We spent our long weekend canoeing in Lakeland Provincial Park. There aren’t many opportunities for lake paddling in Alberta, especially multi-day trips, so it was a treat to paddle on a lake after our past couple of river trips. We spent four days and three nights on the circuit which was the perfect amount of time to paddle and relax. We canoed from Jackson Lake in a counter-clockwise direction through McGuffin, Blackett and Kinnaird Lakes back into Jackson Lake. This map shows where we stopped each night.
We started our trip Saturday morning – heading out from Calgary at 7 am and making the long drive up to Lac la Biche to Lakeland Provincial Park. The drive is long but the scenery is pretty and even with the canoe on the car wasn’t a bad drive. After a few stops along the way, we arrived at the Jackson Lake staging area in Lakeland Park around 3 pm and got ready to start our adventure. The staging area is well signed and we joined lots of other cars in the parking lot.
The start of trip is a 3 km portage from the Jackson Lake staging area to Jackson Lake. There are canoe carts provided but because we arrived at the start of the weekend they were all at the other end of the trail. A few of us hiked down to grab them, and we got to scope out the portage trail which is wide, gravelled and fairly flat. Once we arrived back at the cars (warmed up from our 6 km hike) we quickly loaded up and started out.
Jonny all loaded up for the portage
It took about 45 minutes to get our loaded cart to the dock on Jackson Lake and then a few more minutes to get the canoes into the water.
On the dock at Jackson Lake
We paddled into the arm of Jackson Lake and then towards the campsites on the western shore of the lake. We ended up stopping at Jackson Lake South for the night because it was less busy than the other site on the lake. There are lots of camping areas on the circuit – the map shows how many at each location – and each camping area has a picnic table, fire pit, bear hang (actual hangs, where you need to bring your own rope) and space for a couple of tents around it. After we set up we had a swim, ate dinner and played a quick round of disc golf before clouds rolled in and a huge thunderstorm started up.
It rained and stormed through the night and was still drizzling when we woke up on Sunday morning. We slept in until 10:00, waiting for the rain to stop and enjoying our giant tent. When a few patches of blue appeared we felt hopeful enough to get ready for another day of paddling and packed up camp.
Jonny during a break in the drizzle
It was grey and cloudy when we set off down the Jackson Ponds to the portage between Jackson and McGuffin lakes but by the time we’d portaged our three canoes the 300 m (no carts at this one) the sun was out and it was a glorious day.
The start of the portage between Jackson and McGuffin
We paddled through McGuffin Lake and took a lunch break just floating out on the water. The lakes are beautiful but the shores are swampy and don’t offer many places to stop. After lunch we paddled to the portage to Blackett Lake. Everything else about the circuit is lovely, but this portage is awful. There was one cart available, but it had flat tires, and it really doesn’t speed things up because the trail is in rough condition and requires a lot of effort to move even a partially loaded canoe. There were a couple of blow downs that we had to unload canoes to get around. I’d recommend packing to portage – and then you could either carry the canoe or cart an empty canoe. We brought too many luxury items for this to be possible!
The start of the McGuffin/Blackett portage
One of the obstacles along the portage
It was an exhausting couple of hours but we made it over and were into Blackett Lake. We headed for the first camping area on Blackett Island West and found it unoccupied so we made ourselves at home. The campsite has a beautiful view west onto Blackett Lake and a slightly swampy area to swim.
The view from our island campsite
Our dinning area on Blackett Island
After a swim we enjoyed a “happy hour” beverage in the sunshine.
We were fancy and brought our wine glasses
And then we headed out for a pre-dinner round of disc golf. One of our friends brought a portable disc golf course and set up a course on our island. We played 9 short but challenging holes through the black spruce swamp before packing it up for dinner.
Jon teeing off on the 9th hole
It stays light (and warm) so much longer than we are used to in the mountains and it felt very strange to be just cooking dinner at 8:30 pm but it was a beautiful setting with the sun setting over the lake. I made us a delicious (and simple) gnocchi for dinner and we ate watching the sun go down over the lake.
Cooking up some dinner
The sun sets over Blackett Lake
We woke up to a beautiful and clear day on Monday morning. It was already scorching hot by 10 am when we left our island and the lake was perfectly calm.
We paddled to the south end of Blackett Lake to take the small connecting stream to Kinnaird Lake instead of the portage. Kinnaird Lake was just as calm and sunny as Blackett had been.
Jonny paddling us on Kinnaird Lake
We paddled our way to Kinnaird Island campsites for lunch. It was hot, hot, hot so we stayed on the island for a while to swim and relax.
After a couple of hours we headed back out on the water to finish our paddle. We passed under the bridge that separates Jackson and Kinnaird lakes and then paddled to the campsite on Jackson Lake Peninsula.
The isthmus bridge between Kinnaird and Jackson Lakes
This was my least favourite site – it was more crowded that the others we stayed at (even though it was just our tents) and lacked the great view out onto lake that we’d had at our previous sites. Still, it served its purpose and we spent a pleasant evening cooking dinner and then watching the sunset on the western shore of the island.
Pelicans out for a sunset cruise
Jonny watches the sun set on Jackson Lake
We had an early start Tuesday morning and were on the water by 8:45 – it was super windy but mostly at our back and we only had about 45 minutes of paddling from our campsite, across the lake and to the portage docks. It was still a beautiful and sunny day and I was sad to be finishing up our paddle.
Paddling out of Jackson Lake on our way home
There were lots of carts at the portage (yay) so we were quickly able to load up and hit the trail. The portage felt easier (lighter canoes?) and we were soon back at our cars and on our way home.
Loaded up for the portage out
It was a great way to spent a weekend and to start off our summer. I really enjoyed being out canoeing again and the circuit was the perfect amount of paddling and relaxing for the time we had. I didn’t love that the lakes were accessible by motor boat but I think if we hadn’t been there on a long weekend it would have been different. We bought a few new canoeing items (and added a few to our wish list) so I can’t wait to try them out again on our next trip!