Quetico’s interior is set up as a wilderness paddling area, without signed camps or portages it allows you to channel your inner tripper and challenge your skills. With multiple access points, the large system of lakes can be reached from both Ontario or Minnesota (USA) and borders the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (USA). The Beaverhouse Lake loop will give paddlers the opportunity to experience sandy beaches, great fishing, solitude and killer sunsets. A true Ontario gem just a two-hour drive from Thunder Bay.
Trip Completed: July – August 2020
Starting Point: Beaverhouse Lake
Ending Point: Beaverhouse Lake
Total Distance: 70 km
Duration: 5 days/ 4 nights
Difficulty: Intermediate (requires strong wilderness and navigation skills)
The entire route is located within the Quetico Provincial Park boundaries. Beaverhouse Lake access point is located 22km off of HWY 11. The dirt road turn-off is located between HWY 11B (to Atikokan) and Mine Center. Once you get off Highway 11 you will see signs for Lac la Croix First Nations. This means you are on the right track, but make sure to take a left at the fork approximately 8km down the road to Beaverhouse Lake parking lot. If you miss this turn you will end up in Lac La Croix First Nations.
Note: There is little to no reception in the area, make sure you have the location saved on a service you can use offline. I used topographic maps I had downloaded ahead of time with the Avenza Maps app on my phone.
Traditional Territory: This route is located in the traditional territory of Anishinabewaki and Michif Piyii (Métis) (source).
Maps & Resources
Campsite Reservations: Yes, you need to book your trip through the Ontario Parks Reservation System. For Quetico backcountry, you just need to reserve your access point, not specific lakes you will be paddling. For example, our trip was 5 days starting from Beaverhouse Lake so we booked our 4 nights all for Beaverhouse Lake.
Permits: Yes, you will need to pick up a permit for each canoe as well as watch a short video on backcountry etiquette. There is a ranger station on Beaverhouse Lake, but it is located on the lake (not at the parking lot) so you need to paddle to it. This was not on our planned route, and to avoid doing the detour we got our permits the day before at the Dawson Trail Campground office (front country camping entrance).
Outfitters & Shuttles
We did not use an outfitter as we had all of our own equipment. Quetico Outfitters is located 4.5km west of the main park entrance and their website has lots of good information if you are looking for guidance, gear rental, shuttle service or trip planning. I have not personally worked with this outfitter but their website does include this specific loop as one of their route options.
Day 1: Beaverhouse Lake to Badwater Lake (16 km)
Our group spent two nights before the trip at the Dawson Trail campground, Quetico’s front country campground located ~100km from the Beaverhouse Parking Lot (starting point). There we did some day paddling on French Lake and were able to obtain our permits without making the detour to the Beaverhouse ranger station (Latitude: 48.539178 Longitude: -92.049847) on day 1 of our canoe trip. I would strongly suggest sorting out permits the day before as the detour to the ranger station will make for a long first day.
Our group consisted of my parents, our family friends and their dog, my sister and myself. I had done many backcountry canoe trips in the past and my parents had done weekend canoe trips but aside from that, it was everyone’s first backcountry canoe experience.
We got an early start from Dawson Trail campground and headed for Beaverhouse Lake. The wind on Beaverhouse and Quetico Lake can be very strong so we had planned to get on the water as early as possible. Unfortunately, we got hit with a heavy rainstorm the night before take-off and it carried into the first day of our trip, so we set up a sun shelter in the Beaverhouse parking lot and had an impromptu coffee and breakfast break while we waited out the end of the storm. The parking lot is very large and can accommodate many vehicles and trailers.
Note: There is no service anywhere throughout this route, or even on a large portion of the drive-in. Make sure to check the weather (and wind directions) before heading out. I recommend using weather.gc.ca and checking the forecast for Mine Center before you go.
Once the rain let up we carried all our gear to the entrance of Beaverhouse Lake, which is ~700m with good water levels but 1030m if water levels are low. This portage is all flat terrain and there is a wheel barrel at the start to help with hauling gear in. A 5km paddle will take you to the portage from Beaverhouse Lake to Quetico River (200 m).
