Backcountry campsite

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park: Trip Planner

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park‘s network of waterways carve the ancient and weathered Canadian Shield, providing endless route possibilities. Here, where “Where nature still rules”, backcountry conditions are constantly changing and park visitors must be prepared to meet nature on its own terms.

 

Summer is in full swing.  We are in the midst of another backcountry paddling and camping season.  Although remote and isolated, with careful planning, some outdoor skills, and the help of local services, seasoned backcountry paddlers will experience a “wildness” that very few others ever do.  Again, to safely meet nature on its own terms, we urge you to monitor this blog, contact the park office for additional details, or get in touch with one of our local outfitters.

This is your one-stop location for up-to-date information that will help you plan a safe and memorable backcountry canoeing experience.

Visit this page regularly as you near your departure date in order to obtain the most current details we have to share with you.

NOTICE – PARK REOPENING

Effective September 16, 2021 Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is open! Recreational Paddling information has changed, so please ensure you read the following information below.

Commercial/Private Outposts/Cabins

All fly-in access MUST be coordinated through Aviation, Fire, Flood, Emergency Services (AFFES) as there are currently still NOTAMSs in place. AFFES must be contacted prior to any departure for the park. Contact the park office for an AFFES contact at 807-727-1329.

Recreational Paddling

The park is now open for recreational paddling, but there are a few restrictions. Due to the large active fires within the park, there are some closures and extra considerations you’ll need to make while trip planning. Please remember these fires are NOT out.

Anyone visiting the park must plan a trip that does not enter the perimeter of the fires. You can view the perimeters here. We’ve provided some suggested routes below, but as long as you’re not entering a 2021 burn, you can explore as you please.

There are still some closures in effect:
– Johnson Access Point
– Onnie Access Point
– Paddling Access: Garner, Jan, Eagle and Talon

Entry will no longer be on a case by case basis – you will be able to purchase your permits the usual way – through the online registration system or the self serve kiosk in Red Lake. Please ensure that your trip route is as specific as possible to assist staff with understanding where paddlers are on the landscape.

Entry into the park is at your own risk. You must bring a communication device with you and have a method of evacuation should it be needed. SPOT-SOS is not an exit strategy – it is a last resort. Ensure someone knows your route – the WCPP office can be your contact if required.

DO NOT ENTER FIRE PERIMETERS AT THIS TIME. The conditions of trails and campsites within the burn perimeter are unknown at this time. Know where you are on a map so you understand your relationship to the fires. Do not explore towards an active fire to “get a closer look”. Select a safe campsite if travelling near the fire perimeter – use the lake as a natural boundary between you and the burn. Always ensure you are checking tree roots as they may be compromised by the burn and pose a safety hazard.

Some Potential Route Options:
– Bunny Loop
– Leano – Killburn loop
– Leano – Bunny – Jake – Eastern end of Paull – Elephant Head – Bunny – Leano
– Fly In: Barclay/Sabourin – Lund
– Dunstan – Simeon – Larus – Murdock – Knox – Lund
– Donald – Haggart River – Carroll
– Bulging – Haggart River – Carroll

If you have any questions please contact Lori Skitt at 807-727-2835. Alternatively you may contact Tia Wilson, Assistant Park Superintendent at 807-252-0174.


Earlier this summer our 2021 Trail Maintenance Team was in the park clearing portages west of Murdock Lake and reopening portages affected by fires in 2018. If you’ve been in an area recently affected by a forest fire, you might know that finding portages can be tough! Blazes on trees are blackened or on the ground; undergrowth is burnt away; and common portage visual queues like warn moss or lichen paths are gone! Our crews must be eye-spy experts when recovering portage trails in a burn.

How can you find a portage in a recent burn?

