Turtle River to White Otter Castle Loop

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Outdoor Earthling
Trip Date : 
October 1, 2020
Additional Route Information
95 km
7 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
4000 m
Longest Portage: 
650 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Travel to the point where Hwy 622 crosses Turtle River. Most people just pull their truck/trailer off to the southwest side of the river and tuck it in. 

Google Maps Link to Start Point

Technical Guide: 

Put in - Turtle River @ Hwy 622

Follow Turtle River E 

P 100m through twin rapids (portage marked by boat @ middle of island)

Follow Turtle River E, then NE

P 350m (portage @ right side of rapids)

Follow Turtle River N, just past island

P 650m (portage marked by white sign on east shore 200m or so past island)

South on Smirch Lake (campsite on SE side of big island or on North Shore of creek leading out of Smirch Lake.

SE out of Smirch Lake

E as far as you  can go in Dibble Lake, then South

P 400m into Unnamed Lake  

Campsite just W of the portage on the N shore of Unnamed Lake (beautiful little lake)

S, then E out of Unnamed Lake

P 250m on left side of rapids

S on White Otter Lake, E around the peninsula and wrap back up N.

2 beautiful campsites on the big sandy beach on the peninsula

Look for White Otter Castle on the E shore of White Otter Lake just NE of the peninsula.

more beautiful campsites 300m N of White Otter Castle.

N on White Otter Lake

P 300m into Nora Lake

N in Nora Lake into Pothole Lakes

several portages & small ponds - very beautiful & crystal clear water

Continue N into Patricia Lake, portage is NW corner

P 450m into Dimple Lake

SW through Dimple Lake

P 150m past Lodge into Jac Saga Lake

Follow shallow stream in NW corner of Jac Saga Lake out to Dibble Lake

NOTE: if low water, you may have to drag the canoe along shallow sandy-muddy bottom for about 30-40 minutes... if medium or high water, you can paddle the fast-moving water. If you want to know if it's deep enough, paddle over to the east side of Dibble lake before you portage into Unnamed Lake and check out where the stream meets the lake. If it's flowing fast, you're probably OK. If it's flowing slow, you might be in for dragging the canoe. I believe there are portages S on Jac Saga, through the other small lake and back into Dibble, but I didn't take that route so I can't 100% say for certain.

Re-trace the route back up to Smirch Lake.

N out of Smirch Lake into rapids

NOTE: about 9 or 10 sets of moderately easy and safe rapids through Turtlle River. The 2nd one is probably the most difficult. There's a short portage past them on the right if you want to skip it or unload your gear. If you make it through this one, the rest should be OK. 

Follow Turtle River downstream (N) up to Bending Lake, and back down S all the way back retracing your route to Hwy 622.


Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 


Video Series of the trip → https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yi2rB8WE-Eg&list=PLI_NeVzmr7ExS79hqELHvd...


Turtle River Provincial Park just south of Dryden, has to be one of the most beautiful lesser-known wilderness destinations in Northwestern Ontario. 

The park spans almost 500 square kilometers and follows the Turtle River into and out of White Otter Lake.

There are a few main canoe routes through the park, starting from Dryden and the point where Highway 622 crosses Turtle River. There's dozens of little lakes to explore and enough space in the park to make most of your trip into a loop, which I personally find a lot more enjoyable.

I launched from Hwy 622 and man... In less than an hour of paddling it feels like you're completely alone in nature. 

The first portage you come across, only a few km into the trip, is called Twin Rapids. A small island is created by some mild waterfalls falls on either side. Honestly, this would be a great place to come the night before you head out since it's such a short and easy paddle. You'll fall asleep to the sound of rushing water on all sides of you.... Doesn't get better than that!

But I pushed on as the day was young. 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was in the first day... You paddle a winding path through an endless series of islands and shallows... Honestly, if you're looking for a day-trip, this part alone would be totally worth it!

Paddling up Turtle River, you'll see some majestic cliffs and rock formations, at times rising up on both sides of you as you paddle through the channel. I'll warn you that if the wind is against you, this part is quite a long straight-away and not an easy paddle at all!

