Turtle River - Ignace to Hwy 622 Bridge

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Reed Gillanders
Trip Date : 
Aug 4-7, 2023
Additional Route Information
79 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
7200 m
Longest Portage: 
750 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Thursday night we stayed at the Lone Pine Inn in Ignace. There was complimentary breakfast, they let us keep our canoe equipment on the property the night before the trip, and they let us leave our vehicles in the parking lot for the duration of the trip.

Technical Guide: 

Overall description:

  • 21 portages ranging from 50-840m (average 300m)

  • First two days from Ignace to White Otter Castle are more remote. Beautiful small lakes connected by often overgrown/rocky but (usually easily) identifiable portages. Two portages ended in bogs that we had to bushwhack our way around. We were pretty exhausted by the end of the first two days. It was a long weekend with great weather and we didn’t see anyone else for the first two days. If it had rained a lot immediately prior to the trip this section would have been quite difficult.

  • Second two days from White Otter Castle are more well traveled. Larger lakes that can get a bit choppy if the wind picks up. Ends with a paddle down the first section of the Turtle River. Portages are very easy to find (usually people have fishing boats stashed at the portage entrance/exits). We saw a few other people on the last two days - most people start the trip at the south end of White Otter Lake or as part of a Siene River trip and paddle out through the Turtle River. We paddled into a headwind most of the last 2 days which made the days a bit more difficult but it was still doable.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 


The section of the route that includes portages 1-11 follows a snowmobile trail that presumably was developed after this portage document was written. For this section we weren’t able to find any of the actual portages and followed the snowmobile trails that connect between the lakes. We think that when people started using the snowmobile trails to portage between lakes that the actual portages likely fell into disrepair. The entrance to the snowmobile trails were sometimes located at the same spot as described in the portage document but not always. Portage entrances were relatively easy to find even if they weren’t located at the same spot as the document. Most were marked by white signs and orange stakes. Those that weren’t marked were obvious - they’re all at least 15 ft wide and overgrown with short ferns.

At Devil’s Gap Lake the snowmobile trail departs from the canoe route. I think that the area where portage 12 is located would be too difficult for a snowmobile to pass so they probably built an alternative route that goes from the west end of Devil’s Gap Lake to Nora Lake. Portages 12-15 are more typical canoe portages. All of them are a bit rocky and uneven but relatively well marked and dry. I’d say that these portages are easier than the snowmobile portages because they’re less overgrown and drier.

Once you hit White Otter Lake the route is pretty straightforward and well traveled. Portages 16-21 are easy to locate, even, and dry.



We paddled from Ignace to campsite 8 is on a rocky peninsula on Balmoral Lake (portages 1-6). It was a long day. We left Ignace around 9:30am and made it to Balmoral by 5:30pm. Campsite 8 on Balmoral was nice - nothing special - I don’t think a lot of people paddle this section of the Turtle River Route.

Portage 3 from Beresford to Unnamed Fourth Lake ends in a bog with waist deep mud. When things started getting marshy we found a small path to the left through the trees that went around the bog. 

Portage 6 from Elbow Lake to Balmoral Lake was interesting. We paddled down a shallow creek with lots of underwater grass for 500m or so until things got to shallow/rocky and then we had to bushwhack to the left for a bit to find the snowmobile path/portage. We probably paddled a bit further down the creek than we should have which made it difficult to get back to the snowmobile path/portage but if we started portaging at the beginning of the snowmobile path it would have made it a 1.5km-ish portage. My recommendation is to paddle down the stream until it becomes difficult to pass and then start looking for a reasonable path to the left to exit the creek and get back to the snowmobile path/portage.



We paddled from Balmoral Lake to campsite 18 which is on White Otter Lake about 1km north of the White Otter Castle. This was another long day - but not quite as tiring as day 1. We paddled/portaged from around 9:30am to 5:30pm again. Campsite 18 is on a peninsula with a big beautiful sandy beach, fish fileting tables, and a nice campfire. We were surprised that there was nobody else at the site - lots of people paddling/boating around the lake but perhaps most stay at cabins at the south end of White Otter Lake.

Portage 7 (the first portage of the day) from Balmoral Lake to first Pot Hole Lake also ends in a bog that is unpassable. We found a route through the bushes on the left that goes around the bog to an old beaver dam. We walked to the end of the beaver dam and launched into the first Pot Hole Lake from there.

Devil’s Gap Lake is beautiful. There is a small pictograph of a person holding a spear on the cliffs on the right immediately after you pass between the narrowing in the lake.

Portage 12 is the first of the non-snowmobile path portages. The portage entrance is located on the right side of the pile of boulders that block the entrance to the stream that leaves Devil’s Gap Lake. The portage meanders through a valley with a steep hillside to the right and rocky creek to the left.



We paddled from White Otter Lake to the island campsite 23 on Smirch Lake. We paddled from 10am to 4pm including a 1 hour stop at White Otter Castle. This was a relatively easy day despite paddling into a headwind most of the day. It was difficult to find a flat section of ground to set up our tents at campsite 23 but there was a large fire pit and large outcrop of rock nearby that was perfect for stargazing. We also caught a bunch of fish including 2 walleye in about 20 ft of water just in front of the campsite and had a fish fry.

The sluiceways that we portaged around (portages 16, 17, 18) are unfortunately not runnable - large drops and shallow water with big boulders.



We paddled from Smirch Lake to the take out at the Hwy 622 Bridge as it crosses the Turtle River. We left our site around 9:30am and arrived at our destination around 2:30pm. We paddled into a headwind most of the day (again…).

Portage 20 goes around an easily runnable rapid (even with the low water levels that we paddled in). There is a large boulder on the right at the entrance of the rapid and another medium sized boulder just under the water on the left at the exit of the rapid that needs to be avoided. We decided to run the rapid empty. Each of us took on a bit of water going through the rapid so running empty was probably the right decision but it could be run full by an experienced canoeist. Easy class 2.

Portage 21 is a (large) island portage that goes between twin falls. The falls were too rocky and the water levels were too low for them to be runnable. There’s no obvious pathway across the island - just make your way across it, can’t get lost.

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
Maps: The best map of the route is the Turtle River Provincial Park Canoe Route map produced by the Township of Ignace and “Ontario” Ministry of Natural Resources (see attached image of the map with my scribbles all over it - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OekppVGdOdRYe2Rfvh0p5-LB6o9Tpm_r/view?usp=sharing and https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SG-KwmATeCB37JwqDpdsI-DDrvr3_yFJ/view?usp=sharing). This map was quite difficult to find. I ended up getting a copy by contacting the Assistant Park Clerk for Quetico Provincial Park (thanks to Barb Wiens!) by calling Quetico Provincial Park. They were quite helpful and ended up mailing me a copy of the map. White Otter Turtle River Provincial park is a non-operating park so I think they fall under the Quetico umbrella. In his Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario book, Kevin Callan describes the last two days of our route, from White Otter Castle to Hwy 622 Bridge, but there is no description of the first two days from Ignace to the White Otter Castle. He also describes the route from Hwy 622 Bridge to the Mine Centre but we didn’t have enough time booked off to do the whole route and took out before this section of the river (it sounds like a pretty fun section with several runnable rapids). Portages: The Accounts Clerk (accounts@ignace.ca) through the Township of Ignace (thanks to Natalie Curtin!) provided a document that describes the location and condition of the portages (see attached - https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jvWefWH3NTSuD6QOg58q_On08gS3hJXOasMWlHsRRlI/edit?usp=sharing). Unfortunately, the document is more than 30 years old and so some of the descriptions aren’t very accurate. See route description below for more details on portages.
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