Discovering N.W. Ontario’s Wabakimi: Paddling to “The Center of the Universe”

Canoe Tripping in Wabakimi

One thousand miles of road faced our canoe-topped car as we set off to visit Wabakimi Provincial Park. This is where we would find the island paradise of an eccentric American inventor who had acted as the island’s custodian until his death in 1980.

Quetico and BeyondThe island itself is called Best and it was, according to the personal mythology of its custodian Wendell Beckwith, the veritable “center of the universe”. A chapter in Kevin Callan’s book Quetico and Beyond  had first pointed us in the direction of the wilderness of Wabakimi Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. In the book Callan spends a chapter recounting his visit to Beckwith’s retreat and describing the region in terms of canoeing possibilities.

We had never even considered paddling there – distance may have had something to do with it –  but Callan’s narrative hooked us. We had two weeks for our adventure –  ten of actual paddling and four to get there and back. In the end “the center of the universe” proved to be an elusive point and here we are, back on the circumference, a little like Jason without the Golden Fleece, but still richer for the journey. Read on to find out what happened!

standing by Brennan Falls- one of the highlights of the trip

Where Is Wabakimi Provincial Park? 

Created in 1983 and enlarged in 1997, Wabakimi P. P. is greater in area than a number of U.S. states and the Canadian province of P.E.I. Here is a Google view of where it fits in the grand scheme of things with A for the end of the road (Armstrong Station), B for the canoe put-in Point (Allan Water Bridge), C for the Lake the park is named after (Lake Wabakimi), and D for the northernmost point of our trip and the location of Beckwith’s “centre of the universe” (Whitewater Lake).

And here is our gps-generated map of the actual route we took-

Wabakimi 2010 Map Overview

Getting There:

getting the canoe ready for the Great Portage to Le Petit Nord

When it comes to Wabakimi, your road will first take you to Thunder Bay. In our case, it was a 1600-kilometer ride up from London and Toronto via Highways 69 and 17. Then it was another three hours (and 250 km.) up to Armstrong Station via Highway 521.

a moment of the two-day portage to Armstrong from southern Ontario

Armstrong Station itself has a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, a hotel, and a gas station. Just south of Armstrong Station are a number of outfitters ready to supply you with what you need- maps, canoes, park permits, gear, fly-ins, etc. See here for a satellite view of Armstrong Station, Ontario.

waiting with our gear at the “train station” (since torn down!)

Allan Water Bridge is 90 kilometers from Armstrong Station.  We chose it as the start of our canoe trip because it seemed that the river, which flows from the bridge down to Lake Wabakimi, was the obvious popular route to the heart of Wabakimi Provincial Park. The occasional sets of Class 1/class 2 rapids would mean the chance of doing some whitewater and we figured the portage trails would be in better shape because of more frequent use. This did prove to be the case.

Getting To Allanwater Bridge from Armstrong Station:

To get to Allan Water, you can choose one of two options: fly in from Mattice Lake south of Armstrong Station or take the train from Armstrong Stn.  Given the $800.+ cost of the plane ride, it was easy to move on to the second option. The cost for the train ride is $21 a person with an extra charge for the canoe.


The back of the new 2013 $10. bill with The Canadian featured

The VIA train is called The Canadian and runs from Toronto to Vancouver three times a week. (Some other year we may just hop on board in Toronto and forego the thrill of the 1850 km drive!).  You need to buy your ticket at least 48 hours in advance since Armstrong Station is not a scheduled stop. Click here for a look at the VIA Canadian timetable from Toronto to various Wabakimi points (Armstrong Station, Collins, Allen Water, Flindt Landing).

[Before we left Armstrong Station, we had arranged with Clement Quenville to leave our vehicle at his place for the ten days we’d be paddling and then for him to leave our car at the take-out point on the morning of Day 10. Since the take-out point was by the bridge at the end of Little Caribou Lake on Caribou Lake Road some six kilometers from town, it was an easy shuttle. Our car was waiting for us when we got there. Clem can be hired to do shuttles and even rent canoes.]

