Laura Lake Loop
Total Distance: 63 km
Duration: 4 days
Number of Portages: 12
Total Portage Distance: 3.86 km (based on Hap Wilson's distances)
Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice (Wind on big lakes and portages can make this trip challenging)
Map is courtesy of Jeff's Maps -- our route is marked in blue.
In the middle of August of 2022, my friend from the old days, Jason, and his lovely wife, Lois, caught the Red Eye out of Victoria. B.C. where they live. They were coming to Ontario to meet my lovely wife, Da Hee, and yours truly for a "couples'" canoe trip! Yes, fun stuff! It would be a week away from our domestic lives and a chance for old friends to catch up. And what better place to do that than in the Chiniguchi area of the Temagami wilderness?!
They arrived at Pearson Airport in Toronto just after 7 AM. Da Hee and I were there to pick them up with two canoes strapped to the roof of our vehicle. From there, we headed north on Highway 400, excited to start our adventure.
Our original plan was to spend 6 nights doing the Laura Lake Loop. We would take our time on the loop, explore the area and do some day hikes in the Wolf Lake Old Growth Forest and again up the Elephant on the west shore of Chiniguchi Lake. Unfortunately, "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry". We paddled into Matagamasi Lake for about an hour and immediately set up camp on a nice rocky point for our first night. The following morning, one of us had a bit of an unexpected emergency that had to get dealt with.
So, we broke camp and paddled back out to the car. It would require a long day in Sudbury to sort out the issue. That night, with the crisis averted, we returned to Kukagami Lake Road well after 10 PM and set up camp at a roadside site next to Bassfin Lake about a kilometer from our put-in on Matagamasi. The next day, we returned to Matagamasi Lake, once again, and restarted our trip, only on this go round, we would have to complete the loop in 4 days rather than 6. Never mind! We could still stick to our originally planned route but we would have to forgo the day hikes and go a little further each day. We were simply grateful the trip was still possible.
Day 1 - Matagamasi Lake to Wolf Lake (14 km)
It had been a late night, so we certainly weren't the early birds getting our worms that morning. We got our first real look at the site in daylight. It actually wasn't bad considering it was a roadside site; it had nice views over the lake. It even came complete with a gas bbq, which we did not take the luxury of using.
We drove to the put-in, unloaded the vehicle, got the canoes ready, and posed for a quick shot to (re)christen our departure for the second time in two days.
Matagamasi Lake is big, but there was only a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Despite the high temperatures, we couldn't have asked for better paddling conditions as we moved into Matagamasi's North Arm.
After two hours on Matagamasi, we arrived at the 350m portage out of the North Arm at the same time as another group of paddlers heading in the same direction. Moreover, another group of paddlers was coming in the opposite direction heading downriver. It was a busy walk. I knew this was a very popular route, but now I was worried that we would have trouble finding a vacant site on Wolf Lake, our intended destination for the day. It felt like the Joe Lake portage in Algonquin.
We didn't let the crowds throw us off, though. We were marvelling at being back in the crystal clear waters of the Chiniguchi region.
It was a quick paddle through a pretty pond before we were taking out once again for the famous 360-meter-long Toenail Portage - presumably named as such due to the fact that one is hanging onto the trail by one's toenails as one climbs to the right of a steep canyon.
There was a small armada of kayaks, canoes, and other watercraft at the take-out. The quantity of boats might have been greater than the Swiss Navy. Ahh, yes, this was the portage to Paradise Lagoon, the worst-kept secret in the Canadian wilderness. It is an incredibly scenic place, but normally very busy, and according to a very interesting local that we met at the parking area on Matagamasi, it is feeling the pressure of all its visitors.
The portage was challenging, but not too long. Looking down into the Chiniguchi River carving its way through the canyon certainly took one's mind off of the steep climb.
After carrying all of our gear to the put-in on the far side of the portage, we got our towels and swimsuits on and headed back to take a dip in the fabled Paradise Lagoon. It wasn't quite the dystopian nightmare that our new acquaintance from the parking lot made it out to be; he had described a scene with broken glass and hypodermic needles. Thankfully, we experienced an area that was busy, but clean for the most part. All of the visitors on that particular day seemed to be respectful of the environment in which they were enjoying.
Though the water levels were apparently low, we spent the better part of an hour swimming in the pool at the base of the falls and walking about the area. We even got a great vantage point from the top of the falls. It really was paradisiacal.
We made our way back to the put-in at the edge of Silvester Lake and made some wraps for lunch.
