Hang a Left at the Sturgeon

And other secrets of navigating Canada's Near-North

Lea Aschkenas

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A century ago, the great minds of the Northern Ontario Railroad, eager to lure customers onto its remotest lines, had a flash of inspiration: They chose to overlook the pesky detail of national sovereignty and simply declared Temagami “the finest lake in America.” Thankfully, the hyperbole didn’t take; though the shores of the lake have become crowded with cottages, the rest of the Temagami region remains blessedly light on traffic, the better to enjoy its towering waterfalls, grazing moose, throaty loons, and 300-year-old stands of pine. In fact, it’s enough to make you think the robber barons might’ve been on to something. Canada lays claim to, say, Fargo and Duluth. We take Temagami.

Getting there

To drive the eight hours from Buffalo, the closest U.S. city, take the QEW Highway north to Highway 11, which you pick up near Toronto. This will take you to the town of Temagami. Or use the most direct route: Board an Air Canada flight to the nearby North Bay airport. Flights depart daily from Los Angeles and New York for about $500 round-trip (800-869-9000).
On the water

Lake Temagami is an access point for any trip into the region. Put in here and then exit fast-dozens of mapped routes head into the backcountry. Among the best is the 95-mile Rabbit Lake Loop, which encompasses everything from serious rapids to quiet, wooded bays, along with plenty of walleyes. The put-in is off Highway 11. From there, head east along the well-shaded shore of Rabbit Lake to its southeastern end, where you pick up Cross Lake, then Wicksteed Lake, and then head back. You’ll encounter some wicked whitewater between Cross and Wicksteed on the Upper Temagami River; novices may need to portage. The trip takes about eight days, with camping allowed anywhere along the route. For a shorter, whitewater-free trip, try the Obabika Loop, which goes from Lake Temagami to Diamond Lake, on to Obabika Lake, and back. Figure on about four or five days to cover the 63-mile distance.

Navigational aids

First off, call the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and request “Canoeing in the Temagami Area” ($4.25; 705-755-2000), a poster-size map that shows 23 suggested trips. You should also have area topo maps. They’re available for $7 from Pathfinder Maps in Ottawa (888-447-4745). For a general guidebook, try the blandly named but highly detailed Temagami Canoe Routes, by Hap Wilson ($18.95, from Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, 613-269-2910).


For those who’d rather not do the navigating themselves, Smoothwater Outfitters in the town of Temagami leads weeklong guided paddling trips; it also offers two-day introductions to whitewater canoeing for novices ($280 for a week, $110 for an intro clinic; 705-569-3539). For more customized trips, contact Temagami Outfitters, which creates journeys of any length and difficulty ($122 per day; 705-569-2790). If you don’t need a guide but do need a canoe, call Lady Evelyn Outfitting in Temagami, which has a fleet of 40 ($16-$18 per day; 705-569-2595).

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