Our train was scheduled to arrive on Friday night at about 8:30; it actually made it at about 11:15. The train is often quite late; it can also arrive and leave early! The trick seems to be to get there at least an hour before the stated departure time and hope for the best.

Please check the VIA schedule and make sure it is current!  Note that this train schedule underwent a major change in 2019 so some of this report will be out-of-date!  Nothing like waiting for two days for the train to pull in because you’re using the VIA schedule from before 2019! Here at the new times for Armstrong and points west coming from Toronto and from Winnipeg:

train leaves Winnipeg  at 23:45 the night before

train leaves Toronto at 09:45 the  day before





No waiting at Armstrong Station in the dark for the westbound train in 2019 – it now departs Armstrong at 09:17 in the morning!

waiting for the westbound VIA train at Armstrong Station- take it as a bonus if it is on time!

When the train pulled in, canoes and gear went into the baggage car in a hurry – everybody was pitching in to speed things up. The ride lasted about 90 minutes or so and then we were there, Allan Water Bridge. As our good luck would have it we were not the only paddlers to board the train this evening.

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 7.23.12 PM

Back in Armstrong Stn.we had met Tim and Sandy Eaton (of fame) and chatting with them about where we’d all been and where we were going definitely made the wait less painful. Tim asked for the train to stop just west of the bridge and we got off with them. It was pitch dark and about 1:00 a.m. as we make sure all of our gear got off the baggage car. header

And then the train pulled away and Tim and Sandy headed for the Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters and Ecolodge cottage – named Wildwaters in this post –  just to the south of the stop point. On the other side of the tracks was what looked to be an abandoned building (perhaps the old schoolhouse?).

Allanwater Bridge Lodge header

We had arranged to stay on the Jelinski property for the night (The cost was $20. a person to tent on the lodge grounds until the morning with a shower as a part of the deal.  You could also rent one of the six or seven cabins on the property.)  Of course, I had not asked for directions to The Allanwater Bridge Lodge so we didn’t have a clue about where things were. We really could have used the satellite image below – and some daylight!

Allanwater Bridge area

All we knew was that the Wildwaters camp was right there and it was 1:15 a.m. In the end, Tim and Sandy’s hospitality solved the problem for us and that’s where we ended up for the night.

I should mention that Wildwaters does make its grounds available to campers for $15. (plus tax) a person. Their outpost/cottage also sleeps at least 12 and it is available for anyone looking for an easy entry into the wilds of Wabakimi.

The only legal camping options at Allanwater involve paying for $20. for a tent site at one of the two lodges.  The land on either side of the tracks after the bridge is railway property and thus illegal to camp on.  A couple of years later we did find our way to a cabin at Allanwater Bridge Lodge. We paid $50. for what was a nine-hour stay!   Also getting off at the Lodge was a party of four who put up their tents in the clearing on the other side of the track.  They probably did not see the sign telling them not to do so!

the rail-level view of Allen Water Bridge – a few minutes later we paddled under it on the way to the river

Maps And Route Info:

This was the last canoe trip where we brought along the actual paper 1:50000 topographical maps issued by the Government of Canada’s Natural Resources Department.  Since then we learned that the maps are available for free download and we just print off the material we need.

Federal Gov’t. 1:50000 Topos-

The following  archived 1:50,000 Topos cover our route from Allanwater Bridge to Whitewater Lake and then back to our exit point at the south end of Little Caribou Lake Just click on the particular map title to access the tif file from the Gov’t of Canada server:

Do note that the above topos are mostly from the 1970s to the 1990s.  Natural Resources Canada now maintains an online and current version of the topos at the following website

The Atlas of Canada – Toporama

While the government topos are essential, they do not have any information on portages and campsites.  For that, the next two sources will provide you with the info you need.