  1. Check the Map! Our crews will use topographic data on their map to find the beginning of the portage. Portage routes always try to take the easiest route – we look for straight pathways between trees. Lining up these straight-aways with natural openings in the forest will help indicate a path was once there.
  2. Look down! Although much of the forest ground litter has been burnt away, traces of the last crew’s work in the area can still be found. When a tree falls over a portage and is cleared away, you’ll see a cut stump or end of a log on either side of the portage. Although the wood burns, often the crisp edge of a chainsaw cut is still visible. Look to the ground for signs of cutting and walk between the two cut edges – you’ve found a portage!
  3. Find the rocks! The best thing to be on the lookout for is rock cairns: small piles of rock meant to act as markers along a trail. They are especially common in some of our portages that traverse open granite slopes, and they are often the only element of a portage that will survive the worst of the fires.

It’s sooty work, but someone’s got to do it! We are grateful for all the hard work our trail maintenance team puts in. We know there will be a lot to do in the future, but for now we hope these tips will help you out when the park reopens. Forest fires can create an incredible and unique canoeing experience for those adventurous enough to camp there once the fires have gone out. Keep checking back to our blog, as soon we’ll be providing you with some of our favourite parts about tripping in a burn.

Canoe route map

This map is a “must” for planning out your trip. It is a product of Chrismar Mapping Services and complements the popular “The Adventure Map” series. It’s waterproof, coloured, and very detailed. It provides lots of great planning information at your fingertips.

You may purchase a copy online, via your canoe outfitter, or by phoning the park office at (807) 727-1329.

Resources and services

Woodland Caribou has a number of canoe outfitters, outpost camps, main base lodges and local service providers that can help make your trip to the park unforgettable.  Ground and water shuttle services are available to your entry point if needed.  Check the Bulletin Board pages of our Park Information Guide for contacts.

Access

Visitors may access the park via the following options:

  • road to entry point
  • remote fly-in
  • waterway entries

There are no roads located within the boundary of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Forest access roads do exist adjacent of the boundary which allows relatively easy park access at Johnson, Onnie, Leano, and Lund Lakes.

Find a map of park access roads here.

Small directional signs help guide you to your destination along the way and a small parking area is found at each entry point.  Conditions on these forest access roads can change quickly due to beaver activity and precipitation. Be aware and be prepared.

Please note that camping at the parking area of entry points is not permitted.  We also urge you to bear proof your vehicle prior to leaving town.

Highway 618

At Red Lake’s one and only set of traffic lights, turn left and travel westerly.

The Ontario Parks office is located in the brick government building on the right-hand side.  Drop in and visit our park staff during regular business hours (8:30am to 4:30pm, weekdays).    Note: as of June 2021, the Park Office remains closed to the public  for the season. Continue to drive west and you are now on Hwy 618.  Update – Along Hwy 618, you will note that a wildfire (August 2020) ravaged through the area.  It is interesting to see new plant life emerging out of the dark sooty ground.   

Suffel / Iriam Roads

A green sign off Hwy 618 will point you to Suffel Lake Road on the right as you travel down a slight hill. This is the way to the Johnson, Onnie and Leano entries. The first 18 km of Suffel Lake Road is wide and semi-maintained. It is relatively well travelled and therefore can quickly turns into bad washboard.  It is currently quite rough and in need of a good grading.

Once past the Black Bear Lodge parking area, the road becomes a narrower one-lane bush road with plenty of turns, hills, and potholes to keep you alert. Note, heed to the words “potholes” and “stay alert”.  It is a rough little section of road. The adventure has begun. A smaller vehicle may be able to reach Johnson by driving with care, negotiating the numerous potholes and protruding rocks along this 5 km stretch of road.

Somewhere past the Johnson entry point the Suffel / Suffel Road Extension crosses an invisible line to become the Iriam Road. Onnie entry point is 12 km pass the Johnson, and the Mile 51 turn-off to Leano is another 22 km beyond Onnie.

The road surface gets better once you pass by the Onnie Entry.  However, you will need to negotiate a total of nine low-level crossings between Onnie and the Mile 51 Road.

