It's a couple of days before the long weekend and you've just found out your cousin Bob has called off his wedding. Hurray, you're off the hook. It's the perfect time to fit in that canoe trip you've been planning for months. Plan your route, book your campsites, gather your things and head into the wilderness. Right. Chances are every provincial park north of the U.S. border is full to the max with vacationers who had more foresight than yourself.
Now what? Believe it or not, there is an alternative.
Just off Highway 11, a five-hour drive from the city, lies a paddling mecca known to canoe enthusiasts across the province. Famous for its dramatic scenery, crystal clear water and 2,400 kilometres of interconnecting canoe routes, the Temagami region has been attracting cottagers and paddlers since the early 1900s.
It's easy to see why. When the glaciers receded millions of years ago, they carved deep, clear lakes and rugged cliffs. Stands of white and red pine thrive in the scanty, acidic soil left behind, and today the area is home to some of the last stands of old-growth forest in the province. The pristine wilderness creates a haven for wildlife, including eagles, bears, moose and even the odd cougar.
As if that isn't enough, you can also find many of Ontario's highest points here. Ontario's highest peak, Ishpatina Ridge,north of Lake Temagami, rises to 693 metres above sea level. Not far away, Maple Mountain presents hikers with a fabulous vista of rolling granite hills and verdant pine forests.
For the less active, the town of Temagami lays claim to the highest point on Yonge Street. It's a short drive up Caribou Mountain to the old fire tower, where the view from 396 metres above sea level goes as far as the eye can see.
Besides all this incredible scenic beauty, there's another plus to driving past Algonquin Park and heading for Temagami. Except for Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater and the small Finlayson Point Parks, the area has not been designated a provincial park.
This is a huge bonus for campers who resent the canoe route "schedule"enforced by the parks during peak season. There's nothing worse then having to move your campsite in the pouring rain because another group has booked the one you're presently calling home.
Not only are campsites in the Temagami region free, they're also first come, first served. You can stay for a week, and only the OPP or the Ministry of Natural Resources can tell you to move. Great when you just want to relax or wait out foul weather.
It's understandable that some adventurers like the security of canoeing in Ontario's provincial parks. In contrast to areas designated Crown land, if you don't leave a provincial park on time, someone will come looking for you. For those inexperienced paddlers leery of heading out into the bush alone, it's still possible to see all that Temagami has to offer on a guided trip. Many adventure companies, including Outward Bound, offer excursions there. Trips range from basic beginner paddles to advanced journeys that entail fly-ins, white water and lengthy portages.
The best places to head for information are the Web and local outfitters. Temagami Outfitting Co. and Smoothwater Outfitters offer a wide range of services from basic canoe rental to full outfitting (including food) and guided trips.
Local offices such as the Municipality of Temagami and Ontario's Near North can provide information or point you in the right direction. What- ever you choose, be sure you're well informed and up to date before you go.
So next time you long for a bit of solitude, remember that Grey Owl went to Temagami to escape the throng. After nearly a century, not much has changed.