Ken Kokanie’s Map Set –


In our map case, we had Ken Kokanie’s excellent annotated trip map.  It outlines a route he did down the Allan Water River to Wabakimi Lake and then heading south to exit at Little Caribou Lake.  (Click here to access an 8 Mb pdf file.)

Wabakimi Project Maps

Wabakimi Project header

We also had additional soon-to-be-published info courtesy of Phil Cotton,  mapmaker Barry Simoni and the Wabakimi Project volunteers, who had just done the river a few weeks before.  The maps have since been published and can be found in Volume 3 of the Wabakimi Project’s comprehensive maps on the Wabakimi Area. (Click here for Volume 3 info.)


the route down the Allanwater to Day One Camp

After a classic breakfast of oatmeal and dried fruit on the back steps of the Wildwater cottage 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 beginning of the Allanwater River.

our canoe waits while we scout the rapids around the bend

your basic portage on a decent trail

“Run ’em or portage?”  That is the question! Whether it is nobler in the wilds… or something like that

on to the next set of rapids- or the next portage trail

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!).

this rock face looked promising- but, alas, no pictographs to be seen

Day One campsite on the nameless lake not far from the missing pictographs

the woods behind our tent- typical Wabakimi bush with lots of deadwood

nice natural arrangement on the forest floor!

looking over the next day’s map while sitting on our front porch for the night

Day Two campsite on the island below the falls

the Svea 123 and the Primus butane stoves do supper- probably an Indian veg curry over rice

the food pack went up every night- sometimes even high enough! Bears and little critters getting into the pack were never an issue

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.

end of the portage at the bottom of Brennan Falls

the view from the front of the tent at Day Two’s campsite

Brennan Falls- an awesome display of power

a view of Brennan Falls from below

Kilometer Notes:

Km 0 9:30; light breeze from NW, two bald eagles after just getting onto river. We take this as an auspicious sign. Using bent shafts 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/h

Km 3 First rapid into the trip, quick look decided to carry, first portage.  Portage was nice and flat, well used and an easy walk. The same can be said for all the others that we would do that day.

Km 4 [C1/2] Second set scouted from above and had relatively clear channels to choose from Km 5.5 [C1/2] Same as previous one, portage was easy to spot. Day also started getting hot

Km 7 [C1] This had no portage marking on the maps we were using, again no issues with channels easy to find and navigate.

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 rapid 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 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 walk. Did I mention the day was hot? Lunchtime at end of carry.

Km 26 End of Termite Lake an easy 80 m portage around [C3] rapids after paddling for about an hour. Did I say it was hot?

Km 29 Looked for the pictograms 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. Camping spot was the group site marked on Kokanie’s detailed map. Some very interesting lichen with a variety of dramatic colours in the area.

Km 30.5 [C1/2] Start of the day and [C1/2] about 500m later. We ran both (no portage info on the map). Rest of the day was long paddle across Brennan Lake to Brennan Falls.

Km 45 Lunch at a small narrows. First we saw signs of civilization – outpost with people in the distance, then exchanged hellos with two guys in a fishing boat. Lunch point a potential campsite. An up earthed tree provided some needed shade. Saw 2 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. Set up camp on the island and did a foray 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.

Brennan falls by-pass portage

Brennan Falls by-pass portage

working the angles at the top of Brennan Falls

looking up to the start of Brennan Falls

Days Three and Four:

Day Four: Brennan Falls to Wabakimi Lake

Paddling the rest of the Allanwater River down to Wabakimi Lake from Brennan Falls took us a day. 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. 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. After a leisurely lunch in a sheltered cove of one of the islands at the entrance to Kenoji Lake we paddled to the campsite on the south shore of the Ogoki R. ( Oliver Lake) indicated in Volume One of the Wabakimi Project’s map sets. (Until we got back to Smoothrock Lake this map set and our 1:50000  federal topos were our sources of info.)

Kilometer Notes:

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 56 Turned 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 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 I think longer. Opportunities for some nice pictures.

