Base-camp paddling in Canada

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 16-22, 1997
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Base-camp paddling in Canada
Question: My friends are interested in sea kayaking somewhere in eastern Canada. We have thought about Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, or Killarney Provincial Park. Which of these areas have the best kayaking with day trips so we can stay at one camp? They would like to find camps with bathrooms and showers. Thanks. In health and fitness,

Thom Wood
Sterling, VA
[email protected]

Eastern Canada's sheltered bays
make for idyllic paddling

Adventure Adviser: First, the bad news: The price you pay for a plush base camp--showers, toilets, etc.--is solitude. Generally speaking, the amenity-rich campgrounds are the ones that draw the crowds and keep them. And unless you choose an elaborate network of interconnected lakes, you'll more than likely have to retrace your route at least once over the course of five days. That said, I'll make two suggestions, one of which can be paddled out of a base camp, the other which is best done as a continual trip.

Five hours north of Canada's largest metropolis, Killarney Provincial Park is a maze of flatwater lakes ringed by chalky cliffs. Leave your gear at George Lake Campground and set out in a new direction every day, bearing in mind that covering some decent ground means frequent portaging--doable in a lightweight, empty kayak, but tough if you're hauling lots of stuff. Due to the constant influx of weekend warrior types from Toronto, don't plan on going up there without booking a tent site well in advance; call 705-287-2800 for reservations, park information, and maps.

Another option in the area is to island-hop along the shoreline of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay, which borders Killarney. Don't be deterred by the strictly bare-bones campgrounds (tent sites and the occasional fire ring): This is a great place for base-camp paddling, due largely to the fact that the many rocky islands are Crown land and therefore are open to campers (no permits necessary). For the most part, Georgian Bay in the summer is usually fairly calm, with water warm enough to swim in. White Squall (705-342-5324), about halfway up Georgian Bay near Port Perry, rents sea kayaks and runs guided paddling trips in the area.

If you're willing to sacrifice a base camp for five leisurely days of paddling up the north shore of Prince Edward Island, make a beeline for Cavendish Beach in PEI National Park. Put-in in calm, 70-degree water protected by barrier islands fringed by 50-foot-high sand dunes and paddle the inside passage northwest to the fishing village of Alberton. You'll find plenty of tent sites in the designated campgrounds along the beaches, all of which require pre-arranged camping permits; call 902-368-4444 for permits and maps. Pick up rental kayaks at Split Rock Outfitters in St. John, New Brunswick, en route to PEI (506-634-8265).

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