By this time it was 2 PM, so we didn't stay long. We were still hoping to get to a site on Wolf Lake before they had all been occupied. The paddle up the east side of Silvester Lake was nice. The forest looked lush and thick; it was apparent that we were entering the old-growth area. There were some dramatic cliffs along the shore as well.
We were happy that there wasn't a portage to get to Wolf Lake from Silvester Lake, but we did have to wade up a shallow swift between the lakes.
Upstream from those swifts, the beauty of Wolf Lake appeared before us. It was like we had been transported to a lake in Killarney. The rocks and cliffs around Wolf Lake are part of the Lacloche Mountains at their northern range, the very same ridge of quartzite rocks that give Killarney its beautiful white cliffs and bluffs. This was like Killarney Plus, only with gorgeous old-growth red pine dominating the shores. And like Killarney, the water was blue, clear, and inviting.
We paddled into Wolf Lake in search of a site that would allow us to enjoy the wonderful scenery on the main part of the lake. Though we weren't able to obtain the much sought-after site on its eastern shore, we snagged the first one on the western shore that looked over the main bay. It was high on a rocky point and had fantastic views of the white ridge poking above the old-growth red pine forest on the opposite eastern shore.
Apparently, there is a trail up to the high point that you see in the picture above, and though we didn't have the time to ascend it for the wonderful views on that trip, it would give us an excellent excuse to return to the area to do it another time.
We set up camp, gathered some firewood, and spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading, and swimming in the cool, crystal-clear water on a very hot August day.
I sincerely hope that future generations will be able to have the kind of day that we were able to enjoy on Wolf Lake. Just behind our site, we personally witnessed a lot of evidence of ground testing for the proposed mine on the lake. We spotted some minor patches of clear-cutting, drilled holes, tubes thrust into ground, hoses running from the lake which were most likely used to pump water to cool the drills, etc. It was disconcerting and a harbinger of what is to come.
To allow any kind of mining operation on this lake is an absolute disaster. In order to install the mine, large amounts of the forest will need to be cut. It has already started. We only have 1% of the old-growth pine remaining and the Wolf Lake area is the largest stand of old-growth red pine in all of North America, if not the world. Yet, mining is being allowed; plans are in the works. It is already leaving its indelible mark on the area.
If you have the time, watch the following short documentary to get a better understanding of how imperative it is that we protect this area.
If you are interested in doing your part to help protect Wolf Lake, write a letter to the people in charge, our elected officials, to ask for change. The following link can assist you in doing that:
The rest of the evening was spent cooking our meals, engaging in fun conversation next to a roaring fire, and watching the nighttime shadows descend over the lake. Just when we were about to retire to our tents shortly after 10 PM, an incredibly bright moon ascended in the east over the quartzite ridge, casting a bright glow over the entire lake.
Day 2 - Wolf Lake to McConnell Bay (18 km)
We awoke to another gorgeous day with nary a speck of white in the sky. It looked to be another scorcher. We rehydrated some powdered eggs, cooked up some bacon, and had a nice breakfast looking over the lake. We weren't in a huge hurry to leave that view; eventually, we broke camp and had our gear packed up and ready to load by 10 AM.
After loading the canoes and paddling past the point that was our home for the evening, I snapped a departing shot of the site.
Wolf Lake isn't that large and it didn't take us long to paddle into the northern bay. There were some lovely white cliffs on the northeastern shore.
A few others camped on Wolf Lake also had similar departure times from their sites making the portage into Dewdney Lake busy. On top of that, there were others who had just arrived on the logging road that crosses the portage, and were carrying their canoes in the opposite direction to Wolf Lake. If it hadn't felt like Shinjuku Station at morning rush hour, it would have been pleasant; the rocky staircase that followed a small chute was very pretty.
We put in on Dewdney Lake and began padding north. The rocky channel with its pine-studded shores that led into the lake was sublime.
Even though we had been experiencing beautiful, jaw-dropping scenery up to that point, it didn't really feel like we were in the wilderness due to the sheer number of canoeists and kayakers everywhere. That changed on Dewdney Lake; for the first time on the trip, we had a lake to ourselves. In fact, for the rest of the loop until we were back on Matagamasi, we would only see one other party of canoeists the entire way.
Dewdney Lake is really two lakes separated by a shallow narrows that had barely enough water for us to paddle through. In the northern section on the eastern shore, we spotted the "haunted" cabin and paddled over to it. The story goes that the cabin was the domicile of the caretaker of the McConnell Fire Tower, a structure that still stands on a ridge 1.5 kilometers to the east. Apparently, there is no discernible trail to the tower but is accessible with a bushwhack hike. The caretaker, Bob, allegedly died under mysterious circumstances in the cabin; however, his ghost decided to never leave and tends to take offense to trespassers.
