I have spent a good portion of my life telling paddlers where to go. So, you might think that after producing almost a dozen guidebooks, countless articles and oodles of videos I’d be able to answer the most common question I am asked: What’s your favorite canoe route?

Kevin Callan reveals his all-time favorite canoe route

The answer isn’t as easy as you might think. In my futile attempts I blurt out what’s most familiar to me—Algonquin. Then I reconsider, remembering how scenic Killarney is, and change my answer. Then I remind myself how busy both parks can be and turn to some less traveled wilderness areas: Quetico, Woodland Caribou and Wabakimi. From there I ramble off some lost routes only the die-hards have heard of, such as Kirkpatrick, Chiniguichi, Tatachikapika. But why stick close to home? The list soon includes western rivers—the Milk or Bowron Lakes chain. Then to the east—Kejimkujik National Park.

Before long, I’m mentioning trips to the Scottish Highlands and the Florida Everglades, and the person who asked the question has long since regretted asking it.

It’s like asking a world traveler to choose a favorite destination. I’ve been so many places, and have fond memories on each and every trip. Each route is special—some are more scenic, others are more remote. Some offer something totally unique, like spectacular hiking or amazing fishing, incredible wildlife watching or breathtaking campsites, out-of-this-world remoteness or—I could go on.

Yours to discover. | Photo: Paul Villecourt
The best canoe route is yours to discover. | Feature photo: Paul Villecourt

Truth is, there’s a simple answer. It’s the answer I gave recently while presenting on Ontario’s top canoe routes at the Mid-West Spring Expo in Minneapolis. A paddler sat in the front row wearing the standard Tilley hat, poised with pen and paper, looking far too hungry to let someone else plan his adventure. He piped up with that all-too-common question. “So, Kevin, which one is your favorite canoe route?”

Perhaps inspired by the question-asker’s Tilley hat that didn’t bare a single stain or squashed mosquito, I concluded that rhyming off a litany of pre-loved routes was the wrong approach for this guy.

“It’s the next one I’m going on,” I told him, elusive and sly. “I leave in a week and I’m hoping for good fishing, great scenery and picture-perfect campsites. And after that, my favorite will be the next one.”

Imagining what’s over the next horizon

While I hoped this answer would inspire the man in the audience to paddle out and discover his own routes—maybe even get his Tilley hat dirty while he’s out there searching for the Holy Grail—it’s also the truth.

As comforting as it is to know what lies ahead, canoeing the familiar doesn’t offer the same feeling of adventure that paddling the unknown does. I’ve J-stroked my way through hundreds of gorgeous routes. Exploring a new place isn’t about getting another notch on my paddle shaft, it’s about expanding my horizons. It’s why I started paddling in the first place. Unfolding a new map, scouting rapids, locating portages, searching for feasible campsites, dreaming of great grandeur around the next bend in the river—that’s at the heart of canoe tripping.

The same impulse that fueled explorers and voyageurs to set out across the unknown, venturing to the edge of the map and filling in a little detail along the way is what fuels me. Traveling a new route brings out the voyageur in me. Yes, many would argue that a canoe guide author like myself most likely has already paddled some of the most wonderful routes in the world, but I argue that I’ll always be searching for the best one and the next one.

While he hasn’t identified the ultimate route, Kevin Callan has discovered the best fishing hole in the world—and he’s not telling.

Cover of Canoeroots Magazine Summer/Fall 2016 issueThis article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

The best canoe route is yours to discover. | Feature photo: Paul Villecourt



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