Canoeing Lakeland Provincial Park – Jackson, Kinnaird, McGuffin and Blackett Lakes Circuit

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.

LLPP - at the first dock

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.

LLPP - day 2

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.

LLPP - Jackson to McGuffin portage

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!

LLPP - McGuffin Blackett portage

The start of the McGuffin/Blackett portage

LLPP - McGuffin Blackett portage 3

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.

LLPP - Blackett Lake Campsite

The view from our island campsite

LLPP - Blackett Lake campsite2

Our dinning area on Blackett Island

After a swim we enjoyed a “happy hour” beverage in the sunshine.

LLPP - Hanging out at Blackett Lake

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.

LLPP - Disc golf on Blackett West

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.

LLPP - Cooking dinner on Blackett

Cooking up some dinner

LLPP - Sunset on Blackett Lake 2

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.

LLPP - Paddling Blackett Lake

LLPP - Paddling Blackett Lake 2

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.

LLPP - Paddling Blackett Lake 3

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.

LLPP - Lunch Break on Kinnard Lake

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.

LLPP - Paddling to Jackson

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.

LLPP - Sailing on Jackson

Pelicans out for a sunset cruise

LLPP - Watching the sun set

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.

LLPP - Paddling home

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.

LLPP - the last portage

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!


18 thoughts on “Canoeing Lakeland Provincial Park – Jackson, Kinnaird, McGuffin and Blackett Lakes Circuit

  1. Hey Jenny, sounds like an awesome trip! How many of you were there? And how big are the campsites – would they hold a few small tents each?

    1. Hi Teia – we canoed with two other couples so there was 6 of us in total and three tents. The sites don’t have tent pads but we never had trouble fitting in all our tents.

  2. jenny – Thanks for the awesome blog! This post is EXACTLY what we were looking for. We plan on staying at every stop you did. Great advice! We are headed up there next month but have a couple questions…
    -did all the sites you stayed at have firewood? firepits? picnic tables? garbages? outhouses? even on the island sites?
    -what about drinking water at those sites?

    1. Hi Karla – thanks for visiting! All of the sites have a picnic table, fire pit, throne style outhouse and some sort of bear proof storage (you need to bring your own rope for the bear hangs). There are no garbage cans on the circuit (just one at the start to the Jackson Lake portage). There was fire wood at each site but not very much and I think it probably depends on who used it last. We filtered lake water for drinking and while I didn’t like the taste that worked OK. The island site on Blackett was our favourite and the prettiest that we stayed at. I hope you have a great trip!


  3. Wish I saw your post before I visited, but we still had a great visit, ourselves. What a fantastic location, I wish I’d had more time to spend on this trip, but I’m really glad that I visited! I need to read about more of your paddling adventures.

  4. Hi Jenn,

    We’re taking a youth group on this circuit in two weeks. Wondering if you can recommend any camp areas that would be better for a larger group (10.) Any nicer swimming areas? I see you’ve done the Bowron…portages here better than/same/worse than BL’s? If you were spending a fishing/swimming/rest day, is there a particular camp, or lake area, where you would most want to be?


    1. Hi Cory,

      We really enjoyed this trip so I hope that your group does too. I found the Lakeland Provincial Park and Provincial Recreation Area Backcountry Map really helpful to plan our trip, and as we were paddling around so if you can get a copy I’d recommend it.

      As for camping, we stayed the first night at the Jackson Lake South site – we shared our area with another group so there was room for at least 4 tents, and probably more. We didn’t stay at the site, but Mile 10 camp (right as you enter the lakes) is quite large. We stopped at the Kinnard Island site for lunch on our third day and there was lots of space there as well. We liked the swimming there too. The map shows the number of campsites, but is a little misleading as we fit 3 tents onto some of the sites that said only 1 campsite. Our last night was spent at Jackson Lake Peninsula which I wouldn’t recommend for a large group – it was a tight squeeze for the 3 tents.

      The portage into the lakes to start is very nice – wide and smooth right up until you get to the marshy shore of the lake where it was swampy (mud, standing water). Be prepared for wet feet! The short portage between Jackson and McGuffin was ok too because it is so short but we had a hard time with the longer portage between McGuffin and Blackett. This was a narrow trail with lots of blowdown. There are motorboats on the lake so if someone has come by with a chainsaw and cleared the trail it probably wouldn’t be too bad! We bi-passed the third portage into Kinnaird by paddling the creek.

      If I was picking a spot to just hang out for the day, I’d probably stay at the Kinnaird Island sites – you could go out and paddle around on the lake but there also seemed to be lots of sunshine for just hanging out. I feel like it is probably a popular site so there may be competition for space if you are there on a weekend!

      Wishing you sunny weather and calm paddling for your trip,


  5. Such great information Jenny, thanks. And thanks for doing the trip report, when originally doing the research on this trip your report was the only thing I could find that gave a comprehensive view into this trip from a user’s perspective. It convinced me that this would work for our group.

    We’ll definitely be using several of your suggestions, thanks..!!!


  6. Looking at doing the same trip starting this weekend, I’ve been before but only as far as the Kinnaird Islands – so good to hear the Blackett site is a nice one and therefore worth the extra paddle …


  7. Hi

    I have been told how great a trip this is but that in recent years it’s turned into a gong show of power boats, broken beer bottles etc. Is this true, if not I will be putting it on my list for next year.
    Thanks mike

    1. Hi mike. We saw 2 people in 3 days and on canoes fishing, no power boats. It was clean and no trash that we saw. However…. Our biggest problem was the poor condition of the portage trailers and the trails. We laboured HARD with a heavy kayak on a trailer with one good wheel and a muddy shitty trail. We would go again but portage less. It wasn’t near as fun as we had hoped

    2. HI Mike, I would agree with Karla – we only saw a few boats when we were there (but it certainly isn’t pristine wilderness). I would canoe the opposite direction we did into Blackette Lake, and then canoe back the same way to skip the portages as they were terrible. The first portage in from the parking lot is great, but the rest are in poor shape. Hope you enjoy your trip!

      1. Same, we went last August for 4 days, saw people on day one and four … Alone days two and three – it was wonderful and pristine … Portage from the parking lot was good, I can’t speak to the other ones … Blackett has three or four sites that we saw, all the island ones look cool/good. I’d recommend the area to any lake tripper … Different than northern Ontario as it’s more marshy along the shoreline (poorer swim times) but awesome none the less …

  8. What a nice blog. I winter camp there every year in March but have never been in the summer. So nice any time I’ve year though.

  9. Hey guys! Just wondering if there were any hashtags used on Twitter or Instagram that you are aware of in the promotion of or to elicit engagement in the Lakeland Canoe Circuit? Any info you have would be helpful! Thanks a bundle!

    1. Hope not, rather keep it a hidden secret … just kidding on the “hope not” part – but no, I know of no hashtags … we returned summer of 2016 for two nights (my 4th trip), same story, went all the way in to Blackett lake and saw zero people our whole time there (save one fly-by from two F18’s mid afternoon) … it really is a spectacular place.

      Watch the winds if you’re taking smaller kids as they can whip up some waves and make travel a bit harder/slower.

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