Sturgeon River Loop

Total Distance: 142 km

Duration:  8 days (including one rest/rain day)

No. of Portages: 30 if not running rapids (24 if running everything up to a class 2) 

Total Portage Distance: 8 km if not running rapids (7.2 km if running everything up to a class 2)

**Note: portage distances are based on Hap Wilson's maps, not from the map below 

Level of Difficulty: Not a trip recommended for novice paddlers due to difficult portages on the Sturgeon River; intermediate whitewater and river-running skills are required -- not all rapids have portages. 

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. Our route has been marked.

On July 3, 2023, I was packing and getting ready to tackle northwest Ontario's Steel River Loop with my father -- a canoe route that has been on my bucket list for years. I was excited that I was finally getting the chance to do it, especially at purportedly good water levels, for an early summer run. 

At 11 PM, just before nodding off to sleep and setting my alarm for an early morning departure, I decided to check the Ontario Forest Fire Info Map one last time. I had been checking it every day leading up to my departure date because the spring of 2023 had been absolutely insane for forest fires across the country; it had been declared the worst wildfire season on record thus far. During June, the entire eastern part of the continent had been engulfed in a horrible smoky haze from fires raging across northern Quebec and Ontario. 

Well, wouldn't you know it, but a fire broke out that exact afternoon on the banks of the lower Steel River! It was named NIP030, only one hectare in size, but listed as out of control. I couldn't believe what I was reading; it was horrible and unfortunate. 

I quickly scrambled through my collection of maps for another route that Dad and I could tackle if the Steel River blaze could not be contained. Dad had never been to the Chinguchi region of Temagami and I had long wanted to run the rapids of the Sturgeon River, so I got out of bed and began printing off and laminating my maps for the Sturgeon River Loop. 

After a short, fitful sleep and an early morning departure, we were just south of Sudbury when I was able to get in contact with the assistant park superintendent of the Steel River area. She said she would look into it and get back to me. She returned my call less than 20 minutes later and said that, indeed, the fire was small but dangerously close to the river and not yet under control. She obviously made the prudent decision in advising us not to proceed with our intended plan to paddle the Steel at that time. 

We had pretty much already decided we weren't going to the Steel unless she would have told us that the blaze was under control and soon to be extinguished. The fire was on the lower part of the Steel near the logjam area and it would have been bad news paddling into that if the fire were to grow and with no option to head back upriver against a current on a remote river to safety, never mind the possibility of excessive smoke inhalation. So...goodbye Steel River (for now), hello Sturgeon River! 

(Note: By the time we finished the Sturgeon River Loop, NIP030 was out. I am guessing the heavy rains that we endured on Day 3 of this trip took care of it. Apparently, most of Ontario got a good soaking that day.)

Day 1 - Dewdney Lake to Chiniguchi Lake (9 km) 

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red. 

As we were driving up Kukagami Lake Road toward the Matagamasi government boat launch, I had a brain fart. The previous year, I had paddled the Laura Lake Loop and noticed that some vehicles were using the logging road and parking at the portage between Wolf and Dewdney Lakes. I plugged it into Google Maps and downloaded the route to get there. We thought we'd give it a try. It would save us from paddling the southern, cottage-laden section of Matagamasi Lake. After attempting it, I strongly advise others NOT to do this.  Allow me to explain. 

The road was in fine condition up to the Bushy Bay area between Matagamasi and Wanapitei Lakes where there were a number of cottages. After that, the road got steadily worse the farther we went. There were enormous potholes throughout the ride which slowed us to a crawl for the majority of the way. It took about an hour and a half to get to our put-in from the government boat launch, probably more time than it would have taken to paddle the part of Matagamasi that we were trying to avoid. The road had several washouts which were fine for us because it hadn't rained for a while before we went in, but I can imagine those bits would be trouble during or after a heavy rain. We kept proceeding because we had already come that far (you know, the "in for a penny, in for a pound" mentality), but I was discovering that we had made the wrong decision. 

The worst was when we got close to our destination. There was a large ridge that the road traversed  (I believe it might be the @$$-end of the same ridge that forms The Elephant on Chinguchi Lake). The road at that point consisted entirely of rocks (not gravel) ranging in size from a fist to a human head or larger. It was incredibly steep on both sides. In fact, on our return trip to get out a week later, I had to make a couple of attempts at it. The second one, after Dad got out of the vehicle to remove some of the head-sized rocks and for me to reverse down the hill and then hit the gas for a speedier run at it to make it over.  It was all very nerve-wracking and I'd be lying if I said that getting back out on that road unscathed didn't weigh on my mind as we were out on the trip. 

In the end, it simply wasn't worth it in terms of risk versus reward. Had there been a vehicle issue, it would have been very difficult, not to mention exorbitantly expensive to get assistance on that road -- perhaps even impossible.  Again, my advice is to use the government boat launch on Matagamasi Lake or The Sportsman's Lodge on Kukagami Lake.  We got lucky getting in and out, but I surely wouldn't attempt it again, given the choice. Besides, should such a wonderful natural gem as Wolf Lake be so easily accessible? I would argue that it shouldn't, but that is for another blog. 

We parked our car on the side of the road just up from the bridge. There was only one other vehicle, a large RV camper, parked next to the portage, but other than these two spots, there were no other places to park. Another fantastic reason not to launch from there. The decisions people make when plans change on the fly are not always the best ones. 

We completed the short but rocky portage from the "road" to Dewdney Lake. Seeing the crystal clear waters of the Chiniguchi River, the forest of red pine, and the dramatic white quartzite rock certainly helped me eschew the stress of the morning. 

We paddled the south end of Dewdney, marvelling at the scenery of red pine forest.  Even though I had been there less than a year earlier, I still found it awe-inspiring. 

We stopped off at Bob's haunted cabin to take a peek. For more information on this often-visited "landmark" on Dewdney Lake, kindly refer to Day 2 of my Laura Lake Loop trip report from 2022: (

We paddled to the north end of Dewdney Lake, and even though we had done only one portage and paddled one lake, we were feeling the heat. The day was excruciatingly muggy and hot; there was an extreme heat warning across most of southern and central Ontario. 

We saw the falls at the northwestern part of the lake where the Chiniguchi River dumped into Dewdney, paddled over, and beached our canoe on a rocky point across from the falls. Stripping to our gitch, we happily swam over to the falls and enjoyed having the cool water cascade onto us. It felt amazing. 

This sincerely helped us cool off for the flat but slightly rocky 540-meter portage into Chinguchi Lake, where we got our first taste of early July mosquitos. (Plenty more of that to discuss later!)

Moving north into Southeast Bay of Chinguchi Lake, we got our first glimpse of The Elephant, a 446-meter a.s.l. ridge on the west shore of the lake, in the distance.

We got through the narrows and into the large western bay of the lake and decided to make camp on Blueberry Island in the middle of the bay. It was 4 PM by that time and it had been an eventful day; we were ready to relax. 

The campsite was a gem, but due to the heat, the deer flies were out in force and they were relentless. We enjoyed our time there, nonetheless. Why wouldn't we? We had the entire lake to ourselves! The views were amazing, and so was the swimming to keep us cool. Our usual first-night meal of marinated steak and potatoes was delicious, despite being cooked in a frying pan on the camp stove due to the province-wide fire ban. 

We watched the sun go down behind The Elephant and retired to our tent and hammock when the hordes of mosquitos emerged just before 10 PM, the witching hour.