Temagami Houseboating Trip Report August 2019

John Wright - Aug 29, 2019

When I told a few people that I was planning a houseboating trip in Temagami, most friends asked “Where is Temagami?”. So let’s answer that question right away. Temagami is considered to be in Northern Ontario and by that it is a 7 hour drive mostly north of Montreal and 6 hours north of Toronto. Just keep in mind that you can still head much further north. The lake has a maximum depth of 109 meters or 357 feet, a high elevation of 293 meters and a max length of 47 km. The lake and shoreline have been well protected and preserved as there are over 1200 islands and only on islands were cottages allowed to be built. 

Crew Members:
John Wright
Darrell Helyar

Houseboat Rental: Tamar Island Cottages & Houseboats

Day 1 - Aug 19th

The first day starts by getting up at 6am to get ready for leaving Montreal at 7am. Montreal to Temagami is about a 7 hour drive and of course you have to factor in a few stops like Mr Sub and Tim Horton’s no doubt. You more or less have to drive here unless you are arriving by sea plane. That said the drive from Montreal to Temagami is a nice one. The only main highway you deal with is Trans Canada highway. The drive for the most part seems the same except when you head north of North Bay. This is where phone reception just stops working so no more internet, Google, Instagram and all those necessary things in life. We did make arrangements with Tamar Cottages & Houseboats to be there around 3pm to be picked up. We texted from North Bay when leaving and our adjusted time was closer to 330pm which was the adjusted scheduled pickup time. 

It wasn’t obvious at first but you have put this address in your Google maps:

Temagami Access Road Boat Landing, Lake Temagami Access Rd, Temagami, ON

As you drive north, you’ll want to turn for the Temagami Access Road and drive to the very end. Our instructions were to drive to the end and wait by the phone booth. By the water you’ll see where the phone booth is. Just keep in mind cell phones at this point are only good for pictures and going in the water so no more texting or any messaging. 

We got picked up by Dave in a powerboat which had enough space for all our stuff for the week including Roxy the dog. I think that Tamar houseboats are the only ones on the lake that allow pets. The boat ride to Tamar Island was about 20 minutes. The thing that I notice about Temagami compared to anywhere else I’ve been in a big enough lake is you really feel remote. It was odd to see the shoreline filled with trees. If this was the Kawarthas, it would be all cottages everywhere. Even in late August, there wasn’t a lot of boat activity on the water. The only cottages you saw were on islands and many islands could have fit 10 cottages but usually you would see just 1. Also any direction you look, you’d see these unusual small mountains in the distance. Just something that you don’t always see around Ontario. 

Thankfully day 1 was sunny almost all day from the drive up and upon arrival. Getting to the island we could see one houseboat leaving the small bay where the dock is and it had 2 canoes attached to it. In getting to the dock, we unloaded the boat and the houseboat was right beside us so we loaded up the boat right away. After that and some orientation and meeting more people at Tamar Cottages, our options were stay the night there or head out. After getting an overview of the map and combining it with what we looked up earlier that day for sun, wind and rain, we decided to spend the whole week on the south east side which connects with Cross Lake. What was ideal about this area is on the map you could see triangles marking campsites so these were easy places to moor the boat. Overall it just seemed like you need many weeks to explore other areas of the lake. At least the first part of going to cross lake involved a lot of narrow lakes compared to the rest so with wind picking up already today and knowing the next day or 2 might be windy, this was the plan. 

Oh and before we headed out, we had a little slipup in the water as Roxy tried to jump from the boat to the dock but didn’t quite make it and landed in the water. Without taking my phone out of my pocket, I jumped in to get her knowing she might panic and not know where to swim to get out. I passed her off to co-captain Darrell and got her out, then got out myself and tried to dry off my phone. So time to change clothes and the only pair of shoes I brought were soaked so had to dry them. Upon heading out, I hung my shoes to dry in which one of them feel out and is now somewhere in the waters of Temagami. If you see a green Vans shoe floating in the water, you can throw it out as I did already with the other one. 

