Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop (10 days / 170 km)

This ten-day trip into Wabakimi Provincial Park is a challenging route through remote wilderness and serves as an excellent introduction to the area without requiring the use of an outfitter or float plane drop-off. It starts with boarding the cross-Canada VIA rail and getting off the train at Shultz’s Trail, 24.7 miles west of Armstrong Station, Ontario. The train can be boarded from Armstrong Station, which is accessible by car, or even from Toronto.

We boarded the train at Sudbury Junction where parking was free and rode the train to Schultz’s Trail. The canoe route ends at Little Caribou Lake where a shuttle back to Armstrong Station can be arranged for a moderate fee. The train and shuttle fill in the gaps to make this a loop, so no parts of the trip need to be repeated. 

This loop offers the paddler a little bit of everything from experiencing whitewater rapids, large lakes, stunning vistas, world-class walleye fishing, wildlife encounters and easily accessible trails. Better yet, this route has only one portage greater than 1000 meters in length.

Trip Completed: August 2022

Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop
Wabakimi Provincial Park: Lookout River – Whitewater Lake Loop

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Schultz’s Trail – 24.7-mile marker. Call VIA in advance to book space on the Bud car for your canoe and to inform them of the mile marker. This is not a scheduled stop and needs to be pre-arranged. 

Ending Point: Little Caribou Lake. Take out at the bridge where Caribou Lake Road crosses the creek leading out of the south end of the lake. From there, it is a 6 km drive back to Armstrong Station. A shuttle can be arranged for a moderate fee with Wabakimi Clem at (807) 372-1346. E-mail: wabakimiclemq@outlook.com 

Total Distance: 170 km

Duration: 10 days (weather is temperamental in Wabakimi and there is a possibility of becoming windbound on the larger lakes.)

Difficulty: Advanced due to the area’s remoteness and temperamental weather patterns. 


This route is located in Northwestern Ontario, northwest of Lake Nipigon. It is a remote region, so it is advised for paddlers to prepare and plan accordingly. 

Traditional Territory: This route in Wabakimi is on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki and Anishininiimowin (Oji-Cree) (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Kevin Callan’s Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario

Map: Regional Topographic Maps, Paddle Planner, and the Friends of Wabakimi Maps which is the best source but expensive.

Campsite Reservations: N/A – All sites are first come, first serve for permit holders.

Permits: Permits are required within the park boundaries and can be purchased from and reserved online through the Ontario Parks Reservation System (select “Backcountry Registration” on the far right, and then select “Wabakimi” for the park and “Train” for the access point. Select the appropriate zone for the appropriate date as you progress through the route. Alternatively, permits can be purchased and arranged through outfitters in Armstrong.

Permits are only required for the nights in the provincial park. Parts of the Caribou River, Caribou Lake and Little Caribou Lake are not within the park boundaries and Crown Land Camping guidelines apply in these areas. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

This route does have some whitewater rapids, but there are portages around any whitewater that would be dangerous to a lighter boat. We brought an Esquif Prospecteur that would allow us to have relatively nice paddling on flatwater and durability in the event of running rapids. 

In the Armstrong area, we recommend Clem Quenville, (807) 372-1346, also known as Wabakimi Clem. Clem provides shuttles, safe parking, SPOT GPS rental and canoe rentals. Clem is very reliable and has a wealth of knowledge about the area. E-mail: wabakimiclemq@outlook.com 

If Clem is unavailable, canoe rentals and shuttling service can be arranged through Mattice Lake Outfitters or Wabakimi Outfitters. Both operate out of Armstrong.   

Trip Report

In the last week of July 2022, my father and I headed north from Sudbury Junction station on the VIA rail to Wabakimi Provincial Park, Ontario’s second largest, in the summer of 2022. It did not disappoint. It was a fabulous trip that threw a little bit of everything at us. 

We had decided to enter and exit the park by train from Southern Ontario. With this decision, there were a few things to consider about this method of entering the park:


  • It was way more economical to take the train rather than drive up from Southern Ontario due to the price of gas. Gas got incredibly expensive in the spring/summer of 2022.
  • It was obviously much cheaper than a fly-in and paddle-back trip.
  • It was way more relaxing than driving. We could both sleep on the train (ideally!) and not arrive at the put-in exhausted after a 20-hour drive.
  • We could use the train to complete a circuit route without having to retrace any part.  The alternative would be to paddle to and from Armstrong (2 days of travelling each way from Little Caribou Lake to Smoothrock Lake).
  • One has to admit; it is pretty cool to have the train drop one off in the middle of nowhere with a canoe and slowly pull away leaving one to their own devices in the bush.


  • The cross-Canada VIA train (aka The Canadian) is notoriously late on a regular basis, typically anywhere from 2 to 24 hours late.  We were at the mercy of VIA Rail in terms of timing.
  • The train stops regularly with people embarking and disembarking continuously. Getting any sleep at all might be wishful thinking.
  • We would be without a vehicle once back in Armstrong after the trip, our take-out location while waiting for the train home.

Given the fact that we weren’t bound to a tight schedule in our work and personal lives immediately after the trip, we decided we’d try the train. If it was going to be late, so be it. One minor concern that we did have was that if it were drastically late on the way to the put-in, we’d be rushing through the trip to catch it home. This wasn’t a big issue, however; I had planned a trip that I estimated would take nine or ten days to complete if we averaged 5 hours each day. Our window between trains in and out was 11 days, so barring some very nasty weather events, it was not too much of a worry. As long as we weren’t windbound for more than two full days, we would be fine.

Day 1: Schultz’s Trail to Lookout River (9 km)

We arrived at Shultz’s Trail at 1:30 PM, four hours after our scheduled arrival time. We apprehensively watched the train pull away as we were left in the bush next to the tracks. 

It had been raining hard all morning, but thankfully it had stopped about a half hour before we arrived at our destination, making the transition from train passengers to canoe trippers easier. There was a yellow sign saying ‘Shultz’s Trail‘ to demark the trail to the lake and we made a couple of trips down with all of our gear. 

It was a gentle trail down to a fishing lodge on Onamakawash Lake. The first thing we noticed on the trail were the blueberries…so many wonderful blueberries. We would enjoy them throughout the trip. The trail was well-worn and easy to use. In fact, with the exception of two portages between Whitewater and McKinley Lakes, we found all of the portages on the trip very well-maintained. Many thanks to both the Friends of Wabakimi and Ontario Parks for their consistent and vigilant efforts on trail maintenance. 

It didn’t take us long to load and get on the water. Blue skies were beginning to poke through the gloom, but the wind was also coming up from the northwest. We felt it more as we got out into the larger part of the lake, so we kept to the northern shore and tried to hide behind points when we could to make the paddle a little easier.