Note: Portages and campsites are not marked throughout the park. Most portages on this route are fairly visible from the water and can be found if you have a map. There are established campsites throughout the route and it is good practice to use these existing campsites.
Quetico River will take you to Quetico Lake, where you head south towards a beautiful long sandy beach. There is a 60 m portage which will save you from paddling around a large peninsula, so you can continue on south towards the entrance to West Bay.
There is also a nice campsite close to the portage and would make for a great swimming spot. Since we got off to a late start due to the rain, the wind had picked up quite a bit by the time we were making our way to West Bay. Wanting to get off Quetico Lake and its strong winds, we powered through to our last portage of the day, connecting Quetico Lake and Badwater Lake.
Portage from Quetico Lake to Badwater Lake (1440 m): The long portage starts in Quetico Lake’s West Bay, and it was probably the hardest portage of the trip due to very muddy sections, wet rocks (thanks to that rainstorm) and overall length. But it is also the gateway to a multitude of smaller, less travelled lakes!
With this being most of our group’s first backcountry trip, we had to partially double back on portages, which is not ideal but you have to make do with what you have! Badwater Lake was a great reward.
Campsite: Badwater Lake is such a great place to set up camp for the night, we found a campsite on a north-facing point on the south shore of Badwater Lake, across the lake from the entrance to Bee Lake. Awesome site with space for our 3 tents, good swimming right off the point and a sunset view.
Day 2: Badwater Lake to Your Lake (9 km)
Camping on Badwater Lake was the only lake I planned on getting to in a specific time frame, just to get off the big lakes on day 1. From here on out we had four days to get back to Beaverhouse Lake.
We had a slow morning, coffee in the sun and a bit of relaxing after a long previous day on the water. Badwater Lake was a great paddle, good fishing and relatively calm because it is a narrower lake.
After ~5km you reach the first portage of the day, a portage from Badwater Lake to a small pond (170 m) and then another portage to Fair Lake (120 m).
The wind really picked up on Fair Lake, and even though it is relatively small (1.6km paddle), it was creating whitecaps, making paddling super difficult. The small bay at the end of Fair Lake is a bit swampy but we had no problem getting through to the 60 m portage from Fair Lake to Your Lake. We decided to stay on Your Lake for our second night and take a break after the windy conditions.
Campsite: An island campsite can be found after a 1.4 km paddle east on Your Lake. The site is large, with a nice fire pit, lots of room for tents and a nice landing spot. It is also west facing so you have a great view of the sunset.
Day 3: Your Lake to Jean Lake (12 km)
We were hoping to make it to Jean Lake on day 3, thinking it would be a relatively easy day. Unfortunately, after a really nice 3 km paddle across Your Lake, we couldn’t find the start of the portage to Boulder Lake.
I was using a paper map for navigation but had downloaded a map on my Avenza Maps app prior to the trip as a backup (it can locate your position without service, as long as you download the map beforehand). The digital map showed the portage starting from a marshy area further along the route so we decided to see if we can find that entrance. This required lifting over a couple of small beaver dams, and eventually, the small beaver stream was so overgrown that it was impassible. I cleared a path just wide enough to pull the canoes through the swampy water. The small stream opened up to a large beaver swamp which we were able to paddle for about 30m before the water level was too low. We pulled off onto a small landing to left and regrouped to form a new game plan.
We bushwhacked the area to try and find the original portage, and an old candy wrapper saved the day and lead us on the right path.
From our take-out spot on the beaver pond, it was about a 90 m bush bash to the west to join up with the original portage from Your Lake to Boulder Lake (660 m). We cleared the portage, hopefully making it a bit more visible for future groups, it was pretty overgrown but the last 150m towards Boulder Lake seemed well trafficked.
The portages throughout the park saw a lot less traffic in the 2020 season as ~90% of paddlers are from the US and with the border closures, the park saw less traffic in 2020. This was great for us Canadians as we didn’t see a single person until our last day!