We did not let this legend deter us from entering the cabin, nor did we have any ghost-like experiences. Upon entering the cabin, we quickly noticed that it hadn't deterred many others from visiting the site either since the cabin walls were absolutely plastered in very silly and inane graffiti. No wonder Bob is p!$$ed off.
I tried to find online anecdotal evidence of how this ghost story came to be, but I came up empty. If any readers have any first-hand accounts of "odd" experiences while visiting the cabin or lake, or more on Bob's story, kindly contact me through the forum at the bottom of this page. Out of interest, I will anonymously share your information by adding it to this trip report.
The 540-meter portage out of Dewdney Lake into Chiniguchi Lake was the longest of the trip thus far; however, it was a clear and easy path, and not as steep as the previous ones. There was one massive old-growth white pine next to the path at the start of the trail.
By that time of the day, the temperature was over 30 degrees and after the portage, we needed to cool off. We had a swim and made some lunch on the rocky beach at the put-in.
Emerging into the expanses of Chinguchi Lake with its rolling ridges in the background and crystal clear water, we could see it was a special place.
There are two ways to get into the northern parts of Chinguchi Lake. We opted to go through the narrows into the large western bay to get a glimpse of the Elephant. Besides, the wind had been kind to us so far that day and we knew we wouldn't have much trouble on the open water.
The Elephant loomed over the lake at 446m a.s.l. I look forward to returning to the area and hiking up it in the future. For Jason and Lois, our paddling companions from B.C., and though they didn't say so, ridges like this were most likely something that was very familiar and common to them. For Ontarians, these kinds of high points are few and far between. Either way, with the combination of the quartzite ridge, the large clear lake, and the beautiful pine forest, they commented that they found the scenery beautiful in a novel way quite distinct from the dramatic vistas in our most western province.
We continued into the narrower northern section of the lake. We paddled over to take a look at some faded pictographs on a large boulder on the eastern shore. We could barely discern what some of them might be; time had obviously taken its toll. That only made me marvel and wonder at how old these creations actually were.
We rounded the point that was the most northern part of our route and paddled through the shallow and weedy narrows that led into McConnell Bay. We had to get out of the boats and wade over the most shallow part.
By this time, the heat of the day was really beginning to affect us. Even though, we hadn't had a particularly long or difficult go of it, we were hot, tired and hungry. Though I personally prefer rocky points to beach sites, there is a lot of online fanfare about the three sites on the long beach at the north end of McConnell Bay. We were hoping to snag one of the sites if the area wasn't crowded. Imagine our delight upon discovering that all three were vacant and we had the entire bay and beach to ourselves!
We set up camp and had a fantastic late afternoon and evening. It was a good thing that no one else showed up to the sites because all three are right next to each other and there wasn't a lot of privacy between them.
They were nice sites, but very well-used. Unfortunately, a number of campers chose to leave their feces in the woods behind the sites without burying it. This action was accompanied by leaving their little bouquets of toilet paper on top. What was inexplicable was that there was a brand new and perfectly fine thunderbox not 20 feet from most of these droppings. Moreover, the Friends of Temagami had left at least two signs asking people to bury their human waste and even left a shovel to do so! Yet, there it was, 20 or more piles of human excrement topped with toilet paper within spitting distance of a well-maintained thunderbox?! We had to be very careful and keep a vigilante eye on the ground in our search for firewood for fear of stepping on some selfish camper's excrement. If a person is so put out by using a thunderbox, and/or too lazy to dig a six-inch hole to bury their waste, even when the tool to do so is provided, then that person possesses a level of self-interest that has absolutely no place in the backcountry. Plain and simple. I'll step off my soapbox now, but I feel it needs to be mentioned. Human waste takes about a year to biodegrade. If everyone left their pound of poop on the ground every day....well, you can do the math.
We did enjoy the turtle art installation on the beach that you can see in the photo, though. After dinner and some obligatory long walks exploring the beach and the site on the point next to our beach site, we carried our chairs and some adult beverages down to the beach. There, we enjoyed watching the sun duck behind the trees to the west. Lovely.
Day 3 - McConnell Bay to Wessel Lake (17 km)
We awoke to yet another gorgeous, sunny, hot day. The canoe-tripping gods were smiling upon us. It appeared we were in a bit of a heat wave, but I would still take that over cold and rain any day of the week. We took our time departing the site. It was nice to enjoy a coffee on the beach in the morning sun, have a dip in the shallow water, and just slowly break camp. We finally got on the water after 10 AM and paddled for the infamous portage into Laura Lake. I turned to get one more parting shot of our beach retreat.