Roxy was very happy to be on the houseboat. Even while driving she was walking around wagging her tail. I think she has done it enough times that she knows it is a vacation and she gets to go in the water, intentionally that is. 

The first destination was a spot in Outlet Bay as it seemed an hour getting there and would give enough time for sunset, dinner and to finally have a drink. Mooring the boat on shore was very easy and tying up the boat to trees was fast enough. Probably 10 minutes after getting sorted we noticed a large snapping turtle was on the same rock and we must have bothered it as it took off. Snapping turtles can be vicious so no messing around with these creatures. 

We probably saw just a few boats that day and at night the sky was clear and sunset was 30 minutes later than in Montreal as it is that much further north. Another bonus was the lack of mosquitoes! We were expecting the worst of them but I guess at this time of the year they are almost done. 

At night the sky was very bright with stars. I haven’t seen the night look like this in a while and that would have been camping in various parts of Ontario. Sometime after 9pm the moon came out which was almost full and very bright. It is really difficult staying up late in the wilderness and I’m not sure what time bedtime was but probably not much longer after 10pm. 

Day 2 - Aug 20th

The first morning starts bright and early. You wake up feeling like you have slept in forever but realize it is something like 630am. The specific spot we picked happened to be a nearly unobstructed view of the sunrise. You could see steam off the lake and everything was just quiet and calm. This day was the sunniest day of the trip but still high winds of around 20km/hr so the plan was to head into Cross Lake and find a spot that was a bit shielded by wind. 

Getting to Cross Lake was a bit nerve wracking as the map shows a narrow channel but that channel has no markers at all. Actually the whole lake almost seems to have no markers so if you are not paying attention, you could end up going the wrong direction. The channel you had to estimate where you were on the map, constantly check any reference points like rocks or islands and scan the water to make sure you are not going off in a shallow end or over any trees or rocks. 

Upon getting into Cross Lake, you have 3 options for directions: south, north and north-east. We chose north-east mostly because it looked like it had parts of a more narrow bay and could be shielded by the winds. We found an island to moor on and on the map we had, we couldn’t tell if it was an island or not but the spot we planned to pick already had a houseboat on it. The island had a lot of smooth rock for shore so made it almost a perfect spot to get. The spot although wasn’t shielded from the wind, it was fine. The wind made the sun bearable and if anything pushed the houseboat on shore a little bit more. On shore there was a firepit there which tells you people camp out on this spot and on the rock there is a sponge-like moss all over it which makes it very bouncy to walk on. The only other boat we saw was the motorboat that was with the houseboat around the corner. We had a giant part of a bay to ourselves and it really was very quiet. Didn’t get a good chance to take the canoe out and was too busy enjoying the sun, wine and cider. The water was fairly warm for swimming in so although it is not advised to jump off the houseboat and into the water, that may have happened a few times. Roxy did jump in the water quite a few times with her ball. It is definitely her favourite thing to do while houseboating. 

Day 3 - Aug 21st

The morning in this bay is just beautiful to look at. All in the middle of the lake are fish splashing which are fish that are just teasing me, probably lake trout most likely. I did some fishing and didn’t seem to catch much where we were located. The fish I caught were either rock bass or smallmouth bass. That and I nearly caught a large snapping turtle that came up to the boat and seemed interested in chomping on my lure. 

Leaving later that morning was not as much fun because when we untied the ropes and gave the engine some gas in reverse, the front part of the houseboat wasn’t coming off and we were really wedged on land better than we thought. The wind the day before probably made the boat snug. I tried to push while Darrell gave the engine gas but it didn’t seem to do much. He tried to get the boat untethered by changing directions in reverse and we eventually got one side off by the boat started to slide sideways on shore which is concerning because you don’t ever want the engine hitting any rock. It took more work but eventually I had to push the boat off while in water and after about 10 minutes we got it free. The first time getting the boat off was no issue so we became aware this might be an issue for the next spot. 

