Tips for Canoeing on Ontario Wilderness Canoe Trips

By Quentin Branch
Owner of Quetcio Park Wilderness Canoe Expeditions

Wilderness Remote Canoe Trip Travel Tips
Quetico Provincial Park - Algonquin Provincial Park - Killarney Provincial Park)

There's literally thousands of different suggestions for making your canoe trip both fun & safe.

These next few points seem basic, but they're the easiest to disregard, and can spell disaster if not followed…

  • Pack for all types of weather – just because you're going into Quetico on July 31 doesn't mean you shouldn't plan to have some warm clothes. Always pack warm sweaters / sweatshirts and plan your trip so you can "layer on" or "layer off" as the weather dictates. Gloves are a godsend when the water gets cold – particularly spring & fall trips.
  • Wear your life jacket – yeah – I know, it seems like a pain, and on a hot day through some nice flatwater, it's really hard to put the thing on. But you know what – you never know when you'll need it, and foregoing the life jacket the odd time is a slippery slope. The more times you allow yourself not to wear it, the less you'll tend to wear it. I grew up at our camp and spent literally hundreds of hours each summer on the water in a boat or canoe. I always wear my lifejacket. It's way past the ego thing (ie the "I'm a great swimmer" or "I never flip my canoe"). And every year, either in Quetico, or NW Ontario somewhere, people drown. I'd bet 99% + of the time they weren't wearing a life jacket. We try and buy good life jackets, but also comfortable life jackets to encourage the wearing of them. If you're buying your own gear, take your time, try them on, and make sure they're comfortable. Check your ego at the door and save your life.
  • These boots are made for walkin' – make sure you have good hiking boots. They should have both ankle support & protection and be comfortable (don't wait ‘til you're in the middle of Quetico Park to discover they give you sores). Waterproof them with treatment. My Dad ran our camp / outfitting business for 35 years before I took over, and before that he lived in a tent year round as a prospector. His biggest pet peeve is people that go on these trips with only sneakers and / or sandals (take those for sitting around the campfire etc. but not for portages). The #1 injury we see each year is cut feet or twisted ankles. And believe me, you want to be able to walk when you're in the middle of Quetico!
  • Hang your packs – our bears are very crafty, and seem to be perpetually hungry. Usually, by early August, there are definite areas to avoid (we'll let you know about those areas), and even if you're not in one of these area's a little effort can go a long way. Make sure you have lots of rope. When you're scouting your camp site check for a suitable tree to hang the pack. Keep food out of your tent. And make the effort to hang the pack. It's like Murphy's Law – if you don't chances are you'll get a visit. And nothing can ruin a great canoe trip more than having nothing to eat!
  • Make a list and check it twice – just like Santa! I pack a lot of packs each year, but if I forego my list I'm likely to forget something. That's why I like to review the gear & food with my guests and we pack it together. That way, the two of us check off the list, and guests can a) see where everything is and / or suggest a packing order ("I love GORP – pack the GORP near the top!") and b) confirm they have everything and leave with considerably more peace of mind. Do the same before you leave home for any clothes, gear, sundries. We have a basic list on this site and on our brochure. Use it as a starting point, and customize it as you see fit. That way you won't have to buy any of my fishing rods, or sunscreen, or cameras.
  • Know what you're getting into – Quetico is an awesome wilderness area and for many, there's simply nothing like it on earth. The peace & solitude, the challenge of a wilderness canoe trips where you travel with (and sometimes against) nature, the navigational requirements. But it's not for everyone. This is a true wilderness park and once you're in there, you may not see another person. You'll have to navigate with your compass and maps, paddle hard, pack hard. Although outfitters (ourselves included) often describe this wilderness utopia, the weather can be bitterly cold ( or unbearably hot), flies & mosquitoes can drive you nuts, you can easily get lost, your canoe can flip, your food can be stolen by a bear. It's an adventure if ever there was one and it can be as nasty as it can be terrific. A lot of my regular groups have been through all of the above and take it in a stride. They have a great time no matter what. But some people come and you can see the "What have I gotten myself into?" look on their faces. Do your homework, consider a guide if you aren't too experienced. I've even had some groups hone their camping & canoeing skills at our camp for a few days before going on a short, straightforward remote canoe trip. Again park your ego at the door and take small, slow steps. Remember – the whole idea is to enjoy yourself!
  • Cold As Ice - If you are going to bring a cooler into the park to keep meat or other perishable foods cool, you need ice. The best thing to do is get a couple of 2 liter plastic pop bottles and clean them out. Then fill them with drinking water and freeze them. Because the ice is in plastic, it lasts much longer. As the ice melts over a few days, you can pour some of the water out and have an ice cold drink. The empty plastic bottles are light and can be pressed down to be packed out of the park easily.

  • Let us help you – we'll do anything we can to make your trip great. If we can help with travel arrangements, route suggestions, fishing tips etc let us know. If there's a question you have that we don't know, we'll find out. Call or email us anytime – you're never a bother. You're the reason we're here!
  • Take lots of pictures and bring back lots of stories – I don't get in nearly as much as I would like any more, so I live vicariously through my guests.
  • We'll add more things as time goes on. Feel free to add your suggestions to our Message Board.