We took out on the small beach that was at the trailhead for the 900-meter portage into Laura Lake. In researching for this trip, I had read that it was the muddiest portage in Ontario. Like many things that one encounters online, I felt that this description might be a little hyperbolic. By no means was it an easy portage, but it wasn't so horrible that it should discourage any would-be paddlers from attempting this circle route. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I found that it wasn't even in the top 5 most difficult portages that I completed in 2022. Perhaps, we were just lucky to have done it in drier conditions. After all, we were on our fourth day in a row of scorching hot and sunny weather. The portage into the north end of Little Rice Lake on the OpeepeeswayRiver/Sakatawi loop that I completed the following week was muddier and far more difficult. (https://www.canoedaddy.com/home/trip-reports/james-bay-watershed-trips/opeepeesway-sakatawi-loop)
The first 500 meters of this portage is a steep, but very pretty climb over a rocky ridge, followed by a steep descent into a swampy area -- the nasty bit of this portage. There were two ways to navigate the swamp, keeping to the wider main trail or taking the side route to the left. We mostly chose to stay on the side route where I found there were clumps of studier earth to stand on. The problem with that route was that it snaked between some bushes and trees which made it a little more difficult with the canoes. One of our party members tried the main route and found it not too bad on the sides, but again that would be difficult with the canoes. All in all, this section is short-lived at about 100 meters and we only sunk down to our knees a few times each. It was a bit of hard work on a very hot day, and when we were finally through it, we snapped a photo of ourselves to display our muddy battle scars.
The last few hundred meters of the carry goes up over another ridge and then back down to the put-in at the swampy western edge of Laura Lake.
We paddled for about twenty minutes into the very pretty Laura Lake, following the western shoreline. We stopped at the first island site halfway down the lake to take off our muddy boots and socks, have a swim to wash the grime away, and enjoy some cheese wraps. If it weren't so early in the day, it definitely would have been a site worthy of occupying.
We continued our way southeast, enjoying our paddle on this gorgeous lake that we had to ourselves. The sky began to cloud over which was a nice break from two and a half days of relentless sun and extreme heat. There was a boat cache on the southeastern shore at the end of a logging road which led to a campsite with some ugly bushcraft constructions on it. My map displayed a liftover there to enter Laura Creek, but it appeared to have been cleared and we could paddle on through. It was most likely a beaver dam at one point.
I was excited about the trip down Laura Creek. It is much less travelled than the western part of this loop and would most likely have its very own rugged and swampy beauty. We probably would have more of a chance to see wildlife, as well. That is the beauty of this loop; it has a little bit of everything. The view from the top of the creek did not disappoint.
After a short paddle down the creek as it narrowed, we arrived at our first carry on the creek where it became too shallow to continue. It was on the left and over a logging road that crossed over Laura Creek on a wooden bridge.
The put-in was also very shallow and required a bit of elbow grease and scraping to get to deeper water.
A freaky little weather event occured about 200 meters down the creek from the location you can see in the photo above. Even though the skies in that photo are blue, a loud thunderclap came out of nowhere and rocked the general vicinity. That sent us scampering into the forest on the left. We looked up and saw a dark nasty cloud descending upon the area from the west. It rained fairly hard on us for about ten minutes while we were trying to stay out of it under a dense grove of fir trees. And just like that, the rain stopped and got sunny again. It was just an odd little squall, but it rained hard enough that we needed to bail out the canoes. Thankfully, the air was less humid and a little cooler after that.
We continued south along the creek for the next 30 minutes. There were a number of busy beavers along this section of the creek. My map displayed a 250-meter portage on the left, but the creek looked navigable, so we trucked on through. There were three beaver dams that required liftovers in that section, one of them quite steep, but much better than a 250-meter carry. The creek got very shallow on the approach to Evelyn Lake and we had to stand in the boat and pole our way into the top end of Evelyn.
Evelyn Lake was another fine lake to stay on with some nice-looking sites, and once again we had it all to ourselves, but we were aiming to stay at Wessel Lake. The following day we had a 5-hour drive ahead of us and we didn't want too much of a paddle to contend with in the morning.
