RoutesTrip Reports

Kayaking on Lake Nipigon

080920-271[1]

Lake Nipigon should be one of the premier kayaking destinations in North America. It’s remote, it’s wilderness, and it’s studded with 100s of islands to explore. It has big open water crossings, black sand beaches, towering palisades, and it can get rough and challenging. In 2008, Tim Russell and I took a week long trip to the lake. The following notes are from the research that we did (mainly Tim’s work). Originally, this research appeared on a wiki. It’s still there, but this will be a more permanent location.

About Lake Nipigon

Typical campsite on Lake Nipigon.
Typical campsite on Lake Nipigon.

From Wikipedia:

Lake Nipigon (French : lac Nipigon) is the largest lake entirely within the boundaries of the Canadian province of Ontario and is sometimes described as the sixth Great Lake. Lying 260 metres (853 ft) above sea level, the lake drains into the Nipigon River and thence into Nipigon Bay of Lake Superior. The lake and river are the largest tributaries of Lake Superior. It lies about 120 kilometres (75 mi) northeast of the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Lake Nipigon has a total area (including islands within the lake) of 4,848 square kilometres (1,872 sq mi) — compared to 3,150 square kilometres (1,216 sq mi) for Lake of the Woods. The largest islands are Caribou Island, Geikie Island, Katatota Island, Kelvin Island, Logan Island, Murchison Island, Murray Island, and Shakespeare Island. Maximum depth is 165 metres (540 ft).

The lake is noted for its towering cliffs and unusual green-black sand beaches composed of the fine particles of a dark green mineral known as pyroxene. The lake basin provides an important habitat for woodland caribou.

Map

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Crown Land Camping Permits

  • Crown Land Camping Permits are required for non-residents of Ontario. They run $10/night/person. Pick them up anywhere fishing licenses are sold. At the Pigeon River Border Crossing you can pick them up at the visitor center.

General Links

Geology

A summary of the geological diversity of the lake is at at: (the link above from parks ontario is much more detailed)

History

A nice historical summary is at the Great Lakes Wiki:

A detailed version of the early vists by Father Allouez in the 17th century

Flora and Fauna

  • Black Bears: We’ll need some hanging systems depending on number of people.
  • American White pelican (3 of 5 nesting colonies in Ontario are here)
  • Woodland Caribou on north shoreline
  • SKOAC reports more birds wildlife in Gully Bay near Snake islands an Pike Bay islands than in other parts they visited.

From wikipedia:

The French Jesuit Claude Allouez celebrated the first mass beside the Nipigon River May 29, 1667. He visited the village of the Nipissing Indians who had fled there during the Iroquois onslaught of 1649-50. In the Jesuit Relations the lake is called lac Alimibeg, and was subsequently known as Alemipigon or Alepigon. In the 19th century it was frequently spelled as Lake Nepigon.

In 1683 Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut established a fur trading post on Lake Nipigon named Fort Tourette after his brother, Claude Greysolon, Sieur de la Tourette. The Alexis Hubert Jaillot map of 1685 (Partie de la Nouvelle-France) suggests that this fort was somewhere in Ombabika Bay at the northeast end of the lake where the Ombabika river and Little Jackfish river (Kabasakkandagaming) empty. (A copy of this map may be viewed at Brock University Map Library) The post remained active to the end of the French regime as part of the pays d’en haut.

On 17 April 1744, the Count de Maurepas, Minister of the Marine, informed the Canadian officials that Jean de La Porte was to be given the “fur ferme” (i.e. the profits) of Lac Alemipigon from that year forward as a reward for his services in New France.

After the Treaty of Paris (1763), the area passed into the hands of the British, and the Hudson’s Bay Company expanded its trading area to include the Lake. Although it was considered to be within British North America, it was not until 1850 that the watershed draining into Lake Superior was ceded formally by the Ojibwe Indians to the Province of Canada (see Robinson Treaty, 1850, also known as the Robinson Superior Treaty). A four square mile reservation was set aside on Gull River near Lake Nipigon on both sides of the river for the Chief Mishe-muckqua. In 1871 Lake Nipigon was included in the new Thunder Bay District, Ontario.

The Township of Nipigon was incorporated in 1908. The Municipality of Greenstone (pop 5662) was incorporated in 2001 and includes Orient Bay, MacDiarmid, Beardmore, Nakina, Longlac, Caramat, Jellicoe and Geraldton.

In 1943 Canada and the United States agreed to the Ogoki diversion which diverts water into Lake Superior that would normally flow into James Bay and thence into Hudson Bay. The diversion connects the upper portion of the Ogoki River to Lake Nipigon. This water was diverted to support three hydroelectric plants on the Nipigon River. The diversion is governed by the International Lake Superior Board of Control which was established in 1914 by the International Joint Commission.

