejoined the Pickerel River from Smokey Creek, then continued our way back west. I should mention that the Pickerel River is not within the official border of the park, meaning all of the campsites along its shore are technically on crown land. The river also has many cabins and cottages along with it, and has easy access to a number of boat launches, making it a very popular place to camp for the weekend. While on our way into the park we passed many of these campsites empty, this was not the case on our way back out.

Campsite: We didn’t find an open campsite until we reached a very, very tiny island sitting just north of a larger island named “The Elbow”, found where the Pickerel River makes a sharp turn north. Despite being small, having no privacy, and very little firewood, we decided to stay there for the evening due to hunger, exhaustion, and frustration with passing so many filled up campsites.

While setting up our tents, my brother and I noticed a fairly steep, exposed cliff on a larger island just to the west of us. After we watched a group of locals boat over to the cliff and encourage their two young children to take the leap into the water, we paddled over and had our turn. An excellent cliff jumping spot! This site was right in the middle of a large north/east/west junction of the Pickerel River, so it had a fair amount of boat traffic. We also had to paddle to the mainland to gather firewood and go to the bathroom which was quite a nuisance.

Day 4: Pickerel River to Take-Out (4 km)

This day was simple enough. Packed our boats up and travelled the 4 km north/east up the Pickerel River back to the put-in. Warm, sunny day, with a gentle breeze at our backs.

Reflections

This was a very easy trip, excellent for weekend warriors who need a getaway or for introducing new people to portaging. The portages are flat and easy, the park features a variety of marshland and flat water, it doesn’t require permits, and there is an outfitter located very close to the park.

Once you reach the park boundaries it feels surprisingly wild and secluded and has some excellent fishing opportunities. I do wish we’d had more time to explore further into the park. If you continue south the park connects with Magnetawan River Provincial Park, so you could potentially create an interesting trip by combining the two. 

Gallery


Author Bio

Michael is a paramedic living and working in London, Ontario. He was previously a tripper and leadership trainer at YMCA Camp Queen Elizabeth. Michael and his partner Jessica, both enjoy hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, and dangling things in front of their cats.

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Responses

  1. I did this trip a few weeks ago (late spring/early summer 2022) and the Second portage/beaver dam did not have a ladder or anything. note sure if this is a new/different dam; but it was easy to pull over the dam on the right-hand side (when heading into Smoky Lake), right next to the rocks/shore .