Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit

CanadaBritish ColumbiaStraits
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Michel Gauthier
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
48 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
7600 m
Longest Portage: 
2200 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Many logging roads crisscross the area. Paddlers can tailor their trips according to how much time they have.

Technical Guide: 

Located on the east side of Vancouver Island and within a day’s drive of Vancouver and Victoria, the Sayward Canoe Circuit lies in the centre of a second-growth rainforest. The 48 kilometre loop of lakes, ponds, streams, and portages is just right for beginners who want to experience the joys of canoe tripping. The circuit is also ideal for intermediate and experienced canoeists who want a quick and easy wilderness experience.
Because gravel roads crisscross the area, you can tailor the length of your trip according to your needs. The average time to complete the loop is 4 days (three nights) If you want a civilized trip, camp at the large, road-accessible recreation sites. If you want more seclusion, set up at a site accessible only by water.
Except for a few short sections here and there, all the portages are wide enough to accomodate the use of canoe carts.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Following is a condensed trip report I wrote for the Comox Paddlers a few years back.

The canoe cart tire was as flat as a messed up souflé. Earlier in the day, under the bright, sunny skies of Canada Day weekend, we had launched from the shores of Mohun Lake, a long narrow lake near Campbell River. Our crew of seven, full of enthusiasm and ready for adventure, had just started on the portage at the north end of the lake when the bad news about Mark and Cathy's canoe cart brought the expedition to a halt.

We'd just have to make two trips on every portage. We returned to our toils, pulling and pushing our loaded carts on the 1.6 kilometre trail, the first portage of the Sayward Canoe Circuit.

At the end of the portage, we arrived on the shores of a lake the size of a postage stamp. Five minutes later, we portaged over to a small beaver pond. Thankfully, the large rodents had been busy keeping the water level high – we easily hop-scotched over their dam and floated down a narrow stream to Twin Lake. Half an hour later, we stopped for lunch at a BC Forest Service Campsite near the outlet of the lake.

Our destination for the night was one of the gorgeous sandy beaches on Amor Lake where we intended to have a refreshing swim.
Although only half as long as the first portage, the portage to Amor Lake turned out to be the toughest one of the trip. By the time we launched again, we were exhausted. Even with the wind at our back. We landed on the beach at seven o'clock. Undeterred by our late arrival and by a few aches and pains, we all splashed into the refreshing water and cooled down before setting up the tents and cooking dinner. The beautiful weather was holding, but high wispy clouds heralded a change, and so did Michel's barometer. As we talked by the campfire, we watched the sun set across the lake.

The next day, we paddled down to a short portage and hurried our canoes and carts to Surprise Lake in a record time.
Two large floating cedar logs served as an ideal loading dock from which to launch onto the lake. We crossed the small body of water in less than twenty minutes.

After a fly swatting shore lunch and a long but easy 2.2 Km portage, we arrived at a debris clogged bay at the north end of Brewster Lake. The wind greeted us as we emerged from the bay onto the open waters. Soon, a thick layer of clouds darkened the skies and the wind whipped up a few broadside waves. We had hoped to camp on a remote beach accessible only by canoe on the western side of the lake, but it was already occupied, so we headed for the BC Forest Campsite on the eastern shore.

The site was full, but a family from Campbell River told us that they were leaving in a few minutes; they offered us their site. We gladly accepted and rolled our outfits into camp. Steve strung up a tarp over the picnic table and we got busy cooking the usual Comox Paddlers delicacies.

At this point in the trip, Steve and Wendie retrieved their conveniently located pickup truck and left us – they were both working the next day. On the one hand, we lamented their departure, but on the other, we were glad because Steve let Mark and Cathy have his canoe cart for the rest of the trip. This meant that we no longer had to do two trips for every portage… or so we thought.

The next morning, within ten minutes of launching the canoes, the skies opened up. Except for Hank who had had the presence of mind of keeping his raingear at hand, we all got thoroughly wet – that's what seventy-eight years of experience do for you. The rest of us quickly landed and rushed for the protection of shore willows, only to emerge as fully clad Gore-Tex warriors. We then paddled into the lake's outlet and followed it until a large logjam barred the way. The portage around the jam ended in a ten-foot drop at the edge of the rain-swollen creek. We manhandled the canoes down and prepared for the most exciting part of the trip – running Whimper Creek.