I didn’t want to leave this area but there were some interesting spots along the way back. We did burn up nearly half the tank of gas at this point and you don’t want to be stuck without gas so the plan for the next few days was to stay along the same path we came. On the way over to Cross Lake, we found a spot we thought would be ideal but it was covered with tents. 

This is the area we were targeting on returning which meant having to navigate the narrow channel again. It would have been nice to keep exploring more areas but I think that requires a motorboat for exploring or simply more time coming back which I don’t think is a difficult thing to do. On the way back, the area that was previously occupied with tents was empty and this is the spot we took. It is a great place for docking a houseboat as you have many different points for mooring and tying up to trees and it is deep enough too. The houseboat sinks in about 2 feet for depth so it is enough room to work with. 

The new spot was nice. We haven’t had internet or reception for 2 days with the small exception of getting some phone messages come through in an open part of Cross Lake. I call that internet lake but it isn’t a spot where you want to hang out. What we know about the weather today was less wind but still windy, a little cooler weather and rain. What we ended up getting that day was still continuous strong winds and you could see the day go from being sunny to cloudy and at some point could see storm clouds in the distance. As the area was getting ready for a storm, the sky was turning purple which usually means you’ll get some crazy weather. 

We got very heavy rain, a wicked lightning show, but it only lasted for about 30 minutes. After that was over it meant it was time for fishing again. Earlier in the day I had caught a decent sized smallmouth bass. I caught a few more smallmouth after the storm but eventually it got quiet for fishing. Was able to get out on the canoe, do fishing, swimming and Roxy got more time with her ball in the water. 

At night the sky was clearing up but you could still see a lot of lightning flashes in the distance as other parts of the area were still getting hit with a storm. 

Day 4 - Aug 22nd

We knew that Thursday was meant to be the coldest day of the week and could drop down to 9 degrees in the morning and a high of 18. The morning was very cold and the week had felt like summery but this was pants and sweater weather. Based on the weather, we thought about stopping in one last spot but considered going back to headquarters on Tamar Island. As we were driving back, we decided to just head back to Tamar Island as it meant the boat was back and the only thing we had to do on the Friday was load up on the barge and get back to the Temagami Access Road.

After a few days on the houseboat, there are just not any trails you can find to walk so getting back to Tamar Island was nice to be able to walk around and relax. Everyone there just seems to be like in vacation mode and it is worth a night being there. Some houseboats choose campsites that are close to Tamar Island so the morning they can drive the boat back to return it and then get the barge that heads back to the service road. 

Day 5 - Aug 23rd

Last day isn’t as much of a day other than to make sure you have everything with you, off the boat and ready for the barge that takes you back to the service road. Friday is a bit of a transition day of people leaving and more people arriving. The barge back took over 90 minutes to get back and the morning was also very cold. It was a chance to slowly get to see more of the area as the scenery there never gets old. It is still odd to see such an amazing place that doesn’t have a lot of boats or cottages on it. 

It was 4 nights on the houseboat and as much as I’d like to stay the full 7 day week, I find the 5 day week still feels just as long. 

Despite how long it takes to get to Temagami whether from Toronto or Montreal, I think it is well worth it. I still get people look at me funny when I say Temagami and the last person I told replied “where the fuck is that?!”. There are a lot of people that won’t want to travel more than 3 hours to get to their cottage destination. I think what separates a place like here is that the people that go here know that city people don’t always make the effort to go this far to get away in nature. The air is as clean as it can get, the waters are pristine, you’ll lose your internet which I can’t remember spending this many days totally disconnected. I didn’t miss the internet or social media. I just got used to it quickly and think I want to do this again, and again and again. 

All the people at Tamar Cottages & Houseboats were amazing. The boats you get are rustic but you do get electricity, a stove, fridge, sink, bathroom, shower and all the other basics. Their pontoons are very unique and ones I haven’t seen before but they seem to really stabilize the boat especially in stronger winds and waves. 

If you want a 25% discount then reference bonus code CHB25 when booking your fall trip on Tamar houseboats.