Lake Nipigon Provincial Park is located on the east side of Lake Nipigon. In 1999 the park boundary was amended to reduce the park area from 14.58 to 9.18 square kilometres (3,603 to 2,268 acres). The area was deregulated and transferred to the Government of Canada for a reserve for the Sand Point First Nation.

* Douglas, R., ed. Nipigon to Winnipeg : a canoe voyage through Western Ontario by Edward Umfreville in 1784, with extracts from the writings of other early travellers through the region. Ottawa : Commercial Printing, 1929.

Viking grave

According to Hjalmar R. Holand a viking grave was found near Beardmore at Lake Nipigon.

Planning

Canadian Coast Guard requires safety equipment for Canoes and Kayaks.

Canoes, Kayaks, Rowboats and Rowing Shells – (under 6M in Length)

  1. One Canadian-approved personal flotation device or life jacket of appropriate size for each person on board.
  2. One buoyant heaving line of not less than 15 m in length.
  3. One manual propelling device OR an anchor with not less than 15 m of cable, rope or chain in any combination.
  4. One bailer or one manual water pimp fitted with or accompanied by sufficient hose to enable a person using the pump to pump water from the bilge of the vessel over the side of the vessel.
  5. A sound signaling device or a sound signaling appliance.
  6. Navigation lights that meet the applicable standards set out in the Collision Regulations if the pleasure craft is operated after sunset and sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.

From Canadian Vessel Training

Local Towns

Interesting Features

  • Light Houses
    • The Virgins Light (Located on Lighthouse Island just North of Big Virgin Island) 49 deg 29’02”.20 , 88 deg 13’13”.00 W
    • South Point Ombabika Light (on the south end of Ombabika Island at the mouth of Ombabika Bay) 50 deg 07’15”.00 N, 88 deg 15’00”.00 W
    • Observation Monument (located on Smoothrock Point at the north end of Humboldt Bay)49 deg 59’17”.80 N, 88 deg 13’45”.00 W
    • McKeller Island Light (approximate position) 49 deg 58’01”.84 N, 88 deg 15’12”.72 W
    • Russell Island Light (at the south entrance to Humboldt Bay)49 deg 54’01”.78 N, 88 deg 12’18”.92 W
  • Rivers
    • The Mouth of the Onaman River is located approximately at 49 deg 58’11”.81 N and 88 deg 0’09”.46 W
  • Geology
    • Black Sand Beaches reported particularly good near Champlain Point (source – Wilderness Adventures)
    • Sheer Clifts – 550 ft – reportedly at inner Barn Island (source Wilderness Adventures)
    • Ojibwa’s sacred Undercliff Mtn – on paddle from Ehco point to Jackfish island (source Wilderness Adventures)
    • Grand Cap channel/St Paul Island SKOAC report presents as particular spectacular
  • Settlements
    • Omabablike River was once part ot the fur trading route between hudson bay and superior – speculation that there might be remains or ruins (source is in the whaler thread)
    • Dog island known of being an oupost for the old fur trade (5531753 16 367690) (source SKOAC)
    • Cregies Harbor – two wharfs UMT 5492921 16 404213) two warfs and a hidden small fishing camp(source SKOAC)
    • McKinonnom islands – ice fishing hut (5500338 16 378702) (source SKOAC)

