Crownlands (from Atikokan)

Routes of the Crown Land

The Crown Land is the name given to Canadian public land (it used to be called “The Queen’s Land” because it was, literally, land that belonged to the Queen of England). As the Crown Land encompasses the majority of Canada, it is a truly massive wilderness, stretching for thousands of miles to the west, east, and north of Atikokan.

I’ve only paddled just a small portion of this wilderness land, only the region one hundred miles to the north and one hundred miles to the west of the town of Atikokan. This region is remarkable for both its isolation and natural beauty as well as the subtle remains of its fascinating human history. Hundred-year old gold mines can be found abandoned in the wilderness, old logging sluices still stand near rushing waterfalls and ageless trapper’s cabins slowly decay next to pristine, pine-sheltered lakes.

White Otter Castle

There are numerous drop-off points for Crownland trips. Each drop-off point takes you to a slightly different region and environment of the Crown Lands and influences the type of trip you can take. Shuttle length, in driving time from Atikokan, is marked in parentheses:

  • Icy Lake (10 minutes)
  • Marmion Lake (15 minutes)
  • Finlayson Lake (20 minutes)
  • Dashwa Lake (30 minutes)
  • Turtle Lake (40 minutes)
  • Clearwater Lake (45 minutes)
  • Grey Trout Lake (55 minutes)
  • Secret Lake (65 minutes)
  • Turtle River Bridge (75 minutes)
  • Crews wishing to paddle the Turtle River will be picked up at Camp Mine Centre (55 minutes)

Between these various drop-offs point, crews can plan a variety of wilderness adventures: I expect you will be pleased with the beauty and solitude that this slice of wilderness has to offer.

Fishing Loop

Lakes: Icy, Abie, Marmion, Lower Seine Bay, Husband Lake, Letain, Bradshaw, Bradshaw Bay, Upper Seine River, Hawk Bay, Broken Head Bay, Lynx Head Narrows, Lynxhead Bay, Marmion.

  • Drop-Off: Icy
  • Pick-Up: Marmion
  • Number of Portages: 5
  • Longest Portage: 1.3 km
  • Trip Length (miles): 45
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 6
  • Trip Difficulty: Easy

Description: This route travels through some of the best smallmouth bass fishing lakes in the world. Though the portages are few, this trip still explores many of the remote fishing holes that only the locals know. Much of the trip revolves around Marmion Lake, where the annual Atikokan Bass Classic fishing tournament is held. In addition to excellent fishing, Marmion has many interesting sites to visit—including a one-hundred-year old abandoned gold mine and many old trappers’ cabins.

White Otter Castle Loop

Lakes: Clearwater, Camp Bay, Hawknest, White Otter, Turtle River, Dibble Lake, Turtle River, Smirch Lake, Turtle River, Pekagoning Unnamed, Secret.

  • Drop-Off: Clearwater
  • Pick-Up: Secret
  • Number of Portages: 9
  • Longest Portage: .6 miles
  • Trip Length (miles): 80 miles
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 7 days
  • Trip Difficulty: Moderate

Description: In 1914, Jimmy McQuat (mc-KEW-wat) arrived on the shores of White Otter Lake with the ambition to build himself a home. After four years of work, the result was an isolated wilderness mansion that still stands today. White Otter Castle, as it has come to be known, is one of the most famous landmarks of the area, and a lasting testament to one man’s struggle to tame a rugged wilderness.

In addition to this famous site, one can still find the remains of several World War II Prisoner of War camps on White Otter Lake. There are also some prime fishing spots for Lake Trout—enormous, but difficult, fish to catch! The trip ends with a paddle down the scenic Turtle River, an exciting splash that passes by several waterfalls and rapids.

Eye River Falls

Big Water Loop

Lakes: Clearwater West, White Otter, Nora, Halfmoon, Elsie, Mabel, Sandford, Irene, Little Gull, Gamble River, Wasp Lake, Crowrock, Turtle Lake

  • Drop-Off: Clearwater West
  • Pick-Up: Turtle Lake, Dashwa Lake, Base
  • Number of Portages: 12-16
  • Length of Longest Portage: .6 miles
  • Trip Length (miles): 75 miles (95 if paddling into base)
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 7
  • Trip Difficulty: Moderate (Difficult in bad weather conditions)

Description: This route exposes crews to the pristine, expansive waters of the Northern Crown Land. The unique human history offered by White Otter Castle and the World War II Prisoner of War camps is juxtaposed against the natural beauty of Nora, Elsie, and Sanford Lakes. The enormous lakes on these routes are renowned for their clarity and beauty, garnering this region the nickname “the Caribbean of the North.”