Low-level crossings are where culverts have been removed and the road surface is  designed to permit water to flow freely over the road bed in high water conditions or after a rain. These work really well and are meant to discourage beavers from plugging up culverts.  However, beavers have found a way to re-occupy these crossings as you will notice by roadside dams.  We are working with MNRF and local trappers to avoid potential washouts. 

While you do not require a 4×4 vehicle on this section of the road, you do need generous bottom clearance to negotiate these crossings. Expect to take about 45 minutes to drive to Johnson and at least 2 hours to Leano from Hwy 618.

Leano Road (Mile 51 Road)

This is the last 5 km stretch to the parking area and first portage to Leano Lake. Leano Road is a narrow one-lane road with grass centre (watch for hidden rocks) and many potholes to negotiate. It is a slow drive. The thick and encroaching alders that bordered this road was cut back three fall seasons ago. You can expect good clearance for a couple more years now.

Longlegged Road

The approach to Leano from Ear Falls via the Manitou Falls Dam Road (Hwy 804) and Longlegged Road is another option to reach Mile 51 Road to Leano. However, it now receives very low maintenance and is not monitored as closely as we do the northern approach using the Suffel/Iriam Roads. Park signage may be missing.

Two or three low-level crossings will be encountered as you near the Mile 51 Road.  If choosing this option,  expect to travel at least 2.5 to 3 hours on a gravel road before reaching Mile 51 and Leano.

South Pakwash Road

For a number of years, those traveling from the west (Manitoba and Kenora) had the option of taking Hwy 658 from Kenora to Reddit then South Pakwash north all the way to Long Legged Road to reach Mile 51 Road and the Leano entry. In recent years, a large washout at Rogers Lake created a roadblock forcing travellers to take a detour east on the Conifer Road.  We do not monitor the conditions of this road system.

Nungesser / Pine Ridge / McIntosh Roads

These roads lead you to the Lund Lake entry point in the northeastern half of the park, the most direct access to the Bloodvein River. The Nungesser Road is a well-travelled hard-top surface road that begins at Hwy 125 between Balmertown and Cochenour.

At approximately 16 km, turn left onto the Pine Ridge Road. For the next 25 km, the maintained gravel road is wide and generally in good shape but prone to washboard conditions. Drive accordingly. The last 25 km of the road is not maintained and much narrower with occasional dips in the road surface.  Please drive with care as there is currently forest harvest activity within the first 12km of this road.   You may be sharing the roadway with harvesting machinery and log haul trucks.  

The Pine Ridge Road ends with a turn to the left onto McIntosh Road. At this point, you are 5 km from the Lund entry.  Watch for wildlife tracks in the sand along the road here. You will be required to cross a low-level crossing with water often running over the road however it is currently dry. Again, a vehicle with generous bottom clearance is required. Steps have been taken to get some roadside brushing done this season (June 2021). Expect to drive 1.5 hours from Hwy 125 to the Lund entry.

Trail Conditions and Maintenance Efforts

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park offers nearly 2,000 km of interconnecting canoe routes with many more yet to explore and to be established. With only 2 maintenance crews to cover 1.2 million acres of wilderness parkland, we can only hope to make a dent in one summer’s work. This thread serves to provide updates on our crew’s progress, identify freshly cleared routes as well as known and reported problem trails and areas.

Note that we rely largely on visitor trip reports to share current information on this thread as well as in prioritizing our work efforts in the park.  Your feedback at the end of your trip is very valuable.

NOTE – In 2016 and again in 2018, Mother Nature demonstrated her ability to self-care by way of large wildfire events to make way for a new forest. All routes within these large burns are open to visitors. Since the large fires, the crews have been focusing their efforts to within the burned areas…areas that become challenging during regrowth, and that require annual visits.

In the 2020 and 2021 season, there was less maintenance crew presence in the backcountry.  This gave Mother Nature an advantage in reclaiming many portage trails.  We stress upon you to come prepared with a good quality handsaw as there will inevitably be some fallen trees across the trails and smaller waterways. 