Possible Camp Sites

  • Gull Bay at Nazoteka Point (source Wilderness Adventures)
  • West bay (source Wilderness Adventures) (SKOAC notes site at 5528160 16 358831) and a tiny cove with good protection and raspberries at 5506604 16 420834)
  • Jackfish island (source Wilderness Adventures) east side – sandy beach and good grassy area (553XXXX 16 370886) (source SKOAC)
  • Beadmore Parkdoes not take reservations (source SKOAC)
  • Eight Mile Island 2hrs from Beadmore with sandy beach UTM 5491733 16 415564 (source SKOAC)
  • Colters harbor in the Asseff Islands man made camp site with plywood tables (UTM 5499765 16 401787) (source SKOAC)
  • Beach on way from Asseff to Kings head (5504192 16 398077) (source SKOAC)
  • Luck Island toward Paupuskeese Mountain (5501964 16 393685) and (5500899 16 384167) (source SKOAC)
  • Ursel islands large sandy spit, tables for cooking and swimming beach (5500660 16 382428) (source SKOAC)
  • Lamont Island & Little Caribout islands – no landing sites
  • Caribou Island harbor at the north side of the eastern spit of entrance (5503290 16 367112) flat grassy area sutable for several tents (source SKOAC)
  • Lynx Islands – long narrow beach area (5509242 16 361662) (source SKOAC)
  • Dog Island – no beach but protected area to land a kayak, noted for birds and old fur trade camp (5531753 16 367690) (source SKOAC)
  • Inner Barn island campsite at (5541480 16 363144) not suitable for landing try instead up the Wabinosh River (5546095 16 360229) (source SKOAC)
  • Geike Island – camp in a liitle bay NE corner (5544446 16 383456) long narrow beach (source SKOAC)
  • Vennor Island – has a camp sites reminestent of Georgian Bay (5547571 16 392823) and (5547601 16 393237) (source SKOAC)
  • North Bay Point – lovely long beach (5556848 16 402309) (source SKOAC)
  • Ombabika Bay- shletered cove with nice sandy beach (5546858 16 413822) (source SKOAC)
  • Ombabika Bay along South Peninsula – few landing places one for a break (5541307 16 413277) and one for landing (5539725 16 413475) (source SKOAC)
  • Magnet island – few opportunites naroow beach with spring is at (5537697 16 413288) (source SKOAC)
  • Iron Range Bluff to Russell Island narrow beach 95530953 16 418459) (source SKOAC)
  • Russell island towrd Livingstone Point – small Georgian bay type Island with gentle slopes (5528657 16 415370) (source SKOAC)
  • Bean bay islands (5527343 16 420805) lunch spot (source SKOAC)
  • Mungo Point (5515820 16 417863) nice camp site (source SKOAC)
  • Mosquito Creek Cove – (5514516 16 478738) (source SKOAC)
  • High Hill Harbour: 36.365N/07.437W
  • Campsite near Assef Island in Colter’s Harbor: 38.637N/21.662W
  • Luck Island: 40.727N/26.610W
  • The Virgins: 28.832N/13.652W
  • Bonner Lake: 26.208N/16.351W
  • The Cove: 36.540N/22.372W
  • Gross Cap Channel: 38.744N/36.579W
  • Burnt Point: 39.057N/44.368W
  • Two Mountain Harbour: 34.214N/44.514W
  • Base of Grand Bay:30.835N/52.274W
  • Chief Bay: 32.417N/WEST 89 degrees 01.001
  • Black Sturgeon Bay Campsite 30.474N/58.503W

Possible Launch Take-Out Sites

  • Gull Bay (source Wilderness Adventures)
  • Macdairmid on SE shore (source classically whaler discussion thread)
  • Popular Point, high hill harbour, Orient Bay, Pijitawabik Bay and South bay access loacations are promoted by the provice Ecologiacal land use Strategy; Humboldt Bay and Ombabika bay are not being promoted.
  • Beadmore – boat ramp 49.605913, -88.122904

Maps

  • Chart #6050 “Plans in Lake Nipigon” $20 USD from West Marine (1-800-262-8464). (Tim is ordering one thru the local dealer in Seabrook)
  • Lake Nip Signature Site Map from Chaltrek (807-577-8848). (Tim and Bryan own this map.)
  • Topographical map set to provide bearings (available from Wabakimi (1-807-767-2022).
  • Canadian Topo Maps – have tyvek.
  • Mapsource Topographical Maps of Canada

More

Interesting accounts of early travels through the area- Nipigon to Winnipeg: A canoe voyage through Western Ontario by Edward Umfreville 1929 Reprinted on line at [http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wjmartin/nipigon.htm]

These books may also be interesting but I have not found a library or online source for them:

  • Journey up the Nipigon River: From the diary of Hiram Worcester Slack, summer of 1887 by Hiram Worcester Slack 1975
  • Rival canoe boys, or, With pack and paddle on the Nipigon by St. George Rathborne 1902

Weather

  • Prevailing winds summer, autumn winter: west to north-west
  • Prevailing winds spring: north
  • Open water winds velocities during open water season often exceeds 18 miles/hr 30 km/hr
  • Mean July temperature: 59  F/15  C
  • Average summer duration: June 10 to September 5


View 2008 Lake Nipigon in a larger map

Example Trip Plan

Maps

  • Nipigon – 052H
  • Grand Bay – 052H10
  • Shakespeare Island – 052H09

Mileage Covered and Other Stats

  • 68 Miles total
  • 4 Significant Crossings
    • 5.75 Miles (Grant Point to Cedar Island)
    • 2.75 Miles (Shakespeare Island to Lake Nip Conservation Reserve)
    • 5 Miles (Grand Cape to Paupushase Mountain)
    • 3.5 Mile plus 6 Mile or 7.5 Mile on last day to Bish Bay.
  • One island circumnavigations
    • Shakespeare Island

