This post looks at each day in more detail and provides specific info on rapids, portages, and campsites. We have also made use of close-up satellite images for certain points of the route.
Day One: Down The Allanwater
The Allanwater River is a 130-kilometer tributary of the Ogoki; its headwaters are about 65 km. south of Allanwater Bridge in a small lake near Sassafras Lake. (See here for a map.) The Sassafras area is also where the headwaters of the Flindt River and the Brightsand River are found.
While the Flindt flows into the Ogoki at Tew Lake, the Brightsand merges with the Allanwater at the Bridge. From the Bridge to the mouth of the Allanwater at Wabakimi lake is approximately another 65 kilometers. The Bridge is where our journey begins! Start with the bottom of the second map and head north!
The above maps were created using Garmin’s Basecamp app and the Garmin Topo Canada map set. The map below is the first map of the package which Laurence Mills of Wabakimi Maps has for sale. See the previous post for more details on various map options.
Sample Wabakimi Maps sheet – Allanwater
After a classic breakfast of oatmeal and dried fruit on the back steps of the Wabakimi Canoe Outiftters’/Wildwater outpost with the Eatons, we emptied our coffee cups and wished a safe journey to the only paddlers we would see until the last hour of our 10-day trip. Paddling our canoe under the Allanwater Bridge, we headed for the narrow channel of the Allanwater River.
Km 0 9:30; a light breeze from NW, two bald eagles after just getting onto the river. We take this as an auspicious sign. We started with our bent shafts; the GPS estimated speed was about 6-7 km/hour; this proved typical for all our flatwater speeds although occasionally with the right wind on other days we did average about 7.5 km/p/hr.
Km 3 First rapid into the trip, quick look decided to carry, the first portage. Portage was nice and flat, well-used, and an easy walk. The same can be said for most of the others that we would do this day.
Km 4 [C1/2] Second set scouted from above and had relatively clear channels to choose from Km 5.5 [C1/2] As with the previous one, the portage was easy to spot. It was also started getting hot… really hot!
Km 7 [C1] This had no portage marking on the maps we were using, again no issues with channels easy to find and float down.
Km 9.5 A series of swifts and a C1 with no portage indicated, then into an open stretch of water until our next portage.
Km 12.5 [C2/3] A quick look from above and we decided that with our current canoe (shallow keel) and load a nice walk was in order. The 150-meter portage was well used and relatively flat.
Km 13 [C1/2] Another top-of-the rapids look; couldn’t really see a nice way through without more scouting, by the time we did that we could walk it a couple of times so out and carry, this was a messy one as we didn’t find a ‘real’ path.
Km 15 [C2/3] Didn’t look at this one until after we did the portage. It had some angry spots. One of these years it would be fun to try them. Again a nice walk of about 175 m according to our trip info.
Km 17-23 [C2/3] Walk and then a second set [C1/2] about a km later which we ran.
Km 21 [C4/5] Definite portage. Lunchtime at end of the carry.
Km 26 End of Termite Lake an easy 80 m portage around [C3] rapids after paddling for about an hour.
Km 29 Looked for the pictographs but couldn’t seem to find them. The ones on the Missinaibi and Lady Evelyn/Diamond Lake were easier to find and the geology was more dramatic than here in Wabakimi.
Our Day 1 Campsite was the group site marked on Kokanie’s detailed map. Some very interesting lichen with a variety of dramatic colours in the area.
Over the next seven hours, we ran and lined the swifts and Class 1/2 rapids and did a number of portages after scouting and deciding that caution was advisable. We camped about 28 km. downriver on the nameless lake with pictographs (which we just could not find!).
Note: This trip was one of the last where we bothered with the hanging the food pack – aka bear piñata – routine. For the past seven years, we have been walking the pack about 50 meters from our tent and putting it in the bush – not too close to the water – at the base of a tree and inside a 6-ml garbage bag for overnight rain protection. So far, so good!
