One of my favourite places in Ontario rarely sees more than a few visitors at a time.
- Land: Kap Kig Iwan Provincial Park is on the traditional territories of Cree, Ojibway, and Algonquin peoples. It is located near the Timiskaming and Matachewan First Nations, and the traditional lands of the Beaverhouse First Nation.
- Transit: Car pretty much required, though you could bike from towns nearby.
- Cost: Low.
- Crowds: Rare.
- Attractions: Spectacular white water and waterfalls, hiking, scenic lookouts, photography, tranquility.
- Bonus: Relatively few bugs even in blackfly season.
- Click here for map.
When I lived not too far from Kap Kig Iwan (“not too far” in Canada terms is pretty far for pretty much anywhere else, I’ve learned) people who had been there would say about it “Yeah, but you can’t swim there.”
That’s what people would say to me about a magnificent string of rapids and waterfalls that cascade through multibillion year-old rock. I think it’s a case of missing the incredible because it’s not what you’re looking for.
Upon climbing down from the observation area near the falls, you stare down a hall of three billion year-old rock walls to the tremendous, billowing water.
After all, I go elsewhere in the world and people proudly show me waterfalls that, in terms of size, beauty, volume of water, solitude, and many other measures, would be shamed by Kap Kig Iwan.
Yet virtually no one comes here anymore.
Off highway 11 about an hour north of Temagami, the road to Kap is pretty unspectacular – passing through fields and by country roads. The forest, where the park starts, is also rather typical of what you see up and down the highway between Timmins and North Bay. This is where Canada’s southern woods transition into the vast Boreal Forest (known as the Taiga in Europe). Beautiful? Yes. And after hours and hours of driving northern Ontario roads, from a car it can begin to look like wallpaper. But this is a place meant to be seen at human speed, on human terms.
Off the highway and a little way into the Park, you descend the gorge into the river’s home. Park here, and after getting out of your car you’ll notice the sound of the water straight away.
In one direction are the big falls. The trail there is relatively short and fairly accessible (though this is really no place for standard wheelchairs or folks who can’t walk a good distance) and it’ll get you to Kap Kig Iwan’s namesake.
The falls beat their way between rocks and around ninety degree angles before spilling over the sharp angles of the ancient cliff at the very bottom of the rapids.
It’s hard to get a sense of scale from the pictures, but upon climbing down from the observation area near the falls, you stare down a hall of three billion year-old rock walls to the tremendous, billowing water.
The adventurous can climb along the wall on the side of the stairs to get close-up to the falls, but if you do it and get hurt don’t come after me. The rocks here are slick from the neverending mist, and the water is swift with many eddies.
That said, for the adventurous, there’s quite the view to be had.
And if it’s adventure you’re looking for, try going the other direction from the parking lot.
The trail is not nearly as clear as the one to the big falls, but if you follow the bank it’ll take you alongside the lesser falls and a number of rapids.
You’ll have many chances to see these ones up close.
And, depending on the height of the water and your fear of death, you can make your way out to rock islands in the middle of the flow.
The views here of the white water plunging through the dark rock can be spectacular.
There used to be more trails and more to see in Kap Kig Iwan. Ancient trees, cliffs of sand, and calm water flowing over shallow shelves of rock ten and twenty metres across.
You can still find those places if you really want to, but it takes some serious exploring – and I don’t know if the Parks people would want me sending you on potentially dangerous unmarked routes.
But if exploring is your idea of a good time…