After a few hours locating and clearing the portage, we were ecstatic to reach Boulder Lake. After a 1.5 km paddle across Boulder Lake, you reach a 190 m portage to a small unnamed lake. The portage is short but the last 30m was waist-deep mud and tall grass, this would probably be less muddy earlier in the season.
A 1.25 km paddle will take you to the start of a long swampy paddle along Jean Creek, and with a few quick portages that will take you to Jean Lake. Our maps didn’t show a portage connecting the unnamed lake to Jean Creek, but we found it blocked by low water and large boulders so we had a 60 m portage on the rocky shore to an area where we had enough water to paddle.
We were able to paddle ~0.5 km through a swamp water trail on Jean Creek before a 140 m portage around a shallow part of the route and then another 0.65 km of swamp travel before we reached the last portage before Jean Lake.
I would not suggest taking this route when water levels are low, if the levels were any lower this part of the trip would have been a nightmare. Looking back it would have been good to contact a local outfitter to check on the water levels before heading out. A 220 m portage connects Jean Creek to Jean Lake. After a long day of bush bashing and pulling our canoes through the swamp we arrived at our campsite just as the sun was going down.
Campsite: We found an island campsite, about a 4 km paddle from the portage. The landing was on the right side of the island, it had a large fire pit and a great area to watch the stars. I would not stay here if your group has more than 3 small tents. Fishing was great right off the island. We had a wild experience where a large pike attacked a bass that we had hooked and were reeling in, right off the campsite! If we had an extra day I would have loved to stay here two nights, lots to explore on Jean Lake.
Day 4: Jean Lake to Quetico Lake (15 km)
Our group was pretty tired on day 4, as the previous day ended up being a long one with all the portage clearing and swamp travel, but some morning coffee and fishing action boosted morale! We planned on getting as far west on Quetico Lake as possible on this day, and with only two short portages along the way, the group was feeling optimistic.
A 3.2 km paddle along Jean Lake will take you to a short 170 m portage from Jean Lake to the east side of Conk Lake. At the point, just as you’re heading into the bay that the portage is located on, there is a great campsite with lots of room for a larger group.
Conk Lake is small and was extremely clear when we were paddling through – we could see fish and vegetation right from our canoes. The 120 m portage from Conk Lake to Quetico Lake is the last carry of the day, short and well-travelled, but has a steep put-in.
Once on the main stretch of Quetico Lake, we were welcomed with high headwinds from the west. It was a constant battle with the wind for 9.5 km until we reached our campsite.
Campsite: We found a great site on the north shore of Quetico Lake and were rewarded with a stellar cloud show during sunset. The site was large and could accommodate several tents. It also had a large built-up fire pit and a good entrance for swimming.
Day 5: Quetico Lake to Beaverhouse Lake (19 km)
Wanting to avoid strong headwinds on Quetico Lake and Beaverhouse Lake, we had an early start on day 5. There are several large campsites on Quetico Lake and a few sandy beaches, offering many good lunch spots. A 12.4 km paddle takes you west on Quetico Lake, to the Quetico River and eventually to the 200 m portage from Quetico Lake to Beaverhouse Lake.
From there we followed the same route as we did on day 1, to the last 700 m portage that leads to the Beaverhouse Parking Lot.
If you have an extra day you can make a detour north on Quetico Lake and check out several pictographs.
The Quetico interior is truly a wild place, especially in 2020 with the drastically reduced number of visitors due to border closures. Our group only saw other paddlers on the last day, and besides that, we had the lakes all to ourselves.
I would suggest doing the route clockwise instead of counterclockwise like we did, to match the prevailing winds and hopefully catch a tailwind on the larger lakes.
It was also a good idea to pick up our permit the day before at a convenient ranger station location. The station on Beaverhouse Lake is a long detour from this route.
I wish we had an extra day just to spend more time at some of the campsites as there were so many great spots. If you’re an angler you will definitely want to try your luck for some walleye, bass and pike, the fishing was non-stop action.
Agata works for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, spending all her free time outdoors, travelling and browsing maps to plan future trips. Canoe is her preferred method of transportation and she will most likely be carrying a box of wine in her food barrel.