An important factor is that our trips are not in organized and heavily visited parks like Algonquin but rather in wilderness settings where bears have not become accustomed to campers. We do bring along bear bangers and bear spray but other than one banger, they have never been used in a span of over 120 days in the bush. See this interesting thread (here) at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum for various views on what to do with food packs!
Day 2 – Crossing Brennan Lake
Day Two was a contrast to Day One since it mostly involved lake paddle with only a set of rapids at the very start of the day and the picturesque Brennan Falls at the end. The wind was our friend on another beautiful sunny day in Wabakimi- and no bugs at all! There is something to be said for being out here at the end of August. Brennan Lake has four fishing outposts; it would be the one day of our trip when we encountered fishing boats puttering around. We stopped to chat with the guys – they were all from Wisconsin or Minnesota – in a couple of the boats as we passed by. They said the fishing was amazing!
Km 45 We had lunch at a small narrows; the point was a potential campsite. Our first sighting of civilization – an outpost with people in the distance. It was followed by a chat with two guys in a fishing boat. An up-rooted tree provided some needed shade. We saw two more boats go by while we savoured our Thai soup and peanut-butter-covered Wasa bread.
Km 52.5 Right turn after the point and then more or less a straight line to Brennan Falls. Opted for the route which bypasses Brennan Falls completely. It passes through a little canyon which we found was easy to do with the water levels we had. There was also a beaver dam to power and step over to get to the bay with the portage ending below Brennan Falls at about 3:30 pm.
Note: For excellent satellite views of the terrain, the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has a Make A Topographical Map website. Changing the visible layers from topographic to imagery accesses views like the one above. In this case, entering “Brennan Falls” in the search window did produce an incorrect result. It indicates the falls with the solid orange rectangle when the actual falls are further down; I’ve put the orange rectangle outline around the Brennan Falls.
We set up camp on the island and paddled up to the Falls around 6 pm. Thus ended Day 2 of the journey to the Center of the Universe. The following map shows where the by-pass portage is in relation to Brennan Falls.
Day Three: Down To Wabakimi Lake
Paddling the rest of the Allanwater River down to Wabakimi Lake from Brennan Falls took us a day. After 8 kilometers of flatwater paddling from the bottom of Brennan Falls to Granite Falls, we came to the first of a series of four falls/rapids that required portaging. The maps below provide the info.
[See the previous day’s map for the stretch from Brennan Falls to Granite Falls.]
Km 54 Another hot day in the making. Water consumption up noticeably from the first 2 days. This mileage marker is the point on the east side of the bay just past the island campsite heading south
Km 56Turned north into the narrow part of Granite Lake and thought how glad we didn’t have to paddle up the main open stretch of the lake.
Km 61.5 Granite Falls is a definite portage! Brennan or this- not sure which set of Falls I liked better. In some ways, this was more accessible perhaps not as dramatic but less gorge-like than Brennan and probably longer. Opportunities for some nice pictures.
Km 66 [C2/3] Black Beaver Rapids. Ended up doing a line and some running, only finding the ‘proper’ portage after getting to the bottom. After lining we portaged along a low water stream bed which while bumpy and needing caution because of the stones it was wide enough to drive a truck through. I could see in high (very high?) water this turning into another ‘stream’ creating an island.
Km 69 [C2/3] About a half-hour later we came to Little Sturgeon Rapids where we stopped for lunch after portaging;
Km 71 [C3/4] Sturgeon Rapids – a definite portage!
We got off the water at 3:30 to the sound of thunder in the distance. It would rain that night while we tented on our island to the south of the fishing outpost in the bay leading to Wabakimi Lake.
Km 74 Campsite #3 on an island in the Allanwater River Bay outlet to Wabakimi Lake. Not the greatest camp spot but the approaching thunder made us much less fussy.
