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PostPosted: January 31st, 2021, 1:17 pm 
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Chiniguchi Trip Report, Sept 22-24, 2020

I left Toronto at 530am, still sleepy but eager nonetheless. It’s my first solo canoe trip, and I’m balancing excitement and trepidation. My chosen route starts by following the Chiniguchi Middle Tracks; I plan to leave from Portage Bay in Lake Wanapitei, loop clockwise up through the west arm of Matagamasi, Wolf, Dewdney, Chiniguchi, and McConnell Bay, then portage northeast to Laura Lake, paddle south through to Evelyn and Wessel Lake, and back down through the east arm of the Matagamasi. I gave myself 4 days and 3 nights to get through it, starting Tuesday and ending Friday in an effort to avoid seeing too many people.

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I arrived at the Lakeland Lodge parking area by 10am, loaded up my gear, and nervously pushed off the beach and started paddling away from shore.

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No word of a lie, I felt a strong urge to stay back at the car, put everything back and drive home, but I overcame my fears and pushed on. It was a bit confusing navigating through the bay and finding the Crystal Narrows portage; it’s not marked clearly on any map and there’s no signage at all, but I found it on my InReach map and crossed the road into Matagamasi. I marked the waypoint to help me find my way back:

Lakeland Lodge parking area: 17T 527548 5176330

Crystal Narrows Portage: 17T 528877 5177989

After crossing into Matagamasi, I felt a lot more confident and encouraged. The wind provided a mild tailwind, my boat was handling nicely, and I started pushing further up the north arm. I started relying more on the paper maps, and only using the InReach to confirm where I thought I was. I pushed on to the end of the north arm in a couple of hours, reaching the first portage on schedule.

A little bit about my boat: it’s a 16’6” Landford Nahanni, which I’m only using for the second time (generously loaned to me by another MyCCR member). I had just used it for a base-camp weekend in Algonquin, where it was fully-loaded and used in a tandem situation, and I was impressed with how fast it moved and how well it tracked. But this is my first time paddling it solo, and even with my pack at the very front, it’s proving to be very sensitive to wind. So I’m finding myself doing a lot more correction strokes than I’m used to, and switching from sitting to kneeling anytime there’s a wind gust. I think this is what people refer to as “fighting the boat” and it’s my first time experiencing it. In hindsight, I should have added some rocks to serve as ballast, but now I’ll know for next time.

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I reach the first portage, and it’s a short 300 meters, marked with a small yellow sign. Having just come from Algonquin, where all the campsites and portages are marked with small billboards, it took a bit of effort to find the smaller signs, but most of the ports are in fairly obvious locations and easy to spot. Same with the campsites; not all of them are marked with the small orange markers, but they’re all exactly where the Ottertooth maps show them to be.

The canoe is a 43-pound Kevlar, and my 70L dry bag is probably 40 pounds, making a single carry possible. But the extra time it takes to tie the paddles and stow all my belongings makes a double-carry more efficient on the shorter ports. I timed myself throughout the trip, and by the third day, I decided that double-carrying made more sense on anything up to 300 meters or so, whereas single-carrying the longer ones gained me enough time to make it worthwhile.

The second portage, the infamous 240m “Toenail portage” was just across the river. I took the canoe on the first carry, because I planned to stop at Paradise Lagoon for lunch and a swim. The sun was out and the weather was perfect, and I was at full confidence at this point, being more than halfway through my first day. Just as I was picking up my pack for the second carry, I spotted two red canoes behind me, emerging from the back end of the first port. :( My hopes of isolation and solitude were dashed, but I still made my way to the lagoon for a quick dip and protein bar.

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(Click the picture above for a link to the video)

Afterwards, I went back to my canoe at the end of the second port, and I ran into the four paddlers who had just come through. I gave them directions to the lagoon, chatted for a moment, and then pushed through to Wolf Lake for my first overnight. I was lucky to get the farthest-north site on the east side of the lake, and I climbed the ridge behind me to enjoy a lovely sunset.

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(Click the picture above for a link to the video)

Sitting by the campfire, I felt great for accomplishing as much as I had on my own, but I didn’t feel happy with my situation. It was a beautiful spot and everything I expected, but I felt, I dunno, bored? - by the solitude. I wished I had another person to talk to around the fire, someone to share the moment with. I guess it felt lonely and unfulfilling for whatever reason, which is the opposite of what I expected. In any case, I put out the fire and retired early, knowing the next day was a busy one, with the forecast showing another perfect day.

