Kejimkujik National Park is a little difficult to pronounce at first glance (try ‘Kedgie-ma-koo-jik’) but don’t let that be a deterrent. If you did, you’d definitely be missing out. Located in the interior of southern Nova Scotia, the backcountry of Kejimkujik is welcoming for canoeists and kayakers alike, with more than a dozen interconnected lakes and rivers possible to explore. Shaped by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago, these pretty lakes are lined with Acadian forest and studded with boulders, lilypads and islands of varying size. Small yet carefully composed campsites nestle into the trees, cleverly located as not to overlook any others. This is a paddler’s haven!
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Discovering Kejimkujik National Park
When originally researching places to go in Nova Scotia, I didn’t initially think of canoeing. To tell you the truth, I was thinking more about lobster and whale watching. The discovery of Kejimkujik National Park right in the middle of southern Nova Scotia was something of a revelation. We were so excited by the idea, we immediately put aside a whole week on our Nova Scotia itinerary. Most notably it was the week over the summer solstice, a time of year we always head into the backcountry. At the end of this post, keep reading for tips and advice to plan your own Kejimkujik canoe trip!
A week amongst the lakes and wildlife of the park was more than enough to wind down and get onto ‘Keji time.’ We defined this as not really being in a hurry to go anywhere. This was helped by the fact our trip included three nights at one particular site, a site I believe to be one of the best in the whole of Kejimkujik National Park (psst, it’s site 32). Other factors included short paddling and portage distances, those wonderfully clean and well-set up campsites and warm, mostly sunny weather. Better still, it felt like we had Kejimkujik all to ourselves. Almost.
meeting the local residents of Keji
The water, skies and forests of Keji are packed with wildlife, from tiny salamanders and frogs to turtles, deer and loons. There are black bears out there too, but we (luckily or unluckily, I’m never sure) didn’t bump into any on our seven-day canoe trip. Something we also didn’t see, as mentioned, was many humans. After launching at Jake’s Landing, the groups of day-trippers melted away and the water was all ours. Our first evidence of other visitors wasn’t until day five; a couple of red kayaks in the distance on Peskowesk Lake. A few other canoes came and went from our eyeline over the next few days but no-one was close enough to actually speak to until day seven, our final one in the park.
Snapping turtles of Kejimkujik
A curious thing happened on the morning of day five of our trip, which also happened to be my 29th birthday. While having breakfast on the beach at our base camp, we noticed what looked like three sticks poking directly out of the water. Having been in Kejimukujik for a while now, we knew that these were in fact not sticks, but actually, three turtle heads peeking above the surface. After remaining steady for the duration of our breakfast, it was clear that they were watching us. It wasn’t too strange until we both returned to the tent to get supplies for the day and spotted two of the turtles wandering the beach in our absence. They were snapping turtles, almost prehistoric looking with spines on their tails and heads.
In the midst of nature
The larger one (about the size of an average housecat), seemed to be scouting the perimeter of the beach while the other was pacing the shoreline. The third turtle was still in the water, seemingly keeping watch from there. From the forest overlooking the beach, we started theorising what was going on. Were they checking for food left by campers? Planning an invasion of the island? It all became a lot clearer when the turtle at the shoreline started digging. She was trying to nest! All three turtles had been watching and waiting for us to leave, to ensure that the female could lay her eggs on the beach in peace. The larger turtle was apparently some kind of bodyguard and the third a lookout. Neither of us had ever seen behaviour like this, from turtles or otherwise. We quickly left the island and hoped that our presence hadn’t disturbed them too much.
exploring Silver Lakes
Mindful to keep away while the turtles did their thing, we left and paddled to the Silver Lakes area. We had heard that these lakes had the clearest water in Kejimkujik. Something quite characteristic of Keji I haven’t mentioned yet, you see, is the rusty brown coloured water so often seen in the park. It is nicknamed Mersey Tea and is caused by decomposing organic materials seeping into the water. We saw and waded through much Murphy tea, but also plenty of water so covered with pollen that it resembled a radioactive substance. Over in Silver Lakes, however, the smaller waterbodies here had nothing of the sort. Just clear, clean water in which we could easily spot small fish, tadpoles, frogs and those boulders that lie just under the surface that we had so regularly scraped paddled upon elsewhere in Keji.
