Adventuring in Northern Canada is an exhilarating pastime few dare to try, and comes with some unique challenges. There are some incredibly beautiful national parks to explore and enjoy, but for the adventurer who wants something more there is nothing like exploring the wild and un-touched lands that lay outside of our national parks, known here as Crown Land.
In this article we will discuss some of those challenges when adventuring by land, and will offer some general tips on planning a northern adventure! We will be mostly covering the kind of information that is hard to come by, and not generally discussed in typical adventuring guides or internet searches.
Just in case, you never know.
First and foremost, write down for someone exactly where you are planning to go, when you are leaving, and when you will be returning. Give them instructions to call the authorities if they do not hear back from you by a certain day.
It’s also a good idea to pack a little extra for emergencies, if you have the space to spare. Clothes, food, water, and emergency kit are important ones that could make all the difference in a situation. It also doesn’t hurt to pack at least 1 item in hunter orange should you need to make yourself clearly visible for safety reasons.
As a standard, it is recommended that everyone have a 72-hour emergency kit when adventuring- the time it will probably take Emergency Services to find you.
Crown Land is beautiful, and isolated.
Most people in Canada live in cities and towns, so it can be easy to forget that the northern areas are very isolated and mostly empty of humans. Canada is a huge country, and comes in 2nd for the largest forested areas in the world. You must research the area you are going to – a Google search is simply not good enough, but it can provide a starting point.
It might look easy to get to where you wish to go by looking at Google Maps, but in reality the way there will be confusing. Getting lost is a likelihood, not just a possibility, and your GPS will only help you to a certain point. You will have to take old logging trails to reach your destination – they are not usually marked, and definitely not easy to find.
Have the maps programmed into your phone or GPS, but also on an actual paper map. You will need to know the locations of the nearest towns for gas, supplies, and for when you are lost.
Read up on the area and study the local maps. Take down important phone numbers, such as the local number for the Conservation Authorities and Wildlife Management Unit. Find out what the area is used for (i.e. general use, hunting, recreation, etc.).
The easiest way to get northern adventuring started is to go with someone already familiar with the area.
Know the limits of your vehicle, do not try to drive through an area your vehicle will not make.
Old logging roads are not well maintained. They are usually kept up by the people who use them the most, and they are pretty much guaranteed to use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. A 2-wheel drive car will not make it through an old logging trail, so make sure to arrive in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Also, be aware of the limits of your 4-wheel drive vehicle. Some, such as SUVs and trucks, are better for snow rather than deep soupy mud where they will become stuck. Others, such as Jeeps with mud tires, are better for deep mud and water.
Time your travelling so that you will arrive during daylight hours. This is critical for a first-time adventuring trip.
Do not attempt to travel through deep woods at night, unless the driver is extremely familiar with the trail. They are challenging enough to drive through during the day, and often they are intentionally blocked off with large fallen trees as a marker to show someone is already there.
If you come across a blocked section that you must pass, carefully remove the obstructions first, pass through, then reset the barricade as you first saw it. Proceed down the trail with caution as there may be hunters in the area.
When you arrive, look for a suitable clearing to set up basecamp. An elevated flat clearing with a naturally shielded side is most ideal, but often times you will have to make due with what is there.
This could include driving over a patch of grass several times in order to flatten it out, but don’t make this your first choice. A lot of very nasty parasites live in tall grass, and it also offers poor visibility for your camp’s security.
And of course, pitch your tent at least 200 ft from any water. Animals will frequent the water at night, which will include large predators. Best to keep a safe distance away, for your own sake and theirs as well.
Be sure to follow general safety rules concerning camp sites. Especially camp fires and safe food storage. Be responsible and do not burn your own camp down, or worse start a forest fire.
Adventuring is a fun challenge, but don’t go it alone.
While you would win major cool-points for solo-adventuring, it is generally not a good idea and I can’t recommend it. Going with at least 1 other person offers many advantages, rather than being on your own.
2. Having an adventuring buddy allows you to watch each other’s backs. If one of you gets in trouble, the other is there to help you out.
This is especially important for when coming across dangerous large predators, such as bears, wolves, and mountain lions. I have never personally been attacked by any type of large predator, but when I am out my buddy and I maintain a high state of alertness and readiness. It’s important to remember the #1 reason why you are there in the first place, and that is to enjoy your adventuring – so enjoy, but do not let your guard down.
I once had a friend who loved to go nature-running alone, and when she was offered a teaching job in Alaska it was almost like a dream come true for her. And just a few months into her new job, she discovered a beautiful trail which she took to her nature-running. However, one day on her run she encountered a pack of dangerous wolves. Being alone and with no way of defending herself, she was savagely killed.
Whether or not she had a right to be safe was a moot point – nature is not concerned about such things. It is up to you to take adequate precautions to protect yourself when out there, and being with a buddy can greatly add to your safety. Adventuring in Northern Canada is no exception.
3. Some quick tips on large animals:
Brown bears are uncommon, and are dangerous. Learn how to avoid attacks and how to survive an attack. What to do is very different from a black bear. Don’t bother running away though, you won’t make it.
