Bird River Route, 3 Days of Fishing and Camping

Late this June, a couple good friends and I spent 3 days paddling, camping, and fishing. For our destination, we chose the Bird River Route. The Bird River Route begins with a launch at Tulabi Falls campground, in Nopiming Provincial Park. From there you head east, passing through Tulabi, Elbow, and McGregor lakes. For the more adventurous paddler, the river carries on east into Ontario, then north into the vast wilderness of the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. We only had three days, however, so we only went as far as McGregor.


Arrival, Sizing up the Bird River Route

This was my first time stepping foot in the Tulabi Lake campground, or seeing any part of the Bird River Route. The launch was a short portage from the parking area, and consisted of a nice sandy beach. To the west of the launch was Tulabi Falls, which we could hear thundering from the parking area. Tulabi lake itself is fairly small and we knew there would be no trouble crossing it. According to our map we would encounter 4 portages along the way to McGregor Lake, and they were rated as fairly easy by most people to comment on them. All in all, we expected a quick and easy paddle into camp.


Getting ready for launch


Portaging, my Favorite Activity to Hate

Coming up to the first portage nice and quickly, I realized that this would not be fun for me. While maintained, it was also steep. Large wooden steps had been placed up the steep part to make it easier for people carrying canoes to climb the hill. Of course, the problem is that I can’t carry my kayak over my head like someone with a canoe can. Dragging the kayak up those steps was decidedly NOT fun. Luckily only the first two portages had these wooden steps, and the remaining ones were much easier to drag. After crossing Elbow and toughing out the last portage we finally reached McGregor Lake.


bird river route

This is only halfway up… *cries*


McGregor Lake, Scenic Views and Tough Fishing

McGregor Lake was the most scenic lake that we visited on the Bird River Route, and in particular our campsite. We camped at site #18, which is on the farthest shore of the lake from the portage. This decision was made for us due to the other sites being taken before we got there. All told, we paddled 27 km that first day to get to this site. Let me tell you, however, it was well worth it.


McGregor Falls


Our camp was directly beside McGregor Falls, a huge and impressive waterfall. The campsite itself was not very roomy, but it was cozy and we had a spectacular view of both the falls and the lake. This was by far one of the most scenic backwoods campsites that I have stayed at, and the white noise actually helped me sleep.


Fishing off shore


Fishing, on the other hand, was another story. We fished off shore from the camp site for the whole evening of the first day and then again on the morning of the second day. We caught nothing. While slightly disappointing, we figured we would make up for it when we got back out on the water. We were wrong. There was not a single spot on that lake that we were able to catch fish, and we ended up giving up and moving on halfway through the day.


Can’t argue with the view


Elbow Lake, Mixing it Up

During dinner beside the falls, we changed up our plans. Originally we were going to stay on McGregor Lake for the full 3 days, however after passing so many beautiful island campsites on Elbow, we thought it would be more interesting to try out a different site for the second night. After fishing on McGregor for half a day and catching nothing, we were very happy that we had already packed up our gear and were planning to move sites anyways. We made the portage back out to Elbow lake, and fished our way down the river to site #13, which we had noted as we passed it the previous day.


Enjoying a great campsite


This site was also amazing, though in a different way. We had no waterfall here, but we were on an island, up about 20 feet above the water level, with a great view of the lake all the way around. We had the comfort of a fire pit and picnic table out on the rock for cooking and the evening fire. In the middle of the island was some bush with a perfect clearing for our tents and a nice flat ground. To top it all off, tucked back in the bush was a full sized port-a-potty serving in place of the typical backwoods latrine. Talk about luxury!


We were joined by a loon


Fishing our Way Out

Our island campsite on Elbow lake was one we won’t be forgetting anytime soon, but as always, the time came to head out. Day 3 saw us packing up once again and heading out onto the water. We were headed back to the starting launch point. This time we had a much shorter trip ahead of us, having already come back some of the way to reach our island site. This gave us a big part of the day to spend fishing, and we could slowly fish our way off the lake and down the river without any big hurry. At long last, on this last day we were rewarded with some decent fishing. Elbow lake provided us with a slow but steady haul of bass, pike, and walleye. Unfortunately nothing really worth keeping to eat.


Still fun to catch


As the day came to a close we started doing less fishing and more paddling towards the launch. We passed through a lot of beautiful winding river sections, enjoying the boost from the current pushing us along. Being a weekday, we did not see any other people on our way out, and the whole trip was quiet and peaceful. We stopped at the last campsite, site #1 to have a quick meal, stretch our legs, and do some more shore fishing.


More small walleye


Wrapping it all up

Packing up after the meal we made quick progress down the river and back to the launch. The trip was extremely successful and a lot of fun. I really enjoy paddling rivers, especially with a good water level. The Bird River is a good size and has a lot of scenic areas to enjoy, so it was a real pleasure to paddle. Portaging remains a challenge for me, and after this spring I am seriously considering buying a canoe for future back country travels. Anything with an incline, or very rough terrain, makes for a big challenge to drag the kayak over. For the paddling portion, though, the kayak still can’t be beat.


Rivers are just downright fun

All in all, it was another great back country trip with good friends. We had beautiful weather, good fishing (eventually), and some amazing camp sites. When it comes to camping, you really can’t ask for more. The Bird River Route held up very well compared to other routes I’ve visited, and it is an area I would certainly not hesitate to go back to.

Check out the video at the top of this post to see more of the scenery and fishing. You can see videos of other camping trips, fishing trips, gear reviews, and more on the True North Wilds Youtube Channel. If you haven’t yet, be sure and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.




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