Did you know that Alberta’s only canoe circuit is located a few hours north of Edmonton in Lakeland Provincial Park? It’s called the Lac la Biche Canoe Circuit and it’s something any outdoor adventurer will love. Allow 3-4 days.

Before you hit the water you will have to organize a canoe (or kayak), assuming you don’t own one. Although you can rent one in nearby Lac la Biche, you must be able to tie it down to your car and transport it to the park – about a 40 kilometre drive away. And a map would obviously be helpful as well. There is a downloadable version – in miniature you can get off the park website but it’s the bigger version you’ll want. Phone 780-623-5235 and they’ll mail you a copy or head to the park office at 9503 Beaverhill Road in Lac la Biche, Monday to Friday, 8:15 Am – 4:30 PM to pick one up.

Now the bad news.

Before you even put a paddle in the water or catch sight of a lake you must portage three kilometres along the Jackson Lake Trail to reach Jackson Lake. Fortunately there are loads of canoe carts at both ends so it’s easier than it might sound. We did it in 40 minutes, with a few short stops to eat raspberries that lined the trail near the parking lot. The trail is car width wide with an easy grade.

Before you even see the water you start with a 3 km portage

Before you even see the water you start with a 3 km portage

When you arrive at Jackson Lake, put on your sandals as part of this dock sinks with any weight. Expect some biting insects here – but you lose them the minute you’re on the lake. Also, part of the dock is extremely slippery so be careful unless you’re looking for a swim.

You launch on Jackson Lake, Lakeland Provincial Park after a 3 km portage

You launch on Jackson Lake after a 3 km portage

Paddling the Lac la Biche Canoe Circuit

We chose to paddle the canoe circuit in a clockwise direction – as most seem to, but you can do it either way. Choosing which campsites you want to stay in may dictate the direction you go. We were told that the campsite on the peninsula into Kinnaird Lake was a beauty by a couple of guys in the parking lot so we decided to aim for that one on the first night. If you get a late start or the weather is iffy, there is a campsite for three parties near the Isthmus Bridge, just 30 minutes into the paddle and it’s a good one.

Heading for the Isthmus Bridge that takes you into Kinnaird Lake, Lakeland Provincial Park, Alberta

Heading for the Isthmus Bridge that takes you into Kinnaird Lake

Our campsite like all that we saw has been heavily used with little bits of garbage like bag ties lying around. If everyone took a few small pieces of garbage out, they’d be cleaned up in no time. Campsites do come with a privy – though they’re all a little too close for comfort and quite visible from the picnic tables. Bear boxes should be at every campsite though the campsite south of Blackett West Island is missing one. There is a fire ring and a picnic table and some like the first we stayed at had a couple of chairs which was actually a treat – as it was the perfect place to watch the loons and the beaver swim by.

The first campsite had a sandy beach, a small one only but it made the landing easy. There are some that are difficult to land and launch from particularly the campsite for four parties on the east side of Jackson Lake. It’s almost like a small cliff.

Our campsite on Kinnaird Lake - night one - Lakeland Provincial Park

Our campsite on Kinnaird Lake – night one

Several deer passed through our campsite without the dog even knowing

Several deer passed through our campsite without the dog even knowing

Our dog is having a blast

Our dog is having a blast – despite the rocky start with biting insects

Exploring the island, Lakeland Provincial Park

Exploring the area around our first night’s campsite

Gorgeous sunsets on the backside of the campsite, Lakeland Provincial Park

Gorgeous sunsets on the backside of the campsite

There was plenty of beaver activity around the lake, Lakeland Provincial Park

There was plenty of beaver activity around the lake

Despite the fact the campsites are heavily used, the experience being out on a lake in the woods with barely a biting insect is a stellar one. The paddling is easy unless the wind blows up and as you can see in the photo below, it’s a great family trip even if your child is only 16 months old. (Their friends had a 10 month old with them.)

We went to sleep listening to the loons. We woke to the loons. The beaver around the peninsula kept us entertained for a couple of  hours and on several occasions we enjoyed the sight of deer wandering through our campsite, including a family of three. Our dog was none the wiser.

This young couple were brave enough to bring their 16 month old along on a 4 day canoe trip

This young couple were brave enough to bring their 16 month old along on a 4 day canoe trip

Day 2 Paddling the Lac la Biche Canoe Circuit

On the second day we decided to skip the 0.6 kilometre portage from Kinnaird to Blackett Lake and opted instead to canoe to the south end of Kinnaird, through the grassy narrows and into Blackett Lake. This is a great choice as it’s very pretty. Once on Blackett Lake you have a choice of five campsites. We made our way to the one on the north side of Blackett West Island as we figured it would have more expansive views and more wind – to keep any insects away. Fortunately a party of two canoes was just leaving as we pulled up. It was a prettier campsite than the first and the only thing missing was a sandy beach.