We entered the bay at the northwest part of the lake and had to get out of the canoe for a minute to wade over rocks near the outlet of the Lookout River. This allowed us to skip paddling around the island. 

We saw our first rapid of the Lookout River just after that and it looked easy to run, at least the top part did. We ran it and eddied out at the bottom only to discover that the final rapid had a newly fallen cedar sweeper across the bottom of it, stretching pretty much across the entirety of the river. We couldn’t see it from the top. Knowing that we should have walked the portage on the left to get a look at the entire run, we quickly learned to not take things for granted in Wabakimi. We were able to line the canoe down the right side but had to cross the bottom of the rapid in front of the sweeper while hanging on to it. Luckily, there wasn’t too much push, but there was still enough to get a head full of cedar leaves and to carpet the bottom of the boat. It was a little comical actually. 

We paddled northeast across a bay and arrived at the next obstacle, a Class 3 drop in the river between two bays. There was a 64m portage on the left, very close to the drop, and a nice-looking campsite there, as well. It was 4:30 PM by that time and we decided to call it a day even though we’d only been on the water for a couple of hours. We both like to sleep with the sound of running water nearby and in this case, we got that in spades. Besides, the sky was beginning to cloud over again in a hurry, so we wanted to hunker down before any rain came and we were very tired having only slept a few hours the previous night on the train.

We made camp, got a fire going, and gathered some firewood to dry out around the fire; the ground was still very wet from all the rain earlier in the day. For the remainder of the evening we were in complete solitude.  It was wonderful.

Our night was spent celebrating our arrival at Wabakimi Provincial Park. We were both just happy to have finally made it there. We did this by consuming a couple of amazing steaks, potatoes, salad and a bit of whiskey. We both slept well.

Campsite: A nice site next to a raging rapid. Only for those who like the noise of running water.

Day 2: Lookout River to Smoothrock Lake (18 km)

When we awoke in the morning, the sky was still overcast. It appeared to have sprinkled a bit in the night, but not much. We made our usual first breakfast of warming up pre-cooked eggs and bacon while sipping on coffee and sat for a bit listening to the rapids. Wabakimi is infamous for having very dynamic weather that can turn quite quickly. It certainly helped to have a satellite device to do regular weather checks to help plan each day. On that particular day, it was forecasting a sunny afternoon, so we took our time. 

We soon loaded our canoe, got out on the water and began fishing beneath the rapid next to our site. Immediately, we were having success tapping into pickerel (walleye). It was amazing. We kept one particular larger one, but almost lost it. I had the pickerel on a stringer dangling in the water from the canoe next to me for a bit. As we continued fishing, a massive pike emerged from below and nearly swallowed the thing whole! I literally had to give the pike a smack with my hand from the boat! It let go of my precious pickerel, leaving teeth marks near the pickerel’s gills. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Pike or freshwater sharks!? I wasn’t sure for a minute. 

The pike incident pretty much finished the pickerel off, so I processed it onshore, bagged it, and kept it for our meal that evening. It would be the first of three nice pickerel meals that we would enjoy on the trip.

We paddled for about a half hour and came to a substantial drop in the river, where we were forced to portage. There was a nice open campsite at the top on the right across from the 185m portage on the left. 

Twenty minutes later we came to a series of rocky ledges where we again opted to take the 100m portage.

Almost immediately after putting in, we were faced with more whitewater. We debated over this one for a bit. From the top, we could spot a nice line on the left side, but again, we couldn’t see the end of the run as it curved to the right. The terrain on the left side of the river made it difficult to scout, and as we were on river right, the blind spot dissuaded us. The river there also had a bit more push to it and there wasn’t really a spot to eddy out that we could spot from where we were. Again, we erred on the side of caution and chose to take the short 38m portage on river right, which had an awkward rocky take-out to negotiate. That set of rapids was very pretty, though! 

Within a matter of minutes of paddling downriver, we were scouting yet again; this time standing up from the boat. It was a straightforward C1 that we easily ran. 

We paddled to the final obstacle before Spring Lake. For that one, we lined over a shallow, rocky ledge at the top and then had to choose one of a few options to take as the river maneuvered around a series of small islands. We ran the swifts there and then had to descend a final Class 2 drop over a ledge into Spring Lake. Dad got a little moist in the bow seat after hitting the standing wave below the ledge. 

We paddled north against the cool north wind on Spring Lake which was pretty in the rocky areas in the south, but a little swampy at its north end. 

We had a little trouble finding the start of the 1083-meter Fantasia Portage at first but eventually spotted a boat cache behind some reeds on the right before the first set of the swifts out of the lake. It was a mucky take-out.

The Fantasia Portage is named as such because it is supposedly the most scenic portage in the north. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it really was a nice walk. It travelled through a spacious forest of pine and spruce, and through a seemingly endless patch of blueberries and bunchberries. It really was pretty and we had our share of blueberries on the return walk for our second load. It felt to me that a forest fire some time ago helped contribute to the spaciousness of the forest there, but I didn’t see direct evidence of a burn. 

This would be the longest portage of the trip. We couldn’t help but notice how much deadfall existed up in the boreal forest compared to the mixed forests further south.

The portage ended at a nice campsite overlooking the bay that received the water from the Lookout River. It was just after 3 PM and we hadn’t really had any lunch yet, so we whipped up a couple of peanut butter and honey wraps there.

Putting in and back on the water, we encountered 4 fishing boats from a nearby fly-in fishing lodge on Smoothrock. Thinking it was a special spot because of the ‘crowd’, we also joined the mix to cast a couple of lines at the base of the rapids where the Lookout dumped into Smoothrock; however, we didn’t have a lot of luck at that location. We wanted to get away from motorboats, so we moved on in short order.  

The paddle out of the Lookout River and into Smoothrock Lake went through a narrow channel that had an easy swift to run. We turned to head north up through the narrow south bay and eventually spotted the lodge on the west shore where we assumed the fishermen were staying. 

We were facing a stiff headwind, but after about an hour, as the lake widened, the clouds began to pass us by and the wind subsided somewhat.

We continued paddling for another 45 minutes or so and passed a number of islands along the way. Apart from the lodge at the south end, we didn’t see any other people or structures. It was amazing to paddle alone through this large, gorgeous undeveloped lake. By this stage, we recognized how the lake got its name. Many of the islands and points sported smooth mounds of light-coloured granite at the water’s edge. 

A massive bald eagle watched us for a while from the western shore before spreading its massive wings and soaring across the lake. Its wingspan was easily six feet or more. We saw so many of these majestic creatures on this trip.

As we rounded the corner of a large island that dominated the centre of the lake, a large bay opened up behind it with a small island in the middle. There was supposed to be a site on that tiny island, and since it was about 5 PM, we paddled over to investigate.