I woke up on Wednesday a bit later than expected, and took longer than normal to pack up and leave. Doing everything yourself really slows things down! I was back on the water by 9am, and made a quick trip over the 160m portage to Dewdney Lake. As I paddled north on Dewdney, the same two red canoes soon caught up with me. They were four guys on their annual canoe trip, and they were doing the same first half of the route as I was before diverting west to the Wanapitei River. I chatted with them for a while, intermittently through Dewdney and south Chiniguchi, and found out they were also headed for the beach sites on McConnell Bay, my planned destination for the second night. They apologized for ostensibly ruining my solitary trip, but I honestly didn’t mind chatting with them; they were nice, and I liked having other humans to talk to.

They continued northward toward McConnell Bay, and I diverted west to climb the Elephant. Solitude restored once again, I originally planned to have lunch at the summit. However, reasoning that I would need both hands to scramble up the steep rock face, I left my lunch with the boat, rather than carry it with me. The climb up took about 40 mins, and after enjoying some incredible vistas of the area, it took me another half hour to come down. There’s no discernable trail going up once you reach the rocks, but it’s easy enough to figure out.

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(Click the picture above for a link to the video)

After a small lunch and a quick swim, I started paddling northeast towards McConnell Bay. The wind was very mild and the sun was bright, and it was still only mid-afternoon; I started pondering my overnight options. The three sites at McConnell Bay were all close to each other, and there’s a small island campsite just a bit east of the beach, but as much as I enjoyed chatting with the four guys I met on the route, I still wanted a night without any other voices or campfires or signs of human activity. At about 3pm, I decided to really push through, and make my way to Laura Lake for my overnight instead. I also knew that the Laura Lake portage was known to be swampy and brutal, and I wanted to get that out of the way at the end of the day, rather than doing it first thing the next morning.

I picked up my pace and made it to the start of the port by 430pm. I saw the guys camped at McConnell and waved goodbye as I passed, and even though there are several gorgeous sites on the beach, they’re all close to each other, so I was glad to continue on alone. I started the 850m Laura Lake portage, single-carrying to start, but dreading the middle section ahead.

Well, the port lived up to expectations. About 400m in, the port descends to a swampy, smelly, disgusting mess. I put down the canoe, stripped down to shorts and a sports bra, grabbed my paddles, and started poking my way through. It was always at least ankle-deep, often knee-deep, and occasionally hip-deep. Blech. It was gross to say the least, and I nearly lost a shoe when the mud tried to suck it off of my foot.

Nevertheless, I persisted, and made it across with the pack. I made my way back through a slightly-less-muddy section, but the trees made that route impossible with a canoe overhead. So I dropped it in the deeper section, grabbed the rope, and pulled it along floating behind me, again using a paddle to steady myself in the muck. I finally made it across, muddy but safe, and relieved to be done. I finished the last 200m or so, including a descent down to Laura Creek, where my wet shoes slipped on a rock and the canoe crashed down above me, narrowly missing my forehead; that was the closest I came to an injury during the trip, and it reminded me of the risks involved in solo tripping.

The whole port took about an hour, and I was paddling onward by 530pm, muddy and tired but no worse for wear. I reached the first site on Laura Lake a little after 6pm, and even though it’s hard to tell on the map, it’s actually on an island, not a small peninsula. It was spectacular, and much nicer than the one in McConnell Bay; I was elated by my decision to push through, even more so after I took a swim to wash away the remaining muck.

I set up camp and made a fire, making dinner and still feeling accomplished, but again, nagged by that odd feeling of loneliness. The irony was apparent; I loved my surroundings, and the isolation of the spot, but mostly I wished I was sharing it with someone. I had pushed ahead to avoid being on the same beach as other campers, but also still wished someone else was there too. My partner and I have camped a number of times together, and my kid is just reaching the age where he can go on these types of trips (at a much slower pace, of course). But the beauty of the scenery was dampened by the absence of someone else to enjoy it with.

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I checked the weather forecast before retiring for the night, and saw that the weather now looked poor for Friday, with strong headwinds and a chance of rain. I decided that I had enough solitude to satisfy me, so I decided to push through and finish the route a day early. So, I was up early on Thursday, to cold grey skies and a moderate tailwind; I made breakfast quickly and packed up, and set out by 8am.

