View larger image

They tell of Canada's wild spaces in picture books. Legends speak of its remoteness, its untouched beauty, a size that will dwarf you. No one can really grasp these things until he enters the backcountry.

I did so for seven nights last month at Quetico Provincial Park, heading out from Atikokan, Ontario, about 20 hours from Columbus. It was the greatest trip of my life -- even when it felt more like a quest than a vacation.

North of Minnesota's famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Quetico's 1.2 million acres cover part of the Canadian Shield, a primordial blanket of bedrock shredded ages ago by glaciers into a series of dense forests, drinking-water lakes and stone outcroppings that would take you a lifetime to explore.

Five friends and I opted for a portage trip, in which you canoe around and then carry gear over small trails to access new lakes. We paddled 65 miles, mostly with a driving wind and whitecaps, eastward from the Beaverhouse Lake put-in to Nym Lake.

These trips aren't for weekend warriors, but a bunch of outfitters rent gear, help plan routes, suggest jump rocks and fishing holes and drop off your party at a park entrance.

Quetico Provincial Park Location: Atikokan, Ontario Size: 1,853 square miles Distance from Columbus: Gearing up: Canoe Canada Outfitters, based in the small town of Atikoken, is a great resource for trip planning, canoe and gear rental, guided excursions and fly-in vacations. Minus basic camp gear and food, you can outfit a six-day portage trip for about $300 per person. Check CanoeCanada.com for rates and services. Park homepage

Plenty of photos after the jump...

View larger image

They tell of Canada’s wild spaces in picture books. Legends speak of its remoteness, its untouched beauty, a size that will dwarf you. No one can really grasp these things until he enters the backcountry.

I did so for seven nights last month at Quetico Provincial Park, heading out from Atikokan, Ontario, about 20 hours from Columbus. It was the greatest trip of my life -- even when it felt more like a quest than a vacation.

North of Minnesota’s famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Quetico's 1.2 million acres cover part of the Canadian Shield, a primordial blanket of bedrock shredded ages ago by glaciers into a series of dense forests, drinking-water lakes and stone outcroppings that would take you a lifetime to explore.

Five friends and I opted for a portage trip, in which you canoe around and then carry gear over small trails to access new lakes. We paddled 65 miles, mostly with a driving wind and whitecaps, eastward from the Beaverhouse Lake put-in to Nym Lake.

These trips aren't for weekend warriors, but a bunch of outfitters rent gear, help plan routes, suggest jump rocks and fishing holes and drop off your party at a park entrance.

Quetico Provincial Park Location: Atikokan, Ontario Size: 1,853 square miles Distance from Columbus: Gearing up: Canoe Canada Outfitters, based in the small town of Atikoken, is a great resource for trip planning, canoe and gear rental, guided excursions and fly-in vacations. Minus basic camp gear and food, you can outfit a six-day portage trip for about $300 per person. Check CanoeCanada.com for rates and services. Park homepage

Plenty of photos after the jump...

View larger image A family of mink -- perhaps Canada's cutest creature -- were chirping and running around our camp one night. My friend Derek made friends with them.

View larger image Wildflower season had passed by the time we arrived, but a few stragglers poked out their heads along the banks of Pickerel Narrows. Check out this blue-flag iris.

View larger image During a layover day on Jesse Lake, we camped on this stunning overlook, letting the sunrise wake us up early for a full day of fishing.

View larger image The sunsets weren't bad either.

View larger image Storms come out of nowhere, appearing in full force over the treeline in minutes. For several days, we paddled through 40 mph winds and whitecaps. Bring top-quality rain gear.

View larger image Most of the small lakes are connected via small trails called portages. Taking a wrong turn, we found ourselves with all our gear in the middle of dense forest and marshland, sinking knee-deep into the moss and muck.

View larger image Sometimes the water finds another way around.

View larger image A few days of smooth sailing makes everything worthwhile.

(Photos by John Ross, Derek Braun and Emily Guzzo, who all survived the trip as friends.)