It took us only 2.5 hours to paddle here – at a steady pace. Since it was so early, I wondered about continuing. But the next campsite was on McGuffin Lake and we had no idea if it would be taken already. So rather than risk losing a great campsite we stayed put and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of reading and napping.

The dog is enjoying the canoeing life - Lakeland Provincial Park

The dog is enjoying the canoeing life

Blackett West Island campsite, Lakeland Provincial Park, Alberta

Our campsite on Blackett West Island was open but tricky to get in and out of a canoe

Evening light at our second campsite

Evening light at our second campsite

Beautiful woods on Blackett West Island

Beautiful woods on Blackett West Island Lake

And in hindsight, it’s just as well we stayed put.

Although it’s an easy paddle across Blackett Lake the portage took us longer than we expected. Its 1.6 kilometres one way and we had to do it three times; once to drop off the first load and pick up the cart – because it was on McGuffin Lake and a second time to take the canoe and the rest of our gear. We didn’t end up using the cart at all as the two families with babies were also at the portage. We figured they needed the cart more than we did.

This portage is not as easy as the first despite the distance being shorter. It’s got a few more bumps and hills as well as some mud patches and overgrown bushes – but it’s doable.

You can see the dock at McGuffin Lake sinks with any weight but at least it provides an easy place to launch.

The start of the short portage fron McGuffin Lake to Jackson Lake

The start of the short portage from McGuffin Lake to Jackson Lake

The dock at the portage on McGuffin Lake

The dock at the portage on McGuffin Lake

It’s delightful paddling across McGuffin Lake to the next portage.

The map says the portage from McGufiin to Jackson Lake is 300 metres but the sign at the portage says 600 metres. I have no idea what the real length is but it’s a pretty quick trip. We still had to do it three times – though at least we could use the canoe cart on the final hike to Jackson Lake. (It would be really nice to have a few more canoe carts at these portages!)

The portage from McGuffin Lake to Jackson Lake

The portage from McGuffin Lake to Jackson Lake

The paddling is particularly beautiful paddle through the sheltered section of Jackson Lake. Look for merganser families and beaver houses galore.

On our trip the wind picked up on the final leg back to the launch site. Out of nowhere the skies darkened and you could hear thunder. Whitecaps formed within minutes so we had to make a call – pull over and wait out the storm or make a dash for it. We had a really good look at the direction the clouds were moving; as it seemed to be away from us so we decided to go for it.

Particularly lovely canoeing in the quiet section of Jackson Lake

Particularly lovely canoeing in the quiet section of Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake, Alberta - Lakeland Provincial Park canoe trip

Canoeing Jackson Lake before the wind blew up

Paddling Jackson Lake

Racing the storm

Canoe carts are available at the start and end of the portage into & out of Jackson Lake

Canoe carts are available at the start and end of the portage into & out of Jackson Lake

The final portage to the parking lot - Lakeland Provincial Park

The final portage to the parking lot

As you can see we made it out without so much as getting a drop of rain on us. On other canoe trips we have pulled over and set up a tent for hours at a time to let a storm pass. Know your limits and be prepared to find a safe landing spot on short notice. On this circuit you’re never far from shore so it’s easy to do.

Lakeland Provincial Park - Jackson Hole launch

We missed the storm

Useful information for paddling the Lac la Biche Canoe Circuit

All told we paddled 38 kilometres and portaged about 12.5 kilometres. Although the first two days were very easy, the last had the bulk of the portaging and a longer paddle. For this reason many people like to add another night so it’s a little less physically taxing.

If you’re into fishing don’t forget your gear and a fishing license.

You can rent canoes from Lakeland Expeditions. Canoes rent for $40 per day.  They will set you up with a few Styrofoam noodles so you won’t damage the roof of your car.

You can’t reserve campsites. They are on a first come first served basis. Camping is free.

Don’t forget a water filter! And as you can see from the photos, dogs are allowed.

It’s a treat to be able to do a multi-day canoe trip in Alberta, especially one that is so accessible.

Is the Lac la Biche canoe circuit something you’d like to do?

Canoeing the Lac la Biche Circuit in Alberta

Other Alberta canoeing/kayaking trips you might enjoy:

Thank you to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post. It was a real pleasure to explore the area north of Edmonton and all thoughts/opinions as always are my own.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada. Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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