I finally made it to Kejimkujik National Park! I can’t believe it took me this long to paddle Keji’s pristine backcountry, known for sublime canoeing and camping reminiscent of the Canadian Shield. Keji Southern Lakes region offers a variety of paddle routes, from short day trips to longer (and more challenging) multi-day excursions. I’d call this some of the best canoeing in Nova Scotia! Keep reading for our day-to-day experience on Keji Southern Lakes.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, I visited Kejimkujik National Park a few times but never ventured into the backcountry. For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that Keji boasts some of the best canoeing in Nova Scotia. I decided to plan at least one canoe trip this summer and spent weeks researching our 4-day Keji canoe route. Looking back, I’d say July was the perfect time to go. I hope this trip report will give you a sense of this unmissable Nova Scotia canoe adventure.
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About Keji Southern Lakes—Canoeing in Nova Scotia
Location: Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
Distance: 48 km loop
Time: 4 days
Campsites: 30, 40, 31
Lakes: George, Kejimkujik, North Cranberry, Puzzle, Cobrielle, Peskowesk, Hilchemakaar, Lower Silver, Back, Beaverskin, Peskawa, Mountain
Portages: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, N
Season: May 20 to October 30
Reservation: Yes, reservations and backcountry permits are required.
Features: The Keji Southern Lakes region features canoe and portage routes that have been used for centuries, formed by the Mi’kmaq First Nations long ago. This flatwater canoe route includes 12 lakes and 13 portages leading into isolated and beautiful backcountry. Canoeing in Nova Scotia is one of the best ways to find natural beauty and solitude.
Are you looking for a guide? Check out Your Complete Guide to Canoeing in Kejimkujik National Park to find everything you need to know to plan your Keji backcountry canoe trip!
Jeremys Bay Campground
We stayed overnight at Jeremy’s Bay Campground to start our Keji canoe trip bright and early the next day. Site 87 in Upper Meadow Loop offered a comfortable place to lay our heads—not very private but did the trick for one night. Upper Meadow Loop has a nice new shower and washroom facility. Staying in this frontcountry campground was a great choice for us. Thanks, Parks Canada, for the complimentary stay!
Finding the Boat Launch
After asking the helpful Parks staff for directions, we made our way down to Eel Weir to start our trip. We debated starting at Jake’s Landing, but that would have added more distance to the trip (glad we didn’t this time!). We found the park quite easy to navigate.
After our classic instant oatmeal breakfast, we packed up our gear and drove down the Kejimkujik Parkway and then Eel Weir Rd. We loaded our gear into the canoe, in two 70-litre dry bags from Whynot Adventure, and then hit the water!
Keji Backcountry Portaging
I’ll admit, it took us a few tries to find a portaging system that worked well for us. Initially, we tried to portage the canoe together with the common underhand lift. We also tried the overhead carry together, which is somewhat awkward with our 14-foot boat. There were a couple of shorter portages at first, so we tried carrying dry bags and then returning for the boat (but this takes much more time… especially for longer portages). In the end, we settled on the solo portage by me and Jen carrying more gear and paddles. For those new to canoe tripping, a bit of portage practice can come in handy on this trip!
Day 1: Eel Weir to Lower Silver Lake (Site 30) – 17 KM
Distance: 17 km
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Lakes: George, Keji, North Cranberry, Puzzle, Cobrielle, Peskowesk, Hilchemakaar,
Portages: A, B, C, D, G, H, I
Campsite: Site 30—Lower Silver Lake
After a night in Jeremy Bay’s Campground, we couldn’t wait to start our backcountry adventure. While you won’t find solitude in Upper Meadow Loop, staying in the campground gave us an early start for our canoe trip.
After breakfast, we drove about 14 km from Upper Meadow Loop to Eel Weir in about 20 minutes. The road ends at the Mersey River bridge, where we found the parking area, outhouse, and boat launch. We loaded two MEC 70-litre dry bags (rented from Whynot Adventure) and started our paddle around 10:30am up the Mersey River.
The first section on George Lake was stunning and calm in the morning. After the first few minutes of paddling, I wondered if we might be completely alone for the next four days. Turned out to be (mostly) the case, as we only encountered a handful of other paddlers. We continued up beside Hemlock Island and reached Portage A in Minards Bay by around noon.
While the weather was on our side, the first day was still the longest and hardest for us. It took some time to find our paddle and portage rhythm. Initially, we tried to carry our packs and our heavy Mad River canoe simultaneously. Then we tried carrying packs first and returning for the canoe, but completing portages twice wasn’t ideal. Finally, Jen carried more gear while I hauled my pack and solo portaged the canoe. This worked well for Portage C and we continued for the rest of the trip.
Our trip from Eel Weir to Site 30 at Lower Silver Lake took about 7 hours. We left Eel Weir at 10:30am and arrived at our campsite by 5:30pm. We were delighted to find a stocked woodpile (even though this isn’t a designated firewood drop). Site 30 also has an outhouse, a bear hang, picnic table, and two tent pads. Not a bad place to call it a day.
Day 2: Lower Silver Lake to Peskawa Lake (Site 40) – 13 KM
Distance: 13 km
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Lakes: Lower Silver, Back, Peskowesk, Beaverskin, Peskawa
Portages: J, K, L
Campsite: Site 40—Peskawa Lake
Day two started with blue skies and warm weather. What more could we ask for? Seriously, I can’t even tell you how thrilled I was to be back on the water! Many warned about the thick amount of mosquitos in Keji, but we saw very few even at our campsite.
