Tips: How to plan a route for a canoe trip

On these cold, snowy, February days, do you find yourself dreaming of your next summer adventure? Are you considering a canoe trip, but don’t know where to go? Read on for tips on how to plan a route that meets all your needs! Remember that you can call any Ontario Provincial Park directly for trip planning advice!

Morning mist.

Things to consider as you plan your route:

The canoe:

  • Renting from an outfitter? You’ll want to choose a route where you can pick the canoe up on your way (assuming your vehicle is able to carry a boat!), or one that is within delivery distance of the outfitter. And of course your outfitter can help with trip planning.
  • Own your own? You can go anywhere!
  • Is the canoe light and relatively easy to portage, or would a trip with no portaging be best?

Your paddling partners:

Paddling partners come in all sizes (and strengths).

Paddling abilities of everyone:

  • How far can you paddle in a day? Are you likely to tire quickly?
  • Would you prefer to paddle for less time and have more time to relax at the campsite, or paddle all day and reach your campsite famished and ready for bed?
  • Will your littlest companions tolerate a long time in the canoe?
  • Are you comfortable paddling in windy conditions?

Type of trip/route:

  • How far do you want to drive before you reach your access point? Would you prefer a more remote/less busy access point?
  • Do you intend to canoe to a site and camp at that site for several days, or will you pack up and move to another campsite each day? In other words, will you have a “base camp”?
  • Do you prefer to paddle a loop where you don’t backtrack, or do you like to paddle in and then out the same way?
  • How far away from the put in (and your vehicle) do you want to be? Close by in case you need to bail (for example, if the weather turns), or as far away as possible to have more of a wilderness experience? The more portages on your route, the less people you will see!

Types of lakes or rivers and landscape:

  • Do you prefer long narrow lakes, big lakes (higher chance for more wind and waves), small lakes, little marshy areas to investigate, quieter lakes, busy lakes?
  • Would you prefer lakes without motor boats?
  • Do you want to paddle past cottages or other buildings?
  • Is there a landscape you prefer, such as the Canadian Shield?
  • Is the water level too high or too low?
  • Are there fishing opportunities?


Things to explore while you paddle or near your campsites:

  • Hoping to hike in addition to paddle? You may want a campsite near a trail access point.
  • Interested in historical ruins or other points of interest, such as hieroglyphs? You might want to check out Jeffsmap Algonquin or Killarney maps for all kinds of helpful information.

In addition to this list, park maps, and advice from park staff, you can also read canoe trip reports online to get an idea of potential canoe routes that might suit you. Talk to other canoe trippers, and check out some of the Happy Camper‘s books and videos (aka Kevin Callan).

Practising the J stroke.

Check out my trip reports:

Do you have any suggestions for my list? I’d love to hear them.

9 thoughts on “Tips: How to plan a route for a canoe trip

      1. 5 and 8. I’ve been thinking about Frontenac, Joe Perry at Bon Echo and Algonquin. Leaning towards Algonquin – Canisbay paddle-in sites. My only reservation is that we might still be able to hear traffic at those sites – I read a post once that complained about that. I’ve never been to Algonquin – currently looking at other options that are back-country, but not too difficult and with no portages! Likely we’ll just end up trying Canisbay for our first time.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Kristen, another great option is Grundy Lake Provincial Park. There are paddle in sites that aren’t too far away (read: 5 minute paddle but private!), and rarely used! You can’t book them in advance though, so what we’ve done in the past is had our car camping site for a week, and then also paid for a backcountry site for a night or two in the middle of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you! I’m planning my summer trip already – my father / brother / myself are headed to Quetico in June. It’s been a few years since I’ve been on a canoe trip and I’m very much looking forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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