I paddled at a moderate speed, pacing myself for the long day but not being leisurely about it, and was approaching the first small port at the top end of Laura Creek, when something snapped beneath me. One of the bolts attaching my seat to the gunnel had broken off, right where the nut screws into the bottom of the seat. The boat is well-used, and I could see that some of the other bolts in the front seat had been previously replaced, but this posed a problem for me. I made my way to the 160m port and went through quickly, deciding to assess the situation at the end of it.

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The Nahanni has an asymmetrical hull, so paddling backwards while sitting on the front seat (as one might do in a prospector or other symmetrical boat) wasn’t an option; I had tested that method earlier in the trip, just to see what it was like, and it didn’t go well. For the first time, I discovered a benefit to my solo expedition - since I only needed the one seat, I could take one of the bolts holding the front seat in place, and use that to repair the rear seat. About 40 mins of field surgery later, I had a functioning, albeit creaky rear seat to sit in again, and ignoring the obvious implications that I should lay off the carbs, I continued along my trip, still pushing to finish the route by the end of the day.

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Next was a short lift-over to the aptly-named Muck Lake, and 270m port and muddy put-in to the very pretty Evelyn Lake. This was my original planned third overnight, but with the strong headwinds predicted for Friday, staying there would have made a very tough last day regardless, even without the canoe issue or boredom. Next was the 700m, single-carried port to Irish Lake, 360m single-carry to Bonesteel Lake, and a quick 80m double-carry to Wessel Lake. At this point I was really starting to fatigue, so I took a break for lunch and tea and a quick dip in the flume lagoon, which was hard to find but a nice little swim. It was also a nice break from the monotony of paddle-unload-port-load-paddle, which was much worse on my own without having someone to share the misery with. :-P

Refreshed from the swim, but with shoulders aching from the continuous portaging and paddling, I opted to double-carry the last 580m port into Matagamasi. Still tired but determined to finish, I pushed southeast back towards the bottom portion of the lake, where the two arms rejoin. The water was like glass, and I slowed to admire the pictographs on the rock faces on the east side of the lake; they were much clearer and more numerous than any others I had seen before, but I refrained from taking any pictures, out of respect for native elders who have asked us not to do so.

As I emerged back into civilization, and again found myself among cottages and powerboats and BBQs and people’s laughter, I felt a different sort of sadness, the familiar one that accompanies the end of trip well-enjoyed. My pace slowed, and I thought to myself, “Don’t be so quick to leave this behind,” as I made it back to the first Crystal portage, the only portion of the trip that repeated itself; the rest of the loop had been entirely novel to me and I hadn’t doubled back at any other point. I paddled westward through Bushy Bay and Crystal Narrows once again, soaking in the incredible sunset that filled the sky above me, making it back to my car shortly after the sun sank beneath the horizon.

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There was no joyful denouement awaiting me, though I was proud to have finished and overcome a challenge; I felt sad that the trip was ending, and also sad that I hadn’t enjoyed the isolation as much as I’d hoped. The area is a true gem, and I’m eager to return (in good company) to explore it further. Hopefully I’ll be able to convince my partner to take more vacation time next year, and we’ll spend more time exploring the woods; my kid will also get older and more capable every year, and hopefully I’ll be able to impart a sense of wonder and appreciation and love for the natural world as we do more trips together. Solo tripping might not be for me, but exploring new and wonderful places will never get old. :)

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Last edited by PaddlingGal on January 31st, 2021, 6:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2021, 5:38 pm 
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Thank you for a nice report! Hope you'd be able to take your kid on your next trip. In my experience the earlier you do it the better for them, though tougher for you. For a first solo trip you definitely aced it (mine was quite a disaster as I see it now). For many of us it requires, I think, at least 3 or 4 trips to feel really comfortable doing it alone (and getting rid of the urge to ride back home from the put-in) - both physically and psychologically. One suggestion - it's more convenient to level your tandem with a 10-15 liter waterproof bag filled with water and placed at the bow. What is it about a campsite east of the beach on McConnell bay - is it really there and how it looks if have you seen it?

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2021, 5:59 pm 
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Location: Burlington,ON
You managed quite well the solo trip.
Good thing the bolt from the front matched the back seat.


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PostPosted: January 31st, 2021, 8:33 pm 
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Thanks for sharing your interesting trip report. I enjoyed the read .
GG

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PostPosted: February 2nd, 2021, 2:20 pm 
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Thanks for taking us along on your adventure.