Please report any trail that may require attention (chainsaw work) as this helps us to inform others and to prioritize our work efforts for this season. Visit this blog regularly for updates on our trail clearing progress. 

Visited and Cleared thus far in 2021:

  • Leano, Paull, Lunch, East Lunch, Leano
  • Murdock to Irvine

Visited and Cleared in 2020: 

  • Onnie to Telescope all cleared (September 11, 2020)

Visited and Cleared in 2019:

  • Dutch River to Burntwood to Musclow
  • Bloodvein River from Murdock to Artery
  • Leano to Kilburn through to Dragon – Blueberry – Sylvia – Talon
  • Garner River to Haggart
  • The MinJim route from Royd to Indian House to Lund
  • Royd Creek from Donald to Royd
  • Upper Gammon to Indian House
  • Haggart to Irregular to Beamish and Welkin
  • Haggart to Broken Arrow to Crystal and Wanipigow Ri to Haggart Ri
  • Leano to Paull (inquire about a new reroute) to Burntrock – Mexican Hat – Jake and back to Leano
  • Bulging down the Haggart Ri to Carroll Lk – up to Wanda and to Royd

Current Known Problem Areas (as of June 2021):

  • Reports received by a local day-trip paddler identifies some messy trails en route to Mexican Hat Lk, specifically the 325m portage into Mexican Hat Lk has larger trees to clear – fresh flags has been placed to lead the way.
  • 1,500 m Knox Trail has been rerouted to bypass the 300 m stretch of muck at its SE end of trail – the reroute extends from the original trail straight south to the shore of the Unnamed Lk to bypass the creek and the beaver dam – fresh flagging marks the trailhead from the south and the fork on the trail when it joins the original path.
  • Indian House Creek to Murdock has several trees across the creek following the 2011 fire which needs clearing
  • 600 m north out of Wrist is a challenge to find at its southern end – deadfall and new pine growth makes it challenging to follow
  • Welkin to Wrist – 300 m – “Goat Trail” – watch your footing – portage with great caution – Beamish creek leading to the west end of the “Goat Trail” is said to have low water levels (August 18, 2020)
  • Welkin to Adventure – 650 m, 675 m, and 250 m trails are all within the 2016 burn and all need serious clearing (September 4, 2020)
  • Cyclops creek from Rostoul – difficult to find creek channel – look for marked stake in grass – water levels are reported to be good (September 4, 2020)
  • North 500 m trail from Rostoul to Gammon is messy – lots of down trees
  • Trail from Haven out toward Adventure – there has been reports of a second flagged trail – this is likely an old fire line trail left behind by fire personnel a few years ago – avoid and take a second look for the actual portage trail – it may be obscured
  • Boomerang to Dragon – still a challenge – needs a fix – 750m south to Landing Crane has a big tree down
  • Still some issues reported along the MinJim route – the Nile passage is confusing
  • The 1,900 m portage between the two Prairies is also in need of some clearing
  • Route from Olive to Knox needs some brushing – still passable – not recommended for upstream paddling in early season
  • 325 m portage into Mexican Hat from Jake is messy – several down trees
  • More trees across the 400 m, 150 m, 475 m along the Jake and Lunch Lk loop with the 475 m reported to be difficult to follow – flagging is missing
  • Large tree down lengthwise on one of the 250m portage between Glenn and Optic
  • The Garner River access route to Mather has some down trees across trails and stream – entrance to portages grown in and difficult to find
  • The route from Talon NW to the Bird River via 150 m and 375 m are in need of chainsaw work – be prepared (August 18, 2020)
  • Irregular to Beamish via 850 m and 150 m is in serious need of work – “a mess of trees” (August 18, 2020)

NOTE: Portages can become hard to find and follow as the re-growth quickly takes over and obscures the trails in areas of recent burn. For this reason, crews are using flagging tape to assist visitors in locating and following the trails. Otherwise, the use of flagging tape is discouraged.  It has been reported that much of the flagging has been found on the ground on some trails, either ripped off the trees by animals or else the whole tree has fallen. 