The site was fantastic. We found out subsequently that it has been given the name of ‘Spaghetti Island’ presumably after a fond meal that was had there.  It was at the northwest tip of the island and sported a ‘smoothrock’ front porch that was great for swimming. We found flat spots for our tents on blueberry patches. In fact, this occurred on most of our sites on the trip. Many of the sites lack cleared-out tent pads as one might find in a park such as Algonquin.

Most of the clouds were gone by sunset, which ended up being stunningly beautiful.

Campsite: Referred to as “Spaghetti Island”. Awesome campsite, but exposed to wind and weather.

Day 3: Smoothrock Lake to Outlet Bay (26 km)

On Day 3 we finally awoke to clear, sunny skies, and it was hot! We started the morning off with a cool swim in the lake to wake us up and then began collecting blueberries. Apparently, we had entered into some sort of wonderful alternate universe in which delicious wild blueberries were plentiful on every portage and island. It was amazing! 

So, after filling a mug or two with the delicious treats, we mixed them in with some batter and made some fantastic blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I always bring a small vial of maple syrup on these northern trips for just such an occasion. 

An odd thing occurred while we munched on our breakfast. A shadow flitted overhead and we looked up to see a seagull in hot pursuit of a massive eagle, easily three times its size.  It was comical. The eagle could have destroyed the gull, yet it evaded pursuit and didn’t seem to have the inclination to fight back as the chase continued across the lake and out of sight.

We were back on the water and continuing our way north on Smoothrock Lake by 10 AM. There was a stiff wind from the southwest which was a helpful tailwind when the lake narrowed. However, when we had to make the crossings across the larger bays, the wind came at us sideways and the waves hit us broadside. This forced us to tack into the wind at these locations and prolong our progress north. We didn’t mind all that much; the forest on either side of the lake was thick and the polished rocky outcrops made for a scenic paddle.

The temperature was high, and by the time we approached the large northwestern bay where we had to veer to the northeast to get to Outlet Bay, we needed a break to swim and eat. There was a fairly recent burn on the large island and western shore at the southern part of that bay.

Surprisingly, the wind wasn’t too nasty out in the big bay, and we finally found a great little spot on an island in the middle of the bay to eat a couple of wraps and cool ourselves off with a swim.

After lunch the wind got stronger.  We were very grateful that we weren’t on the wrong side of it. We made our way northeast through the channels and narrows. We noticed a couple of nice campsites on this part of the lake. 

As we veered north again into the wide-open expanse at the bottom of Outlet Bay, the wind really whipped up. There were swells coming up behind us that were half a meter high and it got a little dicey —  a tailwind yes, but not a helpful one! We were relieved when we were able to duck behind some islands at the narrow part about halfway up the bay. 

It calmed again somewhat when we reached the northern end of Outlet Bay. It was about 3:30 PM when we arrived at an island in the middle of the bay that had a lovely campsite on its western tip. We decided to call it a day there.

We enjoyed swimming off of our rock porch to cool off from the relentless heat, cleaned and dried a few items of clothing, made a nice bannock to go with a rehydrated stew, and watched the sun hide behind some clouds as it bid us adieu for the evening across the bay to the west. 

At around 9 PM, the wind changed directions suddenly. It was as if someone flipped a switch and a cool wind visited from the north. The temperature dropped significantly and we had a feeling that we were in for some weather. The nice thing about that cool wind was that it was helpful in blowing away the mosquitoes.

Campsite: Lovely west-facing island site in the middle of Outlet Bay.

Day 4: Outlet Bay to Ogoki River (16 km)

Our suspicions were correct; it was chilly and overcast when we awoke. The rain was holding off for the time being. 

We ate some bacon and eggs, broke camp, and got back on the water shortly before 10 AM. We were looking forward to getting into the Berg River, running a few rapids, and tapping into some more pickerel.

We paddled to the start of the Berg River and inspected the rapids that drained from the lake. At the top, they looked runnable, but on the map, we could see that the river veered to the west and there were another set of rapids below that, as well. It was a long way to scout around a blind corner, so we opted to just take the 397m portage that cut across the land to bypass it all. We had a little trouble locating the trail at first, though. It was a little bit further west than I had marked on my maps. 

The trail was easy to follow and free of obstacles. It was absolutely covered with blueberries which we enjoyed on the walk back for our second load. 

The portage emerged at the base of the last bit of moving water that we avoided on the turn and had a strong current there. We fished for a while but didn’t have any luck at that spot. We moved downriver toward the next rapid.

The first set we hit was a short, but fun, Class 1 wave train that we ran right up the middle, happily avoiding the portage. We spent a bit of time fishing in the eddy next to these rapids and got some action. We ended up keeping a couple of nice pickerels that we would enjoy later in the day. 

We would have liked to stay longer there, but both of us snapped our fishing line and lost our lures, Dad on a snag, and in my case, by a massive pike that grabbed and ran with it before I could even put my hand on the drag. I learned the hard way to ditch the fluorocarbon leader and to attach my lure directly to the braided line with pike of that size lurking. In addition, the weather was looking nastier by the minute, so we decided to move on and get more distance behind us while the getting was good. 

Almost immediately, we found ourselves atop Island Rapids which was a double falls separated by an island.  From above, it actually looked like three separate falls. We completed the 102m portage on the left, put in, retooled our rods, and started fishing there.  Water levels were very high, and the falls seemed more like rapids than the online depictions of them I had seen before.  In fact, we were subsequently informed that the area had been experiencing abnormally high water for most of the year thus far.

It was an extremely scenic location, but unfortunately, the experience was somewhat diminished by the cold rain that started coming in and it looked like it was going to stay.

We fished for a while there and caught one more to go with our meal for the evening. The rain started coming down harder, however, and we were getting chilled, so we moved on.

The river widened and the terrain on the banks got a little swampier. The rain really started pouring and we thought it would be a great time to take a break, get a bite to eat, and clean the fish we had caught. There was a campsite on the east side of the river in a grove of black spruce. We paddled up to the muddy beach there and quickly took notice of the plethora of leeches wriggling in the shallow water.  My trip research denoted that this was supposed to be a nice beach site, but the high water levels seemed to reduce the beach to a muddy river bank. We took cover from the rain amongst the trees until it subsided somewhat. 

After we finished eating our lunch and processing the fish, we stored the fillets in a zip lock, bailed the rain out of the canoe, and moved on down the river.

The Berg didn’t change in its appearance all that much downriver.  It was relatively marshy and less scenic than the rocky and dramatic Lookout River that we enjoyed on the first two days of the trip. Having said that, the rapids on the Berg were more enjoyable to run. We paddled between a couple of large islands as the relentless rain pummeled us, turned to the northwest, and arrived at the next set of rapids, another short but fun run through a wave train. Again, we were glad to have avoided the 58m portage. 