With the Allanwater part of our route done, the next morning we would head for River Bay and follow the Ogoki down to Whitewater Lake and the Wendell Beckwith Cabins. We were getting closer to his retreat on Best Island that he had calculated to be “the center of the universe”!
The Kokanie Map set goes as far as Wabakimi Lake before it heads back to Little Caribou Lake via Lower Wabakimi Lake, Smoothwater Lake’s Caribou Bay, and the Caribou River. This makes for a somewhat shorter (by 3 or 4 days) trip than ours. The Allanwater I map set from Wabakimi Maps also details this shorter route.
Day 4: Down The Ogoki to Oliver Lake
The next morning it was a bit windy as we made our way to the eastern end of Wabakimi Lake to River Bay and the Ogoki River. The first order of business was to deal with the four sets of rapids that would take us down to Kenoji (Ojibwe word for “northern pike”) Lake. The topo maps indicate a ten-meter drop from top to bottom but we really did not see it. Most of the drip may occur at the two sets of rapids we portaged around.
Km 85 First set of rapids out of River Bay leading into Kenoji Lake. First a set of swifts then an 845 m portage on the left. I can’t recall if we portaged this one or the next 2 (275m & 325m – also on the left) for that matter. We may have paddled right down.
Note: The next year we paddled down the stretch from River Bay to Kenoji again. And yet again we did not make any notes of how we dealt with the various rapids! However, here is a map from that trip down with the time indicated for when we were at certain points.
It looks like we portaged what is labelled as P24 on the map and stayed with the river on the others. Your conditions may be different! Look before you commit to an adventure you do not want! We went down in late August and the waters level may have been low.
For example, we were down the first set of rapids – the one with the 845m portage in ten minutes. We clearly did not portage this – we lined what we had to and ran what we could.
A number of the portages from River Bay to Whitewater Lake probably exist more for upriver travellers than for those going downriver.
Km 89 Did not portage the last bit into Kenoji Lake proper – on the map, it was indicated as a series of swifts but didn’t see anything swift about it. Could be a seasonal thing- late August as opposed to mid-June.
After a leisurely lunch in a sheltered cove of one of the islands at the entrance to Kenoji Lake we continued downriver to a campsite on the south shore of the Ogoki R. ( Oliver Lake) indicated in Volume One of the Wabakimi Project’s map sets. On the way, we searched unsuccessfully for portage trailheads and were happy just to line and float our way down instead.
Km 92-95 A series of rapids which we ran and lined. We had difficulty in finding the portage markers. I think partly because where the water was opposite to where the portage was and getting back would have been difficult. This was a tune-up for looking for the portage trails around the rapids into Whitewater.
Km 97 Campsite for night 4. The weather started to change. Now doing some paddling into the wind.
Day 5: From Oliver Lake Into Whitewater Lake
After an hour and a half paddle from the Oliver lake campsite, we came to the end of the lake where the river splits into a northern and southern channel. The latter meets up with the Berg River; we paddled down the northern channel. We would have had more water had we stuck with the south channel which has the Berg River outflow coming into it.
After a couple of portages, some very scenic shoreline, and that classic combination of running, lining, bumping, and grinding we were at the western end of Whitewater Lake. We looked around in awe at the neighbourhood the legendary hermit of the lake had chosen as his own. There were, however, reminders that it is not that easy to get away from it all – even on Whitewater. We camped on the southern shore just around the corner from a collection of 3 or 4 cottages/camps.
KM 97Start of Day 5 saw the beginnings of a change in weather. It was now cloudier but not overcast and not as warm. Even with the change in the weather we were still not being bugged.
Km105 About an hour and a half to paddle down to the end of Oliver Lake. We got up early so saw a bit of the sunrise or at least early morning The far shore had some interesting light
Km106 As we paddled along the water began to get a bit shallower. We did come across a very nice ledge with back yard waterfall section of the river. This required a 50 m portage and we did spend some time looking for the portage trail with no luck. After that, it became yet shallower. It seems that this part of the Ogoki needs a lot of water to be able to paddle down. We were then faced with a boulder garden portage down the dry river bed. None of the map info we had indicated this so we were scratching our heads and wondering where the heck we were. The portage ended up being about 600m until we found a put-in spot that we could paddle away from.
