Woodland Caribou
Provincial Park 2001

Home Page


Mexican Hat Lake Sunrise

We traveled from August 20 through September 3, 2001 in the southeast quadrant of the park, and had a very peaceful and enjoyable trip. This was our first trip into the park.

In planning our trip, we were uncertain what to expect. Most of our experience with wilderness canoeing is from a few trips to Quetico. By comparison, we found that the blazed portages in Woodland Caribou were easier to find than the unmarked portages in Quetico, the lakes were bigger, the weather was warmer, and, of course, it was much less crowded (if you can call Quetico "crowded").

Entering Dragon Lake

Initially, we were concerned that we might get lost or not be able to find help if we needed it. Once we were there, we found the 1:50,000 scale topographic maps were somewhat difficult to use and sometimes inaccurate (South Agean islands near Agean Lake comes to mind).  Maps with more detail would've been nice, but I don't believe any exist. The blazed/marked portages were almost always easy to find, and while we were often unsure until we found the portage, we never actually got lost.

We don't yet have a GPS for our wilderness trips, but I'm really inclined to get one for our next trip.  It could have come in handy a few times on this trip. Thanks to Peg's good orienteering skills, we weren't in any real danger of being lost, it just took us longer than necessary to navigate through a few lakes that either had far too many islands (in my humble opinion) or, in the reverse case, lakes with very few distinguishing coastal or island landmarks.

Paull Lake - Northwest Arm

For our canoe rental and shuttle service to Leano Lake, we used Eric Mosley's Woodland Caribou Outfitters in Red Lake (WoodlandOutfitters.com).  On the evening before going in to the park, Eric took a lot of time to go over our trip route with us. He made notes on our maps to show us some good campsites along our route and also detailed pictograph locations. He provided us with prompt, timely round trip shuttle service between Red Lake and the Leano Lake access point.  It should be noted that there are very few signs on the road to Woodland Caribou's Leano Lake access point making it difficult to locate it or any other access spots. (Since our trip in 2001, Woodland Caribou Outfitters has been sold to Tamara and Jim Copeman.)

Driving from Red Lake to the Leano Lake access point on the sporadically maintained dirt road takes at least 90 minutes and possibly longer - depending on the current road condition and on how concerned you are about the condition of your vehicle's running gear.  Using Eric's shuttle saved us wear and tear on our car and we got a lot of interesting information about the area's natural features - especially the area's geology since Eric used to work an exploration geologist.

Paull Lake Forest

With regards to our canoe trip, we had a safe trip with no significant accidents.  We seemed to get a bit more scratched up than on our prior trips, but we arrived back in good health.  I feel that is the first standard to evaluate when determining if we had a good trip.  The closest we came to a significant accident was when I was wandering through the forest and  I fell into a "moss hole."  Much of the virgin jack pine forest floor is covered with a beautiful, deep-green moss.  In an area I was walking in, the moss somehow managed to span across about a 3' divide between two large rocks.  I was walking along on the rock and moss and suddenly fell up to my hip on one side and right up against one of the rocks.  Ouch!!!  Fortunately, no real damage was done except to my fragile ego.

Moss Hole

Just minutes before I fell into the moss hole, I had cautioned Peg about watching for moss holes (even though I had never seen or heard of such a thing).  I'd somehow reasoned that there was so much thick, green moss covering the forest floor that it might just cover holes in the ground.  Even now, it is a bit unnerving to think that you can just be walking along out there and step into a hole without any visible signs that it even exists.  To me, it seems difficult to really assure one's safe footing when walking on the moss carpet.  And I'm not convinced that the moss only covers gaps between large rocks...  I guess that's the downside of the moss.  On the bright side - I really liked seeing all the deep, green moss.  Throughout much of our trip (except in recent burn areas), the moss carpeted much of the forest floor.  For whatever reason, I found that amazingly beautiful!  For me, this moss, more than anything else, really seemed to distinguish this park from Quetico Provincial Park.