Turtle River Floater

Lakes: Turtle River, Jones Lake, Turtle River, Eltrut, Turtle River, Robinson, Turtle River, Little Turtle Lake, Mine Centre

  • Drop-Off: Turtle River Bridge
  • Pick-Up: Mine Centre
  • Number of Portages: 12
  • Longest Portage: .25 mile
  • Trip Length (miles): 55 miles
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 6-7
  • Trip Difficulty: Moderate

Description: This trip follows the scenic Turtle River as it flows southeast to meet the Seine River. It begins in Turtle River Provincial Park, a protected wilderness area, before continuing into a very remote portion of the Crown Lands. This is a very rugged region—though portages are short, they are often challenging—but the work is worthwhile, for this is an area full of solitude and beauty, the type of place that can only be reached by canoe. There are several waterfalls and churning whitewater rapids (to look at, not to run) along the way, and Scouts can look forward to great campsites, fishing, and blueberry picking. The entire route is with the current of the Turtle River, and there are a couple exciting swift water patches that crews can safely run. This trip can be extended by starting at Secret or Grey Trout, an appropriate route for an 8-10 day trip.

The Crownland Sampler

Lakes: Secret, Pekagoning, Turtle River, Smirch, Dibble, White Otter, Nora, Halfmoon, Elsie, Mable, Sanford, Irene Bay, Irene, Little Gull, Gamble River, Wasp, Gamble, Crowrock, Volcano Bay, Dashwa.

  • Drop-Off: Secret
  • Pick-Up: Dashwa
  • Portages: 15
  • Longest Portage: .9 miles
  • Trip Length (miles): 85 miles
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 7-8 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Description: This loop covers the full spectrum of biological environments found in the Canadian Shield. From the winding Turtle River to the sandy beaches of White Otter Lake, from the close confines of the bubbling Gamble River to the Caribbean-clear water of Sanford Lake—this trip sees it all. Along the way, you can view Objibwe pictographs (cliff paintings), see White Otter Castle, visit World War II Prisoner of War camps, and pass by numerous waterfalls.

Bow-Tie (Wasp Lake) Loop

Lakes: Turtle Lake, Crowrock, Below Bow, Bow Lake, Gamble, Doan, Irene, Little Gull, Gamble, Wasp, Gamble River, Crowrock, Volcano Bay, Dashwa.

  • Drop-Off: Turtle Lake
  • Pick-Up: Dashwa Lake
  • Number of Portages: 6
  • Length of Longest Portage: .25 miles
  • Trip Length (miles): 50
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 6
  • Trip Difficulty: Moderate

Description: The Bow Tie Loop takes crews from the big lakes of Turtle and Dashwa to small and intimate Wasp Lake. The Gamble River is one of the most scenic sections of the Crown Lands, and its grassy banks offer ample opportunities to view some of the more exciting wildlife in the area: Moose, Bear, Wolf, and Lynx. Many of the lakes on this route are smaller, which makes paddling in bad weather far easier. Interpreters rave about the multitude of beautiful and scenic campsites that can be found along the way.

Red Paint Death March

Lakes: Turtle, Crowrock, Camp Mine Narrows, Below Bow, Lower Bow, Upper Bow, Knute, Red Paint, Beancan Bay, Sawbill Creek, Sawbill Bay, Marmion

  • Drop-Off: Turtle
  • Pick-Up: Marmion
  • Number of Portages: 9
  • Longest Portage: 1.3 miles
  • Trip Length (miles): 60 miles
  • Recommended Trip Length (days): 7-8 days
  • Trip Difficulty: Strenuous

Description: The Red Paint route is terrific for experienced crews looking for a challenge. This route traverses several difficult portages, a few of which require a bit of bushwhacking as well as the infamous “Red Paint Portage,” a 2 kilometer slog through moose muck and overgrown brush which will try even the hardiest crew’s strength, endurance, and teamwork ability. Because of the difficulty of this route, crews will visit some of the Atikokan region’s most remote and isolated areas: a reward every bit worth the sweaty brow and the blistered feet.

Common Route Segments of the Crown Lands

Because Crown Lands routes are often extended, shortened, and combined, we have included a list of commonly paddled route segments to help you come up with your own individually-tailored route. A combination of the segments listed below can give any trip a wonderful variety of environments to paddle through and landmarks to visit:

  • Turtle River Bridge to Dibble Falls………………………………………………. 15 miles
  • Grey Trout Lake to Secret Lake…………………………………………………..   7 miles
  • Secret Lake to Turtle River Bridge……………………………………………….  11 miles
  • Turtle River Bridge to Camp Mine Centre……………………………………….  50 miles
  • Dibble Falls to White Otter Castle………………………………………………..  12 miles
  • White Otter Castle to Clearwater (via Hawksnest)……………………………….  19 miles
  • White Otter Castle to Graveyard Island…………………………………………..  10 miles
  • Turtle Lake to Lower Bow Lake………………………………………………….  15 miles
  • Below Bow—Gamble River—Wasp Lake Loop…………………………………  20 miles
  • Below Bow to Dashwa Pickup……………………………………………………  15 miles

One Response to Crownlands (from Atikokan)

  1. Robert Duncan says:

    This web page is absolutely amazing. Thank you very much for posting this. I am about to embark on a 7 day trip in the same region. I am trying to copy a 30 day 21 lake trip that my grandfather documented back in 1932, so I am a little overwhelmed with planning details. I would greatly appreciate to speak with you over the phone to talk on a few more ideas such as access points, portages and bears. Would you please email me your phone number and I will give you a shout. Thanks again. Rob Duncan.

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