Propelled by the swift current, we careened down the narrow stream. Too soon, the stream emptied into Gray Lake and the ride ended.

At the south end of the lake, we stopped for lunch under a tarp. By then, the day had turned miserable and cold. This was no time to tarry, so immediately after lunch, we portaged around an old trestle and logjam and continued down the lake outlet.

We tried to run the next series of rapids, but the water was too low to avoid the rock gardens and too high and fast to line, so after a bouncy attempt by Blanche and Michel, the rest of the party portaged.

From the next put-in, the fast running creek carried us through another narrow, hardhack-lined channel. We enjoyed the wild ride until the current suddenly spewed us out onto Whymper Lake. We leisurely crossed the cattail-lined jewel during a lull in the rain, enjoying a cacophony of bird songs, as our feathered friends crammed the few minutes of sunshine with as many songs as they could.

As we left the lake, the current picked up and the rain came back. Mark and Michel took the empty boats down the next rapids. It was an exhilarating run which required jumping out of the boat midstream to line over a riffle. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew watched from a bridge overlooking the stream.

We finished the day at the Orchard Meadow Recreation Site on Fry Lake where generous campers gave us an ample supply of dry wood. We got busy putting up a tarp, making a large fire, cooking dinner, and drying up soaked clothing and equipment.

In the early morning of July First, after pinning small Canadian Flags on our canoes and circulating the usual rumours about who snored the loudest, we headed for the narrows leading to Campbell Lake, the largest lake on the circuit. By leaving early, we hoped to avoid the wind on the large lake. Not only did the strategy pay off, but also the skies cleared and we had a glorious paddle along the shoreline.

At the Gosling Lake portage, we met a family who was also doing the circuit. Other than two women whom we had met at the very start of the trip, these were the only other canoeists we saw on the circuit.

The trail – I should say the road – up to Gosling Lake was very steep, but by then we were a well-honed team and we hauled our outfit up the hill in no time.
At the end of Gosling Lake, we ate up the two hundred meter portage to Higgins Lake and launched onto a watershield-covered channel.
At the end of Higgins Lake, we stopped for lunch before tackling a 300-yard portage over two rocky outcrops. Using the canoe carts was impossible. Teamwork and the knowledge that we were getting near the end of the circuit made the task, if not easy, at least bearable.
We then launched on Lawier Lake, the last small lake of the circuit. We entered the outlet stream and sighted the take-out. While Mark and Cathy unloaded, the rest of us waited – the landing was too narrow for two canoes. To our surprise, a small grey dog came walking by. It was Max! Norm and Denise's little dog.
Norm, Denise, Steve, and Wendie appeared from nowhere and greeted us. Steve and Wendie were sporting full Canada Day matching shorts and t-shirts. Wendie had a Canadian flag painted on her cheek and Steve had a Canadian Flag painted on top his head, and another one at the tip of his nose!

With the help of our friends, the portage to Mohun Lake was a breeze. The greeting party had set up a tarp while waiting for us, and they proceeded to offer us beer, coffee, juice, and salami. After the recounting of stories, and anecdotes, and difficulties, we launched our large flotilla and started back towards Morton Lake Provincial Park, where the vehicles waited.

Michel Gauthier

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
Topo Maps (2 required) 92K3 Brewster Lake 92K4 Quadra Island.<br />
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
92K (I do not recommend it, not enough detail)<br /> Other Maps<br /> 11 by 17 inch map of the circuit produced by Dogwood Avenue Books available at , scale 1:50,000, colour, with portage location, distances, campsite locations, contour, UTM grid. I map covers the entire circuit. Copy of a monochrome map of the circuit available free of charge upon requesting it from the Campbell River Forest district, 250-286-9300 Map of the logging roads in the area, produced by Campbell River Search and Rescue, available at most sporting goods stores in Campbell River and Courtenay Backroad mapbook, Vancouver Island, published by Musio Ventures<br />


Post date: Thu, 08/22/2013 - 12:48


Hi, I just completed the circuit on a stand-up-paddleboard in 11 hrs 16 min on Aug.2oth/13 I did what I believe to be the first SUP trip around the route last August- so just wanted to draw attention to that mode of accessing such a beautiful place as well.
Happy paddling, Paul Kendrick