My goal for the first night was Smirch lake. I made it onto the lake a few hours before sunset and let me tell you...the lakes on the route don't disappoint! I went in late autumn and was blessed with some wonderful yellow and orange  as the birch and poplar trees in the area were changing colors. 

There are a few good sites on for night #1... The north side of the little island just before the Smirch Lake Portage, The south side of the big island on Smirch lake (this is where I stayed)... And a spot on the north side of the channel as you exit Smirch lake as well. I checked out all these sites and they all looked great. Lots of mice though...

Day 2, I continued down Turtle River through Dibble Lake into an Unnamed Lake where I'd stay for my second night.  This was probably my favorite lake of the whole trip. It had some huge bouldery rock formations standing up out of the water as though they were standing guard. The water was a beautiful emerald green and the lake was small, giving a much more intimate feel than any of the other sites I stayed on.

Day 3, I continued out through Turtle River into White Otter Lake. At this point in the trip, I really started to appreciate how clear the water was getting. White Otter Lake is huge and I only explored the very northern tip of it, but if you had an extra day or two to kill, I'd strongly recommend checking out the southern part of the lake as well. The only way in is by canoe or float plane and there's tons of space on the lake... To me, White Otter Lake is exactly what Northern Ontario is all about. 

This was the day I reached White Otter Castle as well. This 4 storey log house was built back in the early 1900s by one guy who harvested trees from the area by hand and portaged over 40km with the rest of the materials. The Castle has been restored several times since then by the "friends of white otter castle" society (replacing the roof and some of the lumber that needed repairs). Walking through the building and seeing the views from the top floor made me realize that even though a lot has changed in 100+ years... Some things haven't changed at all.

There are two options for campsites around here... There are a few 5-star sites along the beach at the northern part of the lake and some really great sites just north of White Otter Castle as well. 

Day 4 took me through a series of shorter portages and small pothole lakes. Sometimes when you're moving fast, it's easy to miss the beauty around you. I took this day pretty slow because I was in and out of each lake in the blink of an eye and I wanted to make sure to appreciate the uniqueness of each lake.

Once you reach the Outpost cabin, you can continue through the lakes and portages, or if the water is high enough, there is a fast-moving winding shallow stream that will take you right back to Smirch Lake. Unfortunately for me, the water wasn't high enough and I ended up wading through the water towing the canoe in line for almost an hour.... Still... It's a pretty unique part of the trip, and I wouldn't skip it.

I stopped back at the Unnamed Lake (my favorite) for my 4th night.

Day 5 was fairly short and uneventful... I took the short paddle back up Turtle River to Smirch Lake and hung out on the Big Island for the evening.

Day 6 was by far the best day of the whole trip. Rather than continue back the way I came, I took the alternate route, north out of Smirch Lake following Turtle River up to Bending Lake and back down. I think I counted 9 sets of rapids in total including one at the end that I had portaged through on the way out. 

I'd say that if you're an experienced paddler, you don't really need any whitewater experience to solo the rapids... But there's obviously some danger in any fast-moving water. That said... This was my first time in any sort of whitewater and it was a blast! After 5 days of slow-solo-paddling, it was fun to have the river do most of the work and focus more on steering than propelling. 

The paddle back down south after reaching Bending Lake was among the most peaceful of the trip. I don't think I'd ever get tired of canoeing through untouched Ontario forests... 

After a very long day, I found a spot fairly far down Turtle River. This was the most rugged site of the trip, but it was late and I wasn't picky. I was graced with a calm evening and a light rainfall creating an almost magical, Disney-like feeling as I packed it in for my final night.

The last day (day 7), took me back to Hwy 622 the same way I came. 

This was easily one of the best weeks of my life and one of the most tranquil parts of the country I had the opportunity to explore. No jaw-dropping mountain views... No spanning valleys... Just peaceful nature... At its best.

It's a beautiful country we live in... Get outdoors and enjoy it!

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