Hilltop View

Throughout our canoe trip, there was a fair amount of air traffic overhead during the day.  There is significantly more than Quetico.  While we didn't really like the air traffic, it did give us the sense that if we needed help we could summon it.  Later, we found out that some of the air traffic was due to a search for a lost canoe party.

We had good weather with only a few rain showers. The few rain showers we did get were almost all slow, drizzly rains at night; not hard downpours. There was just one morning when we canoed in the drizzle. The temperature was warmer than we normally expect for that area for that time of year. We both worked up a pretty good sweat on the portages. The warmer weather also meant that the mosquitoes were still around. They tended to be fairly pesky for just a couple of hours around dusk and dawn and gone during the daytime hours. They weren't so bad that we wanted to apply a mosquito repellant with an unpleasant smell.  A good part of the warm weather was that we went swimming about every other day or so.  The water is usually too cold for Peg to enjoy swimming, but not this time.   This was the first trip that I took goggles and a snorkel so I could explore the underwater life.  I didn't find too much underwater, but swimming was much more fun that way.

Paull Lake

This park did give us the solitude we were looking for.  During the first two days, we only saw 2 different canoe parties for a total of three people - one canoe "party" was just one person in a solo canoe.  For the next 7 days, we traveled 40-50 miles on major routes and never saw another person.  To us, the most incredible aspect of that was that we weren't hiding out off the beaten paths.  (We've used the strategy of taking little used routes before in Quetico and it has worked quite well for us.)  Instead, for this trip, we were on major routes and we were camping at some of the most beautiful, established campsites we've ever been in.  We kept expecting someone to come along thinking that they too wanted to stay at the best campsite on the lake.  To our knowledge, we never had anyone canoe up to our campsite expecting to use it.  There were many times that we felt we "owned" a very large lake since, as far as we could tell, no one else was there.  The park appeared deserted to us for much of the time and that was just fine with us. 

The portages were in excellent condition.  We were very impressed! (We extend our compliments to the portage crews.)  Claire Quewezence, the assistant park superintendent, was an exceptionally good resource for us.  Prior to our trip, we emailed our itinerary to her.  She made extensive, invaluable, detailed comments and sent them back to us. (Thank you Claire!)

Low-water slog thru Nutria to Mexican Hat Lake
(In this shallow water, Peg's paddle is resting in the mucky bottom.)

There was a difficult passage on Nutria Lake/Creek going to Mexican Hat Lake.  It required lots of tugging, pushing, and lining the canoe, but it was passable.  It appeared that most of the low-water problem was due to the fact that the final beaver dam at Mexican Hat Lake had been broken down.  Hopefully, the beavers will stay busy and rebuild the beaver dam before next season!   Fortunately for us, Claire had warned us about the low water.  Knowing we should expect tough conditions ahead of time really made that travel day easier to deal with.  (We have since learned the beavers repaired their dam, but its status could change at any time...)

I would love to keep this park a secret so I don't need to worry about crowded conditions when I go back there.  However, I'm more concerned that the park will not generate enough visitors to justify the resource expenditures required to provide high-quality management and care for the park.  People who enjoy wilderness canoeing owe it to themselves to check this park out.  The official web site for Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is

Pond along portage between Streak and Wrist Lakes

Without a doubt, the best web site we've found for Woodland Caribou park canoe trip travel logs is at
CanoeStories.Com.  Jim Hegyi is one of several authors presenting their canoeing stories at the web site.  Peg and I are indebted to Jim for his generous contributions to wilderness canoeing in general and canoeing in the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in particular!  His site's canoe stories/travel logs covering trips into Woodland Caribou and other areas are a great resource for general reading enjoyment and also for specific trip information.  We were able to glean some good information to help us prepare for our trip by reading these stories/trip logs.  I particularly enjoy Jim's writing style. His stories have a nice reflective quality to them which reminds me of Robert Pirsig's style in his book "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."



                                                   Home Page