The last obstacle on the Berg did force us to get out of the boat, though. The drop was more significant and there were some large boulders at the top of the run. It was definitely runnable, but there wasn’t a lot of room for error. Given the fact that we were alone with only one boat, we played it safe and decided to portage past the boulders at the top of the run, put in halfway, and run the bottom part. The rocky shoreline would have made lining difficult. At least we were able to reduce a 275m portage to about 80m.

The remainder of the Berg seemed to get even swampier as we approached the Ogoki River, and before it even registered with us, we paddled around a bend and found that we had already left the Berg. We looked behind us and saw that the river had come from two directions and realized that the Berg had unceremoniously and seamlessly merged into the Ogoki with nary a ripple. 

By this time, we were feeling fairly miserable. The cold, driving rain had pelted us for the better part of two hours. Our rain gear kept most of the water off of us, but we were also damp from perspiration despite the chilly temperature. We were looking to get warm and dry. 

Slightly upriver and across from the confluence of the two rivers, there was a campsite on a rocky ridge. It wasn’t the best site we’d ever seen, but it would have to do. There weren’t a lot of flat spots to pitch tents and the shoreline was weedy, but we were cold and wet, and the last thing we wanted was a swim; we didn’t care too much about the weeds at that point. 

We erected a tarp and got all of our gear under it. Getting into some dry clothes felt like heaven. We waited for a period when the rain subsided, but when that moment came and we started pitching our tents, it started raining again about halfway through the process. In the end, we got them up without getting the interiors too wet. I simply just chucked a tarp over my fly for an extra layer of protection; there wasn’t much to tie the tarp to in the spot where I was able to find flat ground that wasn’t solid rock.

Despite being cold, we didn’t bother with a fire; the world was absolutely soaked and we just wanted to eat. We fired up our stove for the first time on the trip. I normally try to avoid using gas canisters as much as possible, but this was one of those times I indulged. The pickerel fillets tasted good and improved our spirits. 

The rain seemed to come and go in waves for the rest of the night. Chilled from the day, we got into the tents much earlier than normal and called it a day. We both stayed dry in our respective tents for the rest of the night, despite the continuing rain and got a good night’s rest in the end.

Campsite: Campsite on rocky ridge. Few flat spots and poor, muddy shoreline.

Day 5: Ogoki River to Whitewater Lake at Best Island (18 km)

When we awoke, the weather hadn’t improved all that much. We both slept well and stayed in the tents until the rain mercifully stopped. The air was very damp and there was still a chill in the air. Clouds of mist and fog were here and there. 

Once up, we didn’t waste a lot of time at the site. We simply fired up some hot water on the stove and got some coffee and hot oatmeal in us. We had to pack everything away wet; our clothes hadn’t dried much overnight. 

The Ogoki River was wide at this location and there was a  chilly headwind coming in at us from the north. There were intermittent sprinkles on and off, but the rain held off for the most part. 

My map displayed a 426m portage on the left that we couldn’t see or find. We weren’t looking that hard, however, because there was only one little swift at that location that we barely noticed as we paddled through it. Again, I assumed the high water levels were making it easy for us. 

Immediately after that, we came to the confluence where the two branches of the Ogoki merged. If we were to continue on the eastern branch, we would have had a 888m portage to contend with. Even though I had read online that some trippers were able to run or line part of that, we would have still had sections that required portaging. In Kevin Callan’s report on this route, he opted to take the western branch that had lower water volume, but had a series of CI and CII rapids that could be run or lined. Given the high water levels, we thought we’d give the western branch a shot. 

We were glad we had made that decision upon reaching the first obstacle, which we ran fairly easily after a bit of scouting. However, our progress slowed dramatically after that. In the end, there were 5 sets altogether and we had to line or wade all or parts of the last four. The terrain was rocky and very scenic, but this also made lining the canoe a challenge. At times, we were waist-deep in the chilly water, trying to find our footing.  There were no portages along the channel and I would only recommend the western channel for those who have previous experience on remote river routes and for those who have a boat that can handle all the bumping and scraping. 

We slapped our paddles together in celebration upon entering the southwestern edge of Whitewater Lake.

Unfortunately, our celebration was short-lived. In fact, what followed could have ended badly. We rounded the point that separated the two mouths of the Ogoki, and we found the wind that was whipping in from the northeast had Whitewater Lake foaming and frothing. There was no way that we were going anywhere on Whitewater Lake soon. We saw the lovely beach adjacent to the fly-in fishing lodge, Whitewater Lodge, approximately 500m away across the bay and thought that might be a good place to hunker down until the wind died. Whitewater Lake is massive and we had a long open body of water to cross. We had checked the weather on my satellite device earlier and the wind was supposed to shift directions and subside early in the afternoon.  

We knew that crossing over to the beach would be a little dicey, but we had done worse in the past; we thought we could easily make it. So, we started making a beeline for the beach. What we didn’t take into consideration, and what we couldn’t really notice from the outset, was that the strong winds were pushing the waves directly against and into the flow of the current from the Ogoki River. The river flow was meeting the waves head-on. This created quite a washing-machine effect. It was far enough away from the mouth of the Ogoki that we didn’t think it would be an issue, but we were wrong. When we attempted to paddle through it, still at least 300 meters from shore, the canoe began bobbing and tilting randomly in all directions. Some waves were coming up over the gunnels. At one moment, a particularly large wave started pushing us over, but luckily it was to the side that I was paddling on; I managed a low brace while Dad leaned to the high side in the bow seat. Thankfully, we were able to keep the open end of the canoe facing upward. Had we moved further away from the river a couple of hundred meters, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in that situation. We made it to the beach no worse for wear, but with a valuable lesson learned. 

We stayed for a moment at the beach, but we were still wet from wading down the Ogoki and the cold wind was strong; we were beginning to get chilled. We thought of lighting a fire to warm up but didn’t think the good people at the lodge would appreciate a couple of canoe trippers sullying their beautiful beach with a bonfire. We could see one person moving about at the lodge, obviously an employee, burning deadfall in a bonfire of his own, but other than that, the lodge appeared to be vacant. There didn’t seem to be any guests that we could see, so we thought we’d stroll over and ask if we could warm up by their fire.

A woman opened the door to the lodge and invited us inside. She couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. At the time, the lodge was closed to guests while they were undergoing some renovations, so we accepted the invitation, knowing we weren’t intruding on anyone paying to stay at the lodge. The woman and the young man were the only ones there working on the property. 

She made us a pot of hot coffee and a fresh salad. Yep, you read that correctly — a fresh salad on Day 5 of a canoe trip! We warmed up considerably and started to feel a lot better. We were immensely grateful for the woman’s hospitality and generosity. 