Km107 Nice little beach just before getting into the bay and then the narrows to the main Ogoki flow near the mouth of the Berg River.
Km109 Start of the rapids heading into Whitewater Lake. The portages are all listed as being on the right side. As we headed down we went for water flow and so ended up on the left side at which point we opted for the line/run combination.
There were some interesting rapids but we were pretty cautious. The day turned fairly sunny at this point which helped because we both got a bit wet as we lined. Finally into Whitewater Lake and then a short paddle to our tent spot.
Km 111 This campsite was on a point just past the lodge that is located on the south side of the bay. We decided to call it a day a couple of hours earlier than normal.
Day 6: From W end of Whitewater Lake to Beaver Island across from Best Island:
While our main goal was to see the cabins built by Wendell Beckwith on Best Island, this day we would pass by another impressive collection of buildings – the abandoned and slowly falling apart Ogoki Lodge) – as we paddled to Secret Lake. Here is a satellite view of the lodge, which was constructed in the early 1970s:
There is an easy 200-or-so-meter carry into Secret Lake from the narrow channel leading south from Ogoki Lodge.
Once back into Whitewater Lake our thoughts turned to the Beckwith Cabins. We did not know exactly where they were but assumed they would be visible as we paddled south along the Best Island shoreline. Not seeing the cabins, we kept going. Given that the rain had picked up again, as we passed Beaver Island we started scanning the shoreline for a “good enough” campsite.
We found a decent spot on the south end of the island and set up camp. Not far away (but not visible from our campsite) was the Whitewater Lake First Nation cottage site (just on the shore just NW of McKinley Bay); at the bottom of the Lake is an outfitter’s lodge.
It started raining around 10 a.m. on Day 6 and didn’t really stop until 36 hours later. Lots of rain and wind marked our night in the tent on the island. When we looked out early in the morning we could see white caps on the waves going past our campsite; the wind was still quite strong. Given that this was the week Hurricane Ernie was coming up the east coast, we wondered if our weather was a result of that disturbance.
We knew that we’d be spending our first “bad weather day” ever looking over at Best Island. The Center of the Universe would have to wait one day. Luckily we were inside our downright decadent MEC four-person Wanderer with double vestibules; we had also arranged our 10’ by 13’ tarp over the tent so it took the brunt of the rain.
We got the Primus butane cookstove going inside the vestibule for breakfast and later repeated the process for supper. Between napping, working on Sudoku puzzles, looking over the maps to figure out exactly where the Beckwith cabins were on the island, napping some more, unrolling the 1:50000 topos to get a sense of the rest of the trip, and eating one too many Clifbar, the day passed easily and we rested up in comfort. We were psyched, however, to paddle over to the island to pay our respects to the spirit of Beckwith and sign our names in the pilgrims’ book.
Km 119 The next morning was the beginning of our trip to the Center. At this point the weather was overcast and by the time we got to the southern interior passage via Secret Lake to the lower part of Whitewater Lake, it started to rain. Out came the rain gear and the tarp to cover the packs. Thankfully the wind wasn’t as breezy since we were more sheltered.
Km 122We marvelled at the lodge with the high tower and skylights See the photos for a shot of this.
Km 132A bit of grinding and scraping our way through low water and we came back out onto Whitewater lake. Now there was a strong wind and our only thought was getting off the water. We camped on the small nameless island just across from Best island. The plan was to canoe over to see the Beckwith site the next morning and then set up camp on the island. Such, at least, was the plan!
Day Eight: Heading Up The McKinley R. to Smoothrock Lake’s Lonebreast Bay
Looking For the Beckwith Cabins!
