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Canoe the Sayward Lakes Loop

Heriot Bay, British Columbia


Added by Richard Arthur

A multi-day canoe loop on an island? Yes, we can! Sayward lakes is an easy 3-5 day canoe route through beautiful BC forest, lakes, rivers and creeks, all in the shadow of the might Vancouver Island mountains.

Sayward Lakes Canoe Route

This is an easy canoe route through a series of lakes west of Campbell River on Vancouver Island BC. It is ideal for beginner or intermediate level trippers, providing a good multi-day trip through a mix of remote lakes and lakes with serviced campsites. The trip features a mix of lakes, creeks and the occasional moving water or very occasionally shallow class one rapids. Campsites are plentiful and most are free, while providing tables, platforms and a latrine as a minimum.  Free camping is also permitted. Campfires may be permitted, check for fire bans on Vancouver Island before you go. Fishing with a fishing license can also be possible.  

The route passes through territory with active logging so many hillsides show logging scars, but around the lakes is generally all forested with no developed land.  In the distance the snow-capped mountains of the Vancouver Island are visible. Most campsites have good swimming opportunities and by end June/early July the water is warm enough to easily swim.

Trip logistics:

The best starting point is Morton Lake Provincial Park since there is free parking next to the park host site in the park and an easy beach for put-in on Mohun Lake. However, the route is accessible by logging roads around most of the lakes. Morton Lake Provincial park is a reservable camping area located on a small family friendly lake North West of Campbell River about a 45 minute drive.  Access is via logging road but 4x4 is not required. The last stretch is very rutted but passable.

It takes about three to five days to complete the full 48 km circuit. There are 13 portages totaling about 7.6 km of portaging. Most of the portages allow of canoes to be wheeled, but be prepared by packing light and keeping your stuff together so you can carry it while rolling or lifting your canoe.  As many portage routes are single track and rugged traveling light saves time. Having to double back on portages means you will spend a lot of time on the portage trails.

Thanks to the many access points it is even possible to have a support vehicle on this loop, although not all campsites are road accessible. Our favourite campsites of the trip were our free camp on a pretty beach on Lower Campbell lake among the ghostly tree stumps and the Island camp on Mohun lake. 

Sample Trip Itinerary

We spent four days and three nights on the route with the following itinerary:

Day 1: Mohun Lake to Amor lake, camping at Mr Canoehead site.  This site is not road accessible and features about four or five tent platforms on each of the lakes that it stretches between. This day featured 3 portages of 3.7km and about 14km of paddling.

Day 2: Surprise lake to Lower Campbell lake. We completed more of our itinerary than planed on Day 2 and found ourselves at the bottom of Fry lake looking for a site. There are quite a few serviced sites there, but they had RV’s in them and one developed site, which was taken. We continued into Lower Campbell Lake and found a great free camping site on the western shore just after the mouth of Fry lake. Lots of cougar tracks and scats were present on the beach but nothing appeared while we were there! This day featured 17km of distance and four portages including the longest of the trip at 2.3km. A note for the 2.3km portage - much of this portage is on a logging road. It is best to continue on this road until the high bank put in at Brewster lake rather than cutting down the portage trail.

Day 3: Lower Campbell lake back to Mohun lake. Lower Campbell lake is a flooded lake but does not have any development on the upper section so quite pretty to canoe through. We left quite early in the morning to avoid any wind problems. Overall we found no trouble with the wind other than a nice tail wind on Brewster lake; however, we had been warned that the wind can come up and slow progress considerably. There is never any need to be out in the middle of a large lake on this trip so it would be easy to hug the shoreline if needed to avoid high wind and waves.  

This route contained 4 portages. The 0.4km portage between Higgins and Lawier Lake is not suitable for canoe carts, but the others generally were.

By 4pm we arrived at Mohun lake and found the south side of Mohun Island camp empty so we stopped for the night.  We could have completed the last 4 km but we were all tired and the camping and swimming at the site looked mighty inviting.    

Distance on Day 3 was about 12km.  

Day 4: Mohun Island to Morton Lake Provincial Park. This was just a short paddle out along the lake with no portages. Distance: about 4km.


For more details check out the Map and guide online


Canoe rentals are available from a few outfitters in Campbell River and Courtenay/Comox. For example there is:
E: info @ cowichanbaykayaking.com
P: +1 250 597 3031

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