Granite Falls- just down river from Brennan Falls

Granite Falls- another incredible Wabakimi highlight

somehow you feel more alive just standing there and inhaling the scene

Granite Falls- one my top seven Wabakimi wonders!

gear at the end of the Granite Falls portage- four paddles, one Woods pack, one Hooligan pack (updated nylon take on the Woods), and two duffels (a North Face and a generic)

looking down at our gear at the end of the Granite Falls portage

the Allanwater River below Granite Falls

the shoreline three or four kilometres downriver from Granite Falls

canoe on the rocks- we’re scouting some ripples up ahead

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 I think we stopped for lunch after portaging;

rapids up river and I’m getting water for our Thai soup/Wasa bread/hummus spread/cup of tea lunch

such a stark beautiful land

Km 71 [C3/4] Sturgeon Rapids – a definite portage!

A portage marker is always nice to see!

Km 74 Campsite #3 on an island in the Allanwater River Bay inlet to Wabakimi Lake.

our tent spot on the island at the mouth of the Allanwater the next morning after the tent has been taken down

Day Four: From the Mouth of the Allanwater to Oliver Lake/Ogoki River

Day Four: Island camp at the mouth of Allanwater to camp on Oliver Lake

Km 85.5 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 (292m & 343m – also on the left) for that matter. We may have paddled right down.

the view from the lunch spot on the large island you bump into  as you enter Kenoji Lake from the Ogoki River

Km 89 Did not portage the last bit into Kenoji Lake proper – on the maps it was indicated as a series of swifts but didn’t see anything swift about it. Could be a seasonal thing- early September as opposed to mid-June.

Km 92-95 A series of 8 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.

our MEC Wanderer 4-man tent tucked in on the south shore of Oliver Lake- out front was a nice flat rock ledge to stretch out on

campsite on the south side of Oliver Lake- tent is up, food bag is up high, inukshuk is up…and next up is Whitewater Lake

rock and water

looking across the Ogoki River from our campsite the next morning at 8:30

Days Five, Six, Seven: From Oliver Lake to the Center of the Universe (Almost)

After an hour and a half paddle from the Oliver lake campsite, we came to the end of the lake and the split into a northern and southern channel. The latter meets up with the Berg River; we paddled down the northern channel.

our canoe waits on the downside of a short portage while we look around for some interesting shots

checking out a mini-waterfall in what we called our Zen rock garden – aka dry west channel of the Ogoki R. on the way to Whitewater Lake

7 meters or .7 meters –  still wonderful to contemplate!

aerial view of the bottom of the falls!

an eagle sits at the bend in the river after our brief visit to the Zen rock garden

We hauled the canoe over the beaver lodge, trying not to scratch the bottom too much.

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.

autumn foliage at our campsite on the western end of Whitewater Lake

still waters of Whitewater Lake as we paddle east to Best Island and “the center of the universe” (no, not Toronto!)

The next day we would pass by another impressive collection of buildings –  the abandoned and slowly falling apart Ogoki Lodge) – as we paddled to Secret Lake.

the eye-catching center-piece of the Ogoki Lodge complex – but nobody home!

crossing Secret Lake in the rain- on our way to the east section of Whitewater Lake via this shortcut

That evening’s campsite, we would later find out, was just around the corner from the Whitewater Lake First Nation settlement (just on the shore just NW of McKinley Bay). By then we also found out that we would not be escaping bad weather completely either. It started raining around 10 a.m. on Day 6 and didn’t really stop until 36 hours later.

If Wabakimi is affected by hurricane weather patterns coming up the eastern seaboard, it may have been Hurricane Ernie side-swiping us as it roared its way up north. 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. 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.

our initial set-up; we later put the tarp over the tent

it rained for hours but the tarp took the brunt of the storm as we holed up for a day and a half

pots of water and our two stoves in the vestibule

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.

Kilometer Notes:

KM 97  Start 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.

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 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 122 We marvelled at the lodge with the high tower and skylights See the photos for a shot of this.

