Ottawa-Timiskaming Highland Trail: Rabbit Lake to Nagle Bay (3 days / 26 km)
The Ottawa-Timiskaming Highland Trail is an extremely rugged 141 km trail in Temagami. This trip report covers a 26 km section of this trail along the shores of Lake Temiskaming from Rabbit Lake Road to Nagle Bay.
Trip Completed: July 2021
Starting Point: Rabbit Lake Rd
Ending Point: Rabbit Lake Rd
Total Distance: ~26km
Elevation Gain: 950 m. Lots of up and down!
Duration: 3 days
Temagami, Ontario. The trailhead is at the end of Rabbit Lake bush road off of Highway 11 (first right past Gramp’s Place).
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Omàmìwininìwag, Cree and Anishinabewaki (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: I highly recommended that you download the GPS tracks from this website. The trail, while marked, is not always clear and it is easy to lose it.
Campsite Reservations: None, all campsites are on crown land.
Outfitters & Shuttles
I completed this as an out and back so none was required. There are many lodges that offer shuttle services in the Temagami region.
Day 1: Bunny Lake Road Parking Lot to Nagle Bay (13 km)
It was Canada Day weekend and the pandemic was raging on. Needing an escape from the city, I set my eyes on the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail. After doing a few weeks of research, I decided that I would do a section of the trail starting at Rabbit Lake road and see how far north I could get in a 3-day out-and-back trip.
In addition to being one of the more scenic parts of the trail, I had uncovered that the trail south from Rabbit Lake Road to Thorne is not well-maintained. The Ottawa-Timiskaming Highland Trail is maintained by volunteers and is touted as being more rugged than trails in Killarney. Even with a more well-groomed section, I was in for a treat.
I set off at 5 AM for the 6-hour drive from Hamilton. When heading north on Highway 11 you will need to turn right off onto Rabbit Lake bush road just as you pass Gramp’s Place. Ensure your vehicle has a full tank as this bush road is nearly 40 km.
Now, I do not own a 4WD vehicle and was pleasantly surprised to see how well maintained this road was. However, a few kilometres before the area where you can park there is an incredibly steep hill with loose rock and a 2WD vehicle will likely not be able to make it back up. I learned this the hard way – as I was going down the hill I knew my Nissan Rogue would not make it back up. After a few attempts and a panic attack, I walked up the hill and saw a sign nailed to a tree warning of this hill and indicating an alternative route to the left.
To ensure I would be able to make it out on Sunday, I drove this alternative route and determined it was a viable option. However, one part of the alternative route crosses a stream which was luckily dry when I was there. I am not sure how high the water can get so don’t expect your 2WD car is guaranteed to make it. I drove the few remaining kilometres and parked in the grassy clearing where there is a trail information sign full of rather outdated information. The latest trail update was from a year before.
Being July the bugs were out in full swing and they were hungry. Thankful for my bug netting and my Columbia Silver Ridge light long sleeve shirt, I set off down the trail. Within a kilometre, I reached the first of the lakes where there is a campsite. Though nothing special, it’s a great spot if you started the trail late in the day. Here there is a small river crossing which, due to the low water levels, was not difficult.
The trail goes back into the forest for what seems like forever. The ‘trail’ is a very generous word for what was just a bushwhack through a small river valley. There was no solid ground and it felt as if I was walking on the bottom of a riverbed, stepping from boulder to boulder. Despite everywhere else being dry, the dense forest kept the moisture from the previous day’s rain fresh on the leaves. The walking stick I had picked up earlier came in handy as I hacked my way through the dense ferns. Keep your eye out for the white blazes as this is the only way to keep on the ‘trail’. Finally, I could see the light of day as I came up to another campsite (just before the log crossing on the map). I was now on the shores of the mighty Lake Temiskaming.
I continued along the trail and was met with a slippery log crossing. I was greeted with a great view of Grand Campment Bay on my right before the trail snaked back into the forest. I noticed the side trail on my right which led down to the Grand Campment Point campsite. Immediately I knew I wanted to spend my 2nd night at this campsite on my way back. The point reaches out towards the middle of the lake and you are surrounded by gorgeous views. A previous camper was not careful as all the trees were burned; clearly, a forest fire had occurred. I would recommend filling your water up here as there is not any other place to until you reach Nagle Bay. While eating my lunch I noticed a few ticks climbing on my clothes. I did a quick tick check, doused myself in Deet and packed up.
