In late May, I returned from my first canoe camping trip at Kejimkujik National Park. The park is in the southern interior of Nova Scotia. I can’t say enough about what a great time I had. My friend and I paddled Big Dam Lake, Still Brook, and part of Frozen Ocean Lake. We stayed overnight at campsite 6 and returned the same route the next day.
As a novice canoeist, I really enjoyed paddling in Kejimkujik. Having RV and backcountry camped in the park many times before, I have to say that canoe camping was by far my favourite way to visit. These canoe routes are excellent and have been used for thousands of years. Originally by the Mi’kmaq in the area.
Kejimkujik National Park
Kejimkujik National Park, or Keji as locals know it, was established in 1974. Being a National Park protects it from the lumber industry which has destroyed Nova Scotia’s old growth forests. Keji is one of the last places you can see old growth in the province. It’s 350-year old hemlock trees are one of the park’s big attractions. You can see them at the Hemlocks and Hardwoods Trail.
Late May and June are a great time to see the spring wildflowers. Keji has lady’s slipper, creeping dogwood, painted trillium, blue violet, pink rhodora, goldthread, and other beautiful flowers. The forest itself is a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. These include red maple, white pine, white birch, and red oak.
If you are lucky, you might also see some of the animals that live in the park. These include white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, beaver, turtles, snakes, mink, fox, and the occasional black bear.
The downside of spring camping in Nova Scotia is that the weather can be cold and wet. Evening frosts are common and can last well into June. But early spring is, in my opinion, the best time to visit because the mosquitos and black flies are not bad. We never saw any in the backcountry. You do have to watch out for ticks though.
Big Dam Lake
Our trip began at Big Dam Lake parking lot. Here you will find Portage Q (400m) to your left and the Hemlocks and Hardwoods Trail (5km) to your right. Portage Q is flat and easy going. A canoe rest is available around the mid-way point.
Big Dam Lake was a pleasure to canoe. The lake is divided into two sections that are connected by a narrow and rocky passage in the middle. It was one of my favourite parts of our canoe trip. It looks as if someone has placed a bunch of rocks in the middle of this lake. It’s beautiful and not difficult to navigate.
Big Dam Lake is home to campsites 1 – 3. They are clearly marked on the shore and easy to find. Campsites 1 and 2 are also accessible by trail.
From Big Dam Lake we took Portage R (800m). This portage is long but the terrain is easy going. It is slightly sloped with one canoe rest around the mid-way point. Here you will also find campsite 4. It’s a really nice site if you don’t mind camping close to the portage trail and seeing the occasional travellers. It’s a great place to camp if you want to rest before the portage.
Still Brook (4km) was by far the most breathtaking place to canoe on this trip. As the name suggests, the water was calm and easy to paddle. The brook travels through a bog and it’s a great place to see turtles basking in the sun. We saw a beautiful painted turtle but Keji is home to several species including the endangered blanding’s turtle.
Still Brook empties into Frozen Ocean but you must take Portage S (160m) to avoid shallow rapids at the end. This portage is short but it is riddled with rocks and tree roots making it easy to trip.
We only saw a small part of Frozen Ocean Lake. We hugged the shoreline, avoiding numerous rocks, till campsite 6. Most of them were easy to spot but you have to be cautious. Keji has tea coloured waters. The brown hue is derived from the tannic acids of decaying peat. This can make rocks difficult to see.
Campsite 6, like most of the backcountry sites in Keji, has two tent pads, bear cables, picnic tables, firewood, a fire pit, and an outhouse. We were sharing a tent so we chose the site further from the water because we noticed some standing deadwood that might fall in high winds.
This was a great trip for novice canoeists. It was easier to navigate and paddle than Kejimkujik Lake would be. These lakes are small in comparison and they are partly sheltered from the wind.
The next time I canoe this park, I’ll begin the trip the same way at Big Dam Lake, paddle through Still Brook, Frozen Ocean and into Channel Lake. Finally, making my way to Jake’s Landing via Kejimkujik Lake.
Before ending this post, I want to put in a good word for Why Not Adventures. We rented our canoe from them and they were fantastic. They answered all my questions promptly via email (even late night ones!) and were very accommodating. They provided us with foam blocks and straps to transport our canoe (free of charge) and taught us how to properly secure the canoe to our car.
If you’ve canoed in Keji, I’d love to hear about your experience! Let me know in the comments section.
Link to Kejimkujik backcountry map.