A Canoe Trip to Hidden Lake Territorial Park, Northwest Territories

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One of the highlights of a five day canoe trip in the Northwest Territories, starting at Kilometer 55 on the Ingraham Trail, just above the Ramparts, and finishing in the city of Yellowknife was the overnight detour we made to Hidden Lake Territorial Park.

The closest access to the park is via Kilometer 45 on the Ingraham Trail at Powder Point. From there you must canoe across a short stretch of Prelude Lake to a portage that will take you all of five minutes to do.

"These rapids are the reason for the first short portage from Prelude Lake"

These rapids are the reason for the first short portage to and from Prelude Lake

Then there are two more portages after Prelude Lake – the first one being a bit easier. My guess is that they are about 500 m and 700 m in length. All three took us under two hours to do.

"Portaging on a boardwalk of sorts on the second portage"

Portaging on a boardwalk of sorts on the second portage

We had been warned about bears in the area but saw nothing other than one old pile of bear scat. All was quiet in the woods except for the squirrels. We did carry bear spray just in case and all food was always in a barrel.

"Portaging in and out of Hidden Lake"

Part of the second portage – though on the way out

I knew we were in for a treat the moment we arrived at Hidden Lake. Open woods broken by slabs of granite – home to many a camping party over the years judging by stone fire rings, was just the start of the beauty we would encounter over the next 24 hours.

"Huge slabs of granite - perfect for camping at the portage point at Hidden Lake"

Huge slabs of granite – perfect for camping at the portage point at Hidden Lake

We met a couple of young women from Nova Scotia at the end of the portages, who were leaving Yellowknife for new jobs. The trip to Hidden Lake was a bucket list item they had to do before they left. How right they were!!

Hidden Lake is exceptionally clear. You can see the fish – including pike – below you if the light is right. The west end of the lake is dotted with islands, very reminiscent of what I’d seen while kayaking the Georgian Bay last September.

If you have the time, you could easily spend five to seven days exploring the eastern section of the lake – including a huge section that isn’t even part of the Hidden Lake Territorial Park. Be sure to purchase the Prelude Lake Map (#85-I/12) so you know where you are.

Here’s a sampling of some of the scenery we saw over the course of the day.

"One of the first views in Hidden Lake Territorial Park, NWT"

One of the first views in Hidden Lake Territorial Park, NWT

"The western end of Hidden Lake is dotted with islands"

The western end of Hidden Lake is dotted with islands

"Every island looks beautiful - with slabs of granite"

Every island looks beautiful – with slabs of granite

"It's hard to pick a camping spot as there are so many great ones and not a soul around"

It’s hard to pick a camping spot as there are so many great ones and not a soul around

"Looking out to the bigger part of Hidden Lake, NWT"

Looking out to the bigger part of Hidden Lake

"So many spots to pull over and explore on Hidden Lake"

So many spots to pull over and explore

"Looks more like the Georgian bay than what I pictured in the Northwest Territories"

Looks more like the Georgian Bay than what I pictured it would be like so close to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories

"Paddling through the greenery in a shallow section as we explored the islands in Hidden Lake"

Paddling through the greenery in a shallow section as we explored the islands in Hidden Lake

"Super calm water was great for reflections"

Super calm water was great for reflections

"Loved these rocks in the late afternoon sun"

Loved these rocks in the late afternoon sun

Our Campsite

There are so many choices for camping that you’re never going to be disappointed. Our only criteria was that we wanted the campsite to be a short paddle away to the portage point, as we knew we had to paddle 25 kilometers the next day. Even with that, we could have picked about 10 spots, especially as there wasn’t a soul around when we got there.

It was a Friday so by Friday night the Yellowknife crowd had started to filter in; in the end we saw three camping parties – but all were well dispersed. If you paddle five or more kilometers away from the portage you’re unlikely to see many, if any people at all.

"Our piece of real estate for 24 hours"

Our piece of real estate for 24 hours

"Watching as a party of three canoes paddled in on a Friday night"

Watching as a party of three canoes paddled in on a Friday night (only two can be seen in this photo)

"Beautiful light as the sun starts to go down"

Beautiful light as the sun starts to go down

"We spent a lot of time watching a family of three loons"

We spent a lot of time watching a family of loons

"evening light on Hidden Lake, NWT"

Very enjoyable just watching the play of light as the sun went down

"Hidden Lake sunset"

Couldn’t get enough of the sunset

"Sunset over Hidden Lake"

Sunset over Hidden Lake

I’m so glad we took the time to explore the Hidden Lake area, even if it was just for 24 hours. For less experienced paddlers, it’s a great long weekend destination. At this time of year the water is warm enough for a quick swim, the fishing is excellent, the loons wake you up and lull you to sleep and everywhere you look, it’s absolutely beautiful. If I lived in Yellowknife, I would be a regular weekend visitor.

More good news – it’s free to camp and you don’t need a reservation. You can rent canoes for $45/day from Overlander Sports in Yellowknife and if you organize yourself ahead of time, they will shuttle you back and forth – for a reasonable price as well.

As always, go prepared for all weather conditions. Plan to cook on a stove as the fire danger has been very high.

Have you ever been canoeing in the Northwest Territories?

Leigh McAdam

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