I made my way towards Nagle Bay. Here the forest becomes less dense, but the trail becomes very rugged. The white blazes are easy to spot but bypassing all the downed trees makes losing the actual trail a problem. There is an immediate 100m climb, followed by more ups and downs as you traverse the ridge above the water. Although the views are mostly blocked by the forest, there are a few viewpoints perfect for taking a rest. The trail then takes a very steep downwards path to Owl Creek campsite. This is an ~80m drop in elevation over 250m. The campsite at Owl Creek is nothing special and I wouldn’t recommend staying here. The water source is not very good, and the bugs were atrocious. I also have read the mice are bad here and will get into your food.
There is a small river crossing and the trail climbs steeply 90m over ~500m. After a few kilometres through the forest and many downed trees bypassed, you will reach The Perch viewpoint which is a must-see. The view from up here is incredible. The water framed by the rolling hills of the Temagami region and Quebec across the water was straight out of a Group of 7 painting. Knowing I was very close to Nagle Bay I enjoyed the view up here for an hour. The final stretch to Nagle Bay is a rather steep drop in elevation of 130m to the campsite. This campsite, like many on the trail, is supplied with benches and firewood thanks to the lovely volunteers.
Campsite: Nagle Bay. This is a lovely campsite sheltered from any rain or wind that may be blowing through. There is a small rocky entrance to the lake if you want to take a swim. The climb up to The Perch makes an awesome dinner spot. No thunderbox, so bring a trowel and get digging.
Campsite Coordinates: 47° 1’25.61″N 79°23’2.87″W
Day 2: Nagle Bay to Grand Campment Point (8 km)
Knowing I only had 8 km to hike to Grand Campment Point back along the trail I had hiked the day before, I had a slow relaxing morning sitting on the rocks by the water. Even though the long weekend weather was perfect and Lake Timiskaming is a popular boaters destination, I did not see much boat traffic. I packed up my tent and started back along the trail.
As I approached Owl Creek a small tin boat pulled into the bay. It was a group of volunteers checking in on the campsites and were planning to stay a night at one of the shoreline sites. We chatted for a bit and they stated they had hiked the southern part of the trail (towards Thorne) in June. They confirmed it was in a rougher state than this section of the trail but still traversable. They also recommended I do the sections around Friday Lake and Fourbass Lake.
I made it to the campsite in the mid-afternoon, set up my tent and prepared myself for a relaxing day. I spent the afternoon laying on the rocks watching the loons swim by and was greeted with a beautiful sunset.
Campsite: Grand Campment Point. This is a great campsite with views of Lake Timiskaming to the north and south. There is a nice stone fire pit and a small table for cooking. Again, no thunderbox.
Campsite Coordinates: 46°58’58.06″N 79°20’40.98″W
Day 3: Grand Campment Bay to Bunny Lake Road Parking Lot (5 km)
With a long drive ahead of me and the guarantee of terrible traffic on Highway 400, I got an early start on Sunday. I made my way back up the dense, overgrown river valley which didn’t seem nearly as bad as on the way in. I was back to my vehicle by the late morning and on my way home.
This is a great, rugged backcountry trip in Ontario where true backcountry trails are hard to find. Where Killarney is much more rugged, this trail makes up for its slightly less-ruggedness by the fact the trail is less maintained. Although less scenic than Killarney, this trail is perfect for those who want a true backcountry experience and don’t have access to Ontario adventurer’s preferred mode of travel – the canoe.
My original plan was to make it to Guided Spirit Rock viewpoint which is about 7km passed Nagle Bay however, I decided to stop at Nagle Bay as the campsite would be more enjoyable than the bush site near Guided Spirit Rock and the view from The Perch was incredible.
There are a few options for doing this trail in one direction if you have two vehicles or have a shuttle. The trail continues passed Nagle Bay with another entrance point at the dam along the Matabitchuan River. Or you could go all the way to Highway 11 by rib lake. The GPS tracks by the volunteers lay out all the campsites and trails.
Note on Safety: Downloading the GPX track is highly recommended. Lots of bushwhacking and watch for ticks!
Sean Vandersluis is an outdoor enthusiast who loves exploring Canada’s outdoors. He always brings along his camera to capture some of Canada’s most beautiful locations. Mostly a backpacker in the mountains of western Canada, he has been trying to get into canoeing after moving to Ontario (but still prefers a good old fashion hiking trip). Follow his Instagram to follow along!
Instagram: @seanmarksluis and @seanmark_photography