The day after our Silver Lakes excursion was one of those rare, absolutely perfect paddling days. The lake was a mirror image, reflecting the fluffy clouds and blue sky onto the surface. The wind, which had been a constant presence almost every waking moment in Kejimkujik until that point, was non-existent. This was a day to get on the water early and enjoy every moment. Lucky then, that our last campsite for the trip was site 26, only one portage and about 4km of paddling distance away. In many ways, this was one of the laziest canoe trips we have ever done but I don’t feel bad about it!
Tobeatic Wilderness Area
The one part of our Kejimkujik canoe trip experience that did not quite go to plan was the notion to explore a little of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. Just south of Peskawa Lake in the very southwestern corner of the park is the Shelburne Heritage River. The chance to explore a little outside of Keji was appealing, especially as this area was part of the Tent Dweller’s Route over a hundred years ago. Not heard of the Tent Dwellers? Neither had we until we started travelling in Nova Scotia!
The Tent Dwellers in Kejimkujik
The Tent Dwellers is a non-fiction book written by Albert Bigelow Paine about a month-long canoe fishing voyage in what is now Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobeatic Wilderness area. Described with plenty of tongue-in-cheek wit, the story of Albert and Eddie (plus their guides Charles the Strong and Del the Stout) exploring and fishing their way through this area in 1908 is a must read for anyone planning a Kejimkujik canoe trip. We purchased a copy at the Visitor’s Centre and worked our way through it over the week.
Kejimkujik National Historic Site
While the Tent Dwellers visited this area for just a short time, the Mi’kmaw people have many years of association with the Kejimkujik region. Indeed, the earliest evidence of people goes back to 4000 years ago. The abundance of wildlife in Keji made it the perfect place for the semi-nomadic Mi’kmaw people to stop for part of the year. Recent research has uncovered over 60 sites featuring remains from the Mi’kmaw. For these reasons, Kejimkujik is also a National Historic Site as well as being a National Park.
The Wilderness will welcome you
Unfortunately, our excursion into the Tobeatic Wilderness area was not to be. On both arrival and departure to Pecahwa Lake (site 40), we experienced strong gusting wind and waves swelling over a metre. Sometimes the wind just doesn’t allow for the exploration possibilities we would like. Having now read the Tent Dwellers in full, perhaps we will return one day to complete the full route instead. Besides, I firmly believe in always leaving something for another time.
Fitting for so many of our own outdoor adventures, the Tent Dwellers ends with the following passage.
If you are willing to get wet and stay wet – to get cold and stay cold – to be bruised, and scuffed, and bitten – to be hungry and thirsty and to have your muscles strained and sore from unusual taxation: if you welcome all these things, not once, but many times, for the sake of moments of pure triumph and that larger luxury which comes with the comfort of the camp and the conquest of the wilderness, then go! The wilderness will welcome you, and teach you, and take you to its heart. And you will find your own soul there; and the discovery will be worthwhile!
– Albert Bigelow Paine, The Tent Dwellers: Sports Fishing in Nova Scotia in 1908
Planning a canoe trip in Kejimkujik
Kejimkujik National Park is situated in the interior of southern Nova Scotia, Canada. The park is easily accessible via a two-hour paved drive from Halifax. There is also a coastal section of the park called Kejimkujik Seaside. In addition to the paddling opportunities in Kejimkujik, there are day and multi-day hiking trails.
One of my favourite things about Keji has to be the seemingly endless different canoe routes and trips possible.
- Only here for the day? Paddle up the Mersey River and try to spot wildlife or head to one of the sandy beaches on Kejimkujik Lake.
- Prefer not to portage? Stay at one of the campsites on Kejimukujik Lake (at the most, an 8km paddle from Jake’s Landing) and explore from there.
- Only have a couple of days but want to complete a full circular route? Start at Big Dam and loop around to Frozen Ocean and finally Kejimkujik Lake.
- Not keen on crowds? Go south, where there’s usually no more than one campsite on each lake.