Rip-Rap – The placement of “rip-rap” or corduroy in a wetter section of trails helps minimize the impact of visitors walking around a wet or muddy obstacle as well as prevents boots from being sucked in completely. You must still step carefully, for, despite our efforts, these crude boardwalks fall out of place, rot, or float away. Trails are rugged and challenging. Exercise diligence in every step you take.

Water Levels

Water levels are normal for this time of the season (June 2021).  But we could still use some precipitation.           

Although the Nutria to Mexican Hat system was a breeze last year compared to its usual slog through a muddy grassland, its current status is unknown.   The “Edge” route from Blueberry to Talon river was still holding good water in August 2020.  A beaver dam at the top end of Page Lake still holds enough water to turn the 200m portage into a short 50m.  Bonus. 

Photo: McGuffins

Backcountry Campsites

The best practice when choosing a campsite in Woodland Caribou is to select from the park’s approved campsite inventory map.  In this way, we limit our impact on sensitive values – values not always visible or known to our visitors.  We are attempting to revisit all approved campsites along a crew’s route within the burnt areas to reassess viability of the sites, clearing down trees post wildfire,  and render the sites safe by removing overhead hazards.

Primitive – In Woodland Caribou, campsites are discreetly marked by a small fire ring and tent pad areas.  They are not signed. Please do not create new campsites nor clear existing campsites to accommodate new tent pads.

Hammock camping – The use of hammocks is increasing in popularity and welcomed on backcountry campsites.  However, due to the high number of young regenerating forests post wildfire, setting up a hammock may not be possible at most campsites.  Please always bring along a tent.  Park staff at the office and/or your outfitter may be able to identify hammock friendly sites along your planned route.

Camping party size – Nine people is the maximum party size allowed on one campsite. This regulation lessens the impact that large groups may have on the fragile park land. Larger parties are required to split up into smaller camping groups and each group must have an interior camping permit.

Glass ban – A glass bottle ban is in effect at Woodland Caribou. This is in keeping with the principles of low-impact camping. Glass bottles are prone to breakage, are non-degradable, and create a safety hazard when left behind.

Structures – Structures of any kind (e.g. lean-to, fish cleaning tables, benches, etc.) are not allowed at campsites or elsewhere in the park interior. Avoid the use of nails and please remove fire grills, strings, and unburnables as you move on.

Campfires – Fires must be built on bare rock or bare mineral soil and kept away from all flammable materials. Keep your fire small. Before leaving your site, drown your fire thoroughly, stir the ashes, and drown it again to ensure that it is dead out.  Nearly all campsites offer generous amounts of fallen and dead wood that you are permitted to harvest for fuelwood.

Photo: Rob Stimpson

The use of portable camp stoves is highly recommended at all times and is mandatory in a Restricted Fire Zone (RFZ) where open fires are prohibited.  Please call the office prior to your trip to find out if a RFZ is in place or visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/outdoor-fire-restrictions.

Removing vegetation – All plants (including trees) are protected in a provincial park. It is unlawful to remove, cut, delimb, or damage any vegetation and/or trees.  Removal of down trees or encroaching vegetation to clear existing portage trails is permitted as is the removal of hazard trees over an approved campsite.

NOTE: We experienced some nuisance bear activity on Paull Lake in the 2020 season.  Please keep a clean camp and stay alert.  We have also closed a popular campsite on the northwest end of Linge Lake. This campsite has been closed for your safety (as of August, 2019).

Closed Campsite – Linge Lake

Forest Fire Conditions

RFZ message –  There is currently a Restricted Fire Ban in effect within the park. 

Campfires are not permitted at any time. Charcoal barbeques or biomass units using natural burning fuels (i.e. sticks, twigs, pinecones, etc.) are not permitted.

Portable gas/propane/naphtha stoves or barbeques that have a fuel source with a control valve may still be used. 

