What if I were to tell you there was a Provincial Park in Ontario that has over 2000 km of interconnected lakes and rivers, is one of the world’s largest boreal forest reserves and is larger than Algonquin Park. Wabakimi Provincial Park is truly a canoeist’s paradise and is slowly becoming recognized as a world-class wilderness tripping destination.
The vast region and endless trip options can provide solitude and adventure to even the most seasoned paddler. The 9000 km2 of unspoiled wilderness sits on the “height-of-land” and is made of the glacial scraped Canadian shield. The rugged shorelines are peppered with white sandy beaches, large rocky outcroppings and the impenetrable black spruce forest, which is where you might spot the elusive woodland caribou. The iconic inhabitant of the North, also known as the “grey ghosts”, can be found deep in the Wabakimi backcountry.
If the landscape and wildlife don’t excite you, the fishing will. The area is known for it’s legendary sized northern pike and its excessive amount of walleye. Even for the occasional angler, the highly productive waters will present opportunities to catch fish on every cast. If you are an angler and paddling-in is not your forte, there are several remote fly-in fishing camps throughout the park that can be accessed.
Wabakimi Provincial Park is located near the small, sleepy town of Armstrong which can accessed via train or vehicle. There is a train station in Armstrong and Via Rail’s “loose” schedule can be found on their website. Unfortunately, the railway gives priority to freight trains, so it is not uncommon to be delayed over 6 hours during the 24-hour commute from Southern Ontario. Other access points to the park include Via Rail stops: Allanwater Bridge, Flindt Landing and Savant Lake, which are west of Armstrong station.
If planning a trip with a strict schedule, taking the train will not be your best option; taking a personal vehicle will be more reliable. Armstrong is roughly 240 km north of Thunder Bay and can be accessed from Southern Ontario in roughly 18 hours. It is important to note that road conditions are paved and in good shape though there is poor cell reception between Thunder Bay and Armstrong.
Once in the town of Armstrong, shuttles can be organized through local Outfitters. Wabakimi Outfitters and Ecolodge is an Outfitter situated on Mattice Lake who can provide canoeists with package deals including shuttles, trip recommendations, fly-in services and accommodation. The Outfitter is managed by a lovely couple, Bert and Brenda, who are very helpful and knowledgeable of the area. During our 14-day trip this past summer, Wabakimi Outfitters provided us with a package deal which included a Fly-In to a remote lake and a shuttle Pick-Up at our end destination.
Our 14-day trip was a 230-km route starting at Granite Lake and ending on the Pikitigushi River at the “pick-up” bridge. Portages along our route were relatively well maintained but they were not marked. Our route consisted of both river and lake paddling which included sections of Class I-III rapids that can be portaged if one chooses. Large lakes along the route included Wabakimi and Whitewater Lake; these large water bodies require open water paddling. These lakes have been known to delay trips from white caps and high winds causing canoeists to be wind-bound for days at a time. Due to this, it’s important to have wiggle room in your schedule to account for unforeseen delays. Paddling big lakes at the break of dawn and through the early morning will increase your odds of smooth travels.
Before heading out, it’s important to ensure that you have the appropriate topo maps, and navigational tools. I highly recommend investing in a satellite phone such as an inReach device or Spot tracker. If something unfortunate were to happen on an such an extended trip, being able to communicate with the outside world may be the difference between life and death. Safety should never be taken lightly.
Overall, Wabakimi Provincial is a world-class wilderness tripping destination for the intrepid canoeist. Being as big as it is, one could spend an entire summer exploring its endless nooks and crannies, but in terms of a planned canoe trip, anything less than 7-days would be cutting yourself short. To fully immerse yourself in it’s beauty, 10 to 14-days is the perfect amount of time. But remember, be sure to bring a fishing rod and a camera!
If you want to learn more, follow the [link] to Norther Scavenger’s video series, Wild Wabakimi, which showcases their 14-day route through Wabakimi Provincial Park.