Mexican Hat Lake Sunrise
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."