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PostPosted: February 2nd, 2021, 9:39 pm 
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Thanks for the comments, and the suggestion about the waterproof bag, I'll have to try that next time! I didn't see any sites in McConnell Bay, other than the three on the beach, and the small one on the island in the western section. But the start of the portage to Laura Lake is on a small beach, and it's just about big enough for a tent, so it could probably serve as a campsite if need be.

I think that my kid will probably accompany me on the next one, he'll be 7 in the spring and if I can just get him to pull his eyes away from the phone for 10 minutes, maybe he'll start to appreciate the beauty that the backcountry has to offer. ;) He's been going car camping with us since he was a toddler, and I took him on some no-portage backcountry trips in 2020, so we'll see what he feels capable of doing in 2021. :)


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PostPosted: February 4th, 2021, 11:09 am 
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Thanks for the great story, well told. As a solo tripper who loves the solitude, it was interesting to hear the perspective of someone who does not. I have a tip for soloing the Nahanni, install a kneeling thwart just behind the yoke. Mine came with one. It makes the balance of the weight so much easier to achieve. It works also if you have a child with you. If you sit in the back seat I think you will find the child in the front seat still too light to balance the boat. The boat will seem wide to paddle from that position, but you can kneel right up against one side, and use the child and pack against the other side to provide balance sideways. If your child is paddling, they will have to be right against the side wall anyway since their short arms and paddle will not reach the water otherwise. I have two grand daughters who started tripping with me when they were 7 and 8. We did short travel days (about 4 hours), I paddled a fair bit essentially solo, but they loved it. As they have grown older we have spent more time travelling and less time playing around the campsite. They are now 10 and 11 and together are stronger paddlers than a single adult. We fly! I find trips with them much more fun than solo, but I miss the quiet meditation of solo.

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2021, 10:59 am 
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Loved reading your report and I think a lot of us at one time or another were in your shoes. Soloing takes a few times but you'll enjoy it. As a long-distance backpacker and also now a fairly new canoeist I look back on some of my hiking trips to the Sierra Nevadas and ask myself, why did I not spend more time on the trail surrounded by those beautiful mountains? The answer was, I was lonely and didn't have much to do at night, and felt I needed companionship as you did. I've cut 8 days down to 4 because I wanted to get back home, only realizing when I got home that I wish I wouldn't have come home so early!!

I've since learned to bring a book and fish when the opportunity arises plus I'm an avid photographer so I can literally take pictures of rocks for hours. I now prefer to go solo unless my 19-year-old son comes with me but he's in college and only has a limited amount of time. Soloing allows me to eat when I want, go where I want, sleep in, and take care of myself.

You did a great job and you'll have good memories of this trip, especially that muck portage. That's one I'm not looking forward to :x

You obviously have the skills to do solo!

Take a friend or your son when he's of age but somehow I think you'll do more soloing in the future. It's a great stress reliever and something you can brag about :)


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PostPosted: February 7th, 2021, 5:18 am 
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Location: Toronto,Ont .
Hey PaddlingGal,
Great trip report .
Now i have to admit to being the one who lent the canoe with the wonky seat supports. But i hadn't even seen the canoe for years so i didn't realize how bad they were. Kudos on a great field repair. Now that i have the canoe at my place i have purchased all new ash supports with stainless steel bolts.And may even upgrade to bootlace seats.
I'd say the canoe is a bit big as a solo tripper . For any future solo trips I'd offer my 15' ultralight bob special at about 37 lbs. I paddle it backwards ,and it performs quite well .And could easily accommodate a 7+ yr old up front.
Solo tripping is a lot easier if you are the loner type. My trips are for fishing so i rarely enjoy seeing anyone on my trip in or destination lake.So i guess i use the the speckles for company , if they indulge me.
Looking forward to your next trip report .


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PostPosted: February 9th, 2021, 7:19 pm 
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Oh tripper, please don't apologize! I didn't mind at all, and I confess to a small measure of pride for being able to fix it on the fly. It made me a lot more confident in my solo abilities and didn't cost me any significant time. Many thanks again for loaning me the boat, and I hope to enjoy it again soon, or perhaps the Bob if you think that's a better choice.

Thanks for the tips shearjoy, I've already talked to my son about going on adventures, showing him some pictures of places we might go, and his first question was, "Do they have internet there?" Lol so it might be a work in progress, but I can afford to be patient.

