Ontario Parks
Credit: Ontario Parks

Northeastern Ontario’s Temagami Wilderness has long been an inspiring place.

In the early 1900s, Archie Belaney — a.k.a Grey Owl — learned his bushcraft in the region after spending time with local Ojibwa peoples; part of the Anishinaabe First Nations who have called the area home for 9,000 years and counting. Belaney later took this inspiration to Northern Saskatchewan, and, ever controversial, became known as our country’s first conservationist. Of course, he was also an Englishman pretending to be an “Indian.”

As Dave Sproule, Natural Heritage Education and Marketing Specialist with Ontario Parks, explains, Temagami is just as wild and inspiring today.

“It’s the Land of the Tall Pine… everyone who comes to paddle here is surprised by the amount of tall pine on the shorelines… there are 10 or 12 protected areas of old-growth, some about 350 to 400 years old,” says Sproule. For the most out-of-the-way wilderness in the region, Sproule recommends Obabika River, Makobe-Grays River, Sturgeon River, Solace and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Parks.

“These parks are the most remote part of the Temagami area,” says Sproule. As waterway-class parks, he explains, they are home to some of the finest canoeing in Ontario. In fact, Temagami offers more than 4,700 km of canoe routes in a combined 65,000 hectares — compared with 1,600 km in 750,000 hectares in more-well-known Algonquin Provincial Park. 

For the hiker, some of the highest points in Ontario — such as Ishpatina Ridge (tallest) and Maple Mountain (sixth tallest) — are found within Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park. Both peaks feature lookouts at the terminuses of old fire rangers’ trails — routes that were inherited from First Nations and have been in-use since post-glacial times.

Outside of the designated provincial park borders, there are also several trail networks in Temagami’s conservation reserves.

“The White Bear Forest is accessible from the village of Temagami and from Finlayson Point Provincial Park — lots of trails in this old growth pine forest and a super lookout over Lake Temagami from Caribou Mountain,” Sproule explains. Cliff Lake Conservation Reserve features wonderful hikes too — a classic route runs along a small rocky plateau between Friday and Rib Lakes. 

“[There is an] old growth red pine forest on one side and a rare northerly red maple/yellow birch forest on the other, growing in a sand and gravel deposit scraped off the bottom of the last glacier,” continues Sproule. Art lovers may find the scenery familiar, as members of the Group of Seven spent time in the region during the early 20th century.

For the most accessible adventure, Lake Temagami, in Finlayson Point Provincial Park, is right on the Trans-Canada Highway. Thousands of kilometres of shoreline, 1,200 islands and multitudes of arms, bays and coves have made the lake popular with paddlers for more than a century.

“The Temagami Canoe Company started in 1928 and is still there in the village of Temagami,” says Sproule. “Lake Temagami is home to six canoe youth camps, the oldest of which is Camp Keewaydin — the oldest in the world. Started in Vermont in 1892, they moved the camp to Temagami in 1898.” 

It’s not just the pine forests and portage routes that are inspiring — from the traditional peoples, to canoe camps, to Grey Owl and the Group of Seven and beyond, Temagami’s cultural story proves equally fascinating.

Dates: June to October

Contact: ontarioparks.com

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2014 issue.