The wind blew away the nasty clouds and the sun finally emerged. Our spirits and mood improved dramatically. By 2 PM the wind was relenting. There was still the odd whitecap out in the centre of the bay, but the headwind we would be up against looked manageable. We thanked the woman profusely and paddled northeast out onto Whitewater Lake. 

We remained relatively close to the eastern shore and ducked in behind headlands and islands when we could. After about an hour, the wind pretty much died down, and by 3:30, it was all but gone. The sun was strong and we had consumed all of our water working hard against the wind. When we stopped at an island to filter some more, we were bewildered to think that just a few hours earlier we had been cold and needed a hot drink to warm up. Now, we were hot, taking off layers, and couldn’t get hydrated — that’s Wabakimi for you, four seasons in a day!

Continuing east on Whitewater Lake, we were enjoying the better conditions and beauty of the lake. The water was incredibly clear and the many islands and rocky outcrops along the shore made for beautiful scenery. It truly is among the most beautiful lakes that I have had the pleasure of paddling.

We continued paddling east until we came to the bay  just north of the channel leading southward to Ogoki Lodge. Our original plan was to paddle the length of Whitewater Lake to the north and back down to Best Island through the islands and channels, but after speaking with the woman at Whitewater Lodge, we were intrigued about Ogoki Lodge and wanted to check it out.  As we rounded the point and began turning south, we spotted a black bear on the southern tip of an island just east of us. 

The lodge was built sometime in the late 1970s according to some very limited Internet research done on my part. Apparently, Wendell Beckwith (see Day 6 of this trip report) had some input or inspiration in the lodge’s design; it was built in the likeness of a teepee. An architect from Toronto seemed to be the principal designer. Most likely due to a lack of funds to sustain proper maintenance, or perhaps due to a lack of attending guests, the lodge fell into a degree of disrepair and was all but abandoned by the early 2010s. 

As Dad and I paddled the channel toward it, we spotted the top of it from a distance away. It appeared as a tower rising above the trees, and in a wild and natural landscape, it was quite the unexpected sight.  

Dad and I paddled to the beach to take a couple of photos only and moved on. The mosquitoes were horrendous there and it wasobviously private property. It really is an interesting architectural achievement, and hopefully, it will be restored and returned to its former glory.

The humidity of the day was building. We were learning the hard way how dynamic Wabakimi’s weather is; we had just experienced 24 hours of rentless cold rain and chilly north winds, only to be replaced immediately with humid and heavy air coming from the southwest. This seemed to bring out the mosquitoes in droves, so we pressed on in search of a site on a nice breezy point or island. 

Moving south of the lodge in the channel, the route came to an impasse in a swampy narrows. There, we found the 111m portage into a back bay of the lake. The trail seemed less used than the others we had used thus far, but was still easy to find and follow despite being unmarked. We made quick work of it in an effort not to lose much blood from the swarming hordes of buzzing pests. 

Back on the water,  we needed to head east through a rugged, but pretty, channel to enter the large eastern section of Whitewater Lake. Our goal was to find a site near Best Island to see the Beckwith cabins the following day. The channel got very shallow and narrow in a couple of spots and we had to lift the canoe and gear over a rocky ledge as we entered the lake again.

It threatened to rain again around 6 PM as the sky temporarily became overcast with dark and menacing clouds. We were discovering that rain was nearly a daily occurrence in Wabakimi between 4 and 7 o’clock each evening. Luckily, it held off. 

It took the better part of two hours to get from Okogi Lodge to the bay next to Best Island. We marvelled at both the wide expanses of water looking east across Whitewater Lake and the plethora of gorgeous, rocky islands and points along the western shore. We passed a red canoe beached on an island where a couple of canoeists were setting up camp, the first fellow travellers we had seen since paddling up Smoothrock Lake three days earlier. We waved as we paddled past. We found a little-used site on a tiny island in the bay next to Best Island, just a short paddle from Beckwith’s beach, and made camp around 7:30 PM. 

We set up our tents, rebuilt the fire pit, and enjoyed a rehydrated pasta dish as the sun went down. We didn’t linger too long that night as the mosquitoes were active and ready to play.

Campsite: Nice site with fantastic west facing view. Was buggy for us though!

Day 6: Whitewater Lake to McKinley Lake (10 km)

I woke a little earlier than normal with the sun beating down on my tent. I was happy, though! After the previous two days that had given us a lot of nastiness, the sun was more than welcome. Unfortunately, a quick weather check on my satellite device predicted more ugly weather later in the day. Sigh.

I got up and lit a fire to make some coffee. I couldn’t relax and really enjoy it, however. The mosquitoes emerged with the heat of the sun, and boy, did they come out to play! I took my coffee over to a rocky point on the northern side of the island where there was a little more breeze to blow the little you-know-whats away. 

I saw the red canoe of the canoeists we saw the previous night heading toward us from the north. When they got closer to our island, they noticed me sitting on the point and paddled over for a chat. They were childhood friends and had been going on canoe trips together for 40 years!  They were on the way to visit the Beckwith Cabins and working their way back to Smoothwater Lake. We chatted for a bit, sharing our experiences and thoughts of our time in Wabakim thus far. 

After they departed, we made breakfast and broke camp. The mosquitoes seemed to be getting worse as the day got warmer. We both put on our bug shirts in the process. There were relentless clouds of them. It was August 2nd and that morning was the worst for bugs I had experienced all summer! Go figure. We were happy to get out on the water and into the breeze of the lake. 

In addition to the amazing beauty and fishing that exists in Wabakimi Provincial Park, another reason Dad and I chose the route was to visit the Beckwith Cabins. A couple of years earlier, through an online canoe-tripping forum, we were introduced to a documentary entitled “In Search of Wendell Beckwith”. It was created by Wendell’s grandson, Tyler, in partnership with the Thunder Bay Historical Museum, Lakehead University, and other stakeholders. It’s an amazing 96-minute piece, narrated by Tyler, that explores Wendell’s journey and mindset which resulted in him existing for 19 years in one of the most incredible hermitages ever built in Canada. 

In the film, Wendell is depicted as an eccentric genius with some very original and unusual ideas, one of them being that Best Island is the Center of the Universe. Much has already been written and said of Wendell Beckwith, therefore I won’t elaborate further on Wendell’s story, creations and theories; I will let the documentary do that. Here is the link and I encourage readers to watch it in its entirety when they have the time. It really is an amazing story.

We beached our canoe at a rocky point on Best Island; it was a campsite that was connected to the Beckwith Cabins via a short trail. We spent some time marvelling and exploring Wendell’s constructions, all in various states of dilapidation. The documentary explains why they have been left to deteriorate.

