By Les Wilcox
The Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail features majestic lookouts, big trees, sandy beaches, rocky ridges, log-cabin ruins, abundant wildlife and great campsites. You can day-trip or do an overnight from any access point.
There's a spectacular 20-kilometre loop trail at Grand Campment Bay, another just-as-spectacular 22-kilometre loop system on Rib Mountain near Friday Lake, and a 12-kilometre loop around Roosevelt Lake.
From the Matabitchuan River you can day-trip southeast about three kilometres (and 200 metres up) to the Beaver Mountain lookouts or follow the river north to the Fourbass Lake Ridge lookouts and lakeside campsite.
The end-to-end journey from Ottertail Creek to Latchford takes eight to ten days.
EXTERNAL WEBSITE: Nastawgan Trails
The trail is well signed and marked with white-painted blazes on the main trail and blue blazes on side trails. The surface is rugged (unimproved) with many steep grades and some side-hill walking so you'll need to be in shape or go slowly.
All campsites have good water sources and much time has been spent leveling tent sites and building proper rock-ring fire pits. The only bridge crossing is at the Matabitchuan River. Volunteers are maintaining the trail, but you should always expect a few blowdowns.
There are currently 134 kilometres of trail on the ground and a proposal to extend the trail, south along the Ottawa River, another 26 kilometres from Ottertail Creek to the Town of Thorne where Highway 63 crosses the Ottawa River at Temiscaming, Quebec.
The proposed southern extension features the Opimica Narrows lookouts, an old-growth maple forest and the little known, but truly remarkable, Porcupine Creek Canyon with 60-metre rock walls and old-growth red and white pine along its rim. The creek flows out of the canyon and into the Ottawa River, about nine kilometres north of Thorne. There's an excellent campsite and log cabin ruins at the creek mouth.
There is drive-in access with parking at Ottertail Creek (McLaren's Bay), Grand Campment Bay (end of Rabbit Lake Road), the Matabitchuan River (end of Highway 567), South Roosevelt Road to Friday Lake, North Roosevelt Road near Roosevelt Lake and the Latchford Dump Road right at Highway 11. The average walking distance between access points is about 20 kilometres. Lakeland Airways will fly in to Ottertail Creek, Grand Campment Bay or any other accessible point on the Ottawa-Timiskaming shoreline. Local outfitters provide vehicle shuttles.
Back in April 1999, a small group of local Temagami trail enthusiasts came together to form a loose-knit organization called the Nastawgan Working Group. In June, the MNR hosted a trails meeting at the Temagami Welcome Centre. The Nastawgan Working Group presented its vision of what it was then calling the Trans Temagami Trail. There was also a presentation by Discovery Routes and two other local trail groups. At the end of the meeting six people came forward to form a trail group under the direction of MNR and Ontario Parks. This group, also called the Nastawgan Working Group, incorporated as Nastawgan Trails Inc. (NTI) on May 5, 2000. Charitable status came a year later.
The current version of the Temagami Land Use Plan (TLUP) became public in 1997. It took a while to sort through it; to read all of the fine print. And there it was! In the zone prescription for area CR4a and the adjacent area 4, was the requirement for an “adequate trail corridor” along the Lake Timiskaming-Ottawa River shoreline. This became known as the Temiskaming Trail Corridor, which has since been developed into the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Tail (OTHT). With only one exception, all of the zones in the TLUP allow for new hiking trail development. Viewscape management is written in as a strategy for the protection of trail values, but the struggle to achieve adequate trail buffer zones is ongoing.
NTI members began extensive field and documentary trail research, but it wasn't until a political change in 2004 that the MNR requested the submission of a Proposal to Develop the Temiskaming Trail Corridor. The proposal was submitted in 2006. It was reviewed and accepted by the MNR, but there was never any formal approval.
Construction was well underway at this point with the trail opened between Grand Campment Bay, on Lake Timiskaming, to the Town of Latchford on Highway 11. All of the Temagami-Temiskaming area hiking trails promoted by NTI, including the OTHT, are Crown land trails that constitute the free use of Crown land within the context of the TLUP and other land-use documents. NTI has no tenure what-so-ever.
Downloadable, printable, PDF trail maps (zoom in, print current view) and GPS tracks are available from nastawgantrails.org (click GPS icon).
Guidebooks by Murray and Vicky Muir — Discovering Wild Temiskaming and its supplement — are available at local outfitters and bookshops and contain the only written description of the OTHT. All wholesale profits go to Nastawgan Trails to support trail work. If you're just beginning your backpacking adventures The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher, is valuable reading. Maximum pack weight should be about 40 pounds.
Guiding Spirit Lookout from trail above Lake Timiskaming.
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