The Jarvis Township Circle Route is a little known crown land canoe route just north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The full loop is 30km long, passing through numerous small lakes connected by15 portages. It would take approximately 1-4 days to complete depending upon how much portaging you want to do per day. The scenery is reminiscent of Lake Superior Provincial Park's interior. With all the maples, it would be a great place to paddle during the fall! I've completed this trip on two occasions now. Once to go through to clear and sign, and another to fully enjoy the area and explore some back lakes. You can be assured I will be back!
Access is at Northland Lake. To get there, drive 16km east of highway 17 along highway 556 to Northland Lake Road and follow it for 3km. Just past the intersection for Bridge Rd, Northland Lake Rd splits into a Y. Take the left fork. A small boat launch is located 100m down the road and parking is available near the Y junction (about 4 spots on a grassy strip).
Paddle Northland lake to reach the first portage. There is one island campsite on Northland should you arrive late. It is near the portage and away from camps and cottages.
First portage 700m – located in SW bay, just south of the islands. Trail is a wide and clear ATV trail. It starts at some cedars and curves up and around a hill before descending into a valley and paralleling a marsh. The trail then joins another ATV track, stick to the right and then turn left after a few meters down a side trail which will lead to White Birch Lake. A small liftover separates White Birch. If water levels are low, you may portage along the shore (15m) or line.
Between White Birch and Phelbin lakes there is a 50m portage to the right of a small falls and a campsite is located here. A good portage 500m in length connects Phelbin and Jarvis Lake. Stick to the East-West trail and DON’T turn on the North-South trail midway through. The landing on Jarvis is boggy and shallow.
A couple of nice sites are located on Jarvis Lake, though the hilltop one was trashed. A beaver dam separates the western end of the lake.
The 750m portage to Kaufman is in good shape. The trail can get confusing, so make sure you check your compass/GPS to ensure you’re on bearing. The landing will lead to an ATV trail, turn left and follow the main trail. After a while, a trail will intersect from the right leading up a hill, don’t take it!! Keep to the current trail until you near the shores of Kaufman. A hard-to-see trail leads down to the lakeshore veering off to the left and down the hill. If you parallel the lake, you’ve gone too far!
The campsite on Kaufman burned, so there isn’t a good site here anymore.
The 600m portage to Reserve starts on the north shore of the south-west bay. It ascends up and over a hill before descending down to the main ATV Trail. Turn right and follow trail. It will eventually join up with another main ATV trail coming from the right, keep heading straight. Another ATV trail will veer off to the left and cross a creek, ignore this trail and continue onward. A hard to see trail will veer off to the right near the shores of Reserve. It can be hard to find it in places due to the open forest, so keep an eye out for the wide swath cut by snowmobiles and look for telltale signs of old cut logs.
There are a couple options to get from Reserve to Weashkog Lake. You can opt to take a 300m and a 500m joined by a shallow swampy lake or, opt to take one long 800m trail. We had read about a series of 3 short portages connecting some little lakes, but the trail was littered in blowdowns.
If you opt for the 800m portage - From the bay, a trail winds its way through cedars before joining up with an old road. Turn right and walk for approximately 50m until you reach the main ATV trail where you will turn left and follow it until Weashkog comes into view. Here the trail splits again. Keep to the left and walk towards the landing about 80m down the road.
If you opt for the 300m & 500m portages – The 300m portage is located at the end of a bay. The trail quickly ascends to an old logging road and parallels a marsh for most of its length before descending to a small pond. Paddle the length of the pond and join up with the 500m portage leading to Weashkog. This portage follows the same ATV trail as the 800m. The 300m and 500m portages are not as steep as the 800m option.
Leaving Weashkog Lake, follow the creek until you reach a small set of rapids. The 350m portage is to the right (RL) on the eastern shore and ascends up and over a hill until it descends to the shores of a small unnamed lake. There is a small but secluded campsite here, perched on a rocky outcrop. On one trip, we camped here with a soft mossy bed for our tent and a large enough clearing for our rain shelter. It was nice to find a garbage free site, as many along the route had been littered by careless campers and are in need of a major cleanup. NOTE: It's a small site.
At the end of a portage!
A short 40m portage leads to Christman Lake and after a quick paddle up the creek, another short portage (60m) bypasses some rapids and leads to the gorgeous island studded Crooked Lakes. There are a couple of good campsites here, though garbage could be found at a few (especially the easternmost one). From here, paddlers have the option of venturing up to the northern waterbody of the Crooked Lakes (aka Jarvis Lake #10). There is a small, shallow creek connecting the two lakes. You’ll have to lift over several beaver dams and logjams and may have to line/wade in sections. It is a short jaunt, and the solitude of Lake #10 is worth it. There is a site on the small northern island with a decent spot for one tent and perhaps a second. I camped here on my second night of my spring solo trip and it was awesome.
To leave Crooked, Paddle up the creek and turn left at the first creek junction. The portage is located before a small liftover in a boggy area. The 325m trail is fairly level and easy to follow, though a few open spots may have you searching through the bush. One confusing spot is located near a tree with a large burl. Here, the trail can be found to the right of the tree and descends down a small knoll. The final descent to the shores of a small unnamed lake is steep and can be tricky when wet.
The 175m portage to Clearwater has two options midway along the trail. The straight forward flat trek through a small wet bog, or veer left, up and down a hill to avoid getting your feet wet (+25m).
Clearwater Lake is aptly named. This quaint little lake has crystal clear waters, just beckoning for a dip! A few campsites are found here, including one perched high atop a rocky knoll on the lake’s northern end. Easier access is found via cleared landing through the cedars, just slightly east of the large rocky outcrop. The view is worth it!
Island on Clearwater Lake
A 350m portage takes you to the shores of a small pond. The trail follows a streambed for a few meters before veering into the bush. Midway, it makes a sharp turn to the right across another creek before ascending a hill and then descending to the boggy shores of the pond.
To reach White birch Lake, a 175m portage can be found at a beaver dam. The ‘trail’ winds through an open beaver meadow and is indiscernible a times. It may be wet going through here. Stick to the left (west) shore and follow the clearing until it meets up with a snowmobile trail descending to the shores of White Birch.
From here, return to Northland by means of the 700m portage and you’ve completed a fantastic trip!