Seeing the cabins firsthand was one of the highlights of our trip, and I recommend other paddlers see them before they have returned to the earth. While walking through the area, it felt like I was in an open-air museum, learning about the history of a man who chose to live and devote his life to something he felt was greater than himself. 

We were careful to leave things as they were and acted as temporary observers only. I hope other visitors do the same so that future paddlers can also experience the fleeting sensation of what it was like to have lived there for so long and the awe in noticing the painstaking attention to detail that Wendell employed in the cabins’ creation. 

We would have liked to stay longer at that special location, but the sky was beginning to cloud over yet again, and we could feel wind gusts coming in. We had a large open crossing at the south end of Whitewater Lake and we thought we had better get moving before the wind wouldn’t allow it. 

We paddled south in the channel, east of the large island that dominated the bay between Best Island and the mainland to the west. When we rounded the southern tip of that island, the wind hit us hard and the waves became large. We decided we would head to the west and go through a narrow channel between the island and a smaller one to the south so we could skirt the west shore as we moved south. It was the most prudent and safest route.

It was there that I noticed something grey moving on the south shore of the larger island. It was a female Woodland Caribou! Unfortunately, we were bouncing about in the large waves and we were unable to stop and take a photo. We tried to silently paddle closer to calmer waters, but as we were upwind of her, she caught our scent and headed for the forest before I could snap a shot. What a lucky encounter, though! There are only approximately 300 of these creatures in the entire park. We had sincerely hoped we would see one and suddenly we had the pleasure of watching her for a good half a minute, moving along the shoreline with her head down and munching on moss. The Beckwith Cabins AND a caribou encounter all in the same morning. It was shaping up to be a good day! 

As we moved south along the western shore of this large bay, the sun came back out and the wind died down again. This aided us greatly in crossing the large bay and we were able to take a direct route to our destination. We noticed that wind gusts seemed to coincide with clouds up in Wabakimi. We were learning how to read the weather.

We passed a series of well-kept cottages on the west shore. My map had it listed as a First Nations community. It appeared to be vacant as we paddled past.

We paddled south and through a channel into a back bay. As we got to the marshy southern tip of that bay, we noticed a large burn area to the southwest. We were looking for a 550m portage that we knew to be less used than the alternative more commonly used ones that went upriver to the east. Even though it was longer, we preferred to take one 550m portage rather than three short ones. Half of the work is just loading and unloading the boat.  It took a little while but we eventually spotted some flagging tape and the take-out spot.

The start of the portage was very muddy but manageable. It ran south and parallel to the shore before veering east, uphill and through a burn area. It was overgrown in spots, but the trail was discernible the entire way. 

We put in on a small unnamed lake and had a short paddle before we came to a series of rapids that led into McKinley Lake. We were heading upstream at this point, so we got out on the right to take the 286m portage. On the short crossing, the sky got very dark and unleashed a torrent of rain on us just as soon as we started walking. To make matters worse, the trail was quite overgrown, so much so, that we got a little lost and turned around for a minute, despite its short distance. 

By the time we put in and began paddling on McKinley Lake, we were soaked despite our protective rain gear. The formidable headwind had really picked up and was blowing the rain at us sideways. My map displayed a campsite on an eastern point leading into the main part of the lake. Even though it was relatively early in the day, we aimed for it, given the weather. To our dismay, as we rounded the point, we saw that it was occupied by the pair of canoeists that spoke to us that morning.  We were wet and cold, and there were no other campsites that we were aware of in the immediate vicinity. McKinley Lake was frothing and it would have been difficult and dangerous to proceed south on it. The only other option was to head back through the awful portage that we had just completed and camp at the island site on the unnamed lake. Not wanting to do that nasty portage again, we were momentarily at a loss when one of the fellows came down and said, “It’s a large site with plenty of tent pads for you guys. Come on up!” Incredible. Canoe trippers are good people!

The boys had already set up a wonderful tarp that one of them designed himself. It had a rather intricate system for tying off the ends and slots for support poles. We brought our gear under it and changed into some dry clothes. When the rain stopped for a bit, we set up our tents on a nice flat spot on the point and had a nice social evening with a pair of fellow canoe trippers. We were extremely grateful for their hospitality and willingness to share their site with us. 

Around 1:30 in the morning, I awoke. There were flashes of light all around my tent and I first thought someone was just outside moving about with a flashlight. It turned out that a storm was moving in. What confused me at first was the frequency of the flashes. For the next hour, there was quite a display of lightning.  The only other time I have seen that much lightning was when I experienced a tropical storm while staying at an island resort off the east coast of Malaysia in the nineties. For the better part of an hour, there was a lightning flash every second or two. Luckily, I don’t think we got the brunt of the storm since there were only a couple of thunderclaps that were very close to us. I was more concerned about the wind blowing down a tree on any of our tents. It eventually blew past us and we all survived the night.

Campsite: Outcrop on McKinley Lake. Large site with lots of flat tent spaces.

Day 7: McKinley Lake to Smoothrock Lake (25 km)

Though it wasn’t raining, the weather wasn’t looking great when we awoke. The sky was dark and it was gusty. Our sitemates left before us. 

We struggled a bit getting across the round expanse of McKinley Lake. There was a steady wind coming from the west and the entire western shore of McKinley was bare from a burn. There wasn’t a lot to stop the wind. We were thankful to get into the smaller bay at the south of the lake. There was half of a moose antler to demark the 393m portage out of McKinley.

The condition of the trail was much better than the two portages we did the day before. The end of the portage emerged next to a nice set of rapids west of the creek. 

We paddled the length of the unnamed lake for about 15 minutes before arriving at the 72m portage that was to the right of a pretty set of rapids.

It was even a shorter paddle before we were carrying our canoe and gear again over another short portage into Laurent Lake, the last before returning to Smoothrock Lake. The sun began to emerge at this point and warm us up a little. Shortly after putting in and paddling south, we noticed a moose on the eastern shore up ahead of us. It was a bit too far for us to get a great photo, but close enough to watch if for awhile before it began crashing into the bushes. That sighting gave us the trifecta of large mammal sightings on the trip thus far: bear, caribou, moose. Wabakimi is awesome. 

We spent the next half hour paddling Laurent Lake before running through a shallow narrows and into the much larger Lonebreast Bay of Smoothrock Lake.  We would spend the rest of the day paddling southwest on this large bay. 

We made our lunch, ate in the canoe, and moved on; we wanted to make up for the lack of progress the previous day. The sun came out for a bit and the wind was staying down, so we happily took advantage of the good paddling conditions. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long. Halfway through the bay we had to tuck our canoe behind a headland on the southern shore when a little squall reared its ugly head. It was a wise move, because we were able to get out of the wind and driving rain while it lasted. It soon dissipated and we continued.