- Want a more rustic camping experience? Use the park as a springboard to explore the surrounding Tobeatic Wilderness Area, where there are no established facilities or campsites.
With such a spread of portages, lakes and experiences, Keji has an adventure for every type of paddler.
Kejimkujik National Park camping
Kejimkujik’s backcountry campsites all have:
- two tent pads
- an outhouse
- a picnic bench
- pulley system (to hang food items out of reach of bears and rodents)
Backcountry campsites in Kejimkujik are allocated in advance and are for exclusive use by one group. This allows for a very private and organised camping experience, with no rush (at least, on the day) needed to ‘secure’ a good site. If visiting during summer (July/August) or on a weekend, I would recommend reserving at least a few months in advance. Campsites on Kejimkujik Lake tend to be the most popular due to their easy accessibility. There are also a few cabins in Kejimkujik.
In addition to the backcountry offerings, Kejimkujik has an extensive frontcountry campground with over 300 campsites. Included in the nightly site fee is free solar powered showers. We stayed here the night before our trip.
National Park day use fees must be paid on entry into Kejimkujik National Park. Consider getting a Discovery Pass (National Park annual pass) if you are planning a longer trip. There are so many National Historic Sites in Nova Scotia alone to make the Discovery Pass worth it!
Canoe portages in Kejimkujik National Park
The portages in Kejimkujik are generally well maintained and flat. There are regular canoe rests on portages longer than 300m. We found the put-ins to be rockier and more difficult on the lesser used portages, further away from Kejimkujik Lake.
Kejimkujik’s portages were pretty easy (as easy as a portage can be anyway) compared to many we have experienced in British Columbia. It would have been possible to use a canoe cart on all of the portages we used.
Kejimkujik’s ‘other’ residents
As mentioned, we saw a lot of wildlife in Kejimkujik. This included some of the more irritating kind; mosquitos, black flies, no-see-ums and ticks were all present in the Park during our visit in mid-June. However, we found it completely bearable. The most buggy places were (unsurprisingly) the portages and more forested campsites (of which we didn’t stay in many). While we did bring mosquito head nets, we only had to use them one time while paddling on a windless day. We also brought mosquito coils and plenty of DEET repellent. Regular tick checks were necessary; we found around a dozen deer ticks in our clothing over the week. Interestingly enough, JR was bitten three times while I wasn’t at all.
As of 2018, Kejimkujik has new firewood importation restrictions for visitors to prevent the spread of invasive pests. Firewood being brought into the park has to be (check). Most of the backcountry campsites have firewood provided directly at the site, while campers in the Southern Lakes area need to collect wood at a drop-off point. These were easy enough to find with the map provided at the Visitor Centre.
While on our week-long adventure in Kejimkujik, we realised this was our twelfth overnight canoe trip. Here are some quick reflections:
- The signage for sites and portages was usually only visible when reasonably close. This maintained a more natural environment but did mean closer map reading than usual (a good challenge!)
- The Southern Lakes area had spotty phone signal. In Western Canada, we are used to having no phone signal at all on canoe trips so it was a little strange to be able to get an up-to-date weather forecast.
- Considering the ease of access to the Park, we had assumed Kejimkujik would be fairly busy in mid-June. In the frontcountry areas on the weekend, this was definitely true but we were surprised at how few people we saw in the backcountry.
- The size and shape of the lakes were much more varied than in the West. Gone were the long and narrow valley lakes we are familiar with in British Columbia; they were replaced by unpredictable shorelines, clusters of islands and scattered rocks.
- We would have liked to fish on this trip but the Southern Lakes area is limited to catch and release fishing.
Need gear for your canoe trip in Kejimkujik?
If you need to rent a canoe or any other kind of camping equipment for your paddling trip in Kejimkujik National Park, look no further than WhyNot Adventures at Jake’s Landing. This canoe outfitter is situated right at the main launching point on Kejimkujik Lake. Canoes (three different types) can be rented by the day or week, plus portage carts, tents, cooking stoves and more.
Big thanks go to Parks Canada for helping make this trip possible and Cody from WhyNot Adventures for helping to plan our route.
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