Welcome To Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
For many, the offseason is filled with dreaming of remote Canadian wilderness adventures. In searching for next summer’s best opportunity to see Moose and Caribou, eat freshly caught fish, and paddle the most remote lakes and rivers this country has to offer.
While there are a ton of great paddling opportunities in Canada, one of the best and most remote options is actually quite accessible. It’s the wild and rugged wilderness of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Tucked neatly into the northwest corner of the sprawling province of Ontario, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park’s interior measures over 1.2 million acres of glistening lakes, rivers and streams. It’s home to some of the best fishing Canada has to offer and will likely be your greatest opportunity for traveling in complete solitude. In fact, only 500 paddlers annually gain access to this wilderness making it one of Canada’s best-kept secret for a wilderness destination!
So what’s so special about Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and why is it so easy to access?
Well for starters, the sheer size of this park and it’s Prairie Boreal landscape make it a paddler’s paradise. In fact, one could paddle around the park for an entire summer and not retrace their own steps once. It’s also likely your best opportunity to paddle in a park system with over 2000 campsites and 2200 km of navigable canoe routes, and still, never see another soul along the way. Something extremely rare in today’s world.
Maybe the park is just overlooked? Or maybe there are other more popular paddling destinations one could try on their way up to Woodland Caribou? For years I’ve often wondered why a park that is seemingly the crown jewel of the Ontario Park’s system see so few explorers each year. I’ve come up with the determination that people just think it’s plain difficult to gain access to this incredible wilderness. So let’s set the record straight and show that’s not the case!
Gaining access into Woodland Caribou Provincial Park begins at the town of Red Lake, Ontario. With a small town feel and a population of just under 5000 people, Red Lake offers a perfect gateway as you drop off the map and enter the wilds of this park. Although essentially a frontier town, one can find all the amenities they’re looking for prior to a trip including overnight accommodations, outfitting supplies, rentals, or anything else required for a successful canoe adventure. For those looking for a guided experience, local guides are also available to take novice partners into this pristine wilderness.
For those wondering just where the heck Red Lake is and how one gets there, Red Lake is at the end of provincial Highway 105 which is accessed by turning north off of the TransCanada Highway (Hwy 17) once entering the town of Vermilion Bay. It’s a paved modern road all the way up with the journey taking just under two hours once turning onto Highway 105.
While this is the northernmost paved highway in Ontario, drive time from International Falls, MN is only five hours, or a quick 5 1/2 hours from either Winnipeg, Manitoba or Thunder Bay, Ontario. Red Lake also boasts a modern airport and receives scheduled flight service from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay three times daily making it incredibly easy for travelers to leave in the morning from a major city and be in the town of Red Lake by the early afternoon or evening.
So let’s put that into perspective. Many travelers will fly internationally and have to take either a layover or a separate domestic flight to gain access to their vacation spot for adventure. Sometimes that will take an extra day or even two. In that context, the wilderness of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park becomes an attractive option. You could leave from any major United States city on a morning flight and by the early evening, you’d be at the gateway to one of Canada’s greatest wilderness parks. That’s not such a bad deal!
The park itself offers 4 entry points navigable by ground shuttle or your own if you have a 4 x 4 vehicle. Lund lake, Leano Lake, Onnie Lake, and Johnson Lake are all designated access points that will have you paddling the park’ interior in no time. Most paddlers use a shuttle service as the roads are rough and the drive can sometimes take several hours however if you have a well serviced 4 x 4 you can make the drive on your own. The park may also be accessed via a 28-mile boat ride across Red Lake, accessing the park through the Douglas Lake portage
Ground Shuttle Access Options –https://www.redlakeoutfitters.com/services/ground-shuttles/
Water Shuttle Access Options – https://www.redlakeoutfitters.com/services/water-shuttle/
Float planes are another popular way of accessing Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and unlike designated access points that require shuttle service, paddlers are free to fly into any lake a float plane can safely land on. This opens up a whole host of options for adventure seekers looking for the ultimate in solitude and adventure as the ability to fly into their own private lake becomes a possibility.
Float Plane Access Options – https://www.redlakeoutfitters.com/services/air-services/
As for the destination itself, I believe Woodland Caribou Provincial Park holds itself well against all other wilderness destinations in Canada. In fact it’s one of the last few places left in this country where you have complete control over your trip and how you travel it. Take a look at any number of far north rivers. Once you begin your trip you have an itinerary and you’ll have to stick to it. You’re constantly moving down river working towards the end, however in Woodland Caribou it’s truly “your trip your way” You have complete freedom of choice to choose to travel or to just lay over. With no designated campsite system you have complete control of where you sleep at night and for how long you’ll stay there. With the likelihood of not seeing another paddler for the duration of your trip, you won’t have to worry about feeling rushed on a portage trail or race for a campsite. Imagine travelling back in time, 300 years ago to travel as the voyagers once did. Imagine the freedom they felt as the gazed upon and unpopulated land, full of wildlife and fish and knowing it was all their’s and their’s alone. You to can experience that same emotion and it begins with a trip to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.