What can you do at Quetico Provincial Park that you can’t do anywhere else? We ask Quetico park superintendent Trevor Gibb.
“That’s easy,” he answers. “You can cross an international border in your canoe to camp in a backcountry wilderness park.”
Canoe? Across the border?
That’s right. And you won’t see any border guards or tollbooths or bumper-to-bumper lineups. Just a pristine wilderness park that’s almost as big as Prince Edward Island.
You’ll find Quetico Provincial Park in northwest Ontario, two hours west of Thunder Bay. It’s the Canadian half of a huge protected wilderness that straddles the Ontario-Minnesota border. The American half — Boundary Waters Canoe Area — hugs Quetico’s southern end.
Welcome to Canada!
People come from far and wide to canoe here. The majority are Americans, paddling up from the Boundary Waters. These cross-border visitors collect their park permits at one of three remote entry stations along Quetico’s southern perimeter.
Many of Quetico paddlers from the U.S. use the Canada Border Service Agency’s (CBSA) Remote Area Border Crossing Program to start their canoe trips at our Prairie Portage and Cache Bay Entry Stations along the Minnesota-Ontario border.
“In the case of our Portage Prairie ranger station,” says Trevor, “you start your trip into Quetico by making a short portage to pick up your permit. It’s a roadless area, so you cross the border in your canoe and then enter Quetico with your canoe on your shoulders and your pack on.”
Paddle right in
The other two remote entry stations are on the water.
“At our Cache Bay entry station, you paddle up to an island on the Canada-U.S. border. We have a ranger station there where you can pick up your camping permit.
“And on the southwest side of the park, you can either paddle in or catch a motorboat shuttle to our Lac La Croix ranger station, which is located on Lac La Croix First Nation. There are all kinds of interesting ways to get into our park.”
A paddler’s paradise
Once you’ve checked in, it’s just you, your canoe and a breadcrumb trail of lakes and rivers.
“There’s a mix of large, medium and small waterbodies. Moving water and flat water. Hundreds of lakes, connected by short, well-maintained portages. It’s a paddler’s paradise.”
You certainly won’t go hungry. The fishing is first-class throughout the park.
“Many of the lakes in Quetico have smallmouth bass, walleye, lake trout and northern pike, all in the same lake. You can catch all four in the same day.”
But you’ll have to catch them with barbless hooks and artificial bait. No organic bait is allowed.
You share the park with plenty of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might paddle by a moose grazing on pond lilies, spot a bald eagle soaring overhead, or hear the far-off howl of a wolf. There’s a Quetico moment around every bend.
At night, you’ll drift off to the peaceful lapping of water, the sigh of pines and the prospect of another Quetico sunrise.
Ready to plan a trip?
Between 2015 and 2018, we challenged our campers to plan three bucket-list trips over a four year timeframe as part of the Northwest Wilderness Quest. Participants camped at three of our province’s most pristine wilderness parks for a chance to win a prize!
Although this initial challenge is now over, we would still encourage you to discover and explore each of these backcountry paddling parks!