Almost every type of ecosystem on land is influenced by wildfire but none is as dependent as the Boreal Forest for its self rejuvenation. Natural fires are part of the ecological make up of this area. If you look with your eyes wide open, you will appreciate the vigorous rebirth of life and the very unique beauty of the new landscape.

Nearly all of the forest fire occurrences in Northwestern Ontario are caused by lightning. These alone keep fire suppression personnel busy enough that potentially adding human-caused fires to the mix can add unnecessary burden on a limited resource.

Individuals venturing in the backcountry must use fire with great diligence.  Always light a fire in an existing fire ring or bare rock (not over moss and forest debris).  If conditions are very dry, forgo the traditional campfire. A cook stove should always be part of your camping equipment.

Current wildfires 

Due to the number of fires spreading within the park and increased fire risk, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is CLOSED. For more detailed information on the fires within the park visit ontario.ca/pages/forest-fires. 

We really want you to come visit the park, but please wait!  To ensure the safety of everyone, the park will be closed until further notice. We will be reassessing this on a daily basis.

RED016 is a large forest fire of concern within the park. 

KEN051 is located near the southern end of the park, within the Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve. 

For details on current fires and for daily fire updates, visit and monitor the following link: https://www.ontario.ca/law-and-safety/forest-fires

Other recent fires of note

  • July 2019 – lightning fire in the area of Musclow, Job, and Robert Lakes in the NW corner of the park – did not leave a large visual impact along any of the routes.
  • 2018 – Irvine, Royd, Simeon, Southern Bloodvein
  • 2017 – please note that the fire in the area of Walking Stick Lake had been reported “spotty” – lots of green residuals along the shores
  • May 2016 – large lightening fire originating from eastern Manitoba crossed into Ontario and spread like “wildfire” literally.  It travelled easterly through a large area of the park’s popular southern routes.
  • July 2015 – three fires in the area of Barclay Lake – Lightening fires.
  • June 2015 – NE shores of Larus Lake – Lightening fire with visual impact in the area of portages N of Larus and S of Thicketwood.
  • June 2015 – North, East, South shores of Wrist Lake – Lightning fire with some visual impact to the North shore of Aegean Lake.
  • August 2014 – North end of Mary’s Lake along the Bloodvein River. Lightning fire that was monitored. Some visual impact along the north shore of the River and Mary’s Lake.
  • August 2011 – Red #124 – Over 22,000 ha (54,360 acres) in size – will be evident as paddlers travel the west shores of Knox, all of Murdock shores, and southern shores of Larus.

This map shows recent (since 2010) burn history within Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Maintenance crews aim to visit affected portages more frequently in the years following the fire event.

Other Backcountry Activities

Aircraft – If you plan to land your own aircraft as part of your visit to the park, you require an aircraft landing authority. This authority is free of charge and does not constitute a permit.

Park visitors still require a camping or day-use permit. If you charter a commercial air service to access the park, they in turn are responsible for obtaining their own aircraft landing authority and day use permit.

Boat caches / motorboating – Some motorboating and the caching of boats associated with commercial tourism roofed accommodations does occur in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Nearly all are found along the Gammon and Bloodvein River systems. They are bound by some restrictions.  Note: Due to the current closure of US/Canada borders, very few camps are occupied and motorboating is next to nil.

Natural treasures – It is unlawful to remove any found natural objects from the park. This includes such objects as driftwood, stones, feathers, and dropped antlers. Admire, take photographs, and leave them all behind for others to find and enjoy.

Culturally sensitive sites – Woodland Caribou has a number of culturally sensitive sites. You may not remove, damage or deface any relic, artifact or natural object or any site of archaeological or historical interest. Likewise, you may not disturb any of these sites, excavate, or conduct research.

We cannot stress enough that you respect the spiritual and historical significance of these sites. Enjoy with your eyes only.

More Questions?

You may find additional information by accessing:

Feel free to also contact us:

  • by phone at 807-727-1329
  • by email

We love to hear from you as you plan your trip, and also after the completion of your trip!