Powell River Canoe Route

August 2016

Okay, for those of you who have seen the movie Into the Wild, this does not compare. We didn’t drive to Alaska and venture out into the complete bush with limited hope of return. That is one of my favourite movies though.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending!

Every year around March I start dreaming up summer trip ideas I can do with the kids. This year when I was doing my research I came across the Powell River Canoe Route. I did a little research that described it as a simpler version of the Bowron Lakes Circuit. I’ve done a little canoeing over the years but a lot more kayaking. I wasn’t even sure it was possible to do it as 1 adult with 2 kids.

I found this great outfitter in Powell River called Mitchell’s Canoe, Kayak & SUP, Sales and Rentals and sent Christie an email asking if I should attempt this trip with kids. She responded with a really great description of how we could take it on.  I felt confident right away because she seemed really credible with children of a similar age.

That was enough for me so I started planning. I bought the kids backpacking backpacks for Christmas 2015 and I already had one so we didn’t have to buy much gear. I borrowed a tent from a friend and we were ready to go.

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The hardest part of planning for a trip like this one was figuring out what food to take for 5 nights away from civilization. You don’t want to eat just mixed nuts and trail mix all the time and you also don’t want to carry too much weight.

I ended up figuring out a few pretty cool food ideas after doing some research. For the first night’s meal I froze some meat before we left. We ate that with potatoes and tomatoes. For breakfast we had bacon and eggs, potatoes and shredded cheese (eggs will last several days without refrigeration). Bacon will last 5 days easily because it is loaded with sodium and smoked so it’s a good choice for flavour IMHO…if you aren’t a vegetarian.

Note: This post is old.  I’ve since improved at food planning.  

Other meals – peanut butter & jam sandwiches made ahead of time; hummus/pita/carrots, Sidekicks, pasta, curried rice & beans, dehydrated scallop potatoes, oatmeal every day for breakfast, dehydrated mashed potatoes/bacon & pancakes.


Snacks – trail mix, homemade granola bars loaded with calories

Considering we were gone for 5 days I think we ate well. I made notes of all the ‘kid food reviews’. The scallop potatoes got a big thumbs down but the mashed potatoes were fantastic (brand: Idahoan Roasted Garlic). I can’t make better mashed potatoes from scratch and they were cheap too as dehydrated food goes.

We were really hungry too because of the calories we were burning. I had to ration the really good stuff we had for snacks or it would have been gone the 2nd day.

Here’s a map showing the canoe circuit.  We went all the way from the bottom to the top (Windsor Lake) and then returned to the bottom.


We met the outfitter at her house and followed her to the start of the circuit in our car. We could have saved some money here buy strapping the canoe to the roof of my car but I didn’t have the right equipment and I didn’t feel bad about it because her service was so fantastic. The ride to the start of the route cost $130.

We started the circuit at the bottom of Lois Lake at about 5 PM. This saved us 1 day’s canoe rental because the first day didn’t count. That first night it was a really nice day and we paddled to an island on the lake. It was about 2 hours. At this point it didn’t feel like we were far from civilization because there were numerous houseboats.

No fire ban and driftwood everywhere!

Our ‘site’ on the island was fantastic. Someone had made some makeshift seats and a fire pit. There was a huge amount of driftwood all around the site so having a fire was simple. It was a great way to start our trip by first figuring out the canoeing part before having to do a portage.

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Our Island, not yours 😉

The second day was pretty epic. We started early when the water was really flat. We found our way out of Lois Lake which was somewhat confusing because you have to navigate through a lot of timbers in an area that obviously used to be a forest. Fortunately they have these orange markers that you can spot every 750 m or so.


Then we embarked on our first portage of 1.7 km. The portages were the hardest part of the trip. We rented a canoe that was light at 52 lbs but it’s really uncomfortable on your neck. The kids carried their packs and we left behind my pack and our food pack. Every 200 m there were rest posts that were a god sent. I stopped at every one initially. The kids were pumped up with energy and my daughter says ‘anytime you are ready dad we are ready to go’. Eventually this became a running joke every time I set the canoe down.

I got a better technique and started taking on 400 m at a time. We made the end and then hiked back free of anything to get the other 2 packs, life jackets and paddles. The hiking was easy in comparison.

We ate lunch and then tackled Horseshoe Lake which was 6.5 km of paddling. It was a very beautiful paddle and the wind came up a bit. We were going to go around the east side of the portages at the end but there was a log jam so we continued on to the west side.


We paddled through Nanton Lake and then hit our second portage of the day. This time 2.4 km. This one was a challenge simply due to the distance. We met a lot of grumpy canoe carriers on the trip but also shared a few laughs with people trekking through. It was really cool seeing people but also feeling pretty isolated as well.

At this point we had exceeded all my expectations and planning. We were supposed to camp long before getting to this point. We ended up camping our second night at the top of Ireland Lake. The site was really nice and we had fires every night. There were ropes to tie up the food to keep the bears away (we never saw any wildlife except birds)

Fishing, renamed casting.

In the evenings we fished and just had fun with the campfire. Sadly, no fish were caught all trip.

The next day was easy. We paddled Dodd Lake which was really big and the wind was up a bit but we managed it in about 2 hours. The kids were really good paddlers for the most part and there was minimal you splashed me fighting.


In the pictures you can see we had some stuff in garbage bags but we mostly relied on not tipping over. 🙂 The third night was spent at Windsor Lake. It was a small lake and probably the most beautiful part of the trip. The campsite was again deserted. Oh, I forgot to mention the cost for camping $0. The campsites are all well maintained by the logging company. Every site has a pit toilet that usually has TP.


We had decided with the outfitter that we wouldn’t do the full circuit but double back instead. The Powell Lake portion is supposed to be less scenic and much windier. So for our first trip we skipped it. The trip back was a lot of fun. We stayed on ‘our island’ another night. We could have been out in 4 nights easily so we had 24 hours on the Island and came out at 5 pm. We ran the food right down to nothing although we ate like kings on the last day because I packed enough food to be stranded at least 1-2 days.


Costs for this trip, not including food:

  • Driving @$0.50/km = $150
  • 2 ferry rides = $185
  • Transportation to canoe circuit = $130
  • Canoe rental for 5 days = $240
  • Total = $705*


*Food costs not included because we usually eat 😉

This was a great trip and I would recommend it for families. You can do it with smaller kids but then you would want two adults and it’s harder to fit 2 kids in the centre of the canoe but it is possible.

On safety I bought a PLB (personal location beacon) ahead of the trip. I did a lot of research into the different ones available and settled on this unit from ACR. It was not cheap but I figured with only 1 adult I had to suck it up and look at it like insurance. As I said earlier I’m a bit of a safety guy and I’ll use it for years.


I’ve probably read of too many people lost on the North Shore of Vancouver. I also had a coworker whose son went hiking and got lost and never returned.


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