We met another party of canoeists (the first since Wolf Lake!) at the take-out to the 670-meter portage out of Evelyn Lake into Irish Lake. This portage caused us a bit of a problem and I personally take full responsibility for it. Normally, on a double carry, I always take the canoe on the second trip which allows me to have a better view of the portage to negotiate any issues. Well, on this occasion with the other party putting in as we were taking out, there wasn't a lot of room at the deep water take-out, so I thought I would take the canoe first to get it out of the way. The portage followed a logging road for a bit, but veered off of it to the put-in on Irish Lake. I didn't notice it and kept walking the logging road and Jason with the other canoe followed. I was in the zone while portaging, not really keeping track of the distance, and probably walked an extra three or four hundred meters before clueing in that I had gone too far. Sheesh! We put the canoes down and walked back to see what we missed, only it was much further back than I had anticipated. By the time we went back for the second load and then back up the logging road to retrieve our canoes, I had extended this portage by a considerable distance. Grrrrrr.
I turned back to take a photo of the pretty creek behind us at the put-in with the hope of clearing my boneheaded mistake out of my mind.
By the time we paddled through the small but pretty Irish Lake, and took out at the 380-meter portage where there was a bushy campsite, we were all feeling it a little. We still had two more portages to negotiate before Wessel Lake and it was already after 5 PM.
The portage rose over a granite bluff and descended down a series of natural stone steps into Bonesteel Lake. Fifteen minutes after putting in, we were taking out again, only this time we weren't sure on which side. There was flagging tape on both sides of the creek which was choked by a logjam above a small waterfall.
Jason and Lois took the left side, and Dahee and I took the right. After scouting our side, I decided to paddle back over and carry on the left which looked a little easier to negotiate at the bottom. Laura Creek was once used to transport logs right up until the 1950s and I wondered if the logjam was a leftover from those days.
We paddled into Wessel Lake, happy that we would soon be sitting, relaxing, and getting some food in us. There are two sites on the lake, one on a rocky point and the other on a high cliff next to the portage out of the lake. After scouting out both, and though the view from the cliff site was magnificent, we opted for the site on the point, despite the lack of tent pads. The access to water at the cliff site was a bit too much for us in our tired state.
We enjoyed our last night in Chiniguchi, though our quest for calories was delayed a bit by a rain shower when we had to retreat to our tents for a short while. Once it passed, we indulged in eating a lot of the food that we had left remaining, sharing various freeze-dried and other dehydrated delicacies. Of course, being that it was our last night, we didn't hold back by rationing any remaining adult beverages as we laughed and joked by the fire until after dark.
Day 4 - Wessel Lake to Matagamasi Lake (14 km)
It seemed to have rained a little more in the night, but again, we were granted another beautiful morning that was sunny for the most part.
We dried out our tent flies and some clothes in the sun on the rocky point while we made our breakfast and broke camp.
We were on the water shortly after 10 AM and paddled over to check out the remnants of an old logging chute before taking the 70-meter portage out of Wessel Lake.
The portage was short but descended steeply to the pond below. From there, we paddled south for a kilometer and a half in a narrow, but pretty, pond-like part of the creek that sported some very large beaver lodges. We took out at the tricky landing at the southern end of the pond and carried our gear and canoes over the clear 520-meter portage that emerged at McCarthy Bay, the northeast arm of Matagamasi Lake.
As we paddled from the take-out, Jason and I could see the island site to the east that we had occupied three years earlier while on the Donald Lake Loop; and just like that day three years earlier while we were approaching that site, we were battling a stiff headwind heading west. The long arm of McCarthy Bay served as a fantastic wind tunnel, unfortunately, so I didn't manage to take many photos while navigating through it. It certainly was a pretty body of water with many rocky bluffs and cliffs along its shores.
In the second set of narrows on the way to the main part of the lake, we hugged the shore looking for the pictographs that were supposed to be there. We spotted some beautiful, jagged rock faces on the western shore and went closer to investigate.
Some of the images were quite distinct. I would dearly love to know the story that they tell.
We continued our paddle against the wind to the take-out and our vehicle. Emerging from the narrows that serves as the mouth to McCarthy Bay, the lake opened up to familiar territory as our loop was now complete. We made the crossing to the west shore amongst sporadic wind gusts that whipped up some whitecaps. At the western part of the lake, we rode the shore which acted as a nice buffer against the wind, making our paddle much easier. We came to an island and took a break to rest our muscles and replenish some calories. We were only 30 minutes from the car, but it was a good call. We were all feeling it.
We made it the to public landing on Matagamasi Lake at around 3 PM. We were tired in a good way; we had a fantastic trip and were looking forward to a meal on the way home. Experiencing the splendor of the Chiniguchi wilderness was incredible. I invite others to do so, as well. There is much more to it than Paradise Lagoon. I am looking forward to returning to the area, paddling further north, and tackling the Sturgeon River on an even larger loop. I can't wait!