As Canadians start to travel again, many will continue to explore Canada’s outdoors. One of the best ways to enjoy this country’s natural beauty is by canoe.
There are numerous places to paddle; here are five different canoe trip destinations in five different regions of Canada. With the possible exception of the Yukon River, paddling newbies can easily enjoy these trips. Even experienced canoeists can find something to love about each one.
North: Yukon River, Jack London’s Stomping Grounds
Jack London is well known for stories about northern mushing adventures, but he also spent time travelling on the Yukon River. One of his earliest stories describes the wildlife he saw while heading downriver from Dawson City to the Bering Sea. He wrote: “A partridge drums in the forest, a moose lunges noisily as it takes to the water, and again silence. Then an owl hoots from some gloomy recess or a raven croaks gutturally overhead.”
Wildlife spotted on a trip down this wilderness river can also include mountain sheep, eagles and several species of waterfowl. You might even see the occasional surprised bear scoot into the brush as you canoe past one of the small islands that dot the river.
Human history compliments the natural history surrounding you. A history buff’s highlight sits at the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly Rivers: Fort Selkirk. First Nations and territorial governments co-manage an established campground and several historical buildings. Originally a Hudson’s Bay Company post and a base for the Northwest Mounted Police, it’s only accessible by water. It is also the last place to camp before Dawson that provides pit toilets, picnic tables and fire pits.
If you go: A good starting point is Whitehorse, finishing the trip at Dawson City. If you’re an experienced moving water paddler, you can do the 715-kilometre Whitehorse-to-Dawson City portion of this river on your own. If not, best to book a guided tour. Travel Yukon can connect you with several tour companies that provide gear and guides.
Rocky Mountains: Maligne Lake, One of Canada’s Most Photographed Spots
Chances are pretty good you’ve seen images of Maligne Lake. Spirit Island is the lake’s centrepiece and shows up in books, on posters and numerous websites.
Multitudes of tourists visit the spot every year, via regular lake cruises. But it’s much better seen from a canoe, paddled there through an early-morning mist, well ahead of the day’s first boatload of tourists. There is an element of spirituality to it you can only experience in the quiet of a Rocky Mountain morning.
A canoe trip on this lake offers an easy trip (NO portages), with three sites for backcountry camping: Hidden Cove, a 3.5-kilometre paddle from the lake dock; Fisherman’s Bay, a 13-kilometre paddle; and Coronet Creek, a 21.3-kilometre paddle. All sites provide tent pads, outhouses, fire pits and—most important—bear lockers. This is grizzly country, after all.
There is a maximum stay of two nights at any one location, due to its popularity.
Where the Parkland Meets the Boreal: Grey Owl Country
One of Canada’s best-known characters put his stamp on Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park. Archie Belaney—a.k.a. Grey Owl—spent many days in his Ajawaan Lake cabin, working for Parks Canada. That cabin sits there still, and you can hike or paddle to it as part of a multi-day trip.
Belaney created a stir when it was discovered the man calling himself an Indigenous trapper was actually a British national. He’d always dreamed of living the wilderness life and made it a reality. Eventually he became one of Canada’s earliest conservationists, advocating for the protection of beavers and the forests they lived in.
Paddling in Prince Albert National Park, you’ll see plenty of wildlife, including bald eagles, otters, foxes and while you may not spot wolves, there’s still a good chance you’ll hear them howl in the evenings or early mornings.
Although the park sits in the middle of this prairie province, it lies along the transition between parkland and boreal regions, so you’ll canoe on waterways forested with balsam firs and balsam poplars, white birches and white spruces.
The park offers several canoe routes. If you tweak the Bagwa route and extend the trip to the end of Kingsmere Lake, you can visit Grey Owl’s cabin. All campsites have fire pits and outhouses.
Algonquin Park: Canada’s Oldest Provincial Park
©JohnGearyIf you grew up in southern Ontario, this is probably where you cut your canoe-tripping teeth. Just a few hours’ drive north of Toronto, it’s a wilderness gateway from the St. Lawrence Lowlands to the Canadian Shield. Once you dip your paddle into that first lake after your first portage, you’ll feel everyday urban tensions melt away.
A paddler’s paradise with more than 2,000 kilometres of canoe routes stretched across the park’s 7,630 square kilometres, it’s the perfect place if you’re just getting started canoe-tripping, as guided tours are available. Going it alone? Rent all the gear you need, buy all the food you’ll eat and purchase a route map from one of several outfitters located in or around the park. Two operate right within the park at Canoe Lake (painter Tom Thomson’s old haunt) and Lake Opeongo.
All portages are well-marked, and all designated canoe campsites offer fire pits and outhouses.
If you go: Reservations through Ontario Parks are a must
Atlantic Canada: Paddle in the Wake of Mark Twain’s Biographer
Derived from the Mi'kmaq word “Kejimkuji’jk”, the name of this park in Nova Scotia means “little fairies,” creatures which assume various forms. While you may not encounter fairies while paddling through the heart of Kejimkujik National Park, you may see other wild critters.
Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s biographer, wrote about its natural beauty in a book called The Tent Dwellers, based on an extended canoeing-fishing trip he took in the Kejimkujik Lake area in 1906: “with a fierce, wild fascination ... that is the Nova Scotia woods.”
Its wild beauty can still be found paddling the same waterways over 100 years later. Deer, herons, kingfishers, owls, turtles and many other wildlife species make the park their home. Fortunate paddlers might hear barred owls calling back and forth near the campsite or even have a porcupine march right into the camp kitchen to satisfy its curiosity.
Like the other parks, the portages are well-marked. Route maps are available for purchase. Why Not Adventure will rent you canoes and gear and offer guided trips. All designated campsites come with fire pits, outhouses, picnic tables and bear cables.
If you go: Register early with Parks Canada