For those looking for the ultimate wilderness canoeing destination, several choices often pop up, begging the question, what makes each one different? While there are several destinations that offer incredible paddling opportunities, I’ve yet to find anywhere else that compares to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Feature for feature, Woodland Caribou just suits my paddling style so well.
With just over 500 paddlers annually accessing Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, it can be hard to find specific information on what sets this area apart from all others. After years of traveling through the region, here are a few of the main differences you’ll discover when exploring Woodland Caribou.
Prairie Boreal Landscape
The fire driven Black Spruce and Jack Pine forests that make up Woodland Caribou Provincial Park are unlike anywhere else in Ontario. For the most part, the park is comprised of these shallow soiled areas, lichen covered rock outcrops and majestic moss filled portages. For those with experience paddling in more southern areas, gone are the White Pines and Red Pines (the park is north of their natural range), and most of the hardwoods for that matter. This is the land of fire, a land where more lightning strikes (and forest fires), occur than anywhere else in Ontario. It all results in a landscape of varying aged trees making for the most interesting of journeys. On most trips, you’ll be traveling through areas in different levels of fire succession allowing you to see nature on full display. To travel through a land and see the whole story of regeneration taking place is truly special.
Biting Insects (Mosquito’s and Blackflies)
Sure we’ve got our share of biting insects! We’re in Canada after all. That said, the shallow soils of the Prairie Boreal Forest allow for a dryer climate, mitigating the worst of the annual insect hatch. After traveling to most paddling destinations in Ontario, I can attest that the likes of Algonquin Park or Quetico Park, with their deeper soils and more moist climate have it much worse. For paddlers looking to escape the worst of it, our black fly hatch typically runs from the start of June into early July. Once over with, you can expect a few mosquito’s at dawn and dusk throughout summer but that’s typically it!
Portages – Just Another Walk In The Park!
Everyone’s favourite topic, portages seem to bring out the worst memories and best stories in paddlers! True, we’ve all walked some insanely long and rugged trails in our lives, but sadly, you won’t find many in Woodland Caribou. With our Prairie influence, our landscape is fairly flat, and with the average portage only 96 metres in length (Yes I just said 96 metres), our trails are straightforward and effortless. Working from lake to lake in this park usually involves only a few minutes of walking.
Let’s also dispel another misconception….many think that because there is such little use in the park that the trails must be in poor condition. Quite the contrary! Over the past 5 years, we’ve cleared over 42,000 metres of trail. Add to that, the park office’s portage clearing crews which are out all summer long and the trails within Woodland Caribou are actually in very good shape!
Axe Blazes – What’s Old Is New Again
Here in Woodland Caribou our trails are marked the traditional way. You won’t find any bright yellow or orange plastic portage markers here, nope, a good old axe blaze marks the spot in the Boreal! This method has been used for centuries and continues to be an effective way of keeping paddlers on the right path. A simple axe mark on the side of a tree lasts for years once run over with sap. Use your portage maps to head towards where the portage is indicated and then look for a tree with the blaze to confirm the entry to the portage.
Smaller, Intimate Lakes
Look over the map of Woodland Caribou and the first thing you’ll notice is just how much water there is. Take a closer look and you’ll realize that for the most part, the average lake size is smaller than in many other paddling destinations. So why does that matter? Well as you paddle through this landscape, the “tightness” of the land gives you an intimate feeling unlike anywhere else. As you navigate the small passageways and corridors of the park, gliding alongside million year old granite you’ll often wonder if you were the first one to witness it’s beauty. Sure the park also has some larger lakes, but for the most part this is “small” lake country. With the park’s portages so short in length, working through this patchwork of waterways is effortless and offers a feeling unlike any you’d experience elsewhere.
Another added benefit of traveling these smaller waterways is that you’re less affected by wind. High winds are the enemy of every paddler, and when waves are given the chance to build across large bodies of water, the result can be a day spent in camp. Luckily, Woodland Caribou’s smaller lakes afford paddlers the opportunity to explore and travel even if the winds kick up!
Dogs – Your Pup Is Welcome Anytime!
Ok, so many of you reading this are dog lovers. Heck, my pup goes everywhere with me and that includes my canoe! I’d never think of leaving my girl at home when heading out in the back country and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is the perfect wilderness destination for bringing your best friend along.
As with all parks within the Ontario Park’s system, regulations require you to keep your dog leashed at all times. It’s a regulation that likely has a lot of merit in more populated parks where hundreds if not thousands of people are enjoying the back country at any given time. But things are differing here in Woodland Caribou. I’ve yet to run into another paddler while on a trip with my dog. As mentioned previously, with only 500 paddlers annually accessing the park, the chances of running into others is minimal at best.
The features listed above make for a pretty compelling argument as to why Woodland Caribou Provincial Park should be on your radar. When coupled with everything else that make this park so special, it’s easy to see why it’s held in such high regard within the paddling community. In the end, this is one of the last untouched wilderness destinations left in Ontario.