Km 132 A 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 South towards Smoothrock Lake   from Km 132 to Km 159

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, our destination after making our visit at Best Island. Skipping breakfast (the idea was to have it a bit later and get calmer water by doing some paddling first), we headed for Best Island. It was a struggle; we wanted to go east and the wind was taking us south. We did manage to get across the open water 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 back up the island and get our names in that book or let the wind blow us to what we knew would be a calmer bay – and hopefully 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. (It was only in googling for information on our return that our mistake became clear – the cabin was further up the island than we thought and we must have missed it the day before as we paddled down from the north and camped on the south end of  Beaver Island. Below is the map we could have used!)

We left the campsite thinking the Beckwith cabins were to the south of us! They were, of course, to the north. And so it came to pass that the pilgrims… 

(The next year we did indeed return to Whitewater Lake and spend some time at the Beckwith Cabins site.  It was one of the highlights of that summer’s trip. You can see the pix here.)

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 end of one of a number of portages that take you from Whitewater Lake to Smoothrock Lake via Lonebreast Bay- it could be Lake McKinley we are looking at

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.

Days Nine and Ten:

The home stretch! Rounding the corner of Lonebreast Bay and heading up Caribou Bay, 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. being a major Wabakimi entry/exit route. 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.

the closest we got to wildlife on the trip –  we didn’t see any caribou or bear or moose…

A relatively wind-free crossing of Caribou Lake over to the portage into Little Caribou Lake was our hope for the last day –  and, well- it was clearly just meant to be! We may have blown past the Center of the Universe but we were being pushed back to the circumference. 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. We passed a lone paddler from Minnesota on his way in and wished him good luck with the wind on Caribou Bay. As we got within the last three kilometers, the big question was –  Is the car going to be there when we get to the take-out point? Thirty minutes later and there we were – paddling towards a white Mitsubishi with roof racks on top. It was half-past noon and we were done.

Km 189 A long day of, you guessed it, paddling – with a few portages to get us up the Caribou River to Caribou Lake. Just a long slog. We camped on the point just before Caribou Lake (and saw our first people in days, a boat heading back into Caribou Lake.

the south shore of Outlet Bay of Caribou Lake from our last campsite

Km 193

dawn on Outlet Bay of Caribou Lake

We started day 10 early in the morning 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, paddling as far as we could as quickly as we could was the plan.  We decided to round Beaver Island on the west side using the smaller island to break some of the wind. Swells were up to about 1.5 feet with the occasional white caps. Once past the southern tip, we were going partly with the wind instead and help ease the tension we felt crossing the open stretches.

Km 197 From there it was about an hour paddle followed by the portage into Little Caribou Lake and its relatively calm waters.

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 each other calm waters. The maps we had indicated some portages but we never found them, mainly because we didn’t have to get out of the canoe. The one beaver dam was easily powered over and then it was on to the take-out point which we reached at about 12:30.

not a great shot but you get the picture! Little Caribou Lake  ends here; we are looking at the bridge on our left and there is a small area to park cars to our right.

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.

We’d do the same trip again but next time with the train from Toronto to Allanwater and perhaps coming out at Collins for the train ride back. Our introduction to Wabakimi had given us some fantastic paddling and incredible views. and the chance to enjoy a relatively unspoiled part of our backcountry.

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!

homeward bound to the shores of Lake Ontario

One last comment – 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!

The next summer we did indeed return to Wabakimi for another two weeks in this premier canoeing destination. Check out Smoke Over Wabakimi for the story and some pix.

Useful Links

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.  Note: the video is unavailable in 2020 because of some music copyright violation.

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 video 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.

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.

Mattice Lake Outfitters covers the same ground as Wildwaters above. Their website will give you what you need to get started. Over the years we have used this company for shuttles, permits, and air drop-offs.


This canoe trip was the last time we bothered taking actual 1:50000 topos along. The map service on Bay Street in Toronto where I bought the maps went out of business the next year.  The reason is probably that nobody – including us – buys 1:50,000 topo maps at $20. a sheet anymore.