The drops on the tent when we woke up at 6:30 were deceptive; they were just drops falling from the trees. The rain had stopped but the wind had not. It was blowing slightly away from McKinley Bay, which is where we planned to head after making our visit to the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island across from us. We skipped breakfast, figuring to have it a bit later and get calmer water by doing some paddling first.
Crossing to Best Island was a struggle; the wind was blowing hard from the north. We did manage to get across and cruise down the side of the island. But where were the cabins? As the end of the island approached, we knew we had somehow missed them! Unbelievable! The wind kept blowing us over to McKinley Bay and we had to decide –
- turn into the wind and paddle back up the island and hope to see those cabins or
- let the wind blow us to what we knew would be a calmer bay – and probably a calmer day!
The decision? It was the classic and the philosophically comforting notion that maybe it just wasn’t meant to be this time – but that perhaps there would be another time.
We spent the rest of the day working our way down to Lonebreast Bay and the middle of three campsites indicated in the Wabakimi Project’s Volume 1 set.
(The next year we did indeed return to Whitewater Lake and spend some time at the Beckwith Cabins site on Best Island. It was one of the highlights of that summer’s trip. You can see the pix here.)
The sun was out but the wind hadn’t completely stopped. The day’s distance was about 27 km. The campsite was definitely sheltered and we put a few things out on the rocks to dry out after we put up the tent at 4:00 p.m.
Day Nine – From Lonebreast Bay To Caribou Lake
- Distance; 30 km.
- Rapids/Portages: 3 going up the Caribou River
- Campsite: a decent elevated site indicated on the Wabakimi Project Map in Outlet Bay
The first part of the day was flatwater paddling to the east end of Caribou Bay. Then we dealt with going up four sets of rapids on the Caribou River. Rounding the corner of Lonebreast Bay and heading east, we had Kokanie’s annotated maps out again.
We were going upriver now and the portage trails were pretty easy to spot and negotiate, a result of the Caribou R. (all four kilometers of it!) being a major Wabakimi entry/exit route.
Satellite Views of the Rapids Going Up the Caribou River
The First two rapids going up the Caribou River:
The third set of rapids – Class III in Kokanie’s notes
The last set of rapids going up the Caribou – C I/II rocky in notes
Day 9 saw us paddle 30 km until we found a great rocky point to pitch our tent for the night. The tent was up by 4:30 and we were done for the day.
Km 189 A full day of paddling that included three portages to get us up the Caribou River to Caribou Lake. It was a bit of a slog. We camped on the point just before Caribou Lake and saw our first people in days, a boat heading back south into Caribou Lake.
the south shore of outlet bay of Caribou Lake from our last campsite
Day 10: From Caribou Lake Outlet Bay To South End of Little Caribou Lake
We started day 10 early to take advantage of the beginning of day calm and were greeted with a very nice white dawning sky. We hoped to avoid winds that were now coming from the NW. Since we had some big stretches of open water ahead of us and basically the expanse of Caribou Lake for the wind to blow down, getting it done early and fast was the plan!
By 9:00 we were at the Caribou Lake portage and had breakfast at the other end. We prepared the last two packages of oatmeal and savoured the last of our coffee and were then treated to a fine morning’s paddle south to the take-out point by the bridge at the end of the lake. The sun was out, the wind was light, and the dimensions of the lake were just right. No white caps now – just watching the sun-dappled shoreline slip by.
Km 209 The trip down Little Caribou was quite enjoyable.
We met our first canoeist since we left Tom and Sandy at the beginning of the trip at the Wildwaters camp at Allan Water Bridge. He too was from the St. Paul area and was starting a week’s worth of paddling. We chatted for a few minutes, let him know about the winds on Caribou, and wished him a good trip.
The maps we had indicated a portage in the final stretch but we never found it. The one beaver dam was easily powered over and then it was on to the take-out point which we reached around 12:30. The satellite image below shows the slim channel we paddled into. As we did we could see our vehicle in the small parking area on the side of the road. Clem Quenville had dropped it off the evening before.
