Diabolo Portage, Ontario

The Steel River Circle Route in Ontario, Canada, promises to be steep and rocky.
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The Steel River Circle Route in Ontario, Canada, promises to be steep and rocky.

3

Challenges

Steep, rocky terrain

Payoffs

Northwoods solitude sans shuttle

→ You don’t have to travel to the farthest corners of the earth to enjoy solitude: All it takes is one stout portage to keep the crowds away. After canoeing waterways all over the world, guidebook author Cliff Jacobson says the portage between Santoy and Diabolo Lakes is tougher than any other he’s found, even in the remote reaches of Nunavut—yet this pristine paddling escape sits right off the Trans-Canada Highway.

“At just under a mile—1,673 meters, to be exact—it would be doable in 20 minutes if it were relatively flat,” he says, but hauling a canoe and gear through piles of Mini Cooper-size boulders takes all day. The elevation gain is about 300 feet (with 100 feet stacked into the first 100 yards), so “progress is measured in meters, not miles, per hour.” But the payoff begins as soon as you reach Diabolo Lake, where an idyllic island campsite cues your entrance into rarely paddled waters. Says Jacobson, “I’ve done it five times and have never seen another boater.” Count on fish for dinner: Abundant “specks” (brook trout) in Diabolo and subsequent lakes eagerly gobble anglers’ lures.

DO IT No shuttle is required to complete this weeklong, 95-mile clockwise loop, which starts and ends at Santoy Lake (14 miles east of Terrace Bay via Canada Highway 17, about six hours from Duluth or Sault St. Marie). “Pack light and start early,” cautions Jacobson, who uses a rope to hoist canoes up the first steep climb and hauls gear with a canoe tumpline. From Diabolo, three more portages through beaver ponds lead to Cairngorm Lake. On subsequent days, continue north through Moose, Steel, and Aster Lakes before entering the Steel River and curving south to Santoy Lake (where a broad, sandy beach begs a post-trip swim). Info mnr.gov.on.ca/en/index

Hardest hike you’ve ever enjoyed?

"IN THOMPSON FALLS, MT, I HIKED DOWN THROUGH “DIRTY GULCH.” IT WAS WELL NAMED: THICK BRUSH AND STEEP GROUND." - Gary Wayne Seeley Lake, MT

"THE TETON CREST TRAIL IN 2012. IT
WAS THE HIGHEST ELEVATION THAT I HAD EVER hiked AND I WAS IN THE HURT BOX UNTIL ABOUT THE FOURTH DAY INTO THE TRIP." -Marcy Ritzert Coshocton, OH