Black bears are common, and usually not dangerous but they can be. Learn how to avoid interaction with black bears, they like to stay away but do not underestimate the danger. What to do is completely different from a brown bear.
- Wolves are uncommon, and not always but can be dangerous. Learn how to avoid interaction with wolves and how to survive encounters. Similar procedure as with black bears. Do not do stupid things such as make “wolf calls”, follow wolves, or approach them/ invite them. Running away tells wolves that you are prey – be warned.
- Mountain lions/ cougars are very rare, but very dangerous. Learn how to survive attacks from mountain lions. They are completely silent, so you will not hear it until it is too late. They attack from behind, so you will not see it either. Your only chance is if your buddy is there to help fight it.
Moose are common to uncommon depending on the season, and usually not dangerous but they can be. Follow the same safety rules as with black bears. Moose are large and can easily cripple or kill a human.
In terms of animal defense, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some bear spray handy. It’s better than nothing. But personally, I don’t have faith in bear spray and I prefer to be armed. This is only possible in areas of Crown Land where firearms are allowed, so these are the only areas where I go adventuring.
This is best done with a buddy who has a hunting license and proper tags for all animals mentioned. But be aware, shooting an animal in self-defense presents it’s own problems and has it’s own procedure. Failing to report such an incident to a Conservation Officer is a serious crime, and you must provide proof that you were attacked and acted in self-defense. You will be asked to provide pictures as proof, and will be asked many questions specific to where you were standing, where the animal was, how close was it, how you were feeling, etc.
There is a chance that if the animal killed was out-of-season and lacking the proper tags, you could be criminally charged and will have a very expensive court battle. This is why scaring an animal away or beating it off is preferable to shooting it.
However, if the alternative is a grizzly death… better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6, is what I think.
Respect private property while adventuring.
On your adventuring, you might come across a sign that says “Private Property”. Please be respectful and do not enter any area marked as private property, to do so is trespassing which is a crime.
Sometimes when out adventuring, you might be greeted and approached by a person claiming you are on their private property. It is generally a good idea to take their word for it and apologize, and then leave peacefully. I know that the last thing I would want to do is argue with a stranger in the middle of the woods, most especially if I am armed as well as being in the wrong. Do not make them feel threatened and potentially escalate a situation, be friendly and respectful, and leave without a fuss. You can always verify the facts later.
That being said, there’s also a certain etiquette when meeting strangers in the woods.
- Stay a safe far distance away in daylight, and then announce yourselves. Do not attempt to approach a camp at night, unless it is a serious emergency. To be blunt, there’s a big risk of getting shot by recklessly approaching a stranger or group of strangers.
- Do not shine a flashlight directly onto a stranger, this is an aggressive sign. Aim the light a bit off to the side. If a light is shone directly onto you, you can politely ask that the light be aimed a bit off to the side.
- Only approach if you are acknowledged and greeted in return. Ask if it is OK and then approach cautiously. Be friendly and polite.
- If you are armed, do not enter a camp or approach someone with your gun/ knife/ etc. in a ready-stance and it’s a good idea to avoid touching it if possible. This is an aggressive sign when meeting a stranger, they will automatically react defensively in fear of their safety. Keep everything slung or sheathed away, and hands-off.Alternatively, the same goes for when someone is approaching you.
*(For people from open-carry states in the USA, try not to touch your firearm and most especially avoid holding it in any type of “ready” stance. A Canadian might not be able to tell the difference between a non-threatening hand on the firearm and a low-ready, please be aware of the differences here for everyone’s safety.)*
- Make a friendly wave as you approach, introduce yourselves.
- Socialize a bit, enjoy. Ask about the area and the local people, a bit of chit-chat about locals is usually enjoyable and informative.
Keep nature beautiful, pick up your garbage.
There is little that gets on the nerves more of nature-lovers than seeing garbage carelessly tossed away. Even in the most remote areas in the middle of nowhere, it’s likely to come across someone else’s garbage.
Do not leave garbage behind in your adventuring, pack it up and take it with you. Dispose of it properly in an appropriate place. I cannot even say how much it pisses me off when I see crushed beer cans or some other abandoned junk in our beautiful north.
If you’ve managed to make it all the way there, please don’t be a douche-bag and foul it up with filthy garbage and think that a minuscule contribution won’t matter. It does matter, it sits there and builds up from the thousands on thousands of others who thought the same thing.
At some future point it will be nothing more than a complete garbage-filled wasteland, so please keep nature beautiful and clean up your garbage.
Bring the dog adventuring.
First off, it should be said that there are certain challenges when bringing your furry four-legged companion – food, water, parasites, danger near bears, environmental/ weather conditions, losing your dog, etc.
But do not leave them behind on a great adventuring trip, bring the dog! My dog is with me sharing my tent, exploring the land, weathering crazy lightning storms and extreme weather, and I would not trade those moments for anything. She’s also an extremely dependable alarm system and detector.
I have never had a small breed of dog so I can’t say much about that beyond, figure out a way to bring your dog.
I am no expert when it comes to bringing dogs on adventuring trips, but I can tell you that many who had dogs and didn’t take them have regretted it deeply. Especially when they had passed on and it was too late.