As we rounded the corner and moved into the massive bay that was the main part of the lake, we noticed the water was considerably rougher than it had been in Lonebreast Bay. We debated for a bit whether we should make the crossing or not, and in the end decided to take the risk. It paid off, because just as we reached the opening that led into Caribou Bay, the wind got nasty. We were riding some formidable waves as we were forced to thread the needle between some rocks that we could barely see in the froth. We made it to our destination, an incredible campsite on the southeastern shore. 

Only minutes after we arrived and beached our canoe and gear, the wind increased to a level that would have made capsizing a very real possibility. A week into our trip and we were still discovering how dynamic and unpredictable the weather of Wabikimi was. 

Our site was an incredible slab of rock jutting out onto a point. We had the entire breadth of Smoothrock Lake unfurling in front of us to the west. The view was tremendous. 

We set up our tents on our usual bed of blueberry bushes and tried to stay warm in the cool, stiff wind coming from the northwest. We had to rebuild the fire pit to accommodate the wind direction and eventually got a roaring fire going to help warm us up. 

We were entertained by a mother bear and her two cubs on the shore across the mouth of Caribou Bay about a kilometer away. We could just make out the black shapes moving about on the shoreline, no doubt enjoying a feast of berries. 

Eventually the wind subsided as the night descended, but kept up just enough to blow any nasty biting insects away. The sun emerged from behind the clouds as it was setting to cast a golden glow over the scene. Beautiful.

Campsite: Beautiful exposed point looking westward over massive bay.

Day 8: Smoothrock Lake to Funger Lake (15 km)

We woke up to a very different lake. By 9 AM all the clouds had drifted away and we were left with a lovely warm, calm and sunny day. That kind of weather had been very rare up to that point of the trip, so we lingered for quite a while at breakfast and enjoyed an extra coffee or two. It would be our last blueberry pancake breakfast of the trip.

It was Day 8 and we hadn’t had a rest day, so we were feeling it a bit. We discussed staying another night at the site, but in the end, we decided we would continue on. We didn’t want to make it to the end only to get windbound on the Caribou Lake crossing, putting us in danger of missing our train home. We decided we would make a compromise by moving on, but not putting in a hard day; we would have no portages for the day. We didn’t even leave the site until after midday.

The rest of our day was fairly uneventful, but we were happy about that. We took our time paddling and weren’t in a hurry to push. We fished here and there as we paddled through Outlet Bay but weren’t having much luck. It was tricky because the bay was quite shallow in many places and we got snagged a bit. 

As we rounded the jutting headland and went through a narrow part of the bay, we watched a massive bald eagle perched on a treetop; it was watching us watch it. It eventually vacated the scene as we stealthily tried to get closer. By this point, we were getting a bit spoiled with all of the eagle sightings. We had to have seen about 15 or so on the trip in total; and most of them were huge, as well! 

There was supposed to be a nice site on the point opposite to the narrows that led into Funger Lake. We were hoping to stay there, but a foursome was on the site and about to set up camp. 

This left us with only two sites that we knew of on Funger Lake to choose from. When we got to them, neither one looked great. They were both set back in the trees and were facing east. We were a little leery of another bugfest, so we moved on. 

We really didn’t want to start portaging up the Caribou River, so we were looking for anything that might look good. We knew of a site at the first portage on the river, but were reluctant to stay there with the possibility of people moving through the site. On the map, I noticed an island that was near the channel leading to the river. We paddled over to investigate; it had a rocky landing with a steep hike up to a raised area that had a clearing looking north. It seemed like a good spot for a site even though it wasn’t listed on my maps as one. Indeed, when we walked up to check it out, we found a well-used fire pit  at the top and a couple of tent pads. It was a very nice site and we decided we would stay, and it wasn’t even on any map in my research. 

We fished a bit in various parts of the lake in the late afternoon and had another nice fire that night. We called it an early night, though; it had clouded over and we were still feeling a little tired. Also, we knew the following day that we had five portages to contend with as we made our way up the Caribou River. We retreated to the tents at dusk and slept well.

Campsite: Nice site on high point of the island.

Day 9: Funger Lake to Caribou River (11 km)

We awoke to cloudy and windy weather. Our aim for the day was to make it to into the north end of Caribou Lake, but the wind forecast was looking dicey. My satellite device was predicting some windy nastiness for the next couple of days. So far, on all of our large waterbody crossings, we had been fairly lucky with the wind. Our only windbound experience thus far was on Whitewater Lake for a few hours on Day 5. 

We only had oatmeal left for breakfast at this point of the trip, so it didn’t take long to consume it with a coffee and get going. We were paddling up the Caribou River by 9:30 and reached our first portage by 10 AM. It was a very short jaunt of 49m to the left of some rapids that were dumping into Funger Lake. 

The portage went through a rudimentary campsite that we would have probably had to stay at if we hadn’t found the island site on Funger Lake. We were very glad we didn’t decide to stay there the day before because the take-out area next to the site was absolutley littered with fish remains. Unsurprisingly, we spotted very fresh bear scat and pawprints on the sandy take-out spot next to the carnage. Sigh. Unfortunately, this kind of thoughtless action can have real negative effects on others. Research has shown that bears have wonderful memories, and once they encounter a food source they don’t forget about it. The bear that discovered those fish remains will now identify that campsite as a potential food source forever. 

We put-in at a short pond below another set of rapids. This pond looked to be an excellent fishing spot and we spent quite some time enjoying the fishing there. 

We took the next portage, a 130m carry, this time on the right of the rapids to yet another small pond. We took advantage of the shallow water there and were able to line up the next set of rapids, skipping the 60m portage

The river widened somewhat after that and we could really feel the wind funnelling in from Caribou Lake. We arrived at the next obstacle, a Class III rapid that would have been quite a ride coming in from the opposite direction. We spent some time fishing there and had a lot of fun. In the end, we kept four pickerel that I filleted and kept in a ziplock for another lovely fish meal that evening. We did not leave the remains to rot on the portage.

We made some peanut butter and honey wraps for lunch and completed the 57m portage on the river-right.  

It was a short paddle to the last of our obstacles on the Caribou River, a 143m portage to the right that would take us up and over a rocky Class II rapid

For the following 90 minutes or so, we enjoyed the scenery moving up the Caribou. The river began to widen and was dotted with gorgeous islands and inlets. 

We came to a large bay with an island in its center. It was nearly 4 PM at this point, and on cue for our daily rain visit, the skies in the west began to look threatening. It was weird because we were still facing a very stiff headwind from the southeast, yet the skies above were blowing in some nastiness from the northwest. The wind on the surface and the winds up in the atmosphere were blowing in entirely opposite directions. It took us a minute or two to figure it out, but when we did, we knew we would have to make a beeline for the next available site. Our maps displayed two sites across from each other at the mouth of the river near Caribou Lake, so we paddled hard for them. 