They are, however,  readily accessible online to be downloaded and printed for free!  Visit this Government of Canada website and you’ll find the complete set of topos in tif format.

You need the following for this trip – Just click on the map title to download.

Copy what you need and maybe laminate the results and you have a totally acceptable set of maps for your trip.  Since 2010 we have also made more use of our Garmin GPS units and the Topo Canada v.4 maps with pre-entered waypoints.  We’ve also made big use of the next two map sources.

The Friends of Wabakimi (The Wabakimi Project) website is your gateway to Wabakimi paddling possibilities.  It has some excellent introductory info in the “Wabakimi and Beyond” section that you will want to read before you go.  Given that its stated goal is  “to produce a set of maps to help prospective visitors plan and mount canoe trips in the Wabakimi area”  you may well be ordering a volume or two of the trip maps. We made excellent use of Volume One for the part of the trip from Wabakimi Lake back to the Little Caribou lake take-out. Check out the section on route maps here.

If the Allanwater River, Lower Wabakimi Lake, and then the stretch to the top of Little Caribou Lake are in your plans, you cannot go wrong with the Ken Kokanie annotated map set Allanwater_to_littleCaribou.pdf.  Click on the title to access.

Laurence Mills has nice map sets of the Wabakimi area available. Laminated 8″x11″ sheets provide you with essential information.  We bought his Kopka river maps a couple of years later.

A recent (June 2014) on-line map source discovery is this Ontario Government Ministry of Natural Resources site it actually provides better detail than the Topo Canada maps on my Garmin Oregon 450.  Its satellite view is often more detailed and clearer than the Google Earth view.

You can buy Wabakimi Provincial Park camping permits at the Mattice Lake Outfitters headquarters – or you can phone the Park office in Thunder Bay at (807) 473-3031 and do the transaction over the phone. As of 2019, you can get the permits online. See here.


Other Wabakimi Posts:


 Wabakimi’s Top 6 Spots To Paddle By – Our Favourites

2. Flindt River/ Wabakimi Lake/Palisade/ Greyson/ Whitewater/ Smoothrock Lake/Boiling Sand River

Wabakimi Canoe Tripping: Route From Flindt Landing to Collins

Wabakimi’s Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoe Tripping In A Season of Fires

3. From Allan Water Bridge to Lake Bukemiga via the Kopka

Canoe Trip Plans: From Allanwater Bridge to the Kopka

A Tale of Three Rivers: Being An Account of a Trip By Canadian Canoe Up The Brightsand and Kashishibog Rivers and Down the Kopka

4. Misehkow River /Albany River / Petawa Creek/ Hurst Lake/ Witchwood River/ Raymond River / Pikitigushi River

Overview: Paddling The Perimeter of Wabikimi Provincial Park

Wabakimi Canoe Trip Plans: Misehkow, Albany, Witchwood, Raymond, Pikitigushi Rivers

Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow River

Paddling the Albany River (From the Mouth of the Misehkow to Petawanga Lake)

Up Wabakimi’s Petawa Creek Without A Paddle

Paddling From Auger Lake to Felsia Lake (The Mouth of the Witchwood River)

A Two_Day Paddle Up Wabakimi’s Witchwood River System

Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River to Cliff Lake

Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake



This entry was posted in Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Discovering N.W. Ontario’s Wabakimi: Paddling to “The Center of the Universe”

  1. Claire J says:

    Hi – great blog and photos; and just what I’d like to be doing! My partner and I took our first Wabakimi trip last year, getting the train (from T.O.) to and from Armstrong. We’d like to get to the Beckwith Cabins this year, ideally using different entry/exit points, however… we’ll only have 8 nights/9 days, and tend to average more like 20km a day – sounds like you tend to do 25-30km? Do you have any ideas about shortening the route a bit? I was also wondering how feasible it would be to reverse the direction, and if so, if there’s any way to camp at Collins (or the portage over Bath you mention) if we got the train to drop us off there on the way in? Any advice much appreciated! thanks, Claire

    • true_north says:

      Claire, nice to hear someone else has done the “train to river head” approach. It is especially suitable to Wabakimi where you most likely will end up taking the train to get into the park anyway.

