Dates: Sept. 12 – Oct. 2, 2017
by Hannah Fanney & Rodney Claiborne
Lake Nipigon is a large lake directly above Lake Superior. We were familiar with the lake’s location, but information on it was difficult to obtain. It looked to us like a less developed Superior with smaller seas and more protection available from the myriad of islands and peninsulas.
Our goal was to spend time exploring an area we were not familiar with while testing out the carrying capacity of food and equipment in our boats. We chose the fall season due to our seasonal employment schedule and to enjoy rougher seas, cooler temperatures, and a bug-free experience.
Mode of Travel
- Two single fiberglass sea kayaks. ’04 NDK Explorer HV and ’10 Valley Nordkapp LV.
- Lake Nipigon Signature Site Map
- Backroads Maps (29, 39, 42,43, 55, 66)
Both of these can be purchased from Chaltrek in Thunder Bay. They are extremely helpful and have a large variety of maps. We also brought a GPS as a back up and to mark campsites. We carried a Garmin eTrex 20 with a TOPO! Central Canada Maps Micro sD card installed.
Another vital resource to the history and geology of the area was Nancy Scott’s Lake Nipigon – Where the Great Lakes Begin.
We launched and landed at High Hill Harbour. It is run by the Greenstone Municipality.
There is a fee for parking, which ends after Labour Day. Contact the Municipality for more information. Amenities during the operating season include: boat launch, showers, water, electricity, camping, and a dry pavilion.
Daytime averages were from 50-70° F. Night time averages were from 34-45° F.
Fifteen of our 20 days saw rain. Days 2-4 consisted of a persistent strong 15-20 NE wind with rain and storms. Following the wind were some large electrical storms. We had two nights in a row with three hour long lighting storms on Inner Barn Island and West Kelvin Island. We experienced a 40 Kt squall north of Nazoteka Point. We think these storms had to do with the incoming of more dynamic autumnal weather.
The winds can whip up sizable seas. While the islands can produce some shelter, we still encountered 3-4 foot swells (sometimes breaking) while paddling.
We used a VHF hand radio to get weather forecasts. At the time, weather channel 3 covered the whole lake; however, spotty in places. Forecasts came in English and French and provided an outlook for land as well as marine interests.
We set off with no plan but to paddle clockwise around the lake. We left equipped with 26 days worth of food as well as all of our camping gear (see gear list below). We treated the trip as an exploratory mission and went where we the wind and weather dictated. The three largest islands – Shakespeare, Kelvin, and Geikie – intrigued us, so we made a point to spend some time paddling around them. Along the way, we bypassed McIntyre Bay (south) and Windigo Bay (northwest) due to large weather systems. We did explore Ombabika Bay and was intrigued to see the Little Jackfish River, the largest river flowing into Nipigon due to the Ogoki Reservoir water diversion project. The shoreline has many shallow rock hazards. Sea kayakers should take caution while paddling along shorelines and crossing to islands as shoals can appear almost anywhere. The Signature Site Map indicates location of larger shoals. Please note that Lake Nipigon is a remote area with limited access points. During our twenty day circumnavigation, we only saw motor boats from afar on days one and two. We carried a ACR Personal Locator Beacon as an emergency signaling device. We also carried an emergency response plan.
Please use Leave No Trace ethics and travel with wilderness mindset in the Nipigon Country.
Most sand beaches that we came to had moose and/or bear prints. However, during our three weeks we did not see neither. In West Bay, we saw a flock of pelicans. The other wildlife we saw consisted predominantly of red squirrels, Bald Eagles, Canada geese, gulls, grouse, otters, and various fish. Due to the late season, mosquitos and other pestering insects were not a concern. During the midst of summer, we would imagine them to be quite thick. Woodland Caribou are also known to be present, but we saw no trace of them.
There are many accessible campsites on Lake Nipigon. Water level dependent, most beaches have potential for suitable camping. The woods tend to be thick and may require some clearing to fit a tent. Anticipating this, we carried a hatchet and folding bow saw to clear space for our two-person tent. In the event we could not find suitable ground space, we packed two lightweight hammocks. However, camping was relativity easy to find. The Lake Nipigon Signature Site Map has some established campsites listed on it. Some of these sites had an improvised outhouse. As of 2017, these sites are mostly accurate. Not all the sites provided convenient bear hang opportunities. We favored deciduous trees to hang food as they provided the best limbs to suspend from. Sites were usually quite wooded allowing protection and fly pitching options.
If not a Canadian citizen, a Crown Land Camping Permit is required (~$10 per person, per night).
Please contact Hannah and Rodney at email@example.com if you have any further questions. Happy paddling!
Site Name, Coordinates, Notes
- High Hill Harbour N49° 36.359’ W88° 07.320′ Nice marina with showers and washrooms, some camping available
- East of Columbus Point N49° 27.662′ W88° 18.181′ 1.25 miles east of point, blacksand beach
- Eaglesnest Island N49° 34.936′ W88° 26.877′ Camp on beach
- Colters Harbour N49° 38.519′ W88° 21.636′ Well established site.
- Northwest Shakespeare N49° 39.729′ W88° 27.704′ Blacksand Beach
- East McKinnon Island N49° 38.533′ W88° 39.520′ Protected Cove. Cobble beach
- Grand Bay N49° 33.657′ W88° 54.136′ Sand Beach. Established site.
- Nazoteka Point N49° 46.412′ W88° 58.060′ Campsite uphill of sand beach. Cabin in woods as well.
- Boles Island N49° 51.405′ W88° 57.045′ Small landing on north side. Established site
- Inner Barn Island N50° 00.618′ W88° 54.084′ Two sites. Gravel Beach
- West Kelvin Island N49° 52.339′ W88° 45.118′ Established site. Sand beach.
- Dawson Island N49° 51.270′ W88° 32.433′ Established site. Sand beach. Wonderful site, but exposed to west wind
- North Geikie Islet N50° 02.909′ W88° 37.045′ Established site, sand/pebble beach. Lots of downed trees as of 09/17
- Britannia Islands N50° 12.159′ W88° 33.730′ Large Cobble Beach
- North Peninsula South Islet N50° 07.476′ W88° 17.188′ Rock Shelf Landing
- Little Jackfish River N50° 17.362′ W88° 22.829′ River right side, near mouth. Further upstream another campsite on river left with log ladder.
- Ombabika Island N50° 07.375′ W88° 15.439′ Sand Beach. Established site. Exposed in North wind
- Gravel Point N49° 59.190′ W88° 04.218′ Gravel Beach
- Bean Bay N49° 53.696′ W88° 06.147′ Sand Beach. Beach grass
- Bish Bay N49° 41.028′ W88° 05.414′ Large Cobble Beach