Day-by-Day

Day One: Sunday

  • Start: Poplar Lodge Ramp
  • End: Grant Point Campsite
  • Total Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Escape Plan: Mainland, back to put-in, secondary boat ramp
  • Crossings: None
  • Hazards: Waves, breaking waves,
  • Features: 2 mile sand beach
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 2 hours

Day Two: Monday

  • End: Eagle Nest Islands
  • Total Distance: 14 miles
  • Escape Plan: Back to Grant Point, protection of islands. Secondary campsites on Shakespeare Island.
  • Crossings: 5.75 mile from Eight Mile Island to Cedar Island
  • Hazards: Long crossing. Will attempt in early morning when wind is calmer.
  • Features: Many islands
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 5 hours

Day Three: Tuesday

  • End: Ursel Islands
  • Total Distance: 12 miles
  • Escape Plan: Head to shore.
  • Crossings: 2.75 mile from Dockrey Islands to mainland.
  • Hazards:
  • Features: Places to explore around the islands. This day is also sacrificial to wind and storm days.
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 4 hours

Day Four: Wednesday

  • End: Luck Island
  • Total Distance: 11 miles, plus lots to explore on Shakespeare Island
  • Escape Plan: Head to shore.
  • Crossings: 5 miles from Grand Cape to Paupusheose Mountain.
  • Hazards: Open water, could be very confused water due to channel
  • Features: Interesting named mountain. We may have to climb it if it looks to give a good view.
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 4 hours, plus exploration time.

Day Five: Thursday

  • End: Asseff Island
  • Total Distance: 8 miles
  • Escape Plan: Head to protected place along route
  • Crossings: None
  • Hazards:
  • Features: This is a short day allowing us to explore the east coast and island chains of Shakespeare Island. It also gains us a circumnavigation of Shakespeare Island. Could be a cool island lake to check out also.
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 3 hours

Day Six: Friday

  • End: Bish Bay
  • Total Distance: 13.5 miles
  • Escape Plan: Skip crossings and head back to Grant Point via a 6 mile crossing.
  • Crossings: 3.5 plus a 6 mile or one 7.5 mile crossing.
  • Hazards: Open water crossings.
  • Features: Open water, small island, good navigation challenges
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 5 hours

Day Seven: Saturday

  • End: Poplar Lodge Boat Ramp
  • Total Distance: 5 miles
  • Escape Plan: Paddle
  • Crossings: None
  • Hazards: Shore, Waves
  • Features: Last day. Can explore this day or head to beach for surf after paddling.
  • History:
  • Estimated Time on Water: 3 hours

6 comments

  • I was on Lake Nipigon in 2000 it is truly a wild & remote beautful place,I would love to see it again!

  • I would love to go back again and spend more time there. I think a trip of 20 days would be perfect. On the northwest corner of the lake there’s a huge remote beach and caribou. I’d love to visit that area.

    I also just heard of the ruins of a logging camp on an island. I’m trying to find out more info.

  • I’ve done a dozen trips on the west coast of Vancouver Island and Queen Chalotte Islands since 1992 and I live in Minneapolis. I’ve paddled Superior and Isle Royal. I looking for more remote/less people areas that I can drive to and Lake Nipigon has always fascinated me. I’ve been as close as the Rossport Islands on Superior. If anyone has suggestions for a 7 to 8 day trip that would be helpful along with the suggested trip on this site. I would love to hear about it. Are there people who will haul you and your boats out and drop you off? That’s what we do in BC…..are there easy to find camp areas, like beaches in abundance? Anything like that would be helpful. Thanks

  • If you hit Lake Nipigon in the fall, chances are you won’t see anyone. You might be able to catch a ride out to Shakespeare with a charter boat from Beardmore — I heard of one canoeist doing that. Not many people paddle on Lake Nipigon, it’s more of a power boater lake.

    Beaches are few and far between. Most that I’ve encountered are narrow and don’t make for great camping. Other than that, check out the campsites listed above and pick up the Chaltrek map suggested above – it shows known campsites — those we encountered were somewhat overused.

    The suggested trip takes you past lots of great features, including Pipestone Point and Lion’s Head. But if I wanted to extend the trip of do bigger mileage, I’d head further west past St. Paul Island and down into the other bays. A few kayakers have circumnavigated the lake in about 10 days.

  • I used to come to Canada with my father. Now I want to bring my 5 kids up. How am I supposed to afford $70 per night to camp with my family on crown land.

    • Got me, but those are the rules that Ontario has imposed on non-residents. You should try doing a trip in Quetico if you really want to see fees designed to keep people out.

Comments are closed.