How to Avoid Mid-Summer Crowds

Nothing blows my wilderness frame of mind like running into crowds in the backcountry, competing for campsites, finding human offal, crowded portages. I even experienced the “amusement park” atmosphere in Quetico last June. The floatilla on Moose lake and “take a number” portage trails were depressing. I know you have to go farther and harder, but I’d like to take my bride, and she can’t handle the exhaustive portages anymore (we ain’t spring chickens no mo although we keep pretty fit). Anyone got a good idea, possibly a river route with shore camping where people ain’t an issue? Maybe an overlooked area in Ontario or Manitoba that doesn’t require a fly in?

plenty of routes
Ontario and Manitoba have miles of routes sone probably never been used in modern days. Use Flash Earth of Google Earth and zoom in and go to the web forum message boards for the Canadian Canoe Routes website…huge data base with all of Canada info. Im sure you can find an obscure route like the Wabakimi area in Ontario that gets probably less than 75-paddlers a year on the main routes and less than 6 on some of the not so common routes.

Recently we booked at the
usually quiet Widgawa Lodge west of Killarney Provincial Park, using our little cabin as base camp. We paddled into the Park in two locations on the quiet west side, once going up a reedy creek to Murray Lake, and once up Frood Lake to the one mile portage to Louisa Lake (I believe it was). That portage is fairly level. I chose not to do it, but if one has a light canoe, one could even get permitted to go in and stay a night or two on that lake. Widgawa is the Park permit issuer for that side.

Although there are a few motorboats on Charlton and Frood lakes, they are usually pretty quiet.

There are so many other possibilities for day trips or 1-2 overnights in the area.

More recently, we stayed in low-moderate price motels near Michipecoten, north of Superior Provincial Park. High wind spooked us off most tandem canoeing, but I did ten miles of the Michipecoten River. Lots of lakes and many hikes in the area.

Maybe I’ll post links to trip reports I did.

Woodland Caribou
Provincial Park. Red Lake Outfitters is running a boat shuttle to get you into the park more easily.

La Verendrye in Quebec is not crowded and has easy road access but I suspect its a far drive for you.

Where to go

– Last Updated: Dec-16-13 3:02 PM EST –

You are asking a great question. I am retired and hate crowds. Here is what I do.

Make a list of some great destinations. Every time you read an article about a place eliminate from your list. Do even more map research than you already do. Look for places with "one bad portage" or some other catch phrase that discourages people.

The best time for all of your serious trips is the shoulder season in spring and fall. I like to travel on weekends, stay out during the week and come home on the next weekend. In the summer, sometimes you just have to go on longer trips than most people. Travel hard the first two days. Stay off any "canoe trails" or known historical routes. Look for places with unmarked portages. Camp further in the woods. Use drab colors and be quiet.

If you can afford it get a motorized tow from a place like Moose L or better yet hire an Otter. Good luck.

Some of our local rivers seem overlooked. I like to paddle them every year. It is hard to convince some people to try the lesser well known routes. They always say things like "it was even nicer than I expected." Choosing when and where is one of the keys to good canoe trips.

Man I can relate to this.
I have found that trips in the fall are best. Kids are bsck in school and summer vacation is over for most people. Also, look for out of the way trips that are not discussed on the internets. There are many such trips in Maine where I paddle a fair amount. Another option is to spend the time and money needed to travel in the Arctic. There are some wonderful trips in the arctic that are reasonably accessible and not overcrowded. You do need some decent experience and skills to do these far northern trips on your own. But there are also some excellent guided trips available up there although that adds expense. Also, if traveling in the busy summer months I do find that a river trip has the advantage of separating the people a bit so the crowds are not in your face quite so much. Lastly, in some areas - Maine for example - my experience is that in the last 30 years the summer canoe tripping crowds may have actually reduced a bit with all the interest in sea kayaking which has exploded. I paddled on major Maine trip recently over fourth of july and it was not crowded at all. Quite a surprise actually.

No crowds here
I’ve been a MITA member for a very long time and kayak camping is falling off. Islands that used to be at risk of overuse are now recovering. People now want short kayak tours and more than one adventure in a day.

You can come anytime. Allagash River use was sky high when the AWW was designated…some 70000 user nights. Now its fallen off so much that paddling is coming under pressure from other users that want better access. About a tenth of historical use.

I’m surprised that Quetico had crowds if you had a lengthy portage though Pickerel is a popular weekend lake and Sturgeon is too accessible.