      Re: a nine-day trip that would allow you to get to the Beckwith Cabins on Whitewater Lake. My best suggestion would be to take the 2010 route we did from Allan Water Bridge down the river of the same name to Lake Wabakimi and then head NE to Kenoji Lake and on to Whitewater. The problem is – it would take a week at least to get to Best Island. The solution? Embrace the idea of Don Elliott of Mattice Lake Outfitters picking you up at the south end of Whitewater Lake. I am guessing the plane ride would cost about $750. but it would eliminate a three or four day paddle back to Little Caribou Lake and the road to Armstrong. It would also be a great chance to get some aerial shots of the boreal forest and the maze of lakes and rivers below.

      One other suggestion I have if the above is not possible is to get in touch with Clement Quenville who lives at Armstrong Station and has done a couple of shuttles for my brother and I. In 2012 he picked us up at Lake Bukemiga at the end of our Kopka trip. He knows all sorts of roads that do not even seem to appear on maps! He might have a suggestion for you guys that would allow you to shave a few days off the trip and squeeze it into nine days. If you are a myccr forum member you can find him under the name “wabakimi clem”.

      My brother and I are splurging this summer and taking a plane ride from Armstrong Station to Rockcliff Lake at the beginning of our trip. It would have been at least a one-week paddle to get up to the lake otherwise. It will be my first bush plane drop-off ever- and I am excited. I’ve come to accept the cost as reasonable after listing in my mind all the expenses that running a bush plane must incur for the owner/pilot.

      Re: getting off the train at Bath Lake on the way in. There is a large clearing by the lake shore at the end of the 50 meter portage trail from the train tracks where you could camp. The only problem would be the darkness. It would be anywhere between 10 p.m. and midnight – or even worse if the train is running even later. Your head lamps and a bright lantern would help; it wouldn’t be much fun if it was raining! Maybe you’d hit the full moon dead on! I don’t know the mileage marker for Bath lake – you’d have to dig that up. Phil Cotton would be a good be to know what it is.

      From Bath Lake you would go down the Brightsand River, up to the north end of Smoothwater Lake, maybe down the Berg River to the Ogoki River into Whitewater Lake and then come back via McKinley Bay and then head towards Caribou Lake for a take-out at Little Caribou lake. I think the Allanwater River would be a better way to go than the Brightsand, given the chance to see Brennan Falls and Granite Falls.

      Whew – lots of words here. I hope I answered a few of your questions without muddying things even more! Let me know if anything is unclear.

  2. Dan says:

    Great description. I just posted on your Bloodvein commentary about that trip. I plan to do the Wabikimi trip and will follow your route, except for the part through Whitewater Lake. I’ll be using your notes wherever possible. Thanks for a great read.up to trip

    • true_north says:

      Dan, Wabakimi is a great canoeing destination with a thousand different possible trips depending on time and money (if you want to get into bush plane rides or not). The trip down the Allan Water to Wabakimi Lake and then on down the Ogoki River to Whitewater Lake and back to Smoothrock Lake and the Caribou River was our first Wabakimi trip – and we were hooked after that!

      Make sure you check out the Ken Kokanie maps for the trip; they are pretty much all you need.

  3. Anonymous says:

    i did a 36 day canoe trip with in the Wabakimi provincial park it was one of the best experiences of my life. great choice of destination

    • true_north says:

      No argument from me on that one! And 36 days out there – solo? – is quite the test. Congrats on doin’ it – and lovin’ it!

      My bro and I will get back there one year soon thanks to our sampling of what has to be a paddlers’ paradise.

      BTW – Where is the link to your trip write-up? I’d love to see the water you covered and the pix you took.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.