After packing up camp, we left our campsite around 10:30am onto Lower Silver Lake. One of the benefits of paddling in Keji Southern Lakes is exploring all of the smaller lakes only accessible by portage. After a nice paddle up the lake, we took Portage I onto Back Lake and then Portage J onto the much larger Peskowesk Lake. Portage J is 1.2 km and took us about 30 minutes.
Thankfully, Peskowesk wasn’t very windy and the waves were minor. My favourite part of today was finding a tiny island on Peskowesk Lake for lunch. With plenty of flat rock surface, the dubbed-by-us “One Tree Island” was the perfect lunch stop. Swimming off the rocks was very fun and refreshing, too!
After lunch, it was a quick paddle to Portage L and then onto Peskawa Lake. Peskawa was much windier and we had to pay closer attention to the waves. We paddled across these choppy waters to find Site 40 around 4 o’clock. Our campsite felt very remote and the sand beach was a bonus. Today’s trip, including a decent lunch break, took about 5.5 hours to complete.
Day 3: Peskawa Lake to Peskowesk Lake (Site 31) – 9 KM
Distance: 9 km
Time: 3 hours
Lakes: Peskawa, Peskowesk, Mountain, Keji, George
Campsite: Site 31—Peskowesk Lake
It would have been possible to finish our trip on day three. But I’m glad we didn’t. We left our campsite just after 10:30am onto Peskawa’s windy waters. After about 30 minutes of hard paddling, we reached the one and only portage of the day. Portage N is actually two separate portages that pass by Site 38. We also found a pair of iconic red chars not too far from Poison Ivy Falls. After about 30 minutes, we were back onto Peskowesk and ready to paddle to our next campsite.
Similar to Peskawa, Peskowesk decided to show us some wind and swells. There’s nothing overly technical about paddling in Keji backcountry, but windy conditions require some canoeing skills. We paddled by the island Site 32 that looked quite nice—next time! After about 1.5 hours, we reached our third and final campsite.
Site 31 is nicely maintained and has the same features as other Keji backcountry campgrounds. We found two tent pads, an outhouse toilet, fire pit, and picnic table. Unfortunately, the pulley bear hang was broken, so we strung our food up a tree. Swimming at Site 31 was excellent with a steep drop off. We enjoyed it more than Site 41.
Day 4: Peskowesk Lake to Eel Weir – 10 KM
Distance: 10 km
Time: 3 hours
Lakes: Mountain, Kejimkujik, George
Portages: F, E
We didn’t see a drop of rain until our very last day. Thankfully, our MSR Elixer 3 tent is very waterproof and kept us dry. In the morning, I set up a tarp over the picnic table for breakfast, and we left camp around 9 o’clock.
About 600 metres long, Portage F wasn’t too difficult and took us 15 minutes to reach Mountain Lake. Thankfully, the sprinkling rain wasn’t too cold, and paddling kept our body temperatures up. It was a quick 30-minute paddle across Mountain to the beginning of the longest portage in the Keji Southern Lakes region.
I had really built up Portage E in my mind. To be fair, I heard that most people take 1.5 hours to complete it. Don’t get me wrong—a 2.3-km portage is no walk in the park. I’m glad we approached this one from Mountain Lake, as the descent to Minards Bay was much easier than tackling the incline from the opposite direction. After 45 minutes, we were back on Kejimkujik Lake for our final stretch to Eel Weir. It’s amazing how the thought of warm and dry clothes can motivate a paddler! We were back at our car before noon and happily finished our Keji backcountry adventure.
Know Before You Go Canoeing in Nova Scotia
Parks Canada Pass: Visitors to Kejimkujik National Park require a Parks Pass. We had our Parks Canada Discovery Pass with us.
Reservations: You are required to reserve backcountry campsites in Keji National Park. Make your reservation online through the Parks Canada Reservation Service or call 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783) from 8am to 6pm Atlantic time.
Campsites: Backcountry campgrounds come with two tent pads, fire pit, picnic table, bear hang, and toilet. We were surprised that we didn’t have any neighbours, and then realized that our booking included both tent pads.
Safety: Backcountry camping requires self-sufficiency and safety considerations. Highly recommend completing a wilderness first aid course before backcountry camping. Bring safety equipment including a first aid kit (with medications) and a satellite communications device (no cell service).
Map: Purchase the backcountry map at the Visitor Centre. You can also download the map online for planning purposes.
Gear: Packing light will certainly make portaging easier. Highly recommend dry bag backpacks.
Portaging: Keji Southern Lakes has many portage routes of various lengths and conditions. Sturdy water shoes or sneakers are essential. Practice portaging before arriving in Keji. Portage carts can be useful, but not always practical depending on the terrain.
Canoe Rentals: Gear and equipment rentals are available in Keji National Park through Whynot Adventure at Jakes Landing.
Keji Southern Lakes Map
Keji Southern Lakes Canoe Trip Video
Thank you to Parks Canada for providing a complimentary night’s stay at Jeremy Bay’s Campground, backcountry map, and drone permit for the footage used in this blog.
Have you paddled in Kejimkujik Southern Lakes region? What was your experience like? Tell me in the comments below.
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