[Note: as of 2019 this parking area is no more! I am not sure what arrangements paddlers are now making for left vehicles. Your local shuttle provider will undoubtedly have the answer! Perhaps leaving it in the large clearing just to the N of the road might be possible?]
Here is the last river shot – not the greatest but you get the picture! The camera is pointed north and looking down the slim channel into Little Caribou Lake. As for us, we are looking at the bridge on our left and a small area to park cars to our right. We were happy to see it! Just as we started loading our gear, an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) cruiser drove by and stopped. It turns out that the officer was a friend of Clem’s and told us the car had been put there the evening before in case we came out a bit early. Armstrong – a small community where everyone knows everybody!
By 1 pm we were loaded up, stopping into E & J’s for a quick lunch, some phone calls, driving to Wawa by 8:30 pm. The next morning we were up early and in Toronto by 4 pm for the afternoon rush hour. A quick stop to unload some gear and the bow paddler (me) and then it was on to London for my brother, who got home by 9 pm.
Our introduction to Wabakimi had given us some fantastic paddling and incredible views. and the chance to enjoy a relatively unspoiled part of northwestern Ontario. Late August and early September may have been the Wabakimi canoe tripping sweet spot for 2010, relatively nice weather for most of the trip, reasonable water flows, and a trip almost completely devoid of any insect activity. Nice!
To be free enough (in terms of both time and money) and fit enough to go canoe tripping is indeed good fortune – and if we didn’t see the Beckwith cabin we certainly returned with some great memories and some evocative photos that will help us remember this trip for a long time – at least as long as it takes for us to scan the Wabakimi maps looking for the route of another Wabakimi trip!
Our 2010 Allanwater trip would be the first of five over the next decade. We were back the very next summer for a trip down the Flindt River; the summer after it was a memorable trip up the Brightsand and down the Kopka….see the end of this post for a full list of our Wabakimi area posts!
A short video of Kevin Callan’s paddle to Best Island can be found on Youtube. It will give you an idea of the terrain you’ll be getting to know.
Another Youtube set of four brief videos under the name Dan’s Paddling – about 15 minutes in all – cover a canoe trip down the Allen Water to Wabakimi Lake and then over to Whitewater Lake via Kenoji and Scrag Lakes and down the Grayson River. The fourth video provides some nice views of the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island. You can find it here.
The Ontario Government website on Wabakimi Provincial Park serves as a good intro to the natural history of the area and provides all sorts of additional info.
Wabakimi Outfitters (aka Wildwaters) is an outfitting company with a base just south of Armstrong. It has served the needs of fishermen and paddlers for years. VIA rail tickets, shuttle service, maps, canoes, fly-ins….you name it and Brenda can probably arrange it for you. http://www.wabakimi.com/canoeoutfitting.html
Mattice Lake Outfitters covers the same ground as Wildwaters above. Their website http://www.walleye.ca/canoeing/ will give you what you need to get started. Over the years we have used this company for shuttles, permits, and air drop-offs.
The Greater Wabakimi Area:
1. Allanwater R/Wabakimi Lake/Ogoki R./Whitewater L/Smoothrock L/Caribou R/Little Caribou Lake
2. Flindt River/ Wabakimi Lake/Palisade/ Greyson/ Whitewater/ Smoothrock Lake/Boiling Sand River
The following posts are better-organized and more detailed versions of the original two posts above. Thanks to the ongoing COVID pandemic I had the time to relive one of our favourite trips!
3. From Allan Water Bridge to Lake Bukemiga via the Brightsand, Kashishibog, and Kopka Rivers
4. Misehkow River /Albany River / Petawa Creek/ Hurst Lake/ Witchwood River/ Raymond River / Pikitigushi River
5. The Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake To Windigo Bay