Many people come to Quetico Provincial Park to spend some time exploring the 460,000 hectares of remote wilderness on their canoe or kayak for days or even weeks. But for some who would love to experience Quetico to the best of their ability may only be able to stop in for a few hours or just a night or two but you are still in luck! There is one day canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park will take you at minimum half a day but gives you the opportunity to touch the interior of Quetico without having to prep all your camping gear and provisions for backcountry camping.
First off if you did not come to Quetico with a canoe does not mean you cannot give it a try! There are a few outfitters than have canoes right in the park that you can rent from. We rented ours from Quetico North located just outside the park gates towards Atikokan on Highway 11. Here they can give you a canoe, lifejackets, paddles and the safety gear required for your canoe, as well as tips and tricks on the best places to check out. We called shortly before they closed and were able to get all of our gear the night before so we could have an early start the next morning.
We decided we were going to hit the water just before sunrise and hope to catch the sun peaking over the rock cliffs and towering pines on French Lake. Unfortunately, we woke up the next morning and it was incredibly foggy and felt like a storm was going to come in. We decided to hit the lake and see how far we could make it before it decided to rain. Fortunately for us it never rained while we were exploring! We had been recommended to do a trip from French Lake to Pickerel Lake where there is a beach called the Pines. You can also access this point from a 5.4km hiking path also called the Pines trail.
Our campsite in Dawson Trail Campground has a little launch point right on French Lake which was perfect! So we loaded up all our gear, got Keno in the canoe and we were off! We headed south down to the southern most point of French lake where the lake would connect with Pickerel Lake. This took quite a bit of time to cover the lake as the wind was causing a fair amount of waves so we had to take our time. If you are looking to cut down on the amount of time it will take to paddle French River we would suggest launching from the Ojibwa Campground – this is very close to the mouth of Pickerel River, whereas Chippewa is closer to the top of the lake. This also happened to be Keno’s first time ever in a canoe so of course it took a while for her to figure out the best place to lie, us to balance as she would stand up and shift around, but it was successful day no one fell out of the canoe!
There was a small outlet on the west side of French Lake that we were not sure if that was the opening to the river but realized shortly after looking at the map we had a little further to go to reach the Pickerel River opening. You will know you have begun to reach the river as there is a large amount of tall grass growing out of the water that begins to form the small, winding river. The Pickerel River is incredibly beautiful and twisted and turned to give us magnificent views at each bend.
We spent probably 45-60 minutes paddling through the winding river of Pickerel River. It is easy to lose track of time with how beautiful everything is and we never saw another person on our journey which was one of our favourite things. We kept our eyes out for wildlife and managed to see lots of fish swimming below us in the river, some turtles, frogs, and an abundance of birds.
As you near the end of the Pickerel River there is an area that heads north west that will be on your right hand side if you are paddling towards Pickerel Lake. This is not an exit point to the lake nor does it lead anywhere. Feel free to explore the area if you would like! Shortly after the opening you will enter Pickerel Lake! The lake totally opens up to another picturesque view of Quetico Provincial Park.
There are three beaches on the east side of Pickerel Lake. All pristine white sandy beaches, totally secluded, and covered with beautiful pine trees. All three of the beaches are also designated backcountry camping sites. We spent time on each of the beaches enjoying the calm lake, letting keno splash in the water and digging in the sand. All looked very similar to one another so if you only have time for one stop the first beach on the east side of Pickerel Lake would be perfect. Here on the first beach there is a wide open spot in the trees that would make for a great place to set up camp overnight as well there is a firepit that has been made where you could have a nice picnic on your day trip. Just remember there are no garbage cans so make sure you pack out what you bring with you.
After you have spent your time on the beach you can choose to finish exploring Pickerel Lake or turn around and head back up the river. Pickerel River is a long river that connects to several other lakes as well as have some large islands on the east side of the lake.
This one day canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park took us about six hours to complete, with multiple stops in both the canoe and about an hour and a half on the beach taking photos and relaxing. We also had the wind and current in our favour on our route to Pickerel Lake but was against us the entire way back to Dawson Trail Campground.
We hope no matter how short your stay you will be able to spend some time on the water exploring the beauty of Quetico’s rugged and vast wilderness of the interior. Hopefully this one day canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park will inspire you to come back and spend even more time on your next trip through Northern Ontario – we know it did for us!