And I do think I'll give soloing another try or two, I think it might be different if I bring fishing gear next time. I read that Chiniguchi wasn't great for fishing, plus I didn't want the extra gear for my first solo, but maybe I'll feel differently about it when I'm spending time amongst the specks - hopefully you can direct me to the best places to find them. ;)


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PostPosted: February 10th, 2021, 1:44 am 
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Paddling Gal,
When i see those seat pics i feel so embarrassed. That this canoeing community would think i keep my canoes in such disrepair. But you did a very clever repair and that's part of the skills of a wilderness canoer.
In my opinion the bob is a superior solo canoe. The 6 odd pounds you save from the nahanni can be invested in fishing equipment. Its more traditional too with ash trim .
Have a few spots of course that have provided good catches of speckles. A walk in the park to get to, vs your solo trip.


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PostPosted: February 10th, 2021, 9:55 am 
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PaddlingGal wrote:
and his first question was, "Do they have internet there?" Lol so it might be a work in progress, but I can afford to be patient
This is too much familiar, alas. Internet provides great resources for all things paddling, but brings even greater challenges where kids are concerned. After 20 years of constant struggle :) trying to involve my kids in canoe tripping (I finally succeeded with my youngest and very proud of it!) I'd say that may be the most effective venue for this is finding other families with kids to join on a trip. Even teenagers that hate tripping would enjoy doing it together with friends.

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PostPosted: February 10th, 2021, 11:10 am 
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Nice area, would like to go again and again :)

I didn't see parking fee mentioned and I didn't see anything at the Lodges website. I've not gone in there. I read it used to be a small per day figure, envelope cash and leave it under your wiper blade. Anyone know the current deal is? Thanks gang....


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PostPosted: February 10th, 2021, 12:16 pm 
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canoetripper wrote:
Paddling Gal,
When i see those seat pics i feel so embarrassed. That this canoeing community would think i keep my canoes in such disrepair. But you did a very clever repair and that's part of the skills of a wilderness canoer.
In my opinion the bob is a superior solo canoe. The 6 odd pounds you save from the nahanni can be invested in fishing equipment. Its more traditional too with ash trim .
Have a few spots of course that have provided good catches of speckles. A walk in the park to get to, vs your solo trip.


Not as embarrassed as I was, considering it was my behind that broke the bolt! :oops: Time to lay off the carbs, I guess...

Eddy Turn wrote:
PaddlingGal wrote:
and his first question was, "Do they have internet there?" Lol so it might be a work in progress, but I can afford to be patient
This is too much familiar, alas. Internet provides great resources for all things paddling, but brings even greater challenges where kids are concerned. After 20 years of constant struggle :) trying to involve my kids in canoe tripping (I finally succeeded with my youngest and very proud of it!) I'd say that may be the most effective venue for this is finding other families with kids to join on a trip. Even teenagers that hate tripping would enjoy doing it together with friends.


That's a great idea! I might even post something on this board to see if there are any other similar families who want to join us on a future trip. :)

steve.of.london wrote:
Nice area, would like to go again and again :)

I didn't see parking fee mentioned and I didn't see anything at the Lodges website. I've not gone in there. I read it used to be a small per day figure, envelope cash and leave it under your wiper blade. Anyone know the current deal is? Thanks gang....


That's correct, it's $2/day, left in an envelope under the wiper blade, along with a map of where you're going. Just call Lakeland Lodge at (705) 853-0482 and give them your info, they'll tell you the code to unlock the gate and you can self-park in their lot. I spoke to Gail to arrange the details, she was super nice and very accommodating.

https://sites.google.com/site/lakelandlodge/rates

There's also a public lot near the Matagamasi boat launch I think, but I didn't go there so I'm not sure how secure it is or how easy it is to find a parking spot. For only $2/day, I thought the Lakeland Lodge option was very much worth the peace of mind. :)


Last edited by PaddlingGal on February 10th, 2021, 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: February 10th, 2021, 12:47 pm 
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PaddlingGal wrote:
There's also a public lot near the Matagamasi boat launch I think, but I didn't go there so I'm not sure how secure it is or how easy it is to find a parking spot. For only $2/day, I thought it was very much worth the peace of mind. :)


There is some parking near the Matagamasi put in, but it can get quite busy during peak season and on weekends. There are homes and cottages nearby who have had driveways blocked in the past resulting in cars being towed or damaged. Of course anytime you park somewhere for free and unsecured there is a risk of theft or vandalism, so don't leave anything of value behind.

Sportmans Lodge on Kukagami offers a shuttle service to Matagamasi for paddlers and canoes with a daily parking fee as well.


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