I’ve been busy this paddling season working on a re-write of my book Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario. I’ve added ten more routes, ranging from a day-long outing on the Tay River to eight days along the Georgian Bay coastline.
One of my favourite of the additional routes has to be the West Bay of Lake Nippissing. This is a well-known place for anglers. Bass, musky, pike and walleye abound here. Few paddlers know about it, however. I’m not entirely sure why. The scenery is incredible, and a multitude of islands and the majority of shoreline is Crown land, with a scattering of picturesque campsites set on slabs of granite and shaded by stout white pine.
Lichty's Marina is a good option to begin your trip. There is a small parking and launch fee. It is located in North Monetville. There’s also the Sucker Creek public boat launch on the West Arm of Lake Nipissing. It’s the west of Road #64, off Sucker Creek Road, just before the bridge crossing the West Arm. It’s a well-used access for local anglers but there’s usually plenty of (free) parking.
Your route keeps to the southern (right-hand) shoreline of West Bay, passing another lodge (Saenchiur Flechey) and one small island after another. The channels in-between are mixed between being shallow with half-exposed rocky shoals to deep chasms that are easily navigated. There's also plenty of debris along the shoreline (stumps, rocks, fallen trees) to cast a fishing line.
You’ll pass the Mattawa Islands and Aikenhead Island, then Lafleche Point, approximately 11 kilometres from the access. This is usually my first choice to camp. There’s an exposed rock with an area on the west end. But just around the corner, on Lafleche Point itself, is a nicer place to pitch your tent. There’s an excellent view of the exposed West Bay from here.
If you continue to paddle another hour east, keeping to the south shore, you’ll come to Hay Narrows—marking the end of West Bay and the entrance of the colossal waters of Lake Nippissing. There’s a good campsite here as well, situated amongst the remnants of an old camp/lodge. You’ll see an old iron post embedded in the rocky shoreline, and up top there’s the concrete foundation of the building that once stood here. There’s plenty of tent spots to choose from.
Karvins Island marks the turning point of the trip, where you paddle to the east, along Lake Nippissing’s shoreline. Hope for calm waters for this stretch. Lake Nippissing is Ontario’s third largest lake that’s set completely in its borders (831 square kilometres). However, it’s comparatively shallow, measuring a mere 10 metres in most places. It also runs in an east-west direction, for a full length of 80 kilometres (but only 25 kilometres wide) and parallels the prevailing winds. All that combined makes it an extremely dangerous place to canoe at times.
Lake Nippissing is absolutely gorgeous, rugged, remote and wild. It’s a pure hidden gem of Ontario’s natural world. The lake has a Georgian Bay feel to it, even a tad bit of Lake Superior, but it also has a unique charisma all to its own. Being windbound here can be better than a regular workday back at home.
There are a number of possible campsites on the first main rocky point just beyond the mouth of West Bay and past Cote Bay or before the second main point before Wigwam Point. Some sites are situated on small, flat islands and others are set on the mainland. They’re all rustic but have a perfect view of Lake Nippissing. Beyond here is the French River Provincial Park where you’ll need a permit to camp on any of the marked campsites.
If time permits, stay for a couple nights here and take a day trip to paddle around Sandy Island, the largest island at the entrance to the French River. It’s made of sand and gravel, deposited here after the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers over 10,000 years ago. The western side is Sandy Island Provincial Park (non-operating park), created to protect the pure stands of red pine and mixed hardwood forest that’s considered provincially significant. It also houses an extensive wetland that makes up 25 per cent of the park and has green ash and silver maple that are over 130 years old.
The trip back is simply by retracing your route. However, it won’t look the same. There are so many islands, bays and inlets that you’ll swear you’re in a different place.