Three years had passed since we had last been on the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail (OTHT), so we decided to return on the anniversary of our first trip, Canada Day weekend. Last time, we’d hiked up Rib Mountain, but this time we chose a route on the southern portion of the trail and settled on the Grand Campment-Nagle loop.
I’m always attracted to hiking Temagami-area trails because of the region’s environmental conservation history. I’d chosen the Grand Campment-Nagle loop for this trip partially for this reason:
The trail head off Rabbit Lake Road starts in a clear-cut, which was carved out of the Owain Lake old-growth forest in 1997. Sixty-two environmentalists were arrested here in the fall of 1996, blockading the logging of the old red and white pine. 1
NB: Learn more about the area’s ancient forests by reading Ontario's Old Growth Forests by Michael Henry and Peter Quinby.
As if that weren’t enough, history and culture buffs will love that sections of the OTHT follow nastawgan, the traditional paths used by local First Nations peoples. 2
Developed and maintained by volunteer members of the Nastawgan Trails organization, the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail is a rugged and natural trail, often with few visible signs of human presence. The Grand Campment-Nagle loop is a hilly and challenging 20-kilometre portion of the 135-kilometre linear OTHT. 3
The Nastawgan Trails website provides decent PDF trail maps to help get started in planning the trip, but frankly, the books Discovering Wild Temiskaming by Murray and Vicky Muir and its supplement are essential. They contain a lot of additional information, trail section descriptions, complementary maps, and photos. Without them, we would have had a very different weekend!
On a rainy Friday afternoon, Marc and I were joined at a small service station on Highway 11 North by another couple, our OTHT backpacking partners. Thankfully, we had found excellent driving directions to the trail head. 4 At over 40 kilometres down a dirt road, and after a few unmarked turns, there’s no way we would have found it otherwise… And we still nearly didn’t!
Over halfway, we started to wonder whether the biggest adventure of the weekend wouldn’t be this drive! The bumps were getting bad, the road washed out at some places and large rocks protruding at others.
We arrived at the trail head and donned our rain gear, in good spirits despite the dreary weather. We planned on stopping at Grand Campment Bay that night, and were only expecting a short two-hour hike. We would follow the trail to Nagle Bay the next day, then return via the Inland High Trail on our last day.
Off we went, and hardly a minute or two had passed when Marc turned aside to follow a narrow trail marked by an OTHT sign. I mentioned that it might be the return trail we would be taking on Sunday, the others agreed, and we continued on our merry way without so much as glancing at our maps or books. Little did we know that from that moment on, the rest of the day was shot.
Had we looked at the book, we might have found the paragraph that instructs hikers to follow this trail. 5 As it was, we spent only a few more minutes on the widely-cleared trail we were following, then got confused by what we thought were blue side trail blazes, but what must have been logging markings from days gone by. Unknowingly, we moved further away from the trail, until there were no blue markings left to follow.
Finding ourselves near a creek, we decided to pull out our books and maps and reconnoitre. It appeared that following the creek northeastwards would in all likelihood bring us back to the trail. Sure enough, we stumbled upon it not too long afterwards, relieved to see the promised white blazes.
Now proud of our navigation skills, we confirmed our direction with a compass: we still wanted to head northeast. When less than an hour later, we emerged onto a wide, clear trail, we didn’t hesitate to turn right, assuming we would still be going east, more or less. With the sky so overcast, we really should have checked the compass, because…
Our cars now came into view. What?!
It was too late to try the trail again that day, and besides, we were soaking wet and sick of the mosquitoes. We drove to Temagami and resolved to study our maps and books that night. We would attempt again in the morning.
Lucky to nab the last remaining tent site available at Finlayson Point Provincial Park, we set up camp. Then, pouring over the maps and trail descriptions at our disposal, we realized our mistake — an obvious one, no doubt, but one we wouldn’t have discovered without the books. 5
So the next morning, we found ourselves back at the Grand Campment-Nagle loop trail head with a completely different outlook. The sun was already shining brightly, our boots were mostly dry, and we just knew it was going to be a great day. After all, we were already acquainted with a portion of the trail, and that always makes things easier.
Confident, we set off again, this time taking the marked trail which Marc had pointed out the previous day. We recognized the spot where we had found the trail the day before, and kept going at a quick pace. The mosquitoes were even worse on this day…
We stopped for lunch at Grand Campment Bay, but didn’t really linger anywhere else until we got to Nagle Bay. We walked through beautiful forest scenery, intriguing because unlike the landscape back home.
We only saw a few vistas of Lake Temiskaming along the Grand Campment-Nagle loop, though those we did see were stunning. I suspect there may be more views over the lake in seasons when the bugs and foliage are less thick (winky face).
Marc couldn’t help but take pictures of some of the beautiful wildflowers we saw along the trail, of course…
The next day was much the same. The mosquitoes made it difficult to stop and enjoy the lovely wetland areas we passed on the way. It was a fairly uneventful day, and we emerged at the trail head in mid-afternoon.
Our Grand Campment-Nagle loop completed, we were happy to escape the bugs, but as usual, a little sad to leave Temagami. It’s a good thing there are so many area trails to keep us coming back for more (smiley face).
Sources and Further Reading on Backpacking the Grand Campment-Nagle Loop
- Hiking Trail: Grand Campment Bay
- Nastawgan Trails
- Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail: A Tour de Force in Hiking / Backpacking
- Grand Campment Bay Access
- Discovering Wild Temiskaming by Murray and Vicky Muir