Lake Superior Canoe Camping Trip

6-minute read + 1 hr 50 min video

Lake Superior isn’t known as an ideal canoe camping lake because of its vast size and unpredictable weather. But Canadians Jon and Erin took 11 days in 2023 for such a trip along some of its northern shoreline.

drone shot of an amazing Lake Superior canoe campsite

Amazing drone’s-eye view of one of the couple’s campsites on Lake Superior

These two aren’t outdoor rookies. Their YouTube channel, Lost Lakes, documents all their backcountry camping and paddling adventures in their native country—with 360+ videos uploaded so far.

Their video that documents their 235-kilometer trip on Lake Superior is almost two hours long. So the next time you’re ready for an alternative to Netflix, grab some popcorn and enjoy:

The video takes us along day by day as they launch from the northern tip of the lake in Nipigon Bay. Starting from the town of Red Rock, they head south along the peninsula and among the hundreds of islands that hug the coast.

The schedule of a paddle trip on this massive lake is always subject to the weather and wind, which these two are well aware of. They planned enough time for flexibility in case of high winds and dangerous waves.

The Route

The northern shore of Lake Superior is predominantly rocky with boreal forest. Pebble beaches are common as are dramatic cliffs. Most of their route is sheltered by bays and islands. But they did a couple of open water crossings, too.

finger points to a map of the canoe route

Jon and Erin roughly followed part of this water trail route

One day it was calm enough that they ventured out to an island chain with exposure to the main part of the lake.

Erin says, “I’ve got a pretty healthy fear of the open water. I imagine it’s similar to what people who are afraid of heights feel—being at the very edge of something deadly. We’re in the last kilometer of our island hop here and it’ll be nice to be on the shores of Shaginash again. With these conditions and our drysuits, it’s pretty safe—but it’s hard to shake that gut feeling.”

Wildlife Along the Big Lake

Within five minutes of being on the water on Day 1, the canoeists spotted a sow bear with two cubs on shore, then a bull moose. Later a calf and cow moose were just below their first campsite.

Other wildlife they saw in the area were eagles, geese, ducks, pelicans, otters, loons, a fisher—and lots and lots of biting bugs! One of their campsites had a sand beach that displayed perfect wolf and moose tracks along the water.

Erin spots a caribou on the beach

A caribou isn’t a common site this far south!

Jon says, “The wildlife on this trip has been officially ridiculous” right after a cow moose approached the beach near their tent with her calf.

Camping Along Superior

In the summer of 2023 when Jon and Erin couple did this trip, Canada was experiencing several wildfires. This caused a lot of smoke and haze at times and was responsible for a campfire ban in the country. So they cooked all their meals over a camp stove.

The two took along the guidebook A Paddler’s Guide to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area by Darrell Makin and Zack Kruzins. (As of this publication date it’s not available on Amazon, but can be ordered from Wilderness Supply in Canada.) They referred to it frequently to aid in their route, finding camping spots and learning more about the history and geography of the area.

“There are too many beautiful campsites on Superior. They always make you want to stop,” says Jon midway through Day 3 as they enter a beautiful sheltered cove.

Start Early and Stop Early

To get a head start on any prevailing winds, Jon and Erin’s goal was to get on the lake early every morning. In early summer, that could be 4:00-4:30 am waking and starting to paddle as close to sun-up as possible after breaking camp.

the sun starts to peak, purple and yellow clouds along Superior's shoreline

An early start on a gorgeous morning

This enabled them (most days) to get in many kilometers of paddling and still be able to pick out a campsite by mid-afternoon for some well-deserved rest.

One morning when they knew they had to cross a large bay they decided to pack up and head out extra early to take advantage of the calm. Once they were across the bay they took the time to stop for breakfast.

Lake Superior’s Summer Weather

Superior can be surprisingly glassy at times, but can also kick up huge waves…sometimes without much warning in between. In the summer it’s possible to experience cold nights, thunderstorms, plenty of wind and cool daytime air. It’s also possible to have beautiful warm days and soft breezes.

When the winds pick up there are decisions to be made: Is it safe to head out? How far? What’s protected and what open water will be too exposed?

When they happened to have the wind at their backs, Erin experimented with a canoe sail to help drive them along. It blew them at about 8 km/hour with Jon simply needing to provide steering strokes. A nice change!

woman uses a canoe sail in the bow of their canoe

This small sail came in handy one day with a steady tailwind

On Day 6 the two canoeists opted to take a rest day on a gorgeous campsite rather than fight a stiff north wind. Day 7 proved to be even more windy, so they stuck to their island and did some exploring. By Day 8 they were tired of waiting it out but still hung on until the wind abated somewhat. They didn’t take any chances with safety, and finding a strong headwind is never fun.

Trip Gear

Jon and Erin used a tent at times and hammocks when their campsite had the right-sized trees. Bug shirts came in very handy in the campsites to keep the biting flies and mosquitoes away. Their (new) tent had a bug screen, but some determined mosquitoes found their way in despite it.

Drysuits are a necessity for Superior all year long because of the extremely cold water temperatures. On their rest day halfway through the trip, Jon and Erin conducted an interesting experiment—they went into the lake with their drysuits on to see how long they could stand Superior’s frigid temperatures.

They lasted 26 minutes but discovered how hard it would be to have to swim anywhere in the case of a capsize. First, their hands didn’t have protection and were freezing. Second, drysuits aren’t made for swimming—they’re quite cumbersome in the water. That’s a very good reason to stick close to shore when canoeing on this lake.

Erin holds her Bending Branches Sunburst canoe paddle, looking at cliffs along the shore

Erin used our Sunburst 11 canoe paddle for this trip

All in all, the two had a successful trip along Lake Superior’s dramatic northernmost shoreline. They were able to enjoy their 11-day canoe trip encountering scenery and wildlife few people get to experience.

Video and photos courtesy of Lost Lakes. Used by permission. You can join more than 256 thousand others and subscribe to Lost Lake’s YouTube channel.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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