We certainly didn’t outrun the rain, because it began to come in substantially before we got to the sites, but we did manage to outrun the thunder. The site on the west side of the river was occupied, but we were happy to find the one on the east bank vacant. We climbed up its steep, rocky front porch and were happy to find a lovely site in a grove of spruce and jackpines. We brought the canoe all the way up, flipped it over, and leaned it against a tree bough. This gave us a bit of cover from the pelting rain and lightning while we dug into our dry bags for our tarp. We erected the tarp amongst the trees and were able to arrange it over the firepit.

The thunder and rain passed fairly quickly, however the wind from the southwest seemed to only increase as the night wore on.  We fried up our pickerel fillets in a garlic and chives batter with a side of rehydrated hash browns. We had the best fish fry of the trip. As the sun went down, casting a beautiful pink glow over the cloudy skies, we enjoyed what would be our last campfire of the trip.

The wind just didn’t want to subside, though, so we retired to the comfort of our warm sleeping bags in our tents just after nightfall.

Campsite: Nice site high off river in a pine grove.

Day 10: Caribou River to Little Caribou Lake Take Out (22 km)

We awoke to a sunny day, but the wind was still blowing; it had changed directions, however. It was now blowing from the southwest. A weather check on my satellite device revealed that would be facing gusts of up to 30km/hour. Yikes! We had a massive bay to cross. 

The fellows camped across the river had already packed up and departed. We guessed they were trying to beat the wind. We, on the other hand, accepted that we probably weren’t going to avoid it based on earlier weather checks. We didn’t dillydally, though, and departed the site by 8:30 AM, our earliest shove-off yet. 

We paddled out of the Caribou River and into the expanse of Caribou Lake, and as soon as we got beyond the protection of the point to our west, the wind slammed into us like a freight train. Eyeballing the size of the waves was deceiving; from a short distance away, the whitecaps appeared to be manageable, but once in them, we quickly realized we had underestimated their size. Some were two-foot swells that crashed over the gunnels on our starboard side. We had no business being out there in those conditions. 

Aiming for a small island to our southeast, we paddled hard, carefully positioning the canoe in a way that would get us to our destination, but not take on the brunt of each wave wanting to slam into our sides. We made it, but it was a good ten minutes of clenched jaws and puckered you-know-whats. We paused on the leeward side of the island and were forced to bail out the boat. There, we had to decide whether to wait out the wind or somehow press on. Another quick weather check stated that the wind was there to stay for the day. Studying the map, we felt we could negotiate the lake by hiding behind islands to the east. It would be a much farther distance to paddle, but there looked to be enough islands to actually make it work.

In the end, it was the right decision. There were two more crossings between islands that were a little rough, but nowhere near the danger of that initial one. Beaver Island provided a lot of protection, as did the two round islands to the south of it. We stopped for a snack and a water break on the northeast side of the last island before the portage into Little Caribou Lake.

Seemingly in a final way for Wabakimi to remind us that we were in the rugged north, the take-out for our final portage of the trip was nasty. We had to precariously balance on boulders in deep water to get our gear and canoe ashore. The portage was steep toward the end, but we were rewarded with a very pretty put-in at the north end of Little Caribou Lake.

Our plan, when we awoke that morning, was to stay one more night on Little Caribou Lake, however, we weren’t lucky enough to find a site that we liked. Maybe it was because we had been spoiled by so many amazing sites on the trip thus far, or maybe it was because it was still early in the day, or maybe it was the fact that we knew we were so close to Armstrong, but we couldn’t seem to settle on a site at which we would have wanted to stay. 

As we paddled south, there was a very nice site on a large rocky rise on the west shore, but it was occupied by the fellows that were camped across from us the previous night. We continued south, and each site that we passed on our map seemed bushy and buggy. One on the west shore would have been nice, but it was on an exposed point and had been decimated by blow downs; it must have been quite a storm. 

Another site looked to be nice on the north side of an island in a large bay about halfway through the lake, but when we stopped there to check it out, there were no flat spots to pitch a tent, let alone two. We took a break on the rocks there and had another snack. The view was enjoyable.

In fact, we found the scenery on Little Caribou Lake to be very pretty. There were a number of dramatic rocky outcrops and small cliffs interspersed with pretty little islands dotting the bays.

By 2:30 PM, we had reached the southern part of the lake and the last campsite that was marked on my map. We coudln’t find it! It didn’t seem to exist.  We stopped at an island, and I took out my sat device to contact Clem to arrange to be picked up a day early. He reponded by saying he could retrieve us in a couple of hours, so we took out our stove and made a rare hot lunch with the remainder of some freeze-dried meals. We also fished for a bit and had a swim. 

We paddled to south end of the lake in time to meet Clem, only to find quite a nice site next to a huge boulder sitting in the middle of the bay. Doh! Oh well, we had already contacted Clem, and didn’t want to change the plan in case it put him out, so we glanced at the site longingly and paddled on.

We arrived at the end of the lake. The take out was up a creek heading south and at a bridge on Caribou Lake Road. There were a few vehicles parked there. We pulled our gear ashore and only had to wait a few minutes before Clem arrived. He was right on time.


We had an incredible time in Wabakimi. It was everything we could have hoped for and was one of the most rewarding and amazing trips Dad and I have been on. It had everything a canoe tripper could deal with and ask for: weather, wind, large lakes, whitewater, incredible fishing, wildlife, historical hermitages, incredible sunsets, rocky, windswept northern landscapes, etc, etc, etc. 

As mentioned in the report on a number of occasions, the weather is very dynamic. Temperatures and wind conditions can change on a dime and paddlers need to be prepared for it. Wabakimi isn’t recommended for the inexperienced.  

Was it worth the long train journey to and from Armstrong Station? Absolutely. Will I return to Wabakimi and explore more of this incredible park and the area? You’d better believe it!

About The Author

Steve writes the Canoe Daddy website where he shares his canoe trip reports in an effort both to encourage others to try the routes themselves so that interest in the routes may help protect them from industrial exploitation and to just simply remember what happens on them! He has been an outdoor and adventure travel enthusiast all of his life. Born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Steve spent nearly 20 of his adult years living abroad and has traveled much of the world. Upon returning to his hometown in 2014, Steve began avidly canoe-tripping and hopes to see all of Canada one lake and river at a time. You can read about his canoe trips on his blog (canoedaddy.com).

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  1. Excellent, well written and very enjoyable to read report. Thanks for sharing this! I am considering a trip up there this upcoming summer so even more relevant to me!