The Southern Lakes region of Kejimkujik remains my favourite place for canoe tripping in the park. While the rocky shores and quick portages of the Park’s northern Frozen Ocean loop are hallmarks of other folk’s favourite trip, the solitude, glacial erratics and sandy beaches draw me to the south.
The trick of the south is you’ve got to work for it. There’s no easy route to enjoying a perfect sunset from 32’s legendary vantage or a swim in the Park’s clearest waters from Site 30. Sweat will drip and muscles will tire— there’s just no other way.
The gateway to the Southern Lakes region is by way of Minard’s Bay, from which you must choose one of two sentinel portages standing to sort the yahoo’s from the trippers. Nah, that was just fun to write; plenty of yahoos still make it back there. Heck, even I make it from time to time.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself: Before you make your decision on which portage to suffer, you first have to decide on how you’ll arrive at Minard’s Bay. My preferred choice is starting at Jake’s Landing and leap-frogging ~6km across the lake via a chain of islands which can help obscure the prevailing winds, while others avoid exposure to the lake’s strong winds entirely by shuttling to Eel Weir and paddling up through the Western Run to Minard’s Bay. Both routes of access have their merits.
Back to suffering: From Minard’s Bay one must choose either portage A (1.1km) or Portage E (2.3km… E ain’t for easy). At a glance the choice might seem simple: Are you a masochist? or Are you not? Except, as soon as you get A’s 1.1km behind you, you have two more itty-bitty lakes and carries (North Cranberry, Portage B [120m], Puzzle Lake, Portage C [400m], Cobrielle Lake) worth of unloading and loading your boat before you can consider your campsite.
Portage E on the other hand offers efficiency in its long distance. The big stinker also offers about 7 rest stops and, if your pack’s waist belt was too tight, Site 25’s outhouse is linked to the portage by way of a convenient trail! Plus, at the end of Portage E there’s a big granite boulder which is great for sitting atop sipping a cool beverage or high-grading the GORP while the other paddlers are still on the trail.
Now you’re on Mountain Lake, or Cobrielle Lake, which are more of a single lake than the two which comprise the singular Big Dam Lake in the north. Both Mountain and Cobrielle are clear water lakes, except Cobrielle is as shallow as Mountain is deep. Swimming in the narrows between the two lakes is the best swimming in the park. I will stand by this claim until proven otherwise.
One more portage (either D [640m from Cobrielle] or F [620m from Mountain]) will put you into the Park’s second biggest lake, Peskowesk. This lake is absolutely magical, by which I mean regardless of the direction you’re paddling, invariably it’s with a headwind. How is that possible? There are dark forces at work.
Actually, Peskowesk is oriented with the prevailing winds— if you’re heading deeper into the park with a headwind, you’re likely to have fair weather, but if you’re on your way home with a headwind, you better scoot your canoe a bit quicker ‘cause it’s likely to be bringing rain.
Once on Peskowesk you have several options where to go next. At the eastern end you can take Portage G (800m) into Hilchemakaar Lake, followed by a quick shot around the bend to portage H (200m) upon which you’ll find one of the most remote campsites in the Park: 30. It’s on the Lower Silver Lake of the Silver Lakes which are rumoured to earn their names from the clarity of their water.
At the western end of Peskowesk you can take Portage N (800m) into Peskowa Lake, that is, if you can find the start to the portage. Poison Ivy Falls, which Portage N follows, has spit out a maze of granite boulders over the millennia creating a fun little obstacle course to navigate on your way to the carry. This two-part portage, split by a little dark water pond nearest the Peskowa end is my favourite in the park, but I couldn’t tell you why. It could be that in the spring you can hear Poison Ivy Falls crashing through the granite, or that it’s just a little footpath through the woods, or the titanic erratic by which it passes (yes, Red Chairs for you collectors!) or that this is where Al Bigelow thinks he picked up his rash from the noxious vine during his 1906 fishing trip chronicled in The Tent Dwellers.
The other option from the western end of Peskowesk is Portage K (400m, the adolescent side of me still wants to steal that sign for Karlene) delivering you into Beaverskin Lake, which is the most idyllic and striking lake I have witnessed in the park; there’s something ancient and wild and quiet which lives in that place. One more quickie (Portage L, 400m) and you’re on Peskowa Lake.
Here you will find site 40, lonesome, shaded and rugged. If this is your destination, keep in mind the wood drop for this site is at W1 (aka 37, or Mason’s Cabin) so choose your route accordingly. After rain, there’s a little freshet which runs through 40’s beach and is cool and good to stash a can of beer in for later. Wait, am I crazy? Who would carry a can of beer that far into the backcountry? Speaking of crazy, Site 41 can be accessed by bushwhacking up the stony brook from the lake. It’s a slog without a trail and I don’t think the Park condones it nor do I recommend it.
While I am quick to admit you certainly have to work harder to gain access to the Southern Lakes, I do believe this is a case where the ‘juice is worth the squeeze’. Also keep in mind another benefit: the appetite you’ll have after taking on those larger portages will make even your Larsen’s taste good! Many of the campsites on these lakes have soft sandy beaches and can offer real solitude, too. Plus, with less traffic the outhouses stink less!
If You Plan To Go:
- Most folks enjoy a Southern Lake’s Trip if it is at least 3-days in duration
- Reserve your campsites in advance, here
- Portage wheels do NOT work on portage N
- Know the location of the nearest wood drops for your reserved campsite
- Cell reception is some of the trickiest/spottiest in the Park
- It takes most of us 2-hours to paddle across Keji Lake
- It takes most of us 1.5- hours (two trips) across Portage E
- Mason’s Cabin might be haunted (ask around)
Here’s The Gear I Recommend: