Canoe country's most up-to-date guide.
Located west of Lake Superior on the Canada-U.S. border and known to countless thousands of paddlers simply as "Canoe Country," Quetico Provincial Park is Ontario's second-largest wilderness park. It connects to the United States via the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, mainland America's largest protected tract of wilderness. The area receives over 200,000 visitors a year.
Kevin Callan is a renowned paddling personality, and his new book describes 10 of Quetico's best trips, plus five adventurous excursions to destinations just beyond the park's boundaries. Trips range from weekend recreational paddles to 10-day multi-lake loops, and there is something for every skill level. All route maps are original and up to date, correcting many of the common errors found in other publications.
One could spend a lifetime paddling the waters of Quetico Provincial Park, with its more than 600 lakes and five major rivers. And with an average portage length of only 435 yards, it's all about the paddling.
Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books, including the Paddler's Guide series and The Happy Camper. He is the recipient of three National Magazine awards and is a featured speaker at many of North America's largest paddling events. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario, the birthplace of the famous Peterborough canoe and home of the Canadian Canoe Museum.
The first time I visited Quetico, I stopped at the main campground for the night while on a road trip to western Canada. The park was on my list of places to see along the way, and in my journal that evening I wrote, "Lots of trees, lots of lakes, nothing really special except for a bald eagle sighting near the park gate. Not sure what all the hype is about this place."
Five years later I returned for a weeklong canoe trip in the park's interior. It was my wife's idea. My journal entry for the last night out was a little different than the one from my initial visit: "I'm in love with this place. Quetico is definitely made for the canoe, or, better yet, the canoe is perfectly made for Quetico. It truly is a paddler's paradise."
How could I have such a dissimilar view the second time around? I think it's because on my initial visit I was merely a tourist looking for some postcard image, a sightseer with a checklist. Only after my canoe trip in the interior did I actually experience what Quetico had to offer.
It's not as if this place doesn't have its share of snapshot-worthy natural wonders. There are majestic waterfalls, peaceful lakes, stands of old-growth pine, massive chunks of granite decorated with ancient pictographs, and even the odd bald eagle sighting. But Quetico is much more than that. It's calm evenings spent lying in the tent listening to the loons' call; picking marble-sized wild blueberries for morning pancakes; taking on a challenging portage to some remote lake full of feisty fish; and traveling the same rivers once used by Sioux and Ojibwe warriors and French fur-traders.
In my mind, paddling Quetico Park represents a perfect canoe trip: life becomes so simple that the stress of the "real" world is left far behind. It can be the kind of trip during which you finally begin to understand why wilderness is so important to the human soul.
That evening spent in the main campground had little meaning to me, but the weeklong canoe trip in Quetico's interior changed my life. From there I ventured to even wilder places in northwestern Ontario. I went beyond Quetico to visit places such as White Otter Castle on the Turtle River and Wendell Beckwith's "Center of the Universe" in Wabakimi. The route choices are endless.
Along the way I met many kindred spirits who feel the same way I do about this part of the country: volunteers such as Phil Cotton and Barry Simon, who spend their holidays in northern Wabakimi Provincial Park making lost canoe routes found again; canoe-trippers such as Scott and Kathy Warner, who are committed to exploring rarely used portions of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park; and outfitters such as Lynn Cox, from Canoe Frontiers, who has dedicated her life to promoting such places as the Albany River in order to save them.
I think I matured as a canoeist after my trip in Quetico's interior. It made me eager to search out more wild places and excited to expand my family of friends who share my admiration for this incredible landscape and the deep desire to protect it for future use.
Between trips further north I returned to Quetico time and time again, not only to reminisce about my first canoe trip there, but also because there are always more lakes and rivers to explore. Many trips later, I'm still in